The Homes that Made 2019

I.

Between feeling grateful and undeserving, I have spent this year subconsciously waiting for someone to give me the permission to be happy. On the surface, it may seem like I have quite accomplished a lot in 2019: (1) an unexpected promotion to a dream title, (2) a brand new home we get to call ours, and (3) a community where I found purpose. Underneath, however, lingers layers of guilt—mixed in a bowl of sadness. Apparently ticking certain boxes others define as ‘success’ does not mean that you’re protected from a different kind of pain that comes with adulthood.

II.

2019 is the year with many good byes. One of my best friends moved abroad indefinitely. He was a non-judgmental confidant and a competitive board game partner, although we still couldn’t explain why or how we ended up as friends. We still chat regularly slash respond to each other’s Instagram story with an emoji, but it’s not quite the same. I’m just glad that we got to say an intimate good bye that I still cherish to this day.

Just a couple of months later, my mentor-friend followed his lead, although not to the same country. He was an office neighbor who used to stop by just to talk about animals, and from time to time invited Wikan and I for dinners. After he left, I effectively lost the anchor that had allowed me to not just survive, but actually navigate the new habitat I moved into. I hope he knows that he trained me well, because I have made a home out of the winds blowing my ship to various directions since he left.

Other than these two, at a different scale but still very much felt, I had to bid farewell to an officemate from whom I learned a lot (one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever known), two passionate environmentalists slash boss women I look up to who took me under their wings and opened doors for me, and an old friend who’s now conquering New York as a law school student.

Meanwhile, the two best friends who actually came back home to Jakarta this year, I feel like I keep failing to reconnect with. Maybe it was because I worked too much, or they worked too much, or both. But truth be told my biggest fear is that maybe in the three years we stopped hanging out, we simply grew apart. If that’s true, I hope they know that I still love and wish the best for them regardless.

All in all, it’s been a relatively lonely year. There are glimpses of moments when I got to hang out with friends in one-on-one lunches/coffees/dinners or big groups, and I cherish those deeply.

Image
Like that time Wikan and I got to host a Hogwarts-themed party.

III.

It is also an important year when I’ve tried to figure out what being a ‘married daughter’ means. As my dad got diagnosed with parkinson’s disease, I started wondering about what that would mean to us as a family, how we could be the support system that he needs us to be (or not to be). Reading journals and watching videos helped, as I understand that other families have found ways to make sure that their diagnosed loved ones could still have a full life. But even after all that, I still couldn’t settle down with what counts as enough. My worldly ambitions had defined who I am, but they now seem arbitrary in comparison.

That said, just last weekend (last of 2019) a good friend reminded me that maybe my parents’ happiness stems from mine, so as difficult as it is, I still want to pat myself in the back for several good (great?) things that actually happened to me this year. They mostly come in the form of ‘homes’—some more literal than others.

IV.

The first ‘home’ began with an Instagram story that grew into a group of over 100 passionate individuals and growing. It was an evening after the head of International Relations department in my alma mater asked me, “If we were to invite you (to guest lecture), what exactly would you like to share about?” Her question helped me realize that what I really want to teach about is public policy—i.e. the art of creative problem-solving in the public sector.

Since she obviously wouldn’t let me do that in her classrooms (and perhaps it’s my way to cope with rejections), I decided to just create my own classroom. One thing leads to another (including a nagging, amazing old friend who showed up to actually drag me to do it), and suddenly almost 600 people applied to what was a pilot series of 12 classes (we had to select 30 of them). From then on, one by one more people have come forward to kindly say that they have faith in this movement, and by doing so gives me the conviction that we have to move forward. 2020 will be an exciting year full of possibilities. Lin-Manuel’s Hamilton puts it best: just you wait.

A space of possibilities

V.

The more literal home, however, was slightly more planned than that. For so long, Wikan and I had known that we wanted our very own house, as homemaking has always been our favorite project as a couple. After busting our asses off and saving up for the past few years, we finally had enough to make a downpayment and signed a mortgage for the perfect house in May. As a nomad of a little over 13 years (4 of them with Wikan), finding relative permanence was a great deal of blessing.

We moved to the outskirt south of Jakarta in October, and since then we have been mostly occupied with the business of homemaking. Between dining table and bedsheets, the highlight for yours truly had been the three white bookcases that we won’t have to knock down in twelve months, where I could take out my books from their boxes and organize by genre/author. At the end of 2019, after three stressful-yet-enjoyable months of figuring out furnitures and layouts, we finally arrived at a place where the building felt like ours.

We now have a 5-10 year long mortgage and commutes are much longer now, but hey, we don’t have to worry about not getting security deposit back if we nail the walls. What I do worry about, however, that having a home will start a sequence of much bigger changes we don’t know yet about.

Non-fiction on shelf #1, fiction on shelf #2, and the rest on shelf #3.

VI.

When I thought two were more than enough, the universe surprised me with one last trick up her sleeve—maybe because good things come in three (although maybe so do bad things). On September 25th, I received a call that allowed me to do what I’ve wanted to do for so long: telling the economic story of the environment. After being a research consultant for a little over a year in the organization, I finally was offered a term position as an environmental economist. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first (and perhaps still don’t until today) but one thing I do know is that it allowed me to finally belong. A new team I get to call home.

