It’s probably easier to celebrate glorious moment rather than reflecting on the long hard process behind it.
I was once again reminded by this simple fact at the end of my NFP fellowship November last year. The fellowship — fully funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs — last only for 3 weeks, and it was a wonderful one. But behind it, there was 10 months long preparation, and probably much more than that.
It was all started in February 2016, as I first got the information about the course: Producing Media to Counter Radicalisation. It was held by RNTC, part of RNW Media, Netherland.
According to its website, RNW Media is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. Nowadays it transforms into a multimedia organisation promoting free speech in countries where freedom of expression is severely restricted.
I started my application for Netherlands Fellowships Programme in March 2016. It took 3 months to know the result. And with much luck, I was accepted.
It sounds easy when you put it in words, but it was anything but easy back then. To be honest, I cannot remember exactly how I got known about NFP because there are so many types of scholarships/fellowships that I read regularly and try to familiarize myself with. This particular habit can be traced back to 2009, when I first tried my luck to go abroad by applying to AMINEF Undergraduate Exchange Program and failed miserably: I didn’t even finish the application process, although I’ve got my TOEFL test result already.
To think about it, I owed several people along my line of study in high school and undergraduate that helped to nurture this dream to go abroad, which I still hold very dearly until today.
The AMINEF failure was an insightful one, though. I procrastinated a lot, but it taught me not to give up halfway trying. After that, all I know is trying, trying, and trying, without thinking much about the result.
Around August 2012, I secured my scholarship to do master in Taiwan for two years. There, I met a brilliant professor that I admired a lot until now. She was the Head of the Graduate Program in my faculty and also my thesis advisor. She’s probably the toughest professor I’ve met. Smart, beautiful, and witty at the same time. We have our differences (I remember we have some shouting contests due some misunderstanding, please d0n’t try this with you advisor), but she also cares for me and I respect her. We have a good relationship until now.
Three months doing graduate study, I was ready for new challenge. I applied and was accepted to attend Strait Talk Symposium, a one week program focusing on the Interactive Conflict Resolution about the Cross Taiwan-Strait relations in United States.
It was founded and held by Brown University undergraduate students since 2005. Unfortunately, the scholarship that I got — and the only one available — was partial. I tried to send several proposals for funding but it didn’t succeed.
And so I failed again.
Year after, I was selected to attend Harvard Project for Asia and International Relations — dubbed Harvard’s largest annual student connection in Asia. The process was crazy. I thought that was my first time to have Skype interviewed by several members of Harvard University. I was so nervous, I asked my two roommates to wait outside for 15–20 minutes. When I learned that I was accepted, the real problem started. Since there was no scholarship program, I have to funded myself to attend the event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Long story short, I sent probably more than 5o proposals to every company I knew that have a CSR program or at least interest in education. I remembered waking up anxiously every morning for at least 2–3 weeks just to check my email.
From all the proposals, I only got 3 replies. One congratulate me but also apologize for not be able to help. The second one simply rejected my proposal. And the third one? They expressed an interest in my proposal, but need to make sure several things about the program.
And so, we emailed each other back and forth for perhaps another 3 weeks (with some silent period where there is no reply at all from them for almost a week, which surely felt like another failure waiting for me; untill I learned out that the person in charge was having a leave for week, hence to silent period). In the end, