Looking back, studying abroad now seems like a whirlwind. My three years in Oxford were a mixture of valuable experiences; late nights knee-deep in books, mind-blowing conversations, and a love-hate relationship with moody English weather. More importantly, it was a time where I gained a multitude of life lessons that has shaped me into the individual I am today. Among the mindsets I adopted from the experience, there were two that I never saw coming – yet they fundamentally changed the way I see the world and live my life.
“Independence” is a word one often hears from tales of studying and living abroad. I used to understand it as mere self-sufficiency; having to do everything on your own – a survival reliant on your own skills and resources. Unsurprisingly, living as a student in Oxford compelled and pushed me to do just that. Among other experiences, I remembered falling exceptionally ill in the middle of winter, and having to walk out in the cold to get food and medicine when I really should have been in bed. In my second year, my group of friends and I had to live off-college; living in a rented house added a whole new set of responsibilities that I hadn’t been exposed to. Other than the new skill sets I gained from everyday life, I found that I had to be self-sufficient in academics too. At Oxford, most of the learning were to be done independently. Other than the centralized lectures and college-based tutorials, students received guidelines/reading lists every term and were left to do the studying on their own. We had roughly two 2000-word essays to complete in a week, and the preparation and learning for most topics had to be a self-imposed and self-disciplined process. It was very easy to fall out of rhythm because you were the only person that can keep yourself on track.
But from the reading marathons, constantly looming deadlines, and new survival habits, I realized that it wasn’t all about self-sufficiency. I did learn to survive on my own, but it was so much more than that. I also developed a stronger sense of self-ownership. It was more than having to do things on your own, but having to make decisions and having the consequences of your own actions directly accountable to you. It was about acknowledging the power of your own preferences and decisions. This might sound obvious for some people; but it was a revolutionary feeling for me, as my life before going abroad was admittedly sheltered. Jakarta was a comfortable nest where I was pampered with a close-knit community and strong familial support. The interconnectedness of my family and community made it a safe haven, but it sometimes meant that decision-making can end up a collective process instead of your own. Therefore, this new sense of accountability and familiarity with my own self was exhilarating, and helped me tune out the noise and listen to the voice in my head.
Another thing I didn’t quite expect to gain was an overwhelmingly grounded mindset. I started my first year in Oxford knowing that I would have to struggle and adapt. I understood that the subject I had enrolled for, PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), would be challenging. So I thought I was at least mentally and emotionally prepared for what was to come. As it turned out, the hurdle was not just in the difficulty of the subject, but in adjusting to an environment where everybody else is as (or even more) keen, intelligent, diligent, and resourceful as you are. I found out that mine was a learning environment where it was a struggle on its own to try and perform averagely. Stress and pressure were the norm. Spectacular academic performances were rare for most – because the standard was simply set at a whole new level. It quickly overwhelmed me, and a fear crept in my mind that maybe I didn’t belong in a place with such vigorous minds. It troubled me for a while, until I learned that at some point, most of my peers have felt the same way. Eventually, everyone simply adapted and learned to thrive in their own way. Through this process, I was reminded that success is a personal journey and you do not have to outshine anybody or compare yourself to anyone to achieve it. It made me feel lucky to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with great minds, but humbled by the sheer fact that there are countless individuals that are always in some aspect, more. I was also struck by the realization that our world is unimaginably great. There are so many experiences and individuals that a person might never come across in his/her lifetime, thus there is never a justification for self-righteousness and arrogance. This is a mindset that now resonates deeply within me.
Now that I have graduated, I look back at my memories with immense fondness. I will miss every bit of my life there, and just like I did in this essay – I will definitely reflect back on it from time to time. I hope that what I’ve shared here can inspire others to spread their wings and pursue experiences abroad – not just from the knowledge that you may hope to absorb – but from the valuable mindsets that the journey has to offer.
Photo provided by author.