My PhD Journey : The First Six Months

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A beautiful corner in Essen, the city where I am currently living

April 2018 marked the first 6 months of me being a PhD student and researcher. Apart of conducting my research project, I am also still required to attend some classes, including sitting in exams. So, yes, I have a busy life here.

Before I came to Germany last year, I thought I could travel to many places in Europe during my stay here. I thought I could manage my research schedule  so that I still have time to explore this continent. In reality, I barely have time to do my activities outside the campus and the lab during the weekdays. I can only make short trips during the weekends or long weekends or when I am not too tired. Sometimes I envy my friend-slash-my travel buddy. She is my fellow PhD candidate, but she works in a different field. She seems  to have very flexible schedule, that makes her easily travel during the weekdays. But, at the end, I know this is my own choice.

Talking about the classes, I am now literally a master student again. I never regret all of my decisions that I have made throughout my life. But I cannot deny that, sometimes I am thinking what if I did not complete my Master in UK and did mine in other country (or even in Indonesia). Just for your information, it took me only one year to get my Masters degree because it is what they do in the UK. At that time, I had never really thought that I would continue my study in Germany and I did not know that actually Germany has a totally different regulation in terms of education. Long story short, when I sent my transcript to my German Professor earlier in 2017, she told me that I was lacking of credits from my previous degress. Thus, I was accepted as a PhD student in condition that I should attend some courses in Master level to fulfill my credits.  So now here I am, a PhD student who must also pass those master courses. Tired? Of course. But, anyway I did not regret my decision to study in UK back then in 2011. That was one of the best moments in my early adult life.

On the other hand, my research works have been going smooth so far. Thank God. I am so grateful that I am surrounded by those brilliant yet humble people. I think I am lucky enough to have such a very cool research supervisor, who let me conduct my experiments independently. One more thing that make me even more grateful is a colleague from Endocrinology lab. He is a post-doctoral fellow in that lab, he is so smart, and he is always more than willing to answer all of my questions, coming to my tiny cubicle discussing about my research results. He is like my angel, to be honest. 🙂

As I have told you, since my schedule is currently quite tight, I do not have much time to socialize after lab hours. But yes I do have a life outside the lab. Almost every weekend I have some activities with some friends from Indonesian Catholic Community. They are my support system here. Sometimes I feel that my life is just too stressful, and luckily they are always there to listen to my problems. I am trying to do the same to them.

I also meet good people in my apartment with whom I can share laughters during our cooking time almost every night.

I still do not know what my life will be after this PhD journey. I will be most likely return back to Indonesia. But, I will never know what the future hold. At this moment I am just enjoying my life here.

I survive the first six months. I still need to conquer many other months here.

Life is good! God is great! 🙂

 

Pack Your Bag and Go!

Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone. You are more master of yourself than at any other time.

-Hannah Arendt

I have recently talked to a friend on when exactly the best time for people to leave their homeland and go abroad. I told her, the age of 22 years old should be the best time for a person to go and live abroad. In my home country, Indonesia, most of the people graduate from college at 22 years old. But then, I felt so selfish because probably that age can only be applied to me.

My best friend in junior high school packed her bag and go to UK at the age of 15 years old, right after her junior high school graduation. She did not know anyone in UK back then. Now, 15 years later, she survives. She has a good job in London. I met her last time in 2016 and she seems really happy with her life. My cousin left Indonesia and moved to Germany at the age of 18 years old. She struggled a lot during her first years in Germany, but yet she also survives. Once she told me that surprisingly she is happier here.

I was 23 years old and had a perfectly happy life with my family and friends in Indonesia, when I decided to go to UK to pursue my Master’s degree. That was the first time I lived far away from my family. It was indeed hard at the beginning.

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My first day in Newcastle, UK back then in 2011. In front of my faculty.

Living abroad is always about starting another new phase of your life.

