Indonesian Students Excited and Anxious to Attend School in US

Eighteen-year-old Satrio Riyadi Putranto is feeling a sense of both excitement and apprehension. 

Having lived much of his life in the East Java town of Tulungagung with his grandmother, the prospect of spending years in Missouri in the United States to study biomedical engineering produced both delight and worries.

“We’ve only been exposed to American culture through television, not knowing the actual reality of their lifestyle quite worries me,” Satrio said.

Satrio is one of 25 fresh graduates from the Sampoerna Academy in Malang, East Java, who will soon leave for various universities in the United States. They are part of the 226 students who formed the first batch of the academy’s graduates.

The other 201 students have been accepted to prestigious national universities, such as the University of Indonesia, Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta and the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.

Run by the Putera Sampoerna Foundation, the academy operates four schools and provides full three-year scholarship for underprivileged students to complete their high school education.

“I’ve always dreamed of studying in the United States,” said Rizky Nur Zairina, the youngest of four sisters in Mojokerto, East Java. Rizky has been accepted at the University of West Virginia, and will major in general engineering.

“I’m also really looking forward to making new friends who come from different backgrounds,” she said.

Evi Susilowati, who comes from a police family in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, is a little anxious.

“It will definitely be hard for me. In Malang, whenever I miss home it’s easy to go to my family, while I can’t do that being miles away in another country,” Evi said.

Evi, who developed a fascination for aviation after a flight from Kendari to Java, is due to study aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Every one of these students was confident they would be able to cope with the new environment.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to find similar interests with other students, despite our different backgrounds,” said Angga Khoirul Imam, 18, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory employee who will pursue a degree in industrial engineering at Texas Tech University.

The 25 students spent one week in a crash course on adaptation, including staying in an apartment to simulate parts of the lifestyle they will face overseas.

The students were given pre-departure orientation courses, including on how to manage their finances and various other training linked to daily life as a college student overseas.

Rizky, a math fan, said the course provided the students with tips on coping with living alone abroad.

“Simple things like making your own food instead of eating out can make a difference,” Rizky said.

One subject that figured prominently among the worries aired by the students was food. Most admitted that getting used to a different diet would be a challenge.

“I will most definitely miss jajanan pasar [market snacks] like klepon [rice cakes] and bakwan [fried vegetables]. The fact that I love snacking probably won’t help either,” Evi said.

But in general, the students were quite confident they would get through it, especially since they have trained themselves to cook and buy their own groceries during their one-week stay in Jakarta.

Some of them have even claimed a signature dish.

“I think I make quite a good nasi goreng [fried rice] ,” Evi said confidently.

They also think their newly attained cooking skills will help them promote Indonesian culture.

Their latest opportunity crowns three years of disciplined training and education at the Sampoerna Academy’s boarding schools. But just graduating from the high school was not enough.

With students planning to apply to universities overseas, the academy gave them about two months of daily, two-hour classes to meet the Standardized Aptitude Test (SAT) in English.

“The plethora of new vocabulary to learn and memorize was the most challenging part of the SAT for me,” said Evi, a statement that was immediately greeted with nods of agreement from several of her peers.

“I had to put up sticky notes by my bed, so the first thing I saw when I woke up and the last when I went to bed was those lists of words,” said Missouri-bound Satrio.

Studying bioengineering, for him, has long been a dream. This dream started when his mother began to suffer from minor aneurysms but had no local access to the sophisticated technology required to treat her.

“That was when I knew I wanted to become someone who would be able to make technologically advanced medical equipment,” he said.

The students said they hoped that they would be able to contribute to the nation when they come back from university.

Three years ago, they were merely gifted students with limited opportunity.

When they were recruited, the students, who all come from underprivileged backgrounds but are academically gifted and possessed leadership qualities, had to undergo a five-stage application process.

The process included written academic tests, interviews, team-building exercises as well as home visits, which serve as a way for the foundation to determine whether or not their families truly support the children’s education.

Erna Retnowati, the academy’s Palembang school principal, said she believed the students would be able to reach their full potential if they were given opportunities, not only in academic matters but also in other areas.

“We are also providing them with activities that cultivate and strengthen their talents. We hope to instill in them the moral integrity that is imp ortant in facing life,” Erna said.

“The best and most rewarding experience for me is to be able to watch them progress and change into what they are now. I am very proud that each and every single one of these students now has a very high moral integrity.”

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