Siti Hajar, winner of two prestigious scholarships in a row
Studying abroad has been dreamed by many, including of Indonesian students. One of the ways of studying abroad is through winning scholarships. And normally those who won scholarships are high achievers, hard-working and determined students.
One of these achievers is Siti Hajar, currently pursuing PhD at the University of Queensland, Australia. Interestingly, Siti won two prestigious scholarships, the Australian Leadership Award (ALA), in a row. The first time is for her Masters Degree, and the second time is for her PhD.
Indeed her achievement is very inspiring. Projecting Indonesia is pleased to have her profile with a detailed interviewed. Below is the excerpt.
Tell us on how you won the two prestigious ALA Scholarships in a row?
I won the first ALA batch in 2007 to pursue my Master of Education in Leadership and Management at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. Then I won another ALA scholarship in 2012 to do my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. When applying for the first ALA batch in 2007, I only had about 17 days to prepare for all necessary supporting documents as I got the information about the ALA scholarship very late. During that period, I had to take an IELTS test, and applied for a Flinders University postgraduate entrance. At that time, having an offer letter from an Australian university was a must—without this document one wasn’t eligible to apply for the ALA scholarship. While applying for the ALA scholarship, I had to also apply for an entrance to Flinders University which meant I had to prepare for all supporting documents for the Flinders University entrance. Fortunately, my IELTS test scores and offer letter from Flinders University were manageable, all came in time. Thank God for the e-mail communication via internet that had helped make a fast written communication regarding the application process for Flinders University and IELTS test scores delivery to Flinders University very possible.
Due to the first ALA batch at that time, ALA had not had a representative office in Jakarta. Thus everything was arranged directly from Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory. I had to send my completed application form together with all supporting documents to AUSAID office in Canberra via DHL service which only took 3 days to get to Canberra. At that time all applications had to be sent via mail services to AUSAID Canberra because an online application was still not possible. Initially, it was stated in the ALA scholarship guidelines that an interview for shortlisted candidates would be done via a telephone call directly from Canberra. However, later on it was decided by AUSAID Canberra that there was no interview for some reasons. From over 1000 applicants from all the Asia-Pacific countries, there were only about 200 successful applicants, around 22 of whom were Indonesian scholars. I was very proud of being part of the small number of ALA scholars then.
I believe what had made me successful in my ALA scholarship application in 2007 were:
First, I had an overseas postgraduate qualification, i.e., Master of Arts in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from The University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1999 under Australian Development and Cooperation Scholarships (ADCOS), which is currently well-known as Australian Development Scholarships (ADS). It was stated in the 2007 ALA scholarship application guidelines that having an overseas qualification either Bachelor or Master Degree was an advantage. This is because the ALA scholarship does not provide training for English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs.
Second, my overall IELTS test score had exceeded the minimum score required by the scholarship which was above 6.0. The ALA scholarship did not provide an English language training for an IELTS test. In a nutshell, to be an ALA scholarship holder means to start an Australian university straight away without having to go through EAP programs and an IELTS preparation course.
Third, at the time of my ALA scholarship application, I was in the middle of doing my Diploma in Development Management (first semester) at Leicester University, London, UK via distant learning which was partly sponsored by Indonesia Australia Language Foundation (IALF) Bali. As I had won the ALA scholarship, I had to discontinue my study with Leicester University. This was another advantage as the course contents had given me ideas in answering about leadership questions in the application form, and the course had highly likely indicated that I was really keen on taking an overseas qualification to develop my leadership and managerial skills to support my leadership and/ managerial role at IALF Bali.
Fourth, I had a leadership and/or managerial position at IALF Bali where I was in the position to influence people to make changes. This was an advantage because I had ideas about answering one of the application questions on how I had demonstrated my leadership qualities and skills at work place.