Here are  five traits of people who are ready to start a new life phase in a foreign country :

  • Independent

Any other places where your mom is not there, is not home. That was my thought long years ago. Being in a new place, where you cannot find familiar faces, you do not have any other choices except to be an independent person. It takes time to really become an independent person. Living abroad is one of the trainings to become it. You must only depend on yourself because, believe me, your friends there are also struggling to be independent.

  • Good financial management

No matter where the sources of your money come from, you must manage it carefully and wisely. Otherwise, you will end up broke in the middle of the month. Sometimes it is hard for me to answer when people ask how much money students spent averagely in one month. It really depends on your lifestyle. There are so many ways to spend your money on unimportant stuffs here. You can go to the bar every day, drinking glasses of beer. But, of course, that is not the wise option.

I made a rule for myself to only spend more than 20 Euros on weekends. During weekdays, I eat in Mensa (students’ canteen) which cost maximum 3 Euros for a proper lunch or cook at home. Usually I still have some money left in my account at the end of the month. Therefore, I can plan a trip for the following month. When I travel to a new place, I spend most of my money on foods. I have a special budget when traveling and so I never think twice on spending money when I travel as long as it is still within my travel budget.

  • Good time-management

This is the most important trait. I meet some people who are younger than me here. In my opinion, they have similar problems. They cannot manage their time properly.  First of all, you must always remember your initial purpose. Nothing should not distract you on doing your purpose. Remember, you are investing your time. You must end up being something after spending certain years abroad.

It is not easy to have a good time management. You cannot start it once you arrive in a foreign country. This is a trait that you should have grown inside yourself.

  • Open minded

Ask yourself. Can you accept a culture that is totally different compared to your own culture? Most European countries are liberal countries. All of the people, no matter his/her sexual preferences, have equal opportunities here. People have freedom to express their feeling publicly. You can see people kissing in public. And that is normal. A man and a woman can live together without any marriage status.

Can you accept that?

I am sure you will survive living abroad when you are open minded yet have a strong life principle. If you still cannot accept other people who have different opinions, then it is better for you just to stay in your homeland.

  • Hard working

Living abroad is actually not as interesting as those pictures that you see on my social media. Every single day is about an endless hardworking. There is no chance for lazy people to survive.

In the end, it is not about the age. It is about having those traits that I mentioned above inside of you. You can be 15, 18, 25 years old. When you think you are ready, just pack your bag and go!

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There is always a first time for everything. My first time presenting my research result, in front of non-Indonesian audiences.

 Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria Germany

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I went to Neuschwanstein Castle on early March 2018 together with a friend of mine. My decision to visit that place was pure based on my curiosity. Neuschwanstein Castle has been on the top list of my “places to visit before I die” since forever. And you know what? My first (and perhaps) last visit to the castle was far below my expectation.

Here, I would like to share my experience visiting Neuschwanstein Castle and also a little bit history of the place.

So, as you probably know, I don’t have much time to travel. As a PhD student, I don’t have any exact holidays, except weekends. Therefore I planned my Neuschwanstein trip to be as efficient as possible. If you are on the same situation, then hopefully the tips I share here will be applied to you as well.

I started my journey on Friday afternoon. I took an ICE train (around 100 Euro for a return journey) from Essen to Munich with one transit in Heidelberg. The total journey itself took 5.5 hours. On the day I traveled, the situation was a bit chaotic because there were changes in some train schedules which also gave impact on my train journey. I initially booked a train to Munich with a 30 minutes transit in Stuttgart, but then few days prior the journey I received an email from Deutsche Bahn (German Railway Company) that my booked train would not operate and instead I must take another train which have a 4 minute transit in Heidelberg. What a thrilling journey it was. Can you imagine, I had only 4 minute to transfer myself into another train. And I almost missed the connecting train. HA!