Since that call, there has been a lot of figuring out to do: as the new girl I did something wrong without knowing it, did something knowing it would have consequences, and sometimes they’re both a little mixed up. In the beginning I felt lost, unsure whether they’ve made the wrong decision (especially since they rejected me at first), but it always helped to remind myself that so many women before me doubted themselves after they asked for more, but with hard work and the right support system, they made it work. So will I.

VII.

Finally, 2019 was a year of many first times. Beyond the ‘three homes’, it was the year when I joined my first (and second) public protest in Jakarta: the first one was on plastic waste, and the second was one of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. On both, I was moved to see how some people really care, but more importantly, I was reminded that taking up public spaces matter. I always feel like it was an experience taken away from me during my undergrad, because I was too focused on the academics.

It was also the year I got to be on podcast interviews, which turns out to be quite enjoyable. I especially appreciated the interview with a friend on public policy, and one with another one on critical thinking and privileges. The hosts of both shows have helped me realize that good questions come from a place of empathy.

What protests look like in Jakarta

Among the many speaking engagements I had this year, one stood out. It was when I visited Semarang and met one of the most charming, kindhearted young women who called herself an admirer. I was moved by just how pure her intentions was, how genuinely she expressed her appreciation, how she hugged me, how I felt seen because she’s read almost everything I’ve written online. It’s the first time I feel like I’ve affected someone’s life so deeply. At the end of our encounter, she gave me a long letter she’s written, which I promised to treasure.

VIII.

Too many MRT rides (one of 2019 highlights!) and evening showers were spent thinking about whether I deserve any of it at all. Sure, I’ve worked hard for it, but so has everybody. Having an awareness about ‘the system’ and the socio-economic constraints that come with it, I know that none of these accomplishments are mine alone, and if anything they’re reminders for me to give back as much as I could. I know that I owe much of them to my parents, to Eyang, to Wikan, and to friends who are one Telegram/WhatsApp chat away. Without this amazing support system I’m blessed with, I would’ve crumbled down into pieces.

That lingering feeling like there’s an impending bad thing to make up for all the good things this year

I wondered if this guilt/undeserving feeling had anything to do with my childhood and upbringing, how my dad never quite allowed me to be proud. If I came home with math score of 90 he would’ve joked, “Maybe it was a typo!” When I won a gold medal in a nation-wide math competition, he brushed it off with, “They must’ve mistaken you for another Andhyta!” Looking back, I think it trained me to never take my achievements for granted, and to never feel entitled. Or maybe the guilt had to do with my being a Sundanese, with my tendency to over-empathize, with my bring a confused human being.

IX.

It would’ve been a lie to say that 2019 has not been a good year. Feeling guilty about the good things that happen might be a “non-issue” for some of you or, borrowing a friend’s line, “a good problem to have”. I am grateful—immensely so—but it’s still a dissonance that occupies my mind.

For 2020, I wish to stop being apologetic, I wish that humility will stay a company, and I wish to finally find a way to be both a good daughter and a woman with ambition for myself.

Happy new year!

Eleven Lessons of 2018

Last year had been a lot of things: humbling, elating, upsetting, overwhelming—sometimes all at the same time. It was also one of the most formative years of my life, one where I felt like I became a fuller human being with a little bit more compassion, self-awareness, and less anger. Against my wish, however, the moments kept fleeting before I could properly imprint them in my memory (taking pictures helps, of course, although it often gets too interruptive and energy-consuming).

[Disclaimer: this post is about me and my experience throughout 2018. If you want to know what happened in the world (including the unfortunate series of disasters in this country that broke our hearts multiple times), I recommend this 5-minute video by Vox instead.]

Quite a large number of strangers seem to learn about me for the first time this year and to you, I’d like to say hello. Surprise: my thoughts and I had been around before I started studying abroad or made video essays with my husband. This blog had been home to those thoughts for almost eight years now, and if I hadn’t said this already: welcome.

(Oh and yes, by the way, I use more brackets, em dashes, colons, and semi-colons than your average writer.)

That said, if you’re part of the smaller crowd who were here last year or the many years before, here goes another one of my annual reflections. As you’re probably familiar with, there’s a pretty big chance that it won’t be relevant to your own lives, but if it somehow amuses you, read on: 2018 seems like as a humongous bag of lessons, and this post is a peek inside.

1. Fulfillment: A Dream Degree and Generous Friendships

Given my unhealthy obsession with completions, this year’s highlight is the fact that I finished my master’s program. (And with a distinction grade for my capstone analysis on village fund too!) Although it was pretty heartbreaking to leave the quiet city that had become home, I am mostly grateful to have had two years packed with learning not just about public policy, but also myself.

I tell friends that I wouldn’t mind another semester at Hogwarts—which is true—but at the same time, I’m also glad it went the way it did. I did not get all straight As, but I get just enough to prove that I tried my best, while also spending an ample amount outside the library to make some of the greatest friends in the world that I will forever treasure.

2. Confidence: A New Medium to Braindance

Ever since Wikan and I started Frame & Sentences in August 2017, we have had an insane amount of fun. While I loved the space that writing had provided for my ideas, it is pretty exhilarating to be able to share my thoughts to a significantly larger audience just by switching the medium. With op-eds or blogposts, roughly a thousand-something people (?) would take the time to read each piece, probably not thoroughly either. But thanks to Wikan’s videography and editing skills, now I get to reach over 20 times that number for each episode.

