Today exactly marks my three months being here in the United Kingdom.
That, and the fact that I have finished my Autumn Term yesterday (and yep, currently spending Winter Break alone in campus) (and my long forgotten promise to blog at least once every week while I’m here), made me feel like I need to write something. So here goes my list of what three months living in the UK as an exchange student has taught me (non-exhaustive) (it’s a weird mix of stuffs) (really):
- Luxury is entirely, entirely relative.
As a member of the middle class Indonesian, I consider a poached salmon and asparagus lunch as a luxurious lunch. So does drinking champagne and wine (although I never drank one). Here in Canterbury, I consider my telor-ceplok-sambel-kecap and rice breakfast a luxurious breakfast and the salmon lunch normal. You can just sneak in a faculty lunch or a Union event to drink free champagne and wine. Oh and I haven’t started talking about Indonesian massage….
- Learning how to cook is of utmost importance.
Two reasons: saving money and different tongue. The UK is very expensive in relative to Indonesia (give me a long “d’uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh” here). With a limited monthly allowance, my wish to travel here and there, and the need to buy stuffs to survive the weather, I need to save. Knowing how to cook really cuts the spending. A prepared sandwich would cost £2.50-£3.00 and a restaurant meal would cost approximately £4.00-£7.00. With £2.50 (and knowing where to shop), I could have a pack of egg noodles (8 portions), 250g chicken breast, and some decent vegetables. So much win.
Having used to eat real spicy foods, I can’t help but throw a cynical glare to the waiter that warned me “this menu is very hot and spicy” but turned out being less spicy than Kacang Mayasi Pedas. Having used to eat foods cooked with a combination of at least 4 different spices, my tongue sometimes resist eating foods that are only cooked with salt and pepper. For the very reason of pleasing my tastebuds and avoiding blandness, one must learn how to cook.
- How to do grocery shopping with a limited budget.
YEP. I have advanced to that stage of life where I hunt for bargains and are actually willing to give more effort to have a cheaper grocery shopping. (Mom, if I used to shrug off the seemingly unimportant decision made during our grocery shopping back home, I apology. I know how important it is now.) With the limited budget I mentioned earlier, I have to satisfy my tastebud’s impulses (“I so want fish right now”, “I have to eat Korean meal”, “omg pasta”). Hence, after different shopping experiences, now I know the average price of a certain goods, where to buy the cheapest of those goods, and when to buy it.
Example: fruits are cheapest in the Halal store (£1 for a pack of white grapes), unprocessed meat & chicken are best in the Halal store (approx. £1.20 for a 250g chicken breast (yes, I remember)), juices are not so different and taking into account the opportunity cost it’d be best to just buy the “Any 3 for £3” juices in the Essentials, to solve cravings for fish just buy smoked mackerel in Aldi or raw fishes in Tesco, ASDA is too faraway and does not worth the bus ticket, etc etc.
I know, right? Call me perhitungan and all, but I actually enjoy this….(and I might not be able to jalan-jalan seenaknya if I don’t do this)
- Allocating budget and managing expenses.
As hinted in the previous paragraph, I have to allocate my budget properly and manage my expenses so that I can live a balanced life (and learn for the future, as well). Many of my friends might have actually did this since ages ago, but I have just realised the importance of it now. I have (finally) developed the habit of recording my expenses directly in my phone, a habit I have always promised I’d do but didn’t end up doing.
- It is entirely up to you how much knowledge you want to gain from your study.
Your attendance are not recorded during lectures here, meaning that if you want to completely miss out your lectures for the whole term, you will not have administration problem (unlike ITB). The graph for lecture attendance has a negative gradient – it keeps decreasing from week to week. This week, which was the last week before a month-long holiday, one of my lecture only had four students attending, including myself. Although I initially had no interest in this module, because of my moral consciousness to attend the lectures, I am actually gaining a lot of new knowledge from this module. I finally understood what my lecturers back home meant when preaching “it isn’t me who benefit from the module, it is truly for you”.
- Confidence is gold. (In learning languages)
One of the resolutions I made when I depart for the UK was to go back to Indonesia with a pretty British accent. Three months have passed and I didn’t see myself advancing ever so significantly with my accent. Do I feel sad? Not so. That is because my silly self has just realised that a perfect accent is not the key in mastering a language. Confidence is.