I met my friend in Munich Central Station. We spent the first night in a hotel located just 200 meters from Munich Central Station. On the next day, Saturday morning, we took a train from Munich to Fussen. We bought a Bayern ticket which cost 23 Euro for one person and 31 Euro for two people. The more people you are traveling with, the cheaper it is. So, that is a good deal. The journey from Munich to Fussen took 2 hours. Fussen is a very beautiful little town just on the foot of Hohenschwangau, where Neuschswanstein Castle located. If you have abundant of time, you can consider to stay in Fussen. It is now a touristic town, so there are many good hotels around.

From Fussen, we took a bus which brought us directly to Hohenschwangau where we got our ticket to the castle. Bear in mind, expect a crazy long queue if you decide to buy the entrance ticket on the spot. And it does not guarantee you to get the ticket. Like on the day of my visit, the ticket to Neuschwanstein Castle was sold out. The most logical option is to book the ticket few days before your visit and collect the ticket on the day of your visit. By the way the ticket price is 13 Euro for one adult. It’s quite expensive, I know. However, you only need to buy ticket if you want to go inside the castle. If you just want to take some selfies with the castle as your background, you definitely do not need to buy a ticket. In my case, since I wanted to have a full experience visiting Neuschwasntein Castle, of course I bought the ticket (and ended up being disappointed).

Normally there are shuttle buses that will take you from Hohenschwangau up to the castle. It is an uphill route to reach the castle. When I was there, it was raining and no shuttle buses operated. Maybe we were just so unlucky that day. So, we walked 30 minutes to the castle. Crazy!! If you are too lazy to walk (especially when you are traveling with kids or elderly people), there are some horse carriages that you can rent. I don’t know how much it cost. The downside is, unlike in Indonesia, when people put sort of containers for the feces, here they do not do it. So, always be careful with horses’ poo along the journey. It IS disgusting.

Finally, let’s talk about the castle. Well, let me tell you honestly. You can see basically nothing inside the castle. So, when people say Neuschwanstein Castle is only beautiful from the outside, it is totally true. However, it is worth to hear the history behind Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle was built by King Ludwig II, who once was the King of Bavaria. He intended to build this castle to be his holiday residence. Sadly, the building had never been completed until he died. He was diagnosed to be mentally ill and therefore was secluded in a place near Munich. The cause of his death was mysterious, but the official stated that King Ludwig II died of suicide. Looking at the picture of King Ludwig II, I think he was just a normal person and not mentally ill. He looks feminine. Perhaps he had uncommon sexual preference and in that time those kind of things were taboo, so the government decided to kill him. Well, so many speculation of the life and death of King Ludwig II. One of the stunning facts about King Ludwig II is that he adored Richard Wagner so much until he designed a ballroom just for himself to enjoy the opera. Sadly he just had a chance to live in the castle for 120 days and he could not enjoy what he had created. The castle since then remains empty and opened for public just 3 weeks after his death.

By the way, people (including myself, in the beginning) find it hard to spell Neuschwanstein. But actually it is easy if you understand German. Neuschwanstein means new swan on the rock. King Ludwig II really loved swans, and all of the door handles in the castle have swan carved on them.

 

Being A Woman

Now I can say that I am proud to be a woman. Years ago when I was a teenager, I hated being a girl. Being a girl means we must experience that mood swing followed by the painful feeling every month when we are having our periods. Imagine if I were a boy. I would not have to feel all of that pains. As I grew up, I started to realize that born to be woman makes me special.

Perhaps I am lucky because I am raised by a parents who respect gender equality. I have two younger brothers, which makes my home feels so manly. The fact that never turn me into a spoiled girl. I have been taught to be a tough person since I was a kid. Just because I am a girl, I am not allowed to be weak. That is one of so many life lessons from my parents that I carry along throughout my life.

I grew up witnessing my mom works as hard as my dad. Therefore, I can never agree with our society’s perspective that getting money is men’s job and women should just stay at home. Do you know how much money you need to survive in a big city? A LOT. Imagine if only the husband who contribute on a family’s cash-flow. Unless your wealth worth seven generations, just admit, you cannot survive. Right? Okay I understand some women in Indonesia choose to be a stay-at-home mom. They must have their own reasons.