It’s not the same, of course, but I ended up enjoying writing video essays a lot.

Having known that many channels had to work really hard and produce regular (almost daily) content to get where they are, we are blessed to have collected over 108,000 views and almost 6,000 new subscribers from just uploading four videos this year. F&S also got interviewed by Indonesia Mengglobal and Magdalene, which is pretty cool. We are behind our own production goal, of course, but considering the significant transitions in our personal lives, I’m thrilled that we did at all.

People’s reception to the videos we make—especially from our closest friends (you know who you are)—has allowed me to enter a new level of self-assurance that what I have to say matters somehow. That there are people out there who care enough to watch every second of our 12-minute-long video.

That it is crucial for us to keep making them. (And, probably even more importantly, for us to not let this inflate our ego!)

3. Voice: A Stage to Speak Up

Beyond the screen, the second semester of 2018 was also full of in-person sharing: thanks to the invention of electronic calendars, I could track that I have been to exactly 23 speaking/teaching/moderating engagements before roughly 2,500-3,000 people spread throughout four islands—Sumatra, Java, Lombok, and Papua. It took almost all of my weekends, which means that I probably need to slow down and rethink my priorities in 2019, but for now, I’m just pleased to have all these opportunities to give back.

From all these talks, the pinnacle was my TEDxUIWomen speech (video coming soon!). It was one of the best 10 minutes in my life, and I am deeply thankful to have been given the stage to share my genuine thoughts with the world, highlighting the need to talk more about gender-based issues in professional settings. I summarized it here.

I’ve also rediscovered my joy in leading classrooms—this year I conducted several half-day workshops on argumentative writing and fundamentals of negotiations. Above anything else, what I always look forward to is when, at the end of each session, my students snuck up and told me that they learned something new. That specific moment made it all worth it.

4. Responsibility: The Expectations to Live Up To

Apparently, probably thanks to point 1-3, I now get noticed by random people in the unlikeliest places—during a lone stroll in a museum in Makassar, a Ramayana ballet dance in Yogyakarta, cafes, cinema studios, and concert halls in Jakarta, even on a deserted beach in Lombok. While I should probably be cooler about this, these encounters always leave me awkward, unsure about what to do/be.

It is very flattering that people (usually young girls) approached me and said that I am their role model, someone they want to become when they’re older, that I have inspired them to study or work harder. (I always tell them that they shouldn’t want to be ‘like me’, because fixating your eyes on a single path might lead to oversight on other opportunities from the specific quirks that only you have).

At the same time, however, when the same conversation is repeated dozens of times, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of duty that prompts me to be more careful at what I say and do as it might affect these people more than I think. Furthermore, although it is wonderful to receive these messages, I worry that people will be disappointed when they find out that my introverted self is not as welcoming to small talks or spending time to share wisdom 24/7 in real life. While I try to practice kindness as much as I could, I’m also generally impatient and not the friendliest person.

That said, I almost always, always appreciate long, thoughtful messages through direct messages or emails—which I have been showered with throughout 2018. If you’re one of the people who did this, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

5. Peace: To Forgive Ignorance

Needless to say, putting your thoughts out there also means that people will disagree with you, and people have disagreed with Wikan and me at least a hundred times this year through F&S’s comment box :)) Of course these dissenting opinions take many different forms: some are genuine questions I was more than happy to answer, some are good counter arguments founded with logic and data (my favorites), but the hardest ones to deal with came from people who were, for whatever reason, triggered and didn’t have any agenda other than channeling their own furiousness.

When F&S received its first thumbs down in 2017 or any time someone completely misunderstood our point in the past, I used to be outraged: “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST AGREE? HOW CAN YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THIS SIMPLE IDEA?”

Throughout 2018, however, fundamentally thanks to the adaptive leadership course I took at HKS, I have effectively stopped being angry at ignorance. This shift is rooted in the realization that we are all just products of the environment we were raised in, which informed our loyalties and the ‘voices inside our head’. The people who leave condescending, thoughtless comments might have done so without the awareness of why they believe what they believed, let alone the impact of their words. So why should I be triggered by these trivial responses?

I consider this as my biggest achievement of 2018 and have made it my personal goal to keep making content that will bring people to the same space.

6. Anxiety: An Abundance of Choices

Another low point of the year is the fact that I wasted 70 good days of 2018 in limbo: I put my life on hold just because I could not quite resolve about how I want to pick up my post-grad school career (and have written about this at length, so I won’t talk about this too much here). If you watch The Good Place [mild spoiler ahead], there’s a character whose biggest problem is his indecision, such that he made the lives of the people around him miserable. I was that guy in 2018.

In addition to my inability to choose a professional trajectory among all the available options, I realized that people have invited me to speak/moderate/teach on hardly coherent themes: sometimes it’s climate change, sometimes it’s gender, youth, education, peace building, the list—if anything—only gets longer over time.

I consciously picked the path of a generalist, but having been trained in public policy analysis, I can’t help but worry about all the opportunity costs from all of these identity ambiguity. When people ask me, “What should we put as your title?” I always end up stuttering because I’m not quite sure myself. I am sometimes a research analyst, sometimes content creator, sometimes youth organization co-founder; never consistent.

