Why I Didn't Dream of Getting Into Stanford

A few weeks ago, we were bombarded with the happy news of Maudy Ayunda getting acceptance letters from Stanford and Harvard. Later on, during an interview with Najwa Shihab we found out that she had dreamed (and of course broken down the dream into concrete steps) of getting into Stanford for awhile. However, knowing that its acceptance rate was pretty damn low, she "humbled" herself by applying into Harvard for a different program, hoping that she would get accepted (in what universe does a person choose Harvard as their back up plan?). As someone who doesn't necessarily have a business background, getting accepted into Stanford MBA program is a major achievement (during the same interview she notes that most of her classmates are investment bankers, CEO of start-ups, and such). I don't personally know Maudy Ayunda, but I too am happy for her!

Perceiving this wonderful news, however, got me reflecting upon myself, my education, and just the general learning environment in Indonesia. As a child who grew up believing that USA was probably the greatest country in the world and universities like Harvard and Stanford were where most historical figures went to school, I was in absolute awe. I mean, yes, more and more people I know or went to school with have been enrolled in some of the most prestigious schools in the world. I now have friends studying and/or graduating from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Leiden, Columbia, you name it. But Maudy Ayunda killing Stanford and Harvard with one stone, that's kind of a BIG deal.

The fact that she got accepted at NYU and Oxford for her undergrad study, and then went on to get accepted at Stanford and Harvard for her masters degree, while I settled down for Universitas Gadjah Mada and have not made a plan (yet) to pursue higher education, raises a huge question mark for me. Why?

Not that I'm being ungrateful to have had the opportunity to study at UGM (I loved every minute of it, for the record), or that I'm having a lower self esteem for not earning a masters degree yet. But as I ask my conscience why, I find a darker truth : I don't think I am good enough to even dream of such thing.

This leads me to further ask : Is it just me being an insecure coward, or has this way of thinking been so subtly engraved on my brain through my schooling years?

On her Mata Najwa interview, Maudy Ayunda expressed her love for learning and how she got excited when exams week came around. While some people might think that it's natural for smart people to get excited during tests, I simply can't comprehend that. I was always so afraid of exams and I don't think I ever had the kind of love Maudy Ayunda has for her learning process. I didn't enjoy going to school or learning something at school mainly because I felt like I had to constantly prove something. I didn't wake up in the morning, got hyped to go to classes to learn and explore but to cram enough information to excel in exams, get good grades, graduate, and go on to higher institutions. Where's the joy in that?

Even when it came down to choosing school, I was always trained to manage my expectations. I didn't feel like my schooling years gave me the courage to dream big enough. To dream for places like Stanford or Harvard.

Please note that this writing is not a complaint to my teachers (I am forever indebted, eternally grateful to have crossed path with each and every one of them). This is rather a question for the government, for the system, and what I personally think can be improved.

In my last year of high school I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to study abroad for one year. I went to a local high school in Monroe, a small city in the state of Ohio with approximately 12,442 people. Way smaller than Bekasi which has 2.9 billion people in it, where I spent 15 years from kindergarten through high school. Having the chance to merge myself in an American high school gave me insights on what a decent education should feel like.

Back then I was 16 years old- old enough to be a 12th grader, but to make it easier for me and the teachers, I was assigned to become an 11th grader. I took various classes, one of them was a mandatory science class. I had a beginner biology course with a class full of freshmen and I thought to myself : I'm probably going to be the smartest one in this class, I just don't know all the terms in English. 

And I probably was the smartest, but I also was the most overwhelmed student in the class. Not because I didn't speak perfect English, but the fact that everyone was so engaged in the learning process was something I was very foreign with. My teacher was able to stimulate the critical thinking of the students while the students were very comfortable in raising their hands and shouting answers. 

It was something rare in my Indonesian schooling years. Very often I found myself knowing the answer of the question asked by the teacher, but being very hesitant to speak up and answer.  I was too afraid of being judged by people. If I kept shouting the right answers, my friends would probably think I was a snob, and if I kept giving the wrong answers, my teachers would think that I was stupid. How many of you have found yourself in a similar situation?

Getting into a public Indonesian university was also a huge concern for me. Having to go through a massive nation wide test such as SBMPTN, where I was one in a million, fighting for a chance to get accepted. Remember how they used to brainwash you that you were THE chosen sperm that made it to your mother's egg so SBMPTN should be easier? 

Why would the government make me go through a math test when I was applying to a law major? Why aren't the universities allowed and required to conduct a more personal and thorough test like having the kids submit their resume and application letter on why they want to get accepted at certain program? Why are we just being programmed to go to college without being asked what we want to and can do with our life? 

Damn, I chose a law major thinking that every company must have a legal department so it would probably be easier for me to get a job. Never once I thought I wanted to study law to uphold justice or to find joy in just learning it.

Am I furious at myself for not dreaming of getting into Stanford? Yes.
Am I blaming the system for producing someone like me? Probably.
Am I going to do something about it? Haven't been able to break it down to action plan but hopefully yes.

Four years.
It took me four years after finishing law school to fully realize what I'm passionate about.
It took me almost four years of joining YPAB to give me perspective on what I want to pursue later in life.
It took someone getting accepted into Stanford and Harvard, for me to acknowledge there was something mistaken with the way I was educated and that I need to do something about it, at least for my future kids. 

If God allows me, I want to teach. 
If He allows me, I want to work for the government and create better policies for our education system.
If He allows me, I want to find myself in classes where students find joy in learning and see that they are big enough to dream of anything.


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