“There are some things you can’t learn at any university, except for one, the University of life…the only college where everyone is a permanent student.”E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
For some people, they assumed that the way to be a great student at their university meant they had to be willing to sacrifice participating in campus activities and give 100 percent effort towards campus academics. They chose to become a bibliophile, a person who loves books and can’t stop reading them, a bibliomaniac who opts to stay all day at the lecturer room just for additional discussion. That dedication and diligence can be a reason why that student achieves their goal; however, it may not dawn on them that life on campus is a full of plenty of opportunities to do everything. You can explore, develop competences, establish friendships and networks, try new things, and even get involved in campus activities. The good thing is, we can get all of them in one package if we actively join student activities.
My choice to enroll at President University in West Java, Indonesia, was a tough one. For 6 years (junior and high school), I studied at an Islamic boarding school where Islamic studies dominated the course instruction. When I was in college, I chose International Relations as a major with a specialization in Defense and Security Studies without giving it a second thought.
I believe life is about taking adventurous routes to achieve your dreams, approached with ambitious drive and determination.
The first thing that came to my mind was, “Okay, since I don’t have any basic background in Defense and Security Studies, I’ll do my best, only focusing on my studies.” Despite my diligent efforts, in my first semester I received a ‘D’ mark on my English paper. I was heartbroken and disappointed at the negative result. I told my mom that I didn’t think it was likely I’d be able to negotiate a passing grade. I asked for a second chance to take another university entry exam in the following year, and also considered switching majors.
At the crossroads of an important decision, I decided to change the plans of my journey. I thought, “Given that I’m not proficient enough with the subject, I think I should consider how I can better stand out,” and I became involved in student activities. I knew this would ensure I’d have no regrets in the future. In my first semester, the 2015 Model United Nations (MUN) Conference was my first-ever student activity and my first attempt at joining that prestigious event.
Planning out which activities I would become involved in was the next stage. What should I take part in while living the so-called ‘uni-life’? What should I join? Should I enter a club that can help me with my studies? I also want to develop my multicultural awareness and personal skills. I can join a club comprised people from many diverse backgrounds, even foreign students as well. Though I love helping people, will it be beneficial enough for me to only join a charity-related club? All of these thoughts and possibilities went through my mind. Human desires cannot be controlled, and fret not — I took on all of them!
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that it might be better to join just one student activity carefully that we enjoy the most and focus on that one exclusively. However, sometimes it’s OK to take on more.
Being at a university presents a very rare opportunity to challenge yourself to get involved with all of your top choices for student clubs, and so I capitalized on this.
Here is what I recommend for how to decide what activities you want to get involved in during your time in school:
- Try to find the activities that you love the most, or
- Try to join the activities that can help or complement your area of study, (this is for the person like me without the basic background of the course) or
- Try to get involved in the activities you want to explore on a deeper level.
I offer these pieces of advice since they formed my main basis of joining all of the student clubs, rather than being confused about which one to choose. My decision might strike some people as somewhat non-strategic, or suggest that I lacked a more focused career direction, but I decided to exercise some freedom, creativity, and maybe even a little bit of healthy spontaneity and enlisted in various, somewhat unrelated student clubs.
After taking part in the MUN Conference in 2015, I decided to join the club for one term so that I could learn the basic skills needed for International Relations students: public speaking, debating and lobbying, and research competence, were my goals of joining the club. The MUN club has been a great help for my 3.5 years of study at the university.
Attending MUN workshops helped me to boost my confidence when doing a presentation in front of people and research skill development. Indeed, this club has made me confident enough to challenge myself to join the MUN Conference in India in 2017. I didn’t realize that the club I was participating would end up helping me a lot! MUN also better enabled me to complete my final thesis in less than 3 months while I was simultaneously doing my internship.
Another challenge I encountered was completing my final thesis in 3-month period. Some might think that’s either a long amount of time or a normal one, but I was an Indonesian who spoke Bahasa Indonesia as my main language. I entered a university with full English learning and English language for my final thesis.
Make the most of your free time as best as you can.
When I had free time or the weekend was around the corner, I usually divided my time into two parts. I used half of the time for ‘me time’ and used the other half for study or doing assignments.
In the following year, I got involved in the youth leadership movement called AIESEC, whose goal is to empower young people for peace and the fulfillment of humanity’s potential. They are a platform for youth development that encourages cross-cultural exchange opportunities. According to its LinkedIn page, “AIESEC is the world’s largest youth-run organization developing the leadership potential of young people. Present in 120+ countries and territories across 2600 universities, we provide students and recent graduates with life-changing experiences to intern or volunteer abroad within partner organizations.”
Joining this club has helped me improve, along with the colleagues, in creating projects and inviting exchange participants and joining a 6-week project that we made. Unexpectedly, we even created a summer project and gained approximately 21 participants from 16 countries. They are run by the club members, namely ‘us,’ and we were recognized by the university for making it happen. During the project, we got a chance to have fun and developed key skills such as leadership, global networking, and many more. What I learned most from this club was that
the art of multi-tasking can be learned to achieve the goals that matter.
While balancing activities and goals, it was entirely possible to enjoy the activities and graduate on-time. I joined this club for three terms, nearly from my second semester up to the semester before my internship began, but I encountered no obstacles so far.
The last club that I joined was the Charity Club. I was joined this club during my second term as an AIESEC member. I like giving a hand to help people, especially kids. We usually go to their village near the university in the afternoon to keep them company as they learn, play, and listen to our storytelling. We also created a short field trip for them to bond with each other. This club has given me a place to relax and recharge my motivation to study. Therefore, I recommend students find something that makes them comfortable when they are fed up or tired from their studies. Discovering activities that can boost your spirit is something of substance that shouldn’t be looked over.
I am pretty active in a lot of activities, so how was I able to excel in my studies? By joining activities, time management was of central importance. To become more goal-oriented, I needed to organize my short goals – such as daily goals – all the way up to my long-term goals.
Frequently during my time at university, I had a pre-event meeting with Club A at 4 pm, then attended a meeting at Club B at 8 pm, and at 10 PM with internal Club C members. It is such a tiring day, yet from this experience, I learned how to maximize and manage the time that I have.
Balance your priority to study with your responsibilities from extracurricular activities.
I’m thankful for all the activities that I got involved in. I could even maintain an excellent grade at the end of my study while gaining more experience in joining events and organizations.
Fahri Surya Altakwa is a fresh graduate from President University, Indonesia, where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and National Security Studies in 2019. He comes from a diverse heritage, as he is a descendant of Javanese, Batak, and Melayu.
Before graduating, Fahri was involved in various organizational activities, such as the Model United Nations Club and AIESEC. Furthermore, he has also honed his professional skills from his internship experiences at Lazada Indonesia, an international e-commerce company under Alibaba Group, and at European Union Delegations for Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam. In his leisure time, Fahri enjoys reading biographies and watching documentaries.