Maybe I should embrace this as a strength instead of weakness because it allows me to be more agile in joining many different activities. That said, it might simply be a symptom of my cowardice to bear the consequences of making a choice, something that I want to work on in 2019.

7. Courage: A Jump Into the Unknown

My first attempt to stop being afraid of leaving the fence is by actually making a decision (face your fear, etc.). So in August, I finally made the call to join an old, massive international organization. The nature of my new workplace is the opposite of where I had always been before: small (and therefore agile) organizations at the early stage of their growth.

The rationale behind this verdict was simple: I didn’t want to be the smartest person in the room. I feel like two years was not enough to learn, and my thirst for growth prompted me to look for places that will give me the steepest learning curve.

In the beginning, this made me nervous: I wasn’t sure whether I would be useful (or how), and there were adjustments in expected coordination and overall process. Although I knew most of it already from my research about the culture and have been here for over four months now, there are still many things I have to learn.

A good friend told me to make decisions that are driven by hope instead of fear. This was a wake up call because I almost leaned into decisions because I was afraid of missing out, of not working with the same familiar faces, of being left by the train, but I’m glad that at the end of the day I chose hope (to build an expertise in something, and to continue to learn).

For 2019, I pray that this courage will stay with me.

8. Conviction: The Ability to Say No

Flash news: I’m Leslie Knope (from Parks and Recreation)—or at least that’s how I think of myself. In one of the episodes, Leslie sat down with her boss Ron Swanson, who reminded her to ‘never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing‘.

While I don’t know if I could ever ‘whole-ass one thing’, this year I have accomplished the difficult task of reducing my urge to ‘multiplieth-ass tons of things’ to just ‘whole-ass two (three at most) things’. Had this happened in 2017, there’s no chance that I would be able to say no to a free trip to Israel, to several speaking engagements, and to a number of paid buzzing opportunities (unless the companies’ values align with mine).

In quiet, underneath my newfound ability to decline invitations, I can hear the vague sound of conviction that I recently discovered. This might be part of growing up or my training in school of government, but I can now give people advices with significantly more confidence than I ever had.

9. Patience: The Fortitude to Wait

The first five years of my post-college-life had been very full life-changing events and instant affirmation. I got an offer to my first job before I even finished college, helped the institute grow more than four-fold, led a national movement of political education for youth, got accepted in my dream school, got married, and already got a second degree under my belt. All of this conditioned me to a certain pace and somehow hungry for immediate gratification.

Because of this, last year I forced myself to have more patience. By choosing an organization where people take their time to perfect their work, I have come to see the beauty and sound of silent growth, day by day. I have also understood how not knowing could open doors and that, even when nobody’s looking, you know you’re growing and that’s enough.

This year I aim to invest my hours in slowly building my expertise and to specialize in certain skills that make me an even more effective generalist. I want to learn more about macroeconomics and fiscal policy, I want to become fluent in both languages of development and environment.

If I’m lucky, I might find just the right way to marry them.

10. Guilt: The Pressure for Presence

Although Wikan and I had been married for 2.5 years now, this is the first time that we are in Indonesia as a married couple. At the same time, 2018 was also the year that my little brothers left home (one for work and the other for college), making my parents’ home emptier than ever.

The theme of separation—especially between children and their parents, including the story in Ralph Breaks the Internet—always ruined me. I think it’s one of the saddest tragedies in life, and I wish it never had to happen to my aging parents. But of course it did.

The year had partly been about making peace with the fact that I could not always be there for them. At the same time, it is also a year of doing my best to be a good daughter, despite my shortcomings.

11. Love: The Forever and Ever

Above anything else, however, I am grateful for all the love that I received throughout 2018. From the daily dose of companionship and understanding from Wikan, to my family’s patience about us not wanting to have a child yet, to kind words from F&S subscribers, the colleagues and mentors at work who forgive my uninformed comments as a newcomer, over and over.

Here’s to 2019 filled with even more love and lessons. Onward!

P. S. I’m considering to resign from Instagram for a little while. I believe that this will allow me to look at life in a picture much bigger than simply a stitched sequence of story dashes. Should you need to reach out to me, please consider Twitter direct message or email instead.

Ad Astra Per Aspera (a.k.a. Afu’s Unabridged Guide of What You Need to Know Before Applying to Harvard: FAQ)

Alright. This is happening.

Kalau teman-teman mengikuti saya di Instagram, kemungkinan besar kalian sudah tahu bahwa saya tidak terlalu senang ketika identitas utama saya diakarkan pada fakta bahwa saya lulus dari salah satu institusi pendidikan paling elit ini. Saya—seperti halnya semua orang—tiga-dimensi, tersusun oleh pemikiran, kata sifat, dan kata kerja yang perlahan-lahan membentuk ‘diri saya’. Karena itu, saya lebih suka menerima apresiasi untuk apa yang saya buat, tulis, atau ucapkan alih-alih nama alma mater.

Pada saat bersamaan, saya juga sadar ada rasa lapar yang tak terbendung di antara pemuda-pemuda Indonesia yang beberapa tahun belakangan ini terbangun dari tidur panjang dan mendadak sadar bahwa kita yang tidak terlahir dari keluarga kaya—dengan kerja keras dan beasiswa yang tepat—bisa juga menikmati pendidikan berkualitas di kampus-kampus terbaik dunia.

Look. I get it.