Fifth, I had presented papers related to my profession at a number of conferences at regional, national and international forums, and most of my papers were written in English. This was an advantage because having an academic writing skill is of high significance in an English speaking country such as Australia. Thus it supported the ALA’s aim for assisting someone who has already got academic writing skills-the skills that the ALA has no obligation to provide as a pre-departure program like the ADS scholarship.
Sixth, my research proposal represented a disadvantaged region which was East Flores regency of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province. This was an advantage since targeting an underdeveloped region for development and betterment was one of the AUSAID commitments.
Seventh, The most important part of the whole process was to answer all the application questions extremely careful. I printed out the application form, read and studied about all the questions very carefully before answering them. Once I wrote my answers to the questions, I read them again and again, and revised them all the time until I was convinced that I had answered all the questions very satisfactorily, and did not miss out anything at all. I had to make sure that my answers to almost each question did not exceed word limit (i.e., up to 100 words only), but I could write them very concisely which corresponded exactly to the questions—never answered anything that was not asked because it was pointless and useless. I had to ensure that I had written all my answers using correct and appropriate English grammar because without this the scholarship team would not be able to understand what exactly I wanted to say. I had to impress the readers / the ALA scholarship team who would read my application, to show them how badly I wanted the scholarship for the development of my country, especially my East Flores community to which I belong.
Eighth, another significant factor for my successful application was to attach all supporting documents. This was extremely critical because leaving out a supporting document would mean losing my chance to win the scholarship.
Ninth, after all the effort I had made, I knew that I would be nothing and could not do anything without my God’s will, so I kept praying and decided to fast for 7 days to surrender myself to my God. I returned everything I had done to him, and let him decide what was the best for me. In the end, I found out that I was offered the scholarship. Thank God! It was his best decision for me.
The same luck was once again returned to me when I applied for the 2012 ALA scholarship to pursue my PhD study in Australia. Some of the points that I mentioned above still applied for my second successful story of the ALA scholarship hunting. What appeared to be different at this time would be:
One, having to attend an interview for shortlisted candidates in a scholarship application process was my first experience. I had to compete with all the other shortlisted candidates not only from Indonesia but also from applicants from the Asia-Pacific countries (which were the main 2007 targeted countries) but also from American, African and Asian continents (which have been expanded from only the Asia-Pacific countries in 2007). The total targetted number of ALA awardees each year till 2012 was around 200 from all the participating countries previously mentioned.
Prior to the interview, I searched tips for successful scholarship interviews on the internet, asked a friend who had experienced in the Australian scholarship interview, asked an experienced native speaker teacher of English and IELTS preparation course who used to interview shortlisted candidates in joined selections for ADS regarding what types of questions she normally asked the shortlisted ADS candidates. Most importantly, I watched a video on the Australia Awards scholarship interviewers’ tips on succeeding the Australia Awards scholarship interviews available from the AUSAID Jakarta’s website.
What I had learnt about the Australia Awards scholarship interview was the interviewers would ask questions that the shortlisted candidates had already answered in the application form. The interviewers wanted to know more about what the applicants had written. From this point, my strategy was to write my own list of questions as I imagined myself as an interviewer. Then I wrote my answers to those imagined questions as an interviewee. I then did some practice by interviewing and answering myself while recording it. Then I learnt about my voice, my ideas and my pace when answering from the recording. I also got my husband to act as an interviewer by reading all the questions that I had prepared. He then gave me feedback and offered other possible questions that the ALA interviewers might ask. I practised, practised and practised questioning and answering the imagined questions until the interview time approached. I found myself that almost all the imagined questions that I had prepared for were asked, and I found myself answer all the interviewers’ questions very fluently and very confidently.
Two, during the interview, I focused on the questions the interviewers asked and responded to them in a very confident manner by looking at their eyes and sitting upright, not leaning on the chair. I answered their questions in a firm voice and gave all examples that supported my ideas. For every question they asked, I kept talking and talking until they stopped me. I really wanted to show them that I was ‘selling’ myself to them extremely well so that they had to ‘buy’ me.
