My Story on UGRAD (Part 1)

This is the story of Marselo Hamonangan Sitorus, One of the Engineering Management Students who had spread his wings internationally. He was honored to be chosen as one out of 5 Indonesians to represent Indonesia on Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (Global UGRAD) to experience living and studying the American culture for one semester. During his stay in the US, He was placed on Minnesota State University, Mankato. It was not easy for him to tackle all the challenges coming upon his ways but he somehow managed to survive and had a really good academic standing. Here is the story of him through thick and thin in the US.

January 3rd, 2018

Most people spend their New Year’s Eve with their families but I did not. I was staying in hotel three days before my departure. I departed from Indonesia to Minnesota at January 2nd, 2018. for those who don’t know, I am representing Indonesia for Global Undergraduate Exchange Program in the United States.

As I flew, still I pictured the moment of happiness on my beloved campus IT Del with my friends, staffs, and lecturers. Still I heard the sound of my family echoing telling me how proud they are about this achievement. Since then, I decided to only have one job, to not disappoint them. Thank you for their conviction on me.

Being in the International flight was not easy for me. I was confused about this and that. I was really paranoid that my luggage would not arrive at my last airport, or I would lose my passport and trapped on the airport and couldn’t go back. I was also still confused about what can and what cannot be carried to pass the security check. What if they put me in jail. It was kind of funny if I recalled it again. Lol. I don’t know how but somehow, I could manage to pass all those crazy things popped on my mind and made it safely to Minnesota.

I did not prepare well. I was told that it was going to be winter in this state but I looked it down. I was lectured by the staff that picked me up from the airport that Minnesota is considered to be the coldest state in the United States after Alaska. The only jacket that I have is the Himamera Jacket and I know and everyone knows for the fact that jacket with that thick would never ever save me from -30C. I wore no gloves, I wore no hats, just that jacket. It was killing me to my bone. Five more minutes on this weather and I’d be dead. And I was like “oh boy, how do I survive?”. It was all paid off because I was humbled by the people here and served by this kind of scenery.

January 10th, 2018

The humans are meant to be together with others and that’s how I feel. At the very first day here, I didn’t have a friend, not a single one. My roommate is not even here because he is on spring break. I was all alone even in the dorm. It is snowy all over the place and had no idea where to go or what to do.

it was three days ago I saw a black dude who lives in the same dorm, same floor. I was a bit scared to approach this guy because I do not know how to befriend foreigner in a proper way. so, in the end, without any doubt, I went to his room and knocked his door. I had no idea why but he was super nice to me and welcomed me warmly. He asked me to stay over to his room and I asked him too. Short story, I knew that he is from Ethiopia and a transfer student from his country. After a long talk, we kind of hit it off and became bros. I took him anywhere, to the Dining Center, to the library, the Bullpen, the Central Student Union, everywhere I go.

Like the most universities, the first days are for the student orientation. It is just like every other common orientation, the supervisors directed us to take a stroll around campus while completing the number of things listed on the form given. The committee gave us the account that connected to all portals in MNSU named StarID. I guess most universities in the US undergoes the same system. So, paying the bills, printing, submission, registration, grading, quizzes, free wifi, etc. will be staked on this single account.

The orientation directed us to pick the courses. I have had this talk to both my honorable dean and the head of the study program. I already had the list but some courses are not available on spring semester. It’s either because of the university policy, lecturer availability, or the quota for each class. Most of them are because of insufficient seats. So, I took a time to discuss it over with my beloved advisor, Mariana Simanjuntak and finally got the resolution. My request to take 15 credits was accepted, two of them are on senior level, 1 one of them is for junior student, the other two are for freshman. I am actually a bit nervous and scared about taking these senior courses. It’d be a huge problem if I screwed up. I don’t know where I heard it but students who can’t maintain solid GPA above 2.00 will be terminated from this program.

I am not genius and the valid proof for that is I could not remember which direction I had to take to reach certain buildings with only going to those buildings once. My biggest mistake ever was to lose the map given during the orientation. I almost even skipped my first class on Fundamental of Communication because I was too busy looking for the building signs. I acknowledge my defect on remembering things but I am not shy to ask people. The people are so humble asking my every question even when they noticed me not following them. I even made more friends by roleplaying as a freaky lost person.

The first week is the toughest. It is not possible to carry all the stuff I needed from Indonesia. Beside the airport regulation on this matter about what can and cannot be taken, baggage maximum weight, etc., which chained me up. Some basic needs such as bath equipment, bed cover, pillow, rug, and so forth seem to be implausible carried from home. I realized that all this stuff was not going to be prepared, that’s why I wasn’t so surprised. But things are not going to change by itself. It requires forces. Recalling that I have a roommate that is not actually in this campus since he has been away for a winter break. He left most of his personal belongings in our room. I thought like “this is my exit!”. I was going to use some of his items until he comes back. Lol. But this will lead no good for future relationship. I have to save some respect to this guy. So, I’m using it up until I can find myself out the market and how to get there but only to the level he can’t detect it. I am just going to use it bit by bit.

