With roughly two weeks left until our Independent Study Project (ISP) period, everyone was restless. Restless and eager. I myself felt no less anticipatory, excited even. The ISP month is fraught with uncertainties: on where you’ll live, what you’ll experience, how you’ll accomplish your study and write a fantastic paper, too. (And I must say, the uncertainty doesn’t stop during the ISP itself either—but more on that in another post.)
For me, the greatest promise ISP held was to conduct my lifestyle with much more freedom than the regular program schedule allowed. While naturally, I expected to be constrained by limitations in environment, money, and the fact that I most definitely would spend most of my time on the field study; I also anticipated little freedoms in what I would eat, where in my area of study I could travel, what time to awake from sleep, how to spend free time, and so on and so forth. I figured that one could view the ISP period as a well of free time, and it was up to me to decide how to allot that time between my studies, basic needs, and free time.
That isn’t to say that we were simple dropped into the situation with no plans at all. During those two remaining weeks, in between the final exams and essays, we were required to complete an ISP proposal, which hammered out some of the more crucial ‘uncertainties’ such as housing, transportation, budget, and a rough schedule of one’s field study. Having determined these basic requirements, despite that fact that pretty much everything is an uncertainty—even how I would acquire food—I didn’t feel bothered. By then the SIT program had hammered in a nonchalant, go with the flow attitude. In fact, I was comforted to know that my future ISP experience was an unknown. I simply didn’t have enough information to form clear expectations, which I feel helped me prepare for all the unexpected experiences—of which there were many.
One such experience occurred before I even departed. As I was compiling my ISP proposal, so were the other students; and it was a topic often featured in our final conversations with each other. We found our thoughts wandering towards out financial budgets and the stipend allotted to us by the program (7 million rupiah: roughly $500). To my great shock, everyone shared that they were over-budget. You see, the cost of living in Indonesia is significantly less than in America, so much so that I would have expected everyone to stay within budget. I myself expected to go over because I planned to travel further; thus, I fueled more funds into transportation. However, the bulk of our group were to remain in Bali, needing no plane tickets—which in my case took up the heftiest portion of my budget. Later in the week, we were told that the cost of our VISA extensions had gone up, and it would be deducted from our stipend—leaving us 5.7 million rupiah instead (roughly $400). It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but it put a group already overbudget further into the red.
The reason why I linger upon this for so long in this post is because efforts to behave frugally will not pay off when it comes to the ISP period—at least not in my group’s case. Non-withstanding any costs that one may pay before the ISP period, it is absolutely necessary for future students with this SIT program to save money before embarking; and considering the often hectic schedule of the program, it is especially crucial because one is unable to make money while abroad, unless they work a few hours here and there remotely (like myself).
Thank you, and until next time.