Karena itu, setelah puluhan (mungkin juga ratusan) kali ditanya, “Kak Afu, gimana caranya masuk Harvard?” saya putuskan untuk menulis blogpost ini sebagai upaya menjawab teman-teman dengan lebih terstruktur dan konsisten.

[Disclaimer: program yang saya ikuti adalah Master In Public Policy di Harvard Kennedy School jadi kemungkinan kurang menjawab untuk program dan sekolah lain.]

[May 24, 2018. One of the best days of my life.]

1. Start with the right mindset.

Frasa Latin yang saya gunakan sebagai judul tulisan ini berarti, “to the stars through difficulties“. Memang, untuk mendarat di antara bintang-bintang, kita seringkali harus melalui berbagai kesulitan.

But here’s the thing: Harvard is NEVER supposed to be your stars. At best, it’s a transit planet that would allow you to fly further, maybe twice as fast. That said, not everyone has to go through the same route—your aim should be much bigger than a transit planet.

Beberapa orang bertanya pada saya tentang apakah mereka harus ikut organisasi X alih-alih Y atau kerja di perusahaan A alih-alih Z agar bisa diterima di Harvard. Bukan jarang, ada yang mendeklarasikan diri ingin masuk Harvard bahkan sebelum tahu program apa yang ingin mereka pilih/yang ada di sana.

Ini cara berpikir yang keliru.

Salah satu alasan Harvard akan menerima orang-orang yang mereka terima—menurut saya—justru adalah karena mereka memiliki (atau setidaknya mulai mencari) raison d’etre alias tujuan jangka panjang yang lebih besar dari diri mereka sendiri. Raison d’etre ini lah yang kemudian memandu keputusan-keputusan besar seperti memilih tempat bekerja atau kegiatan luar kampus, dan tercermin dalam CV/resume mereka. Nantinya, ‘bintang’ ini juga yang menjadi justifikasi untuk memilih kuliah di jurusan tersebut.

Raison d’etre ini bisa berbentuk sangat abstrak—misalnya melakukan ‘pelayanan publik’, atau ‘sektor pembangunan’ tanpa bidang spesifik—karena bagian dari sekolah bisa jadi menemukan astra yang lebih konkrit. Sedikit seperti ayam dan telur, tapi poin saya: see beyond the brand.

2. Know your shit.

Setelah astra teman-teman sudah sedikit lebih jelas terlihat, coba cari tahu kampus dan program mana yang akan membawamu ke sana. Jurusan yang saya ambil di Harvard Kennedy School, Master In Public Policy bisa jadi ada di mana-mana (termasuk di Berkeley atau Chicago), tapi tiap sekolah memiliki menu kuliah yang sangat berbeda-beda.

Beberapa informasi dasar yang mungkin membantu:

  • Harvard Kennedy School adalah sekolah profesional, bukan sekolah akademis. Karena itu, kebanyakan kelasnya bersifat praktis dan tidak teoretis. Tugas akhirnya pun berupa capstone project dalam bentuk analisis kebijakan publik dan bukan tesis master pada umumnya yang menjawab pertanyaan ilmiah.
  • Sekolah ini juga membanggakan diri sebagai rumah bagi para generalis yang ingin belajar sedikit-sedikit tentang banyak hal, alih-alih banyak hal tentang satu topik. Kalau ada spesialisasi, itu dilakukan berdasarkan konsentrasi dan topik tugas akhir yang dipilih (bagi para MPP). Karena itu aku terpapar mulai dari isu pembangunan, growth diagnostics, perubahan iklim, behavioral economics, sampai keamanan. Namun, keterampilan dasar yang dibangun tetap sama, yaitu analisis kebijakan publik—yang di dalamnya termasuk statistik dan econometrics, ilmu ekonomi, ilmu politik, negosiasi, serta kepemimpinan.
  • Program-program yang tersedia—mulai dari MPP, MPA, MC-MPA, MPA/ID sangat berbeda antar satu sama lain. Secara umum aku merasa bahwa jika teman-teman ingin kuat secara kuantitatif lebih baik pilih MPA/ID, kalau MPA lebih keterampilan kualitatif dan pemahaman isu, sedangkan MPP yang relatif berimbang di keduanya.

Two years is a long time to be away from your loved ones back home—make sure it’s for the right reason.

3. Have some work experience first.

Salah satu cara paling mudah untuk ‘menemukan’ raison d’etre kita adalah dengan memiliki pengalaman bekerja terlebih dahulu, paling tidak selama 1 tahun.

Ketika lulus dari jurusan Hubungan Internasional Universitas Indonesia di tahun 2013, saya belum memiliki bayangan sama sekali untuk mengambil jurusan kebijakan publik. Baru setelah bekerja kurang lebih 1.5 tahun di sebuah lembaga riset, saya menemukan permasalahan kebijakan publik sebagai puzzle yang ingin saya pecahkan.

Beberapa pengecualian terhadap aturan ini: (1) jika teman-teman ingin menjadi seorang akademisi, (2) sudah punya pengalaman ‘dunia nyata’ karena bekerja selama kuliah, atau (3) alasan profesional atau pribadi lain yang menjadikan gelar master sangat penting.

Secara keseluruhan, pengalaman kerja sepertinya akan lebih menguntungkan teman-teman daripada kampusnya sendiri. Harvard Kennedy School sendiri tidak memiliki persyaratan tegas (hanya ‘disarankan’ punya pengalaman 3 tahun untuk program MPP, tapi saya punya teman yang langsung ke HKS setelah S1).

