An Indonesian Expat about Moving to Russia for Studies
Indonesia is indeed much more than Bali and its picturesque beaches. Yet very few of us know that in the mouth of one of the country's volcanoes there is a lake of sulphuric acid. Samira Dial Megistra, a student of the Faculty of Oil & Gas Engineering at Saint-Petersburg Mining University, is originally from Indonesia. In this interview, she explained why she went to study abroad, albeit coming from one of the most beautiful countries.
As Samira notes, "Indonesia is a country of islands - we have in total about 17 thousand of them. My home country is also the world's largest Muslim State. Therefore Balinese surfers, national dances, endless selfies that tourists make next to rice plantations - this is not the reality we live in. Some real-life facts are that the country is now the fourth globally based on the size of the working-age population. We also have significant reserves of oil, gas, tin and copper ores. But with all that said, Indonesia is suffering from economic difficulties.
The most acute of our problems are unemployment and low wages. An average monthly income in Jakarta and that is the capital of Indonesia, is somewhere about €240. Prices are, however, quite high, maybe just about the same as in Russia. Since tuition-free education in my country is not available, only a quarter of high-school graduates apply to the university. The rest have no other choice but to seek a job."
Though as surprising as it is, even the sulphur miners mentioned above do not get paid a lot - only around $15 a day. Meanwhile, the work they do often ends up in lethal outcomes because of exposure to poisonous vapours of hydrogen sulphide. Sulphur is mined in the Ijen crater, which is a part of the volcano complex located in East Java, Indonesia. The work is very demanding, and miners get to work in abusive conditions. Sulphur deposits are found in the mouth of the volcano, near the crater lake filled with sulphuric acid. Although the lake emits toxic gas, locals workers have neither protective suits nor respirators.
"Fortunately, my family was wealthy enough to let me study in a good-quality school. When it was time to choose a university, I browsed the website of our Ministry of Education and Culture. There I came across an ad stating that Rossotrudnichestvo was holding a competition, the winners of which were granted quotas for free studies at one of the Russian universities. Indonesian people believe foreign education is better than the local. That is why my sisters left for studying abroad - in Turkey and France, and that is why I wanted to enter a foreign-based university," explains Samira.
Chemistry and physics were the girl's favourite subjects at school, yet she could not decide on a speciality. After taking the final exam, Samira found out she got the school's highest score in chemistry. It is then she realised she wanted to develop within this science.
"Indonesia is rich in minerals, but it was always international companies - Shell, Chevron, British Petroleum - that had been involved in the deposit development. And even though natural resources have now been acknowledged as the country's national property, large enterprises are still mostly represented by foreign entities. Again executive positions are held by foreigners whereas locals get to be the workingmen. Our government, for its part, is interested in reducing this dependence on foreign shareholders. Thereby a highly-qualified mining specialist of Indonesian origins is in high demand in the labour market.
Speaking of my choice, I did not decide on Russia only because of an opportunity to study for free. For me, it was also a chance to live in a country that had accumulated enormous knowledge and experience in handling technologies. I was sure I would get a high-quality education here," says Samira.
She successfully passed entrance examinations and was granted a study place. With all the universities she could choose of, Samira settled on St. Petersburg Mining University. As the reasons behind her decision, she mentioned the following: high rankings, positive feedback both from students and employers, and location of the university, for St. Petersburg is a beautiful tourist city.
"My parents were not against my move to Russia. I knew Russia was a large and - if compared to Indonesia - highly-developed country. I did some research on the development of the mining sector in the country. That is it.
Of course, reality differed from my expectations. Russians tended to be less smiley than I had thought before coming here. On the other side, they were always ready to help. I made friends easily and got used to the local climate quite quickly. I think it did not take me long to adapt to a life that was entirely new for me," recalls the Mining University's student.
A common problem for many international students is a language barrier. But this was not the case for Samira who is a real polyglot. She could speak five languages - Indonesian, English, French, German, and Turkish - already at school. Russian is thus the sixth language she can speak now very fluently.
Due to her talent for languages, the Indonesian student's activities are not confined to studying only, but she also helps the university with administrative matters. As such, she often volunteers as a translator at international events organised by the university, with a notable example being the Future Leaders Forum of the World Petroleum Council.
"I am also a Vice-President of the Indonesian Student Association in Russia. There are currently about 80 Indonesian nationals studying at universities of St. Petersburg. All of the students chose technical universities since human sciences can be learnt just as well in our homeland.
I got impressed with the university's laboratory facilities when I first arrived here, and I still am. Modern simulators and drilling rigs help to visualise the well-drilling process or explore solutions that oil companies use - all within the walls of the university. Geological exploration and drilling techniques, even technical equipment, used in Indonesia were adopted from American and Europe counterparts. They accordingly have much more in common with Western scientific culture than with Russian scientific tradition. And in Indonesia, there is very little known about the latter. Now I can be the one who delivers this knowledge to my fellow countrymen working in the oil & gas sector," says the student.
Samira was glad to find out that the Mining University issues a Diploma Supplement, a document accompanying a higher education diploma, which is recognised all across the EU. While Indonesia is not an EU-member, the supplement is still highly valued in the country. It serves as an advantage when applying for a job too.
"In an ideal situation, I would prefer to participate in a project developed jointly by our countries. For instance, Rosneft and Pertamina, an Indonesian state-owned oil and gas corporation, are now working together on preparing a construction site on Java. An oil refinery and petrochemical plant will be installed there soon and are expected to start functioning in 2026. If I manage to join this project, it could give a nice start for my career," noted Samira.