Being a woman, I often being lectured by random people (who think they have rights to tell me what’s wrong and what’s right), that I am too ambitious. I tried to find a job which earned me good income. I am too highly-educated. I don’t care about my future (read : I never try to build a serious relationship with a man). You know what? I have reached this point where I don’t care anymore to whatever they say.

Let me give short explanations below

I am too ambitious. Is it wrong if I always have certain targets in my life? Guys, life will be bored when we rely only to our destinies. If I may correct their opinions, I am not ambitious but I plan my life. For example, I have already had this plan to pursue a PhD since the beginning of my Bachelor study.

I tried to find a job which earned me good income. People say that once we get married, it is a man’s responsibility to bring money for the family. A woman is not necessary to work that hard. I am just being realistic. I am now still single and I don’t know yet when I will get married. That’s why I was trying to find a job who can fund my life. Well now I am back being a student again though.

I am too highly-educated. Well, yes. In Indonesia, when you have a title beyond a master degree behind your name, the society will judge : “It will be very hard for you to find a man who fits and compatible with you”. Most of Indonesian men are intimidated by highly-educated women. Come on, guys it’s 21st century now. However, since this is my life, I never regret my decision to pursue another higher degree now.

I don’t care about my future. I know if I stayed in Indonesia now, people would have started to warn me because of my critical age. Being a thirty years old woman who is still single is considered “dangerous”. They say, when I start a family after thirty, it will be hard for me to have a kid. That makes me think : “Does the society think that a good woman is she, who can produce children?” If I say : “I stay single because I haven’t found a man who fits my standard”, they will most probably reply : “It’s because you set your standard too high”. So, it is better for me to stay calm and go on my life. So if they say I don’t care about my future because I have not settled yet in a marriage, well, I have measure the success of my life with another parameter which might be different compared to the one that they use.

Dear fellow women, we probably live our lives in different ways. I just would like to remind you, don’t let society to tell you how to behave. Each of us is unique. Each of us has our own life values. Each of us has our own fashion style. In this world dominated by men, women should have more self-respects.

Happy international women’s day!

Growing A Year Older

When I was a teenager, I imagined by the age of 30 years old I must have become a successful person, having a steady job, and married to someone. Back then, I neither had any idea that someday I will become a scientist nor having idea about someone who will possibly become my future life partner. Well, for the last one, to be honest, I still do not have any idea up until this moment.

Today I am turning 30. I know that I have been so far away from my teenage days. However, I am sure the teenage version of me is proud of this 30 years old version of me. For those people who only know me from the outside, they might think that I have a flawless life journey. They’re wrong, of course. I have gone through some obstacles in my personal life before I am –sort of- reaching my dream.

Probably some of the people out there who talk about me behind my back (well, thank you anyway) never know that it took me 5 years dealing with more than 20 application rejections before I was finally accepted as a PhD student in Germany. I could have given up my dream, but I chose not to give up.

Having been living on earth for this long also teach me about the value of friendship. I learn that friendship is not about quantity, but it is about quality. It is not important if you have known people for years or just for months. If you guys can get along, then you have to keep the friendship. I also think that the label “best friend” is too exaggerating. When your “best friend” betrays you, the feeling is worse compared to anything. So starting from last year, even when I feel comfortable being with some people, I will just call them my “good friends”.

Talking about relationship, I have learned abundant of valuable lessons. I have experienced an unrequited love. It did hurt so bad. Believe me. I also had been close with someone for some times, without any status. And last time, I had been in a relationship with the wrong person. Yes, I have failed so far in this kind of thing. But, what I learn is that we –women-must have a self- worth. We must not lower down our standards just to allow men fit in our lives. Furthermore, I also learn that in order for a relationship to work, it needs mutual effort. When the effort is only one-sided, it will never work. Anyway, big appreciation for those guys who had been brave enough coming to my life and finding it difficult to deal with me. From them, I have learned about different personalities of men and, surprisingly, I also have learned about myself.