The food has always been my biggest concerns. Growing up as Asian, rice has become our main source to harness carbohydrate. This is really critical, some people are failed studying overseas because of the vulnerability of their digestive system. The health comes first. That is a solid opinion I cannot argue on. Ever since I landed on this state, it is really hard to find rice. Even by any chance I encountered it, it tastes different. It was a few days after the orientation that I could finally eat rice in the Dining Center. I couldn’t be happier that my digestive system is not fighting back. What a triumph!

January 17th, 2018

The first two weeks was the time I dedicated to settle things up and to adapt to the new environment. This week I dedicated to explore Mankato! The best place to be in Mankato is the lakes since it’s crazy cold here, the lakes are freezing. Someone can even bring their vehicles to the lake surface without being afraid the ice will crack. Some of those people who boldly playing with their lives in the frozen lake, dug a hole in the middle the lake and went fishing. I thought it was just in a movie.

I needed to fulfill my daily needs but I did not know where to go. Fortunately, the UGRAD fellows from other country who has already been here since last semester were willing to show us around. So, on MNSU, there are 4 other UGRADers who are extremely kind, those are Panamanian, Tajikistani, Turkmen, and Moroccan. My Tajikistani and Turkmen who brought us out the closest supermarket. It is well-known in the US and so called as Walmart. Every international student shops in this market. It provides everything with a reasonable price. This is not an endorsement but this place is highly recommended.

Wherever we stand, money always matters. The first two weeks I only used the dollars given by the AMINEF staff before my departure. My pocket is getting thinner and I had to deposit the check afforded to me so I could utilize it. so, I took the Mankato Bus, doubly checked the route and went to the downtown. The Bank I went for was Wells Fargo, it is considered to be one of the most used Bank for International Students. Maybe it is because the low tax and its accessibility. You will find easily this Bank anywhere in the US. I made it to the Bank and got my business done. It turned out to be better because I met the first Indonesian in that Bank, working as a teller. She was the one who made my bank account.

I strolled a little bit nearby the bank location afterwards. I accidentally found a row of antique buildings which kind of reminded me of the Romanian Empire. So, I took some selfies and the one I liked the most is the cathedral church. after a few moment I went sightseeing, I felt like going back to the bus stop. I tried to walk the same route but I was even getting further. I still do not have the US number and of course no internet. That means I could not use the maps, the Waze, or to order the online transportations. To make it even worse, my jacket was not that thick, and it was freaking -20C outside. After a few minutes, I didn’t feel like sensing my face, my hands were almost petrified, my nose was snotty, my ear lobes would go crack if I snapped it. I panicked, I went to some random buildings, standing on the heaters, and went out again. I asked some people but I did not understand them. I could not even think that time. After a few direction and guides, I could finally made it to the bus stop and went back safely. It was a bit dramatic but it was true.

January 24th, 2018

The main purpose of this exchange program beside to learn American culture, is to ripen my understanding about the field I am currently passionate on. I feel like my strong desire and American education system would be the perfect match. I said so because it emphasizes on understanding/concepts and is committed on its practical side. All those two and my fondness to English will take me to the next level. I am so hyped.

The class has been commenced for the last two weeks. It has been very challenging to me. No matter how often I was listening to the English presentation, watching English movies without subtitles, and reading English comics, I still have some difficulties on understanding the professors. Not to mention but they speak really fast and I cannot catch up. Some of the old the professors even speak with old-fashioned English with a lot of idioms and technical terms. If I were to calculate my absorbing rate, it would be below 10%. I am not being modest. In order to chase the pace, I read the textbooks before the class begun.

The class atmosphere is so different. Everyone is so positively competitive. I was baffled seeing this too-good-to-be-true view. From now on, I will never wonder why Americans are so smart. When they are in class, they exist in the class and become present in the class. When they don’t like to be in the class, they don’t bother to attend. Some might see this as a madness but I personally perceive this as a genius. They are so well-managed in time, so they better do other productive activities outside rather than hearing nonsense in the classroom. I never saw any students playing Mobile Legend, Dota 2, out here. No offense please but they are really committed to their study, most of them, some may be not.

I can also spot the major difference between Indonesians and Americans in the sense of the participation of the students. Most Americans that I met in the classroom are so proactive. If they did not know a thing, they would directly ask the professors in the classroom. Even the smallest and the simplest question or even some unrelated-topic questions. Based on own experience, their questions are not so difficult, I am not bragging but even I could answer the question. One thing I am really startled about was their acknowledgement of not knowing things because not – knowing does mean stupidity but the process of learning, if you are willing to ask. I am generalizing based on what I have undergone for more than 10 years on the Indonesian school. The students are not so confident to speak for themselves, maybe it’s because how the norm shapes us. That is to be humble and modest. Some students are so not confident and ask their seatmates or their friends. So, there is a saying here in Mankato “Don’t believe your friends but your professors”. It doesn’t mean you can’t trust your friends at all, they can be correct too but don’t just rely on them. Because we don’t want to see the blind leading the blind.

To be continued to 2nd Part