I met people with lots of different English accents here – from the Indonglish to Singlish to French English to British to undecipherable British (the medok Brits (those who require a full attention in order to be understood)). I noticed that the ones who are most convenient to talk to are the ones that are most confident and natural, not the ones who are afraid to speak up because of their silly accent. Although I have to admit that accents can be an obstacle in effective communication, I would prefer these heavily-accented people over the shy ones.
(This also applies to me learning French (an Indonesian tongue with clear “r” that has to adapt with the French “r” pronunciation)).
- Opportunities, opportunity cost, and trade-offs.
I spent many days and nights thinking, “am I doing the right thing?”. Being bombarded with LinkedIn Updates of “Congratulate <SBM friends’ names here>!” for their new jobs, I questioned my decision to postpone the job hunting for an opportunity to do an exchange. People often ask me why would I insist on having the exchange while knowing that these sleepless hours for assignments are not going to be marked in my bachelor degree. Simply, I would conclude my emotional conflict and answer these people by saying I do it solely for the opportunity. And boy, what a golden opportunity it is. I’ve met many different people, I’ve been exposed to different conflicts I would never have back in Indonesia, and, well, I wouldn’t have all the things I listed on this blog post right here. I have made my decision six months ago, and by that, I have agreed to accept all consequences pegged.
- One must be culture-sensitive and accept cultural differences.
I have had frustrations among my stay here. Academically, in doing coursework with people of different work ethics and culture. Non-academically, in doing house chores, cooking, washing off the dishes, shopping, spending; practically, everything I do daily. Often I hatepeople. I just don’t get why they do the things they do. But when I put myself in their shoes, perhaps they would think the same way. Perhaps they thought “I don’t get why this girl is so ambitious in doing the coursework. She needs to relax”, or “I don’t get why she made all those noises just as early as 9 o’clock”.
Another thing is that one must be appreciative and respect other people’s culture. This I have to note because I sometimes feel offended by people asking my why on earth I would pray five times a day, why I don’t drink nor party, or why I disapprove free sex. If someone has a view about something based on his culture/religion/personal preference, respect them. Don’t force them to live about your norms and values.
- The UK is *that* windy.
Perhaps the lamest thing in this list. I know that the UK is notorious for its bad weather, but I didn’t think it could be this bad. During my short visit to London in 2010, I experienced a slight discomfort: I was sightseeing in London Eye when a strong, cold wind came ever so suddenly, encouraging people to enter the nearest building ASAP. At that time, I said to myself, “yup, it’s bad”
But that windy hour in London is nothing comparable to what I’ve experienced in this exchange period. I have witnessed the unpredictability of UK weather being comparable to my mood during my moody PMS. Even with my weight (which is not light, mind you), the wind was able to easily push me to whatever direction it currently wanted to go. I have came to the conclusion that it is safest to go out with a hooded jacket because 1) it could rain any moment, despite of the promising bright sun early in the morning 2) the wind can super-easily wreck your umbrella
- The world is bigger than you think.
My SBM friend, Nandita, who had an exchange to Groningen before, said this when I met her in our graduation day: “I felt like all this time in SBM, I’ve been living inside an aquarium.”
She was referring to the fact that the job options the world has to offer is not really just consultants, bankers, management trainees. She was referring to the fact that the university course options is not just social sciences, economics, engineering, management, and arts. There are physical fitness, drama, music, anthropology, archaeology, and so many other subjects.
Here, I am surprised by the wide array of people I meet. I made friends with people from Africa, a continent I used to misunderstood many times before, knowing the conditions there first-hand based on their account. I made friends with people who do not know where Indonesia is. There are so many things I didn’t even know existed; and thus my world keeps expanding.
- Loving your home country, thousands miles away from home.
My love for Indonesia has gradually increased over time. I just realised how many things I’ve taken for granted (pijet mbok-mbok, cabe, bawang merah, sunshine, ojek). I just realised how pretty our landscape is (I’ve always had, but I just realised that it is that pretty) (no wonder that overcrowded Kuta is still a gem, in comparison to the beaches here). Despite of our country’s seemingly endless problems, with discussions I’ve had with my professors and friends here, I see optimism.
Like the talk I had with HE Hamzah Thayeb, the Ambassador of Indonesia to the UK, it is blissful to find and get connected with Indonesians while you’re away. At some point, it is the sole thing that keeps you sane.
(Geez, that totally was very random and mixed up.)
Of course there are many other things I’ve learned and realised here; academic-wise, culture-wise, UK-wise (is there any such thing?), daily-life-wise (Cahya, stawp.), nationalistic-wise (really, stop.).
I could go on and on; I might write some other posts later on. But for the meantime, enjoy!