My twenties had been the most wonderful decade in my life so far. I completed my Bachelor and Master studies and started my PhD (yes..yes..this is going to be the last degree I pursue!). I got chances to live and study abroad. I got my first job. I earned my first salary. I learned 2 foreign languages and finally can speak those languages. I travelled to many new places. Basically, I have reached like more than half of my dreams. I reached some milestones in my twenties, as well as experienced some of my “first-times”. I failed and also got up many times. I am beyond thankful!

Now that I reach my thirty, of course I hope that I can be a better person. This is my wish every year. I will still be a person who is full of flaws. But I hope I can do more good deeds in the years to come. I hope I can finish my PhD and find a good job that can fund my life in the future. Though most Indonesians think that a woman doesn’t need to be really concern to find a well-paid job as once they get married it is the husbands’ responsibility to take care of them, in my opinion, women should be financially independent no matter what. (sorry, mom. In this case we have different perspective) And I hope I will soon meet my Mr. Right (because Mr. Perfect only exists in Fiction books).

Here is to the amazing years to come!

 

Putus

Pernah dengar lagu yang judulnya “Jatuh Cinta Itu Biasa Saja” yang dinyanyikan oleh grup band Efek Rumah Kaca beberapa tahun yang lalu?

Kita berdua tak pernah ucapkan maaf, tapi saling mengerti

Kita berdua tak hanya menjalani cinta, tapi menghidupi

Ketika rindu menggebu-gebu, kita menunggu

Jatuh cinta itu biasa saja

Liriknya sederhana, tetapi dalem. Suatu hubungan memang seharusnya seperti lirik lagu di atas, kalau mau berjalan dengan baik. Tidak perlu drama. Saya baru saja putus dengan seseorang. Kami pacaran hanya seumur jagung, tetapi diawali dengan proses pendekatan yang cukup panjang. Sekitar 1 tahun. Kenapa putus? Tidak cocok. Namun, alasan “tidak cocok” itu hanyalah sesuatu yang ada di puncak gunung es. Di bawahnya banyak sekali alasan, yang membuat saya berpikir bahwa kalau hubungan ini diteruskan, pasti akan semakin sakit untuk kami berdua.

Dia terlalu percaya dengan saya. Pasti kalian berpendapat : “Bagus dong! Jarang ada cowok yang gak posesif sama ceweknya”. Saya ingin ada seseorang yang menanyakan kabar saya dan antusias dengan kegiatan saya. Dia tidak bisa memberikan itu.

Dia tidak bisa dibantah. Banyak yang berpendapat bahwa dalam suatu hubungan, perbedaan itu indah. Tapi kalau terlalu banyak perbedaan, bisa berakhir perang. Sifat kami bertolak belakang dan kami memiliki pola pikir yang sangat berbeda. Saya sudah menyadarinya sejak pertama kali berkenalan dengan dia. Salah saya, kenapa juga mau jadian sama dia. But, anyway, shouldn’t we learn from our mistakes? Dia tipe pria yang sangat dominan. Saya pun begitu. Memang terkadang dia mengalah, tapi saya sadar bahwa dia “terpaksa” mengalah supaya situasi seakan baik-baik saja di antara kami.

Satu lagi, dia tidak (belum) bisa berkomitmen. At least berkomitmen dengan saya pada saat ini. Sedangkan, seperti yang kalian ketahui, saat ini saya tinggal di Jerman dan si beliau ini di Indonesia. Apa jadinya sebuah long distance relationship tanpa dilandasi oleh komitmen yang kuat? Bubar.