Namun, selain sebagai proses self discovery, pengalaman kerja juga memungkinkan teman-teman untuk berkontribusi lebih aktif dalam diskusi di kelas. Seringkali, diskusi yang dilakukan dapat diperkaya oleh pengalaman profesional para mahasiswanya. Kalau belum punya pengalaman kerja, takutnya teman-teman malah tidak bisa berpartisipasi dengan maksimal.

4. Do your research.

Setelah sering menerima pertanyaan terkait proses aplikasi, aku bisa mengkategorikan penanya ke dalam dua kelompok: (1) penanya dengan informed questions, dan (2) dengan pertanyaan malas.

Contoh pertanyaan malas: “Kok bisa masuk Harvard?” (Yang biasanya aku jawab dengan, “Karena daftar.” LOL.)

Contoh informed question—alias pertanyaan yang sudah spesifik karena dilandasi riset sebelumnya: “Di program MPP ada tugas akhir berupa capstone project dengan klien. Itu nanti cara mencari kliennya seperti apa?”

Riset awal menunjukkan bahwa kita cukup berkomitmen untuk menginvestasikan waktu ke dalam proses mencari tahu jawaban. Terkadang, jawaban yang teman-teman cari sudah ada versi lengkapnya di Google.

Percaya atau tidak, semua informasi terkait proses aplikasi yang saya lakukan sampai akhirnya diterima sumbernya dari Google, karena saya tidak kenal orang Indonesia yang diterima di Harvard Kennedy School sebelum saya.

So there you go.

5. Build a solid story arc.

Sebagai orang Indonesia (untuk saya lebih spesifik lagi—Sunda), kita dibesarkan di dalam budaya yang mengutamakan kerendahan hati. Sama sekali tidak ada yang salah dengan itu, namun kita sering mencampuradukkan kerendahan hati dengan rasa rendah diri.

Bagian penting dari aplikasi S2 ke sekolah di Amerika pada umumnya, adalah kemampuan ‘menjual diri’.

Almost literally.

We Indonesians have *not* been trained for this (not to mention the additional English-as-second-language handicap) so half of the battle is about finding that humble-yet-confident voice inside your head.

Setengahnya lagi adalah kemampuan membangun cerita yang koheren tentang ‘siapa kita’. Untuk melakukan ini kita perlu ‘menjebrengkan’ semua hal yang sudah kita lakukan dan capai di waktu lalu, untuk kemudian kita hubungkan sebagai satu cerita keseluruhan yang utuh.

Tentu, secanggih-canggihnya mengarang tidak akan membawa kemana-mana jika tidak ada ‘bahan’ yang bisa dipakai dalam membangun cerita tersebut. Karena itu, penting juga untuk kita ‘menabung’. Buatku yang bisa ditabung ada tiga hal—kredensial, jaringan, dan kapasitas, dan harus dimulai seawal mungkin. Lagi-lagi, proses menabung ini kalau bisa dilakukan karena raison d’etre tadi.

6. Strategize your test preparations.

Sampai di sini teman-teman sudah riset, menemukan program yang diinginkan, dan membangun cerita tentang diri sendiri yang siap dijual. Great.

Bad news, though. There’s still a couple of tests you need to pass: the GRE and TOEFL.

Berdasarkan pemahamanku, HKS tidak punya batas ambang spesifik yang menentukan teman-teman diterima atau tidak, karena setiap aplikasi dilihat sebagai suatu keseluruhan. Dengan kata lain, misalkan TOEFL atau GRE teman-teman kurang dikit, tetep bisa diterima asalkan kuat dari aspek lain misalnya CV atau surat rekomendasi.

Meskipun demikian, penting untuk menyiapkan diri kita sebaik-baiknya dalam menghadapi tes ini. Salah satu strategi yang bisa dipakai, berdasarkan pengalaman saya, adalah melakukan tes terhadap diri sendiri (dengan buku yang bisa dibeli di toko buku impor seperti Kinokuniya atau gratis secara online) untuk tahu di mana kita sudah jago dan di mana kita masih kurang.

Misalnya, bisa jadi teman-teman sudah kuat dalam bagian quantitative dari GRE tapi masih lemah di analytical writing. Lalu alokasikan waktu secukupnya (1-2 bulan?) untuk lebih banyak berlatih di kelemahan kita tersebut.

Baik juga untuk mengetahui seawal mungkin apakah teman-teman tipe belajar sendiri atau ramai-ramai. Sesuai dengan kebutuhan, teman-teman bisa bentuk kelompok belajar atau dengan investasi yang cukup besar (sayangnya), ikut kelas persiapan yang tersedia di Jakarta dan kota-kota lain.

7. Don’t pursue a recommendation letter from a famous person for the sake of it.

Aplikasi ke HKS membutuhkan tiga surat rekomendasi, dua dari atasan profesional dan satu dari pembimbing akademis atau skripsi kita ketika S1. Pada umumnya, surat rekomendasi menjadi tempat untuk memvalidasi klaim-klaim yang kita buat di dalam resume.

