A potentially costly faux pas and a chaotic year: My experience as the only foreign student in an all-Romanian class
It was early 2020 - a collectively chaotic year for everyone - and I had just spent three years after graduating high school "gap years," and allowed myself to step back from the hassle of classes and find out what I truly wanted to do with my personal goals and academic/career plans.
I was certain that I wanted to pursue journalism for its idealism and how it's the watchdog of democracy and peace when it's done right.
I remember that one evening in January, a friend of mine forwarded an announcement from the Romanian embassy in Jakarta about an annual, fully-funded scholarship from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The monthly financial aid may not be the best part (around RON 300 per month for bachelor students, which obviously isn't enough if you don't have other sources of income), but it grants free accommodation depending on the assigned university's policy and waives the tuition that can be super pricey for non-EU students - we're talking about EUR 250 to 400 a month, for example.
At first, I was (partially) skeptical about applying because of my slim-to-none geographic and cultural knowledge of Eastern Europe at the time, and the fact that it wasn't the most popular choice among Indonesian students who study abroad, like the UK, France, Germany, or the Netherlands, a country we shared colonialism history for over 300 years.
But I did it anyway, carpe diem. I gathered all the required documents - letter of motivation, future career plans, form, diploma, certificates, and anything that could make me stand out from the rest of the applicants. Back then, everything was still manual, so I had to sign all the paperwork and send them over to the embassy in person, whereas it's now accessible online on Study in Romania's government website every year from December/January to March.
"What could possibly go wrong?" I uttered to myself at the time.
We had two options to choose from, so I first opted for the University of Bucharest and Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, both in journalism studies. I did my research on almost every Romanian university that offers the degree that I wanted, and I figured both are among the top five universities in the country.
Months passed, and I thought nothing of it or felt sure that I would get that scholarship. I applied for a journalism degree at a university back home, and the plan was to take evening classes while I worked in the mornings.
Then, a few days after I'd finished all the necessary payments for the whole semester and rent, I got an email from the Romanian embassy in Jakarta that I got the scholarship and had 2x24 hours to confirm my place until they gave it to someone else.
I remember that happy feeling, but what I could recall more was the dilemma that came with it. That jumpy, anxious sensation, because I knew if I said "yes" to this email, there would be no undo button. It would be too far to have a second thought. The idea of traveling abroad sounds nice, but this is not a tourist trip by any means. If I was to take the scholarship, it would mean starting over in a new country, a new mentality, a new language, and a new culture for the next four years.
Change is always scary, I admit that. You either grow as a person, or you're mushed. There are no in-betweens and there's no looking back after this. And, for the first few months of being in Romania, I had found enemies in the form of freezing winter, homesickness, and the language barrier. It wasn't an easy switch, but I was lucky that those boarding school years when I was little and my extroverted nature made me adapt faster.
Since it's a scholarship by the government, it requires us, the awardees, to study the Romanian language until the B2 level before being able to start the study in our desired departments - all have to be taught in Romanian.
That's how I ended up in the Journalism department of the Faculty of Political, Administrative, and Communication Sciences (FSPAC) at UBB, among 80 or 90-something Romanian students in 2021, which then narrowed to 60-something a year later.
The support that I receive from teachers and my like-minded colleagues here has been outstanding, don't get me wrong. My teachers understand my barrier, always give me constructive feedback, and allow me to use language aids, and I've made friends who have been making life easier. But, still, being an outsider in a big community is always a challenge.
Thinking that studying abroad is all fun and games is a costly faux pas - if anything, I've had my shares of frustrating days because I always had to put each sentence that the teachers said to the back of my head and translate it, only to find out they're already talking about something else by the time you're done with it. It's not always rainbows and unicorns.
But, again, this whole thing comes in a package, like stormy rain and a beautiful rainbow. Or the tiredness of hiking and the stunning mountainous sceneries. Or the perks of broadening your horizon by studying abroad and feeling homesick whenever an inconvenience happens to you. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's always important to sit back, collect yourself, and take that "gap" once in a while.
And that's what exactly I'm doing as I'm entering my second year of university and my overall third year in this country. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Sky's the limit.
(Photo: Romania Insider)