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On one Tuesday night, in March 2008, there was one email that pretty much changed my life. It was an official admission email from Yale, plus a scholarship notification email following the previous one on the day after. I was accepted to the Master in Environmental Sciences program at Yale. How I felt? In the heat of the moment, I was both anxious and excited. At that time, I was a freelance painter for some art galleries in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I was 21 with a bachelor degree in Biology I obtained the year before. The admission email was a turning point in my life. I knew I was off to a good start.
Soon after the admission, a million things came to my mind. What USA is like? Could I handle East-Coast winter? Where will I live? Will I survive the Western culture? What flights to take? And so on. Things were still up in the air and I didn’t know where to start. I had never been to any Western countries before, and I had barely spoken English in my life (except for some English classes at school). So I began collecting pieces of my courage and made a list of priorities, which were:
1. How I should begin my preparation.
2. What to do and what not to do.
3. What to bring and not to bring.
4. Things I should think ahead of.
How did I begin my preparation? The first thing I did was reaching out to my affiliates. I searched for Indonesians who had the experience of living in the States. I searched for information on how New Haven (where Yale is located) was like. And of course, I searched for flight tickets.
My first attempt was meeting with my former professors who were USA graduates. I informed them on my admission and spent hours on discussions of language, culture, and weather barriers that most Indonesian students faced in the States. I jotted down all the main points and asked in details on how things were like for them. One of the many questions I asked was: why some international students in the States are successful and why some are not. There I found out that apparently some Indonesian students would prefer riding a pony, seeing the Niagara falls, and skiing during weekdays than working on their studies. They took their chances to taste as much of their American dreams as possible instead of doing what they should be responsible of: study!
Rumors about New Haven reached me from a friend who had visited the place years before. He was a musician and had been invited to Yale to perform for a number of times. He said, “After all, Yale is not the safest place. It is surrounded by an unsafe neighborhood. You gotta be careful.” Those information I collected helped me brace myself to embark the new world I would be part of. That was why it was crucial for me to talk to people with the real experience.
The second point is to know what to do and to avoid. Below were my lists:
1. Mark important dates and deadlines.
2. Make sure passport is valid.
3. Prepare files needed for visa application.
4. Make a copy of all immigration documents.
5. Get to see friends & families for proper farewells.
6. Make a list of things to buy and bring.
7. Join the Indonesian Students Association in the States. Get in touch with someone living in USA. This is a must, put some efforts in making contacts with someone in the USA.
8. Find a place to live! – email registrar for info.
9. Book a flight ticket – at least 3 days before semester begins (give time for a jet lag).
10. Information on how to get to New Haven from airport. What to take? How much is the fare?
11. Enjoy traditional foods.
12. Practice English (watch American movies!).
1. Negative thoughts!
2. American foods – because you will have just enough of it.
3. Seeing people who you know will scare you out – e.g. someone told me things like Americans will not accept you because you wear headscarf, etc.
4. Pay some amount of money in advance for housing to an unknown individual. Its better to avoid any risks of fraud.
When it was time to pack my things up, I had a hard time. I wanted to just pack all I had into a luggage, which is obviously impossible. Keep in mind that the maximum weight allowed for the flight during the time was 50 kg per person. I was going to fly from Cengkareng, Tangerang, Indonesia, to JFK Airport, NY. JFK sounded big to me since I had never been any closer to NY before, I was alone and would be carrying a ~50 kg luggage. So I decided to get things arranged and not getting myself into trouble of not being able to carry a 50 kg luggage by myself in a country which I knew no one.
So this was tight. Below is the list of things I think you should bring:
1. Your country’s traditional dress.
2. Foods you know you would miss.
3. A reasonable number of clothes + coats.
4. Phonebook which has your parents’ contact numbers and someone you plan to contact in emergency in the States, such as friends or admission officials.
5. Destination address.
6. Some cash in US$. Also credit card(s).
7. Attachments – journal, family picture, etc.
8. A camera. Might be laptops for some people, but I’d suggest buying laptops in USA since they tend to have more choices and discounted prices.
9. Properly filed immigration docs.
Other than that, I don’t think you should bring these with you:
1. Too much cash. This is not the safest way of bringing money. Other than that, there is also a maximum amount allowed to enter USA. I think it would be better to bring just enough and have the rest being sent to you through money transfer service of bank.
2. Fruits, strong-smelling & wet foods. May cause you problem in immigration.
3. Cellphone – I did this and ended up dumping it away since I got to buy a new one that worked in USA.
4. Books. You’ll get enough scholarly access once you are in school.
5. Too much clothes. To my amazement, sometimes clothes are cheaper to buy in the States.
Some things would need even deeper thoughts. For me, it was housing. I had to make sure I would live in a safe environment that was close to the university. The other issue for someone who grew up in a tropical country like me was weather. For this, I prepared my best. I talked with people on how to handle winter: to wear layers, get enough liquid, have a cup of warm tea, and take up vitamins. I did everything and I survived. Now I love winter (although not the harsh one).
Finally, I would say that wherever you are and wherever you are going to, you will be alright as long as you know what you are doing (this means that you should know where to go, what you are doing & have good plans ahead). Just be positive. Especially for school, I think the key is to believe in yourself and you better know what you’re capable of!
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