When I graduated from elementary school, I thought I finally had a say on where I would like to continue my education. I was wrong. Like many families in Indonesia, a child’s education option is not only her parents’ business, but also her grandparents, aunts and uncles, and all other people who most likely have no professional qualifications whatsoever to weigh in on such matters. So I entered the school that was chosen for me without having consulted me first, because, hey, what does an eleven-year-old know about their own interests in life, right?
It wasn’t long before I began to feel out of place. I kept making excuses to skip class, pretending to be sick so that my mom would write me a letter to skip school. Sometimes I just bailed: instead of going to school, I got on an angkot (public minivan) headed to Kwitang, Central Jakarta, 21 kilometer away from Bekasi where I lived. In Kwitang I could finally feel like I was in my element, surrounded by books, used and new. Books offered an escape to me and I happily buried my face in the pages of those books novel, biographies, non-fiction books, even dictionaries.
I had developed a distaste for school by the time I graduated from junior high and I felt as if I was once again cornered into an alley with nowhere to run. In one semester I graduated with a more than 30 days of absence but I still ranked third highest in class. How so? Because it is the school that I hated so much, not the learning part. So I decided to give high school a chance. Two chances actually: I lasted three months in the first school and a month and a half at the second school.
I told my parents and my relatives that I just didn’t feel like going to school anymore. They finally gave up persuading me to go to school. What they didn’t know then was that I had another plan in mind.
Like I said, what I disliked is the school, the system, and the environment, and what I loved is the learning process, I love studying, especially on matters that interests me. So I came up with a conclusion: who has an absolute say on what matters they want to study? University students. So, all I have to do is to get myself to university, right?
The way to do this is through the government program called Kejar Paket C. It is a non-formal education program for anyone seeking diplomas that are equivalent to formal educational institutions. Paket C is the equivalent of high school.
The next challenge is convincing my family that I actually knew what I wanted with my life and my future. There were doubts – naturally, when you are dealing with the odd one out in the family, and in my family I am the definition of a “black sheep.”
I then sat my parents and my other relatives down to try to explain to them what I had planned for my academic future. I would register for the Paket C program, get the diploma, and apply to the college or university of my choice. Naturally they were a bit surprised when they found out that I even considered going to college. They weren’t as impressed, however, when they found out I wanted to attend a philosophy school. The questions that followed were typical: Why on earth would someone (like me) go to a philosophy school? What can one do with a degree in philosophy? What sort of job options would be available for me later in life?
I gave them an honest answer: I don’t know. Not now. What I do know is that this was the first time in my life that I was sure of what I really wanted, that I could do this, and that I could do it well. I gave them two options: they could either be supportive and helpful, or they could back off and respect my decision.
After getting my Paket C certificate, I ran to the administration office of the school of my choice to register. I took the test and passed it, and enrolled in the university. In my second semester I got my first part-time job as a storekeeper at one of the largest bookstores in Jakarta and have been juggling school and work ever since.
I have faced numerous obstacles through the years, and more often than not my plans went sideways, but I am still here. Though I haven’t finished my undergraduate studies, I still believe that I can and am working to do so. The funny thing is once you found the answer to one question, there are other questions waiting to be answered. The next question is what am I supposed to do with my life and the knowledge that I have now? How can it matter? And for whom?
Fortunately, thanks to my friends and my family, who now support me despite still not understanding my choices, I no longer have to face those questions alone again.
Maria Dolorosa Farah Diena is an undergraduate student at Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara, a teacher, a translator, an interpreter, and a person who simply tries to find another reason to wake up in the morning because she is in a very serious relationship with her bed.