It wasn’t my first time to come to the United States when I arrived at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago last July. But, I have a different purpose this time, doing a year-long fellowship program organized by Arryman Fellowship at Northwestern University (NU) in Evanston, Illinois. I was admitted as one of six fellows who have received a one-year pre PhD program at NU by Indonesian Scholarship and Research Support Foundation (ISRFS). Six of us are enrolled in three different departments at the university. I am enrolled in the Political Science Department. In this one-year program, we are allowed to take one class per quarter based on our interest. We also have to prepare our PhD application during our fellowship as well as our paper that has to be presented at the Arryman symposium by the end of the program, both at Northwestern University and in Jakarta.
For me, after working as a journalist covering primarily economic and business news, taking a master’s program in economic policy in Singapore, and spending most of my life in Indonesia, there are many things that I have to adjust when to coming to the US. First, although I had been to the Chicago area, I still need to adjust myself to how daily life works here. The first time I came here, I was only a tourist, vis a vis my current status as a student. Now, I have to figure out how to find an affordable yet comfortable apartment for a student in Evanston which only is adjacent to Chicago, set up my cell phone plan which is a different system from Indonesia and Singapore, understanding the health insurance system, and even choose outfits that are suitable for the “yo-yo” weather of Chicago.
Second, understanding American culture apparently is not as easy as watching Hollywood movies. I have learned many things about American culture (well, they do have culture!) from a tutorial and course the Arryman fellowship provided to help us to adjust ourselves to living in the US. It also registered us to join the International Summer Institute (ISI) together with other international students. Well, we know that there are words which have different pronunciations in American English vs British English. But how would I know that a native American English speaker would find it difficult to understand someone who speaks American English but with different intonations and word stress? Apparently, have to understand and practice stress and intonation in a bid to be more understandable by native speaker. For example, in my previous sentence, you should read “apparently” with the stress on the second syllable, the “par”. That also works to differentiate between words that have different function, that is as a verb and noun, for instance, “present” as a verb vs noun. In that case, you have stress “pre” if you use it as a noun and stress, “sent”, if you use it as a verb. I know, it sounds complicated, doesn’t it! Other than that, I also have learned about tipping culture, small talk culture (apparently Chicago is very keen on small talk!), and idioms!
Last, I am currently still adapting myself to teaching method at NU. Different from the education system in Indonesia and Singapore, what I feel so far is that the professors here tend to urge me to take classes that interest me the most. In Singapore, I was advised to plan ahead on what courses I should take in order to reach my final goal. I was surprised when I consulted with my mentor here on which class to take and he said, “take whichever classes interest you and you don’t have to worry about the symposium paper.” Well, it seems that my planning ahead and control freak self should step aside now. It is always interesting to learn new things, especially things that are completely different from your existing perspectives. It is like challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone.
Overall, I am blessed with the chance that ISRSF has given to me as an Arryman Fellow. Learning a completely new discipline and living in a new country is like having a restart and take second chance beside of what you have been doing so far. I hope that this experience will enrich my perspective and deepen my analytical skill.