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Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 2: Overcoming Self-doubt in the Swiss Alps - ADMISSIONS BLOG | APU Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

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Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 2: Overcoming Self-doubt in the Swiss Alps

Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 2: Overcoming Self-doubt in the Swiss Alps

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog on my experience studying abroad through APU’s exchange program. If you would like to know more about the process before actually going on the program, you can read part 1, Studying Abroad (while abroad): From Japan to Switzerland

After a rollercoaster ride of trying to apply for the exchange program, I finally succeeded in securing a spot to study abroad at the School of Management and Law at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Switzerland.

New class, new rules

Before the semester even began, I was greeted with a welcome lecture alongside around one hundred other exchange students, and all together went through an orientation week to help us settle into our new lives. We had information sessions on things such as Switzerland’s history and how to register for classes. This whole process seemed to whizz by and before I knew it, the first day of classes rolled around.

Walking into my first class, I immediately noticed how small the class felt. There were only about 30 other students, and as the day went on, my biggest class had only about 50 students. This was a completely different experience than what I was accustomed to at APU, as some of the introductory courses I took during my first year had almost 200 students!

I found the classes at ZHAW to be quite intimate, but that also meant that everyone could see what I did or said. It was nerve-racking to say the least, and in the first week of classes, I barely said a word to my lecturers. Even if I knew the answer and had it on the tip of my tongue, I just couldn't bring myself to say it out loud!

Another thing that I soon noticed was that classes at ZHAW didn’t take attendance and most grades were almost entirely based on final exam performance alone. This was something very new to me as most of the classes I had at APU took attendance, assigned several projects throughout the course, and had an exam (or two)—which was all factored in to decide the final grade.

When I was applying for the exchange program, it didn’t even cross my mind to consider that different universities would have different teaching and grading styles, and just how intimidating those difference would be. Looking back now I’d say it’s all part of the fun of going on exchange. But initially, I really did struggle with adjusting to the change.

Not quite at home

Not quite at home

My class schedule at ZHAW was less busy than when I was at APU so I tried to use my spare time to visit other cities in Switzerland. The first trip I went on was a hiking trip to Lauterbrunnen, a valley famous for its waterfalls and rocky cliffs. (It was actually also the first time I had ever gone hiking!) I remembered feeling sore and unable to get out of bed when I woke up the following morning but being able to see the Swiss Alps covered in snow made it all worth it.

My hiking trip to Lauterbrunnen made me fall in love with the beautiful scenery of Switzerland, and I was excited to explore more of the country. I also had my first try of the famous cheese fondue—I honestly didn’t think I would be so full after eating just bread with melted cheese!

But as the weeks went by, the excitement of moving to a new city began to fade away and worries started to take their place. Here I was in Switzerland, one of the most picturesque countries in the world, yet I was feeling a bit gloomy inside.

Growing up in Jakarta, I moved schools a few times and always had little to no trouble adapting to the new environments. And even when I first came to APU, I easily adjusted to the new culture and became friends with students from other countries. Wherever I went, I was always so excited to be in an environment surrounded by people with backgrounds and cultures completely different from my own.

However at ZHAW, I found myself struggling to make friends, something I’ve always thought was second nature to me. Most of the other exchange students came from neighboring European countries, the US, and Canada. But even so, what was keeping me from simply opening up to them?

I couldn’t fully understand why I felt so lonesome, and just the cultural differences alone were not entirely to blame. Whenever I found myself in a room full of people, I would immediately shrink away and start to overthink what I should do. I was afraid that I would say the wrong thing or wonder if I was acting weird. I became so self-conscious that I preferred to stay in my dorm room rather than hang out with the other students in the common area because I couldn’t stop overanalyzing my every little step.

I suppose having a large community of Indonesian students at APU did help with the transition to life in Japan. I was always surrounded by familiarity, and I never felt that I was too far away from home. But here in Europe, everything felt foreign. It was like finding out you’ve been accustomed to humidity your whole life without knowing what it is until you move to a place where it’s dry.

I tried reaching out to my friends back home about this problem, and through confiding in them I realized, the reason I felt this way was because I didn’t have confidence. I felt intimidated and worried about what others would think of me. This worry didn’t just hold me back from socializing, it also held me back from participating in class as I was too afraid of making a fool of myself to try to answer in the first place. But in reality, these worries were all just in my head. I was trapped in my own thoughts, not realizing I was becoming my own barrier.

Finally getting comfortable

Finally getting comfortable

I couldn’t let the rest of my time abroad go to waste, so one day I spontaneously accepted an invitation to travel to Geneva, a city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, with a group of students who I had never really talked with before. I felt nervous for the entirety of the three-hour train ride, but as soon as we reached the city everything just fell into place.

I had such a great time laughing the whole day (and even bonding over getting lost together at one point!) that by the end of the trip I wondered why I felt so nervous in the first place. I realized that my lack of self-confidence really was holding me back and that it was always on me to change how I perceived things.

In my moment of epiphany, my newly-found confidence also helped me with my troubles in the classroom. I realized that everyone in my classes was also students just like me and were not there to judge me. Even if I did make a mistake in front of them, that’s perfectly acceptable and nothing to worry over as we were all there to learn. Like most things in life, the first step is often the scariest, but once that’s said and done, you’ll realize it’s never as bad as you thought it was going to be.

Coming back to Japan, I realized going on this exchange program changed me. I became braver and much more excited to take on the world. I also learned how to adapt to completely new and different situations, and I'm very proud of myself for being able to overcome these personal challenges. This experience pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and showed me how I will get through it all. And because of this, I’ve actually decided to move and work in an entirely new country after graduation!

So if you’re reading this and still wondering about going on exchange, GO FOR IT. If your experience is anything like mine, it will allow you to, of course, develop academically, but also challenge you to step outside of any self-imposed limits and grow into a better version of yourself.

All photos featured are courtesy of former APU Student Social Media Unit member Nabilla Utami Bimoputri (Bella).

■Recent Entries by Bella

Click Wars: A Course Registration Battle Dealing with Homesickness (and Other Stories from My First Semester) Alumni Spotlight: Mandy Zhang A Rewarding Way to Spend Your Summer Studying Abroad (while abroad) Part 1: From Japan to Switzerland



Nabilla Utami Bimoputri (Bella) is an APM graduate from Indonesia. While at APU, she was a member of the APU Social Media Unit and a regular contributor to this blog. When she isn’t blogging, you can find her drinking tea and wearing heavy jackets even when it’s not that cold.