Three, to be able to produce a research proposal, I needed to read a lot from the literature available on the internet, and from my MEd study at Flinders University. Then I started writing my proposal during 3 months of the application process. It was not easy to decide which topic I would be interested in doing for my PhD study. Then I quickly remembered that I had a vision to develop my East Flores community. I contacted a friend who is from Flores and we studied the same MEd course at Flinders University. This friend was working in Flores when I contacted him via Facebook. I asked him about what seemed to be the existing problem(s) encountered in Flores in general. His answer was education and all the problems associated with it such as teachers’ quality, qualifications and resources. I began to search the internet for anything related to education in Flores, particularly East Flores. Luckily, I found the biggest and hottest issue which was a high number of failing students for English subject in national exams . I used this as part of my research topic ideas. I wrote about this issue in my proposal and tried to sell this issue and East Flores. I had to make sure that the educational quality and East Flores receive an equal attention as its more developed counterparts in western part of Indonesia. I made sure that AUSAID needed to target such remote region as East Flores.
Four, I learnt about the ALA scholarship’s vision, mission and objectives so that I could always refer to these when answering the application questions.
Five, I worked on my online application extremely careful, and kept revising it all the time until I was sure that everything was completely done before submitting it.
Six, as I planned to do my PhD study, I knew that the interviewers would be interested in finding out more details about why I wanted to research the topic that I had proposed. I studied my proposed research in depth, e.g., the background/problem statement, the methodology that I would be using, the benefits of the research, etc. I contacted my supervisor in Australia who already agreed to supervise me to help me prepare for the interview. I asked her to challenge me with questions she would want to find out more from me if she was the interviewer. She read every single sentence of my research proposal and commented on the ideas that I presented in every paragraph, and provided her comments using ‘track changes’. She then emailed the proposal back to me and asked me to review it again before the interview. I worked on the proposal again, and tried to write questions and answer them myself while recording it. I kept practising this until the morning I was interviewed. I made sure that I came prepared with everything that the interviewers would like to know more about. I made sure that I ‘sold’ the proposal very well so that they had no choice but ‘bought’ it.
Eight, again I kept praying and fasted again for 7 days to surrender myself to God as without his hands, I would be nothing. And ‘Yes’ I won the 2012 ALA scholarship. Thank God, it was your best decision for me.
Where did you study for a bachelor degree? Have you ever studied in other countries, including short courses? If yes, how do you feel?
I did my Bachelor degree at The University of Nusa Cendana, Kupang, NTT, Indonesia. Although I’ve never done any short courses in other countries (I’d love to one day), I have experienced the higher education program (Diploma in Development Management) through distance learning under Leicester University, UK as mentioned earlier on. I found the Diploma program with Leicester University very interesting. I was given 8 modules to complete within one year, had a Student ID card to access online library, and had two supervisors supervising my study directly from Leicester University. I had to plan my own study for the whole twelve months myself using the grid provided by the university, and send my assignments to the university on time. I had my two assignments back with written feedback and grades. I was lucky that although I discontinued my study with Leicester University, I was still given a reference for my scholarship application.
Any tips to scholarship hunters?
First, try using most of the strategies and learning from the experiences that I have mentioned above, and see how they affect and change your life.
Second, remember that if you fail the first scholarship application, try it again the second time, the third time, the fourth time even the tenth time until you get it because you really really want it. The failing experience will teach you how you could do better in future. So never give up!
