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Through The Looking Glass: Indah Shafira's Journey to Harvard

Writer: Athaya Hardono | Photo: Indah Shafira's personal collection |

Illustrator: Carina Audrey Budiarto | Editor: Kinar Nisa

After only just 1 ring, the phone call got picked up and I was greeted by a soft-toned “Hello”. It was late at night in the eastern part of the world, but the morning was still crisp and clear at the other end of the call. It was Indah Shafira who we were trying to call, our very own APUINA Alumni who just graduated from Harvard with her Master’s degree in International Education Policy. Prior to her graduation from APU in the Fall of 2019, Indah had already settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts in pursuance of her study in the world’s most elite institution.

Indah was born and raised in Lampung, a province on the southern tip of Sumatra. She left her hometown at the age of 15 to attend a boarding school in Depok, a city in the outskirts of Jakarta. Little did she know, her moving to Java is just a short pit stop before her extensive travel to the US, Mexico and Japan following her studies.

“I didn’t plan on going to (graduate) school again, let alone getting into Harvard”, Indah explained. Indah’s Journey to stepping foot in the famous Harvard Yard as a master’s candidate began in the Summer of 2018, towards the end of her 3rd year at APU. “I’ve seen my seniors send fifty to hundreds of job applications, and I decided that this (Shuukatsu— Japanese style Job Hunting) is not for me”, she added. Indah felt that wearing a specific type of attire, holding ‘the’ specific type of briefcase, preparing incessantly for the long series of tests only to get rejected by most, while becoming desirably important for some, was not something she aimed to do.

“I weighed out all the options, and decided that going to Graduate school was the best option for me. Since then, I have given all my time and focus to the application process — that is studying for GRE exams, preparing my CV, writing essays and reaching out to professors for my recommendation letters”.

“I was certain that education is the field that I wanted to pursue when I took Prof. Emilia Heo’s Peace Studies class. During one of her lectures, she explained how investing in youth through education and teaching peace means that you are actually making peace in this world. She was a great professor and a kind-hearted individual, it (her teaching) had a profound effect on me.”, expressed Indah as she reminisced her times at APU.

Last week, Indah had just received her commencement from Harvard and is currently seeking to amplify her experience in top consulting firms before eventually planning to go back to Indonesia and return to her hometown, Lampung. To get to know Indah a little closer, APUINA had asked a few questions regarding the story behind Indah’s personal motivation to succeed. We hope you’ll get inspired as much as we do, here’s a peek of our heart-to-heart session:

A : How would you describe yourself in one word?

I : Hardworking. I like to set high standards for everything that I do and what I want to achieve — the high bar is what kept me motivated and driven. I don’t like to do things half-heartedly because it does not give me the satisfaction that I long for.

A : What kept you motivated to achieve your goal?

I : I came from Lampung, where the education system is a little behind. The people in Lampung are reluctant to travel outside the island and most end up being stuck there for the rest of their lives; boys would continue to work in factories while girls would be housewives — this is what happened to my family and close circles. Earlier this year, I came to Lampung as a guest speaker at a high school seminar. When I asked them about college and their future study plans, none answered with enthusiasm and they only replied with a smile. I was heartbroken, and I don’t blame them for being that way because they had no role model to look up to and give them the motivation they needed. They are the reason for me to achieve my goal — so that one day I could be the one to encourage them to go out and go beyond their boundaries. I want to tell them that they could be someone great, someone who could contribute to their community and be the one who can actually make a difference.

A : What do you think of failure?

I : I’ve failed hundreds of times, and all of my failures became my teacher. Failure gave me the chance to learn and correct myself. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — these are the words that I could resonate to.

A : Do you feel satisfied with everything that you have achieved so far?

I : Absolutely not, I’m still very far from it. I’m a firm believer that as a human, we must not stop learning and that lifelong learning is crucially important. I still have a lot of skill gaps that need to be filled, and I’m constantly learning things from my peers here at school.

A : If you could go back in time and repeat your studies at APU, what would you do differently?

I : I’d probably want to take more classes that require you to read more — and this is important because in the Asian education system, we are shaped to be good test-takers. While this is good, we tend to be less critical in discussions and in expressing our thoughts. I want to take part in classes where discussions are two-way, not just the type where the student comes as an empty tank waiting to be filled with water.

A : Any tips for your juniors who want to follow your footsteps (to go to graduate school)?

I : As early as you can, try to build good relations with your professors! Be a TA, participate in collaborative events or reach out and book their office hours. This will not only help you for your graduate school application, but it’ll also help expand your network that is important for your professional career.

There's no specific key to success, nothing is instant and could be taken a shortcut to. Indah's story might not be the same as yours. But with hardwork and perseverance, all the roads will lead you to Rome. We believe that everyone is unique and special, so there's no reason to compare your success to others. Your journey might be bumpy, but sooner or later, we're sure that you'll eventually reach your destination!

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