Looking back, studying abroad now seems like a whirlwind. My three years in Oxford were a mixture of valuable experiences; late nights knee-deep in books, mind-blowing conversations, and a love-hate relationship with moody English weather. More importantly, it was a time where I gained a multitude of life lessons that has shaped me into the individual I am today. Among the mindsets I adopted from the experience, there were two that I never saw coming – yet they fundamentally changed the way I see the world and live my life.
“Independence” is a word one often hears from tales of studying and living abroad. I used to understand it as mere self-sufficiency; having to do everything on your own – a survival reliant on your own skills and resources. Unsurprisingly, living as a student in Oxford compelled and pushed me to do just that. Among other experiences, I remembered falling exceptionally ill in the middle of winter, and having to walk out in the cold to get food and medicine when I really should have been in bed. In my second year, my group of friends and I had to live off-college; living in a rented house added a whole new set of responsibilities that I hadn’t been exposed to. Other than the new skill sets I gained from everyday life, I found that I had to be self-sufficient in academics too. At Oxford, most of the learning were to be done independently. Other than the centralized lectures and college-based tutorials, students received guidelines/reading lists every term and were left to do the studying on their own. We had roughly two 2000-word essays to complete in a week, and the preparation and learning for most topics had to be a self-imposed and self-disciplined process. It was very easy to fall out of rhythm because you were the only person that can keep yourself on track.
But from the reading marathons, constantly looming deadlines, and new survival habits, I realized that it wasn’t all about self-sufficiency. I did learn to survive on my own, but it was so much more than that. I also developed a stronger sense of self-ownership. It was more than having to do things on your own, but having to make decisions and having the consequences of your own actions directly accountable to you. It was about acknowledging the power of your own preferences and decisions. This might sound obvious for some people; but it was a revolutionary feeling for me, as my life before going abroad was admittedly sheltered. Jakarta was a comfortable nest where I was pampered with a close-knit community and strong familial support. The interconnectedness of my family and community made it a safe haven, but it sometimes meant that decision-making can end up a collective process instead of your own. Therefore, this new sense of accountability and familiarity with my own self was exhilarating, and helped me tune out the noise and listen to the voice in my head.
Another thing I didn’t quite expect to gain was an overwhelmingly grounded mindset. I started my first year in Oxford knowing that I would have to struggle and adapt. I understood that the subject I had enrolled for, PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics), would be challenging. So I thought I was at least mentally and emotionally prepared for what was to come. As it turned out, the hurdle was not just in the difficulty of the subject, but in adjusting to an environment where everybody else is as (or even more) keen, intelligent, diligent, and resourceful as you are. I found out that mine was a learning environment where it was a struggle on its own to try and perform averagely. Stress and pressure were the norm. Spectacular academic performances were rare for most – because the standard was simply set at a whole new level. It quickly overwhelmed me, and a fear crept in my mind that maybe I didn’t belong in a place with such vigorous minds. It troubled me for a while, until I learned that at some point, most of my peers have felt the same way. Eventually, everyone simply adapted and learned to thrive in their own way. Through this process, I was reminded that success is a personal journey and you do not have to outshine anybody or compare yourself to anyone to achieve it. It made me feel lucky to have had the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with great minds, but humbled by the sheer fact that there are countless individuals that are always in some aspect, more. I was also struck by the realization that our world is unimaginably great. There are so many experiences and individuals that a person might never come across in his/her lifetime, thus there is never a justification for self-righteousness and arrogance. This is a mindset that now resonates deeply within me.
Now that I have graduated, I look back at my memories with immense fondness. I will miss every bit of my life there, and just like I did in this essay – I will definitely reflect back on it from time to time. I hope that what I’ve shared here can inspire others to spread their wings and pursue experiences abroad – not just from the knowledge that you may hope to absorb – but from the valuable mindsets that the journey has to offer.
Photo provided by author.
Ayunda Faza Maudya
Ayunda, otherwise known as Maudy Ayunda, is a singer-songwriter, actress, and youth advocate. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University in the UK. Currently she resides in Jakarta, and while preparing for her Masters, she is exploring her passions through business ventures, creative work, and writing.
Ownership can be viewed in many different ways. Some think of ownership as a bad thing, while others think of it as a good thing. Before someone can establish their beliefs on what is good and bad, the true meaning of what they are being ased must be understood. This controversial question of whether ownership is positive or negative brings up a much more important question, “What does it mean to own something?”. Ownership is defined as to have possession of something. I believe ownership and sense of self are integrated together. I think they go hand in hand with each other merely because one can own more than just a physical object, but as well as ideas, thoughts, skills, and knowledge.
Just as the famous twentieth-century philosopher, Jean-Paul Sarte, I too believe that ownership extends much farther than tangible objects, but to intangible things as well. Such intangible things include, thoughts and ideas. Only you can think of an original idea or thought. Nobody can put it into your head. No one can hear your thoughts besides yourself, which make them yours. This sense of ownership extends physical objects, and involves self ownership. One’s self ownership also gives a sense of identity. The thoughts and ideas one “owns”, defines them and is their sense of self. Not only does the ownership of thoughts and ideas provide one with a sense of their self, but as well as skills or knowledge one may obtain. Sarte believed that when one becomes proficient in a skill or knows something thoroughly, it means that they “own” that skill or knowledge. An experience I have faced that helps me to support and believe in this idea, is when I joined the volleyball team at my high school. I spent the entire summer practicing volleyball at open gym, improving my skills and preparing for tryouts that were soon to come. When tryouts finally arrived I was no longer nervous and I trusted myself to do well. This was because I had become much more knowledgeable about the sport and I “owned” the level of skill I had worked for and needed to make it onto the team. I realized that I was no longer trying to become a volleyball player, but I was one. The skill I have to play volleyball often defines me, whether someone is asking about myself or sees me in uniform. The skills and knowledge you obtain become your identity, and this is another example of how the relationship between ownership and sense of self are so intertwined.
I believe ownership of tangible items also determines one’s sense of self. Some argue that ownership of tangible items are bad, while others believe they are good. Whether someone views it as being good or bad, it is still true. In today’s society, image is everything. Social classes are based on how much you own and identity is based on image. I don’t completely agree with the argument made by Plato, stating that owning objects is detrimental to a person’s character, because at the end of the day objects can be taken away. I think that owning objects can only become detrimental to a person’s character if one becomes more interested in what others think and try to keep up an image more than their own personal character. I think people can get caught up in an image and become materialistic and selfish, this exposes what type of person one is, providing insight to one’s sense of self.
On the other hand, owning tangible objects could also help to develop moral character, as Aristotle had said. I immediately supported this idea as I looked down and saw the bracelet I wear on my right wrist everyday. This bracelet is called a kara. I have owned a kara all of my life, and it serves a religious purpose to identify myself as a Sikh. This tangible object has helped me as a constant reminder for my morals, discipline, and religious faith. It is the tangible objects like my kara that help to develop moral character. My kara is an identification piece that shows everyone what religion I follow, which displays how tangible items identify ourselves.
The relationship between ownership and sense of self is a very close one. I believe that both the tangible and intangible things in life define ourselves. I feel that people go to things such as tangible objects and intangible things such as thoughts, ideas, skills, and knowledge to not only identify themselves, but “own” themselves and their identities.