Third, start investing in English language learning from now on if you haven’t done so. In particular, start learning about English writing skills from now on if you haven’t done so because 80-100% of assessment at Australian universities is written assignments for master degrees. Next, If you are planning for a PhD or EdD (Doctor of Education) study, start researching, writing papers and presenting papers at conferences at regional, national, or international forums. This will be of benefit when applying for a PhD study as you have background in academic writing skills, researching and reporting a research project. Another important thing is to build and maintain good relationships with your academic supervisors/lecturers and managers at work. This is because these people are the ones who are going to write good references for you. The Australian academic supervisors/lecturers, in particular, sometimes forget about who you are since they had so many students and less likely to remember what you looked like unless you were a super outstanding student in his / her class. Therefore, when asking them to write a reference for you, you should also describe yourself again, send them your CV with a passport-sized photograph, research proposal and academic transcript. Last but not least, if you could, try applying at least 2 scholarships at the same time. The chance is that if you don’t get one, you’ll probably get the other one.
As your scholarship is about leadership, how have you gained experienced on it so far? Any leadership role you have taken both in Indonesia and in Australia?
I would begin with my experience in Australia. I have experienced being a Student Representative for International Program Committee (IPC) at the School of Education, Flinders University of South Australia (I was also a Student Representative at the Centre for English Teaching at The University of Sydney in 1998). I was in this role for one year. This role gave me so much power in dealing with international students’ issues. I had a regular monthly meeting with the IPC committee that largely consisted of the dean of the school and senior lecturers. I arranged weekly seminars and contacted presenters either lecturers or students for their abstracts and disseminated them to all postgraduate students, arranged school visits so that international students could benefit from the education/school system in Australia. I also organised training for professional development for postgraduate students, especially IT related skills, and organised students to attend conferences, seminars and public lecturers related to their studies. I communicated with international students about how they experienced their studies at Flinders and what changes they would like to see happen, and passed this onto the IPC team to act upon. Besides, I contributed to online learning through PPIA (Indonesian Students Association) Flinders University in which I shared what had been learnt from our weekly seminars so that those who missed the seminars might benefit from reading my postings, or just to attract students’ comments and feedback on the seminar contents.
Apart from this role, I was part of the Indonesian language teaching team at the School of Political and International Studies at Flinders University. I was involved in teaching the Indonesian language to postgraduate students at this school. I was also involved in promoting the Indonesian language to year eleven and twelve students in South Australia to attract their interest in studying Indonesian at Flinders University.
Those experiences were really rewarding, and had made me learnt how myself as a leader could do a variety of roles, i.e., a full-time student, student representative, tutor, wife and mother without minimising the result of my study as I was rewarded a Chancellor’s Letter of Commendation for the outstanding GPA that I had achieved-unbelievable. I had also learnt that effective time management was of significance, and a successful female leader wouldn’t exist without the support of the family, especially the husband, and other people that I was connected to like academic and non academic staff members, friends and childcare centre. I am planning to take another leadership role here at UQ when the time is right.
As for the Indonesian context, I was an Assistant Program Manager for General and Corporate English language services at IALF Bali, an Academic Team Leader at The British Institute (TBI) Malang, and an English lecturer at Malang College of Economy (STIE Malang Kucecwara).
I have learnt a lot about leadership theories, leadership styles, issues and challenges through my Diploma Management, MEd Leadership and Management, Leadership Development Programs at Flinders, the 2007 and 2012 ALA Leadership Development Programs/Conferences. As for me, the most challenging aspect of leadership in formal organisations in the Indonesian context would be fitting into the existing work place system and culture as well as the mind sets of the existing staff members.
In your observation, how are the potentials of Indonesian young leaders, both nationally and internationally such as in Australia?
My observation suggests that Dr Anies Baswedan has great potentials to be Minister of Education, and Dr Sri Mulyani has all the potentials to be the next president of Indonesia. I adore both leaders for what they have done and demonstrated to their people/communities even to the world. Both have the leadership qualities and skills, power (qualifications and professional experiences), and followers). I really wish to see how they would demonstrate themselves as leaders in the roles that I have pointed out. I have confidence in both of them, and I hope that my dreams will come true.
What do you do in your spare time?
I enjoy having fun with my family, going for a picnic or doing some fun activities with friends when I am free. (YA)