Perumpamaan lain yang sering aku pakai: kalau kita adalah rumah berdinding, setiap surat rekomendasi adalah jendela untuk melihat ke ‘dalam’ kepribadian kita. Sebisa mungkin, setiap jendela diposisikan di lokasi berbeda agar komite seleksi dapat melihat kita secara menyeluruh, dengan tetap memiliki benang merah yang sama.

Contohnya, kualitas yang ingin ditunjukkan adalah bahwa kita memiliki komitmen tinggi. Penulis rekomendasi A membicarakan komitmen kita di kantor, B di kampus, dan C di kegiatan kerelawanan.

Salah satu mitos terbesar tentang surat rekomendasi untuk keperluan aplikasi sekolah adalah bahwa semakin tinggi jabatan pemberi rekomendasi kita, semakin tinggi pula kesempatan kita diterima. Sehingga kadang aku temui kasus di mana seseorang meminta rekomendasi dari Menteri atau orang penting lain, meskipun baru membantu mereka sebagai penerjemah selama satu hari (which is cool, by the way, but your relationship isn’t intense enough to get you a robust story).

Prinsip umumnya: semakin dekat hubungan atau semakin lama kalian bekerja dengan pemberi rekomendasi, semakin baik. Jika ada dua orang yang kenal pada tingkat yang sama, maka semakin tinggi jabatannya semakin baik.

Kualitas dan intensitas hubungan profesional tersebut menjadi penting karena nantinya kredibilitas klaim dalam surat rekomendasi akan ditentukan oleh banyak-tidaknya ‘bukti’ dalam bentuk anekdot-anekdot nyata. Jadi semakin *personal* surat tersebut semakin baik.

Jika sang pemberi rekomendasi cukup terbuka, teman-teman bisa diskusikan elemen apa yang ingin ditekankan dalam masing-masing surat sehingga dapat tersinkronisasi dengan keseluruhan aplikasi.

8. Write shitty first drafts. Then have your confidants and/or mentors to review them.

Yang juga memakan banyak waktu adalah esai-esai (biasanya ada 1-4 dengan pertanyaan yang berbeda-beda). Kuncinya berasa di menulis draft pertamamu seawal mungkin, karena itu memungkinkan teman-teman untuk punya banyak waktu untuk melakukan revisi.

Penting juga untuk memiliki teman atau mentor yang dapat membaca dan memberikan masukan kepada draft awal teman-teman. Aku secara spesifik berhutang pada beberapa orang terdekat untuk hal ini.

Kadang, kita merasa malu atau protektif terhadap esai yang sangat personal. Karena itu aku juga tidak menyarankan untuk mengirim ke terlalu banyak orang, cukup 1-3. Perlu diingat bahwa ketertutupan itu juga akan menutup kesempatan untuk mengembangkan esai teman-teman untuk menjadi lebih baik lagi.

9. Take your time.

Finally, remember that everyone lives in their own time zone. Some people might do their master’s earlier than others but it doesn’t mean it would’ve been good for you. Maybe waiting longer means you can get more out of your study later.

Point is, there’s no use comparing yourself to others—but it’s generally a good practice to look at how far you’ve grown from your past self.

Sebagai referensi tambahan, aku ingin membagi beberapa tautan untuk mempelajari proses aplikasi Harvard Kennedy School lebih lanjut, serta organisasi Indonesia Mengglobal yang sudah memuat banyak sekali informasi:

Kalau ada tautan lain yang bisa berguna, ataupun pertanyaan lebih lanjut, silakan tinggalkan di kolom komentar di bawah.

I’ll stop here because I run out of points to make. If I think of anything else, I’ll update this post in the future.

Dengan ini, saya mengucapkan selamat dan semoga sukses untuk teman-teman yang, seperti saya dulu, mulai dengan ingin.

You’ll be surprised to find out where that willpower could take you.

Here’s to Not Being Stuck in the Hallway Forever

Remember that time when the only hard choice you needed to make was between ‘Paddle Pop Pelangi‘ vs. ‘Fantasy Anggur-Jeruk‘? No matter what you ended up with, there were almost zero consequences to the people around you—except for the rare occasions when you caught the flu.

I’m fully aware that what I’m about to talk about is going to sound ungrateful and borderline arrogant. You might say that being able to have a choice at all is already a massive privilege that some people could only imagine. But man, I will be lying if I say that the past two months had not been tormenting. That is, having to pick a path that will shape my long-term career trajectory. Basically, the first steps toward the ultimate destiny of how people will remember me.

Indeed, graduating from a generalist school opened dozens of doors—including some I didn’t even know existed. But with more doors, comes a humongous question of ‘what if’. Naturally, I made lists, tables, and talked to almost everyone I trust to get their perspectives. But the trade-off between choosing one career path over the other is too complicated; my head got so shaken up it led me to multiple emotional breakdowns.

Should I try out the private sector world for a bit or should I stay in the great organization that had brought me where I am? Should I enter the public sector now even though I will have to make some compromise? Or should I make a mediocre choice that does not really make me excited but at least does not have any red flag?

After 70 tiring, winding days of indecision, I’ve finally settled on a door. There had been some casualties on my way there—but it’s the door I opted. I knew I did not want to be stuck in an endless search or got stuck in the wrong place for short-term impulses. Maybe there never will be a perfect option. Now I just have to commit to my choice and deal with any repercussions that come with it.

If you’re one of the people affected by my confusion and hesitation in the past two months: I apologize. And if you’re one of the people who spent time and energy to talk to me: thank you. Not sure what mess I would have been without you.

