Adapting to a New Environment: Challenging yet Rewarding

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A student must face and deal with many challenges once they set foot in a completely foreign country. Some of the challenges are essential to ensure one can survive and move forward with his or her life and study, such as socio-cultural adaptation, academic life adjustment, among other things. Salim Darmadi, one of our accomplished columnists, revisited memories of when he first arrived in Brisbane, a relatively quieter place compare to the place he lived in before. He wants to remind us that boredom and loneliness are inevitable but surmountable. Let’s check the following article on how he fitted in and survived!

“Why did you choose a one-and-half-year Master’s program, instead of a two-year one?” I asked an Indonesian friend whose major was the same as mine. I was very new in Brisbane at that time, while he had graduated from the University of Queensland (UQ) and would be returning to Indonesia very soon.

“I just want to complete my study and go back to Indonesia as soon as possible, because it’s too quiet here,” he replied.

“Really?” I responded, in half disbelief.

I wondered, how quiet can it be in Brisbane?

After experiencing daily life in the capital city of Queensland on my own, I knew that my friend was right. Prior to moving to Brisbane to undertake a Master’s program, I lived in a neighbourhood in Bintaro, South Tangerang. Living in such a ‘crowded’ environment, I never felt alone. Even when I just chose to do nothing in my rented room, I could still feel that life was continuously revolving around me.

It was totally different in Brisbane. What could you expect from a neighbourhood where shops closed at 5 PM, and you did not even know the people living next door? Feeling alone and lonely became a condition that everyone coming from communal societies, like me, should anticipate in Queensland.

Slowly but sure, I could adapt myself to the different life circumstances Down Under. A quiet environment did not become an issue I was afraid of anymore. I no longer felt lonely. I was encouraged to find interesting activities in my spare time. When I did not hang out with friends, I chose to read good books, write a blog, or actively participate in mailing lists.

Not only about adapting myself to daily life in a foreign country, I also had to adjust myself to a different academic environment. I found out that many aspects of my Master’s study were quite different from those of the undergraduate degree I pursued back home.

When I undertook an undergraduate program at one of Indonesia’s well-regarded colleges, I realized that I did not work that hard to achieve a good GPA. I just needed to ensure that I attended all classes and took notes, submitted homework and assignments on time, and participated in class discussions. I did not feel the need to recall what I had learned and to prepare before classes. In order to be successful in exams, I just needed to intensify my learning several days before the exams started. For subjects I considered relatively easy, I did not even start to study the materials until the evening before the examination day!

UQ Lake, UQ St Lucia Campus

Since commencing my first semester at the St. Lucia campus, I quickly learned that my postgraduate study here would be a different adventure. Attending one of the world’s top 100 universities, I could understand that I was faced with a demanding academic environment. In one semester, I had only four courses to enrol in, each with quite high workloads. Given this condition, I could not expect that all materials would be covered in lectures and tutorials in detail.

Hence, independent learning was absolutely required to succeed. I should never rely on my fellow students because they already had to deal with their own commitments and challenges. I had to allocate a particular number of hours outside the lectures and tutorials to comprehend the materials. Yet, I could make the most of facilities provided by the university, including excellent learning spaces at libraries.

During the learning process, if I did not have fellow students to consult with, I could see my lecturers or tutors on their pre-scheduled consultation times. I was not surprised that the lecturers usually set high standards, but mark the papers in a transparent and fair manner.

Facing such requirements, I was demanded to have an effective time management, so that I could allocate enough time for study outside of my other commitments. I should work hard and smart to obtain good results. Long story short, if I maintained the learning style I adopted in my undergraduate degree, I would probably just fail.

The Art of Adapting to a New Environment

I believe that one will always face a new environment or circumstance in the journey of his or her life. Given such a condition, adapting to a new environment appears to be a skill that really matters. For example, when first-graders attend school for the first time, they will need to be familiar with their new surroundings, get to know the teachers and fellow pupils, and be ready to conform to applicable rules and requirements. When the level of education gets higher, the adjustment could get more complex.

When an aspiring professional steps into his or her first job, such a good adjustment has to take place as well. The same condition can also be found when one decides to encounter very new surroundings such as moving to an unfamiliar place, tying the knot with his or her sweetheart, and so forth.

From my observation, each person would have different ways of adapting to a new environment. Each individual might require different durations in completing the adjustment process. We might also find that people around us demonstrated different levels of motivation and endurance in adapting to the new situation.

Adjustment to new surroundings always relates to new, strange circumstances; along with various challenges and obstacles. There were those who struggled hard to address the challenges and were finally successful in the adjustment process, some others just demonstrated little effort to succeed. There were also those who resisted to adjust and failed before the mission could be accomplished.

Great Rewards at the End of the Tunnel

Starting my endeavour in a new environment definitely required motivation and perseverance.  It was probably hard and painful in the beginning since I had to deal with various unfamiliar issues.  But as time went by, I found out that I became increasingly familiar with the new surroundings. In some cases, I just needed to go through the situation and put only little effort. But in many cases, I had to do something big in order to survive.

For example, during my first weeks in Australia, I experienced itching all over the body due to low humidity and cold temperatures. My skin became dry, and I was always busy scratching my itchy skin. Surely I could not wait until my skin got used to the new climate condition, or otherwise, my skin would become irritated and infected. Then I started to use moisturizer to overcome the problem and help my skin adapt to such climate.

The same condition also applied in my academic journey. Given such high standards and requirements in a world-class university, I forced myself to work harder and smarter. I often studied at the library until quite late at night. I frequently had discussions with my fellow students to speed up my learning process. I also formulated a strategy. I might not obtain a perfect score in one particular course, but I had to perform very well in other courses.

From my experiences in adapting to new surroundings, I often found the adjusting process difficult. It might be full of hardships and challenges, yet I forced myself to strive and put in my best effort to survive and succeed. At the end of the day, I learned many important lessons that helped me grow and mature. They were not only rewarding, but also life-changing!

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Photo is provided by author.

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Salim Darmadi
Salim Darmadi lahir dan besar di Kediri, Jawa Timur. Menyelesaikan pendidikan di Politeknik Keuangan Negara (PKN) STAN, Tangerang Selatan, dan The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Saat ini meniti karier profesional di salah satu institusi sektor publik di Jakarta. Berhasil menyabet sejumlah penghargaan di bidang penulisan karya tulis ilmiah tingkat internasional. Aktif dalam kegiatan organisasi dan komunitas sejak duduk di sekolah menengah. Buku solo pertamanya, Serpihan Inspirasi: Hikmah dari Negeri Seberang, diterbitkan oleh Elex Media Komputindo pada tahun 2016. Pada tahun 2017, Salim berhasil memperoleh Beasiswa Pendidikan Indonesia LPDP untuk menempuh pendidikan doktoral di luar negeri.