Untuk si ex, ketika saya bilang thanks for everything, itu benar-benar dari lubuk hati terdalam dan bukan basa basi. Saya belajar banyak dari proses yang sudah kita jalani ini. Mungkin saya memang terlalu keras kepala buat kamu. Semoga kamu dipertemukan dengan seseorang yang bisa membuatmu bahagia ya! Satu hal, saya tidak pernah merasa menyesal dipertemukan dengan kamu karena saya percaya Tuhan sudah merencanakan kita untuk bertemu supaya kita bisa saling belajar untuk menjadi lebih baik lagi ke depannya. 🙂

Boleh ada yang namanya mantan pacar, tapi tidak ada istilah mantan teman. Kita berawal dari teman, dan semoga akan berakhir menjadi teman lagi. Tidak ada blok-blokan media sosial. Well, karena kita bukan lagi ABG labil. Haha.

Kalau saya bilang, saya baik-baik saja setelah putus, sepertinya hati saya terbuat dari batu ya. Tentu saja saya sedih ketika mengingat segala hal baik yang pernah terjadi. Tapi hidup harus berlanjut. Masih banyak mimpi yang harus dikejar. Mudah-mudahan akan ada seseorang lagi yang datang di waktu yang tepat.

It’s not a failure. It’s another lesson learned.

 

Survival of The Fittest

Remember Darwin’s Theory on natural selections? Yeah, that theory more or less describes my current situation here in Germany. Yesterday a German colleague of mine asked : “Are you enjoy being in Germany?” I answered : “Yes I’m trying to get adapted with the Germans now”. An honest one, isn’t it? I’m not facing any difficulties, at least until this moment, in terms of my research project. The ones who are, a little bit freak me out is the people outside my research laboratory.

Even though it was my own decision to go to Germany and continue my study, sometimes I still find it hard to survive here. The situation that I am currently facing here is different compared to around 7 years ago when I started my Master study in UK. Although Germany and UK are European countries (at least before Brexit), both have totally different cultures. When I started my life in UK, everything went so smoothly. I spent one year there and I can say it was one of the best periods in my life. I thought the same thing occurred when I came to Germany. Well I was wrong. Throughout these almost 6 months I spent here in Germany, to be honest there were times when I really miss home.

Culture differences. The root of all problems that I have been dealing with so far. Do not start to compare between Indonesian and German culture because they are way too different. I consider myself as an open-minded person, unlike the average Indonesian. Yet, sometimes I still get a little bit offended by how the Germans act.  Yes, I know I cannot question why the Germans behave like they are. It is their culture and I must accept it if I want to stay and survive in their country. Perhaps, the main problem is language barrier. Now I know why everyone who enter this country must have at least basic understanding of the language. Most people here do not want to speak English, though actually they can speak the language. At this moment, I have already reached this point where I can speak and understand German language at the basic until early-intermediate level. But of course there are times when I experience misunderstandings.

Strong, independent, and never give up. Those are the values needed by anyone who would like to spend some time living abroad. Your intelligence and previous academic achievements can get you to win the scholarship. But it is your strength and persistency that can make you survive. Living abroad (especially in Europe) is not merely about having chances to visit those beautiful European countries. It is also a learning journey to become a responsible adult. I learn to manage all aspects of my life because here I can only depend on myself.

I always tell myself that not everyone brave enough to leave their home country to step their feet in a foreign land. So whenever I almost give up dealing with those people, with whom I don’t have any options other than dealing with, I remind myself that I am some of those brave people who have left their hometown to pursue their dreams. This too shall pass. Just face them, anyway.

One who quickly adapt with changes is one who survive.

Last but not least, I want to share one of my life’s philosophies :

Finish what you have started, despite all of the challenges you may face.

And probably I should re-think my plan to stay in this country after completing my PhD. Going back home will be a much smarter decision, I guess. Though that means I will definitely earn way lower salary compared with if I remain staying here. Oh, well I still have 2.5 years to think and re-think.