Now I’m just excited about starting anew.

August 2016 was the month I ditched home to learn in a land of uncertainties, but I guess August 2018 will be the month I make peace with all the uncertainties that come with being at home. Wish me luck.

P. S. To understand the analogy of doors and hallways, watch this very relevant speech about ‘infinite browsing mode on Netflix’ by Pete Davis from the Harvard Law School during our commencement ceremony last May.

Semester 4

Manusia terbiasa melihat genap sebagai sepuluh, atau selusin. Tapi mengakhiri di angka empat seperti janggal. Mungkin itu sebabnya aku merasa ada yang belum tuntas dalam hubunganku dengan kampus, dalam upayaku membuat otak penuh. Alih-alih merasa lengkap, benak ini seperti diisi kekacauan-kekacauan yang belum terjawab.

Jika dulu aku titik koma, bukannya menjadi titik, sekarang aku malah menjelma menjadi tanda tanya.

Dalam salah satu kuliahnya, dosenku mengingatkan tentang paradoks ‘merasa tidak tahu’ sebagai indikasi ‘mengetahui’. Suatu ketibaan di pulau ‘ketidaktahuan yang diketahui’ (known unknown) yang tadinya cuma sebuah titik di kejauhan.

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Bukan ingin menyangkal bahwa aku memperoleh 1-2 pengetahuan baru—tentang bagaimana melakukan analisis ekonomi atau kebijakan publik, serta kemewahan memiliki bahasa untuk mengkomunikasikannya—tapi itu tidak ada apa-apanya dibandingkan yang masih kupusingkan tentang bias manusia dan betapa sulitnya mencapai kesepakatan yang menyenangkan kedua pihak di tengah perbedaan ideologi.

Sampai heran, bagaimana bisa aku sempat merasa terbebani oleh banyaknya ilmu pengetahuan yang kumiliki ketika sekarang menjadi jelas bahwa itu semua cuma ‘ilusi keahlian’.

Untungnya, sebagai penutup semester, dosenku yang lain menyampaikan (sambil setengah bercanda dan disadur sekenanya):

Harvard Kennedy School adalah institusi di mana orang-orang dengan ‘kelainan mental’ ingin menyelamatkan dunia berkumpul. Ketika pulang ke rumah masing-masing dengan gelar baru, sangat wajar jika kalian tergoda untuk menjadi orang yang terpintar di setiap ruangan, untuk selalu memiliki jawaban bagi setiap pertanyaan. Tapi kenyataannya, kalian tidak berada di situ selama berbulan-bulan ke belakang. Karenanya selama 1-2 bulan pertama, izinkan rasa ingin tahu kalian untuk memimpin jalan. Dengarkan suara-suara yang muncul. Izinkan kalian untuk lebih sering bertanya daripada menjawab.

Kuliah umum ini menjadi semacam resolusi untukku, dan aku bertekad untuk menahan diri dari dorongan-dorongan intelektual tersebut. Sejauh ini, aku sering gagal, tapi kutulis ini juga untuk kembali mengingatkan.

Belum lagi, aku merasa belum sepenuhnya mawas diri bahwa sekarang aku sudah kembali ke Indonesia. Badanku ada di sini, tapi entah bagaimana sebagian pikiranku masih merasa bahwa aku akan ‘pulang’ ke Cambridge. Mungkin itu pertanda bahwa aku akan kembali dalam waktu dekat. Mungkin juga, itu semacam penanda bahwa kota yang anginnya tidak kenal ampun itu sudah menjadi rumah permanen, terlepas di mana aku berada.

Kata orang, seharusnya aku mulai merasakan reverse culture shock—geram karena orang tidak mengantri, transportasi publik yang tidak nyaman, atau mobil yang tidak berhenti ketika hendak menyebrang di zebra cross sekalipun. Namun, perbedaan-perbedaan perilaku itu sepertinya tidak terlalu berarti untukku, jika dibandingkan dengan besarnya kerinduanku berada di ruang kelas dan mempelajari hal baru.

Perasaan tidak nyaman yang familiar ketika ingin mengangkat tangan untuk bertanya atau menawarkan perspektif tapi takut terdengar bodoh. Ketakutan sekaligus kehausan mendengar opini dan analisis cemerlang dari mereka yang usianya tidak jauh dariku.

Saking tidak ingin lupa, kadang aku memutar kembali sekelebat ingatan dari pengalamanku di sana. Aku seperti ingin meyakinkan diri bahwa itu bukan mimpi, bahwa aku benar-benar sudah melalui semua proses pembelajaran tersebut, dan bahwa itu semua akan menjadi bagian formatif dalam kepribadianku.

Pada saat bersamaan, semakin aku bertahan untuk tetap berada ‘di sana’, semakin lama pula perjalananku ‘di sini’ akan dimulai. Sepertinya, jika ingin maju, aku harus perlahan-lahan melepas genggamanku. Bukan karena menyerah, tapi karena percaya bahwa aku akan selalu bisa kembali. Bahwa komunitas yang sama (terutama teman-teman terdekatku) akan selalu ada ketika aku mulai menjelma menjadi orang yang tak kukenal, atau lupa akan tujuan akhirku.

So here I am, loosening my grip, trying to embrace the new chapter. Let’s see where this one takes me.