Looking Into the Future: Life After Undergraduate

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As a final-year Undergraduate student, I have to bring myself to finally face the inevitable: ‘real’ life after graduation.  The notion of leaving my Undergraduate days behind is unnerving (Heyyo graduate schemes!), especially considering how getting an undergraduate degree is no longer extraordinary, and the competition amongst job-seekers is cutthroat. In this context, pursuing a master’s degree has emerged as an increasingly attractive alternative. Yet, as this is such a big investment, it is best if you know exactly what you want to study and where you wish to do it before devoting your time and energy. Why bother doing a Master’s degree?  What is unique about London and the UK?  What do you do after your Master’s? Read my interview with Cazadira Fediva Tamzil (Azira), who is currently undertaking a Master’s in Global Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The main entrance to Old Building in Houghton Street - Photo is from LSE website
The main entrance to Old Building in Houghton Street – Photo is from LSE website

Sarah (S)      : After obtaining your undergraduate degree, were you dead-sure that you wanted to pursue a Master’s degree or did you consider to jump straight into the labour force? 

Azira (A)         : I knew I wanted to apply for my Master’s straight after finishing Undergraduate. It was not because I was afraid of delving into ‘the real world’ and work professionally, but genuinely because I love studying global politics and that my career aspirations actually do require me to have (minimum) a Master’s degree.

S: When you were applying for a postgraduate degree, was there any specific reason in choosing United Kingdom instead of other countries?

A: I wanted to venture out of Asia, and I decided not to go with the US because US universities tend to still be very state-centric in their approach to the study of politics and emphasize a lot on heavy quantitative methodology which is not really my forte. Australia, in my opinion, is much better for regional studies. My academic interests are more on the dynamics of civil society in the field of development and humanitarianism.

I love how UK universities are generally more open to studying the influence of non-state actors in politics and have deep philosophical roots. Having said that, what really sealed the deal for me was LSE’s Global Politics course. In other words, my main motivation was not not really the country or city, but the university and the major.

S: What is attractive about Global Politics at LSE?

A: I love how this program offers a solid basis for students to understand the dynamics of globalization holistically. We are given this solid framework of ‘globalization’ and ‘global governance’, yet able to study whichever subjects we fancy – humanitarianism, post-colonialism, environment, gender, Non-Governmental Organizations, regionalism, conflict and self-determination, trade/finance, etc.

I was especially intrigued by the first two as they were things I rarely got to study back home! It is ironic how the majority of IR programs in Indonesia fail to develop expertise on Post-colonialism and Humanitarianism, when Indonesia was once colonized by so many nations (and in many ways continue to be colonized by global neoliberal capitalism) and that we have had so many experiences with natural disasters/conflicts!

This program is also interdisciplinary in nature, making it possible to employ different perspectives and be very flexible in the way we frame and analyze things.

S: How does it help you in building your future career?

A: Most of my peers come from the Western hemisphere, and they offer very different perspectives than my peers back home. Their level of critical thinking also never ceases to amaze me, I think partly because ‘critical thinking’ is firmly embedded in Western primary, secondary, and tertiary education systems.

In my ways, being a Postgraduate student in the UK makes me feel like an Indonesian diplomat too, albeit of course not a formal one. Indonesia plays a strong role in global politics and thus I often found myself in class having to come up with a possible rationale behind some of Indonesia’s policies, for example Indonesia’s refusal to share its H5N1 virus sample with the World Health Organization (WHO), Indonesia’s palm oil politics and the democratic activism in Indonesia. I did a presentation on Indonesian palm oil politics too once in class, and I was honored to win Best Presentation!

Studying global politics gives you a sense of how national and global interests can clash in fundamental ways, and how important it is for you as a student (and future policymakers) to take a stance.

Presentation on Indonesian Palm Oil Politics
Presentation on Indonesian Palm Oil Politics
IMG-20170613-WA0006
A gift for getting Best Presentation

S: Currently, you are living the London-life.  If you don’t mind me asking, what are your 3 favorite things about London?

A: The first one would be the transportation system. It sure ain’t perfect, especially as the tube is often delayed or suspended due to strikes and because it is so expensive. Having said that, it is still reliable and allow us fairly quick journeys to our destinations.

Other things I love: the learning experience at LSE and the luscious green parks which provide sanctuary in this extremely busy city!

S: And the 3 things that you dislike?

A: I don’t think there’s anything that I really hate about London, but I do miss my family, Indonesian street food and also Ojek!

S: As you have experienced university life both in Indonesia and United Kingdom, what are the biggest differences that you find?

A: First is the class culture. In Indonesia, we were not conditioned to having academic debates in class, we were mostly used to just listening to our lecturers speak in one-way lectures. Here, we have weekly ‘seminar’ classes in which we have to discuss the answers to a number of questions raised by our lecturers (who act as facilitators in class).  It was shocking that some of my friends could actually challenge our lecturers’ explanations or arguments. Back home, normally students are conditioned to follow their lecturers’ ways of thinking down to the T.

Second is the writing style. In my opinion, we were mostly conditioned to write long, detailed accounts, as opposed to succinct and argumentative writings. We rarely force ourselves to think “What do I really think of this issue?” and mostly just echoed the literatures we read.  Strict word count is employed here too, whereas in Indonesia (at least where I studied previously) there was more leeway.

Moreover, our lecturers just provide a large backdrop of the main themes and contentions of particular subjects. We are expected to use this a springboard to formulate our own arguments, they do not spoon feed us.

Third is the level of independence that is expected from students.

We are expected to be independent, because nobody will be there to force you to do anything. You can skip lectures (they normally do not take attendance), not come to class having read all of the assigned readings, never come to the lecturers’ office hours, etc. – but you will have to suffer the negative consequences come assignment-submission/exam period.

For my Dissertation, we don’t even have strict obligations to consult our Advisors so long as we adhere to the deadline. Pro-activeness is key if we want to excel.

S: What is your next plan after completing your Master’s degree?

A: I plan on pursuing my Ph.D, specifically doing research on the dynamics of civil society activism, but after having a few years of professional work experience.

S: I wish you all the best for your future plans and thank you for your time!

A: Thank you so much! All the very best for IndonesiaMengglobal!

Photos provided by Azira Tamzil