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How to Cope with Disruption and Distraction as an International Student May 26, 2017

Posted by Sharehouse Jakarta in Uncategorized.
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I was chatting with an Indonesian woman studying in the UK on scholarship about the bomb in Manchester this week that killed 22. We were asking how international students cope with events that disrupt their academic focus.

“A lot of us keep our official scholarship papers and even our statement of purpose right by our laptop, to remind us why we’re here, said Michelle (not her real name).

“I’m speaking about myself and the other Indonesian students on scholarship.”

“And nature,” said Michelle. “That’s why I chose this university. That’s why you see so many pictures of me hiking on Facebook.”

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That word. I asked her repeat it in case I had misheard. Then it all came back to me — biking Grizzly Peak, running Strawberry Canyon, watching the sunset behind the Golden Gate bridge. Nature had been my coping strategy, too. I practically lived on my mountain bike while I was a law student. I used to wear my bike shoes to class almost every day.

Michelle and I identified a few of the ways a semester can melt down and how to cope.  But there are more. So I’m hoping that readers will share their perspective in the “COMMENTS” section below.

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All because of an Election, All because of an Attack

Crisis or chaos in the host country or home country? Very possibly. Just assume that something vaguely political and really awkward is going to happen before you graduate.

But who could have anticipated all the disruption caused — for example — by the Brexit referendum in the UK, the most recent U.S. presidential election, and last month’s Jakarta gubernatorial election — all taking place during the 2016-17 academic year but with so much potential impact on international students.

As Michelle and I were were chatting, suicide bombers killed three police officers in East Jakarta, not at all far from where I used to live. (As soon as I got off the phone and found out about it, I decided to write this blog post.)

Naturally, it feels like hate, distrust and danger are everywhere. And just what are you supposed to do? Just go to class (and then the library)?

It’s all evidence for my theory that toughest problems aren’t on the final exam. Business school, law school, Ph.D. programs and most others are intensive and immersive by design. The idea is to get away from everything and focus on academics.  But what if everything follows you? Well, in that case, you’ll get extra credit for dealing with it. That’s just how it is. 

In my case, the biggest terrorist attack in history came (on 11 Sept. 2001) just as I was starting my second year of law school. And then my home country almost immediately started invading other countries. The year before — when George W. Bush won the election by just 537 votes — we law students struggled to stay focused as the courts tried to decide who the new American president would be.

Thus, at the same time we were struggling to identify with the law and legal profession, myself and the other students (from all over the world) felt compelled to look in the mirror and also ask (distracting) questions about our national, ethnic, political and religious identity. All because of an election. All because of an attack.

Embrace the Chaos

Looking back, the 9/11 attacks really did change the course of my graduate education —  and later my career. I well remember some of the tough semesters, right down to the music I was listening to at the time (probably Pavement or Silver Jews).  

My grades were uniformly unimpressive, so you won’t find any trace of this struggle on my transcript. But elsewhere there are signs: A law journal article on foreign policy, an immigration law clinic, internships in Malaysia and Indonesia — all of these activities were part of my reaction to the disruptive events I experienced during graduate school. And I got credit for them; today they’re more valuable to me than most of my coursework.

So I would say “Embrace the chaos” is another possible coping mechanism. 

What would you say? Thanks for leaving a comment.

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