Indonesia Matters: Why I Decided to Leave ‘Hogwarts’ and Teach at Home

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University of Glasgow cloisters. Picture from Shutterstock.

To celebrate Indonesia Mengglobal’s anniversary, we are sharing stories from those who have made their mark abroad but then decided to come home and create global impact from within. Speaking of good (and great) impact, most of the time it always started with a good education. Aisha Kusumasomantri, our contributor, shared her experience studying Global Security in Glasgow and how she returned to become an academics in the hope of helping create world peace through researches and educating younger minds.

“Why did you come back to Indonesia?” is one of the most frequently asked questions after I returned from the United Kingdom. The question usually followed by remarks like, “You wasted a great opportunity. You can get a decent salary and build a better life in the UK.” Well, I would not lie. I had several opportunities to stay in the UK after I graduated from my postgraduate study at the University of Glasgow—actually, I even considered some of them seriously. However, after a through consideration, I figured that my calling is to return to Indonesia and pursuing my passion as an academic.

My story began with an advice from my father: “Education it will never fail us. Whatever is our choice, whatever is our passion, whatever is our goal in life; it is important to pursue our education wholeheartedly, because it can make the best version of us.” He repeated that advice so often, it imprinted in my mind and turned into a life goal. That is why, as soon as I acquired my bachelor’s degree on International Relations from Universitas Indonesia, I know right away that I wanted to continue my study. I decided to work at my alma mater as a teaching assistant, while actively applying for postgraduate programmes.

Hogwarts, nay -- University of Glasgow, in winter. Photo by author.
Hogwarts, nay — University of Glasgow, in winter. Photo by author.

During that time, I was determined to enrol in a security studies programme. One of the reasons was because this area has always been my passion, and it became the motivation that underlines each step that I take in my study. My passion was actually born from a childhood trauma. I remember that I was still in the first grade of elementary school when I saw a reportage on the Sampit Conflict in 1997. The conflict was violent and resulted in many casualties as well as internally displaced person. At that time, I was mortified to see how armed conflicts can affects people’s life. Overtime, that fear transformed into an ambition: I wanted to be a part of a solution in building peace and stability in Indonesia.

I was really excited when I know that I got accepted at the Global Security Postgraduate Programme at the University of Glasgow. The University of Glasgow has one of the best security studies programmes in the UK and ranked as one of the top world class universities. To be honest, I also fell in love at the first sight with the university architecture. The main building was built in the 14thcentury, and it looks just like Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry from Harry Potter.

I considered myself to be blessed, because shortly after the university announcement, I was also selected as an awardee of the LPDP Scholarship from the Ministry of Finance. It was a great honour for me to represent my country as an international student in the UK. But of course, the scholarship also came with moral obligations to bring the good name of Indonesia and positive contributions to the society.

Another breathtaking view of the University of Glasgow. Photo by author.
Another breathtaking view of the University of Glasgow. Photo by author.

My postgraduate study has brought an invaluable learning process for me, both in the sense of academic and non-academic aspects. There, I got the first-hand experience to learn from prominent security studies scholars whom works have inspires me to pursue this subject. Additionally, since most of my classmates were international students, their diverse perspective enriched our classes’ discussions and broaden my perspectives on various subjects.

As much as I am enjoying my studies, I still met a lot of challenges along the way. For a starter, the University of Glasgow has a very different academic culture compared to my undergraduate study university in Indonesia. I had to adapt to my new environment and learn to strive outside of my comfort zone. It was not easy, but it has given me an opportunity to become more independent and resilient.

Other valuable lesson from my study abroad lies in my social interaction with the local people. My identity as a Muslim and Sundanese has always given me a lot of privilege in my home country; and for the first time in my live, I was finally living as a minority in a place far away from home. Culture-wise, I have nothing in common with most of the local people in Glasgow. At first, I even didn’t understand their lingo (the Scottish accent is very strong in Glasgow)! There was a time in the beginning, where I felt like a muggle trapped in the wizarding world of Hogwarts.

Nevertheless, this experience has given me an opportunity to appreciate and respect other cultures, as well as a chance to retrospect on how we suppose to fight for the minority rights in our society. I understand that multiculturalism in the UK is not perfect, but I experienced a priceless lesson about tolerance and respect from the local community.

Posing with kids of Papua New Guinea during a research at the PNG/Indonesia border of Sota. Photo from author.
Posing with kids of Papua New Guinea during a research at the PNG/Indonesia border of Sota. Photo from author.

After I graduated from my study, I received several jobs offers abroad. During that time, the LPDP Scholarship has just been implemented for a couple of years, and there was no obligation to return to Indonesia after the awardee graduated. Nevertheless, I remembered that the reason on why I continue my study is because I want to fight for a cause that I believed in. I want to give back as much as I can to Indonesia; since the only reason that I can pursue my degree is because I received a scholarship from the government.

Today I am working as a lecturer at the International Relations Department, Universitas Indonesia. Throughout my academic career, I built an expertise in the area of security studies, particularly on the issue of asymmetric warfare. I am fully aware that I am still in the beginning of my journey. However, in the future, I hope that I can produce insightful researches and academic articles that might contribute in creating peace and stability in Indonesia.