“It’s a big change,” says Aldrin, originally from Jakarta, who is studying towards a master’s in water engineering at Brunel University. “It’s interesting, it’s terrifying, it’s changing.
“I can feel that I’m gradually changing as a person. I feel more liberated,” she tells The PIE.
“I never imagined that I would study here. I always thought maybe I’d go to Japan or Germany or the Netherlands because it’s more achievable for me.”
In its third year, the fully-funded scholarship program allows women with an undergraduate degree in a STEM or STEM-related subject to carry out a master’s degree in the UK, without financial barriers. The complete financial support covers tuition fees, stipend, travel costs, visa and health coverage fees.
“I never imagined that I would study here”
Aldrin, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Indonesia, had originally been accepted for a different scholarship program, offering her a place at Tokyo University, but was forced to decline due to it only being half-funded.
In the “spur of the moment”, she applied to the British Council program, in a decision that would change the course of her life.
“I’m not going to say it was easy because obviously it requires a lot of preparation… but the British Council doesn’t make it too complicated for us.”
Three months on from submitting her essays responses, she was shortlisted and after a final interview, was accepted.
“I was so happy,” says Aldrin, who describes the scholarship program as beyond her expectations.
According to data from UNESCO, fewer than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and only a third of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education.
“It’s relatable. STEM is a pretty challenging major. As a woman, coming from a country like mine, they tend to make us choose between becoming a stay-at-home mother and focusing on your career. It’s almost impossible to choose both.
“I think for my age right now – I see a lot of it – if I stayed back in Jakarta people would ask me, ‘Why aren’t you married?’
“My environment is actually very supportive, especially about studying and knowledge,” Aldrin tells The PIE, noting that both her parents have benefitted from travel abroad, either for study or work.
“But I know some have environments that don’t support women at all because we still have a lot of traditional values. It’s good to hold some values but you have to change some perspectives.”
As global attitudes change, and women are presented more opportunities like hers, Aldrin hopes to see those numbers rise in the near future.
Aldrin, currently working on her dissertation on flood predictions using machine learning, describes her course as “demanding” – with her weekends spent studying, alongside her part-time retail job – but admires the UK’s commitment to “hands on learning”.
She appreciates the mentor she has been assigned via the university who she is now working with to achieve her next goal of studying a PhD in the UK – with her end goal being to “give back” to Indonesia in whatever way she can, she tells The PIE.
She feels supported by the British Council and appreciates the organisation’s willingness to let her get on with her studies rather than asking for updates on her grade.
Aldrin is pleasantly surprised by the diversity she has seen, and heard, in the UK and is enjoying socialising with a global group of friends.
“I never expected that in the UK I would hear a lot of languages”
“I never expected that in the UK I would hear a lot of languages. Every time I’m in a tube or something, I rarely hear someone speak in English.
“What’s the point of moving far away if you just want to be in the same pool?
“I’ve changed a lot, my mum even compliments me on how mature I am right now. I live alone and I can’t really rely on family and friends anymore.
“Essentially the friend culture here is very different than in Indonesia. In Indonesia we’re prepared to drop everything just to aid our friends… but here we have our own priorities.”
Indonesians “prioritise politeness”, says Aldrin, and this is another cultural difference she is getting used to.
“I’ve learned a lot not to do that here, because now I can actually be straightforward and just talk to people about what I think and if I do disagree with them.”
Her advice to other women in STEM considering applying to the program?
“Just do it! Don’t think about it too much, because if you think about it too much, then you’re going to be scared… if you really want it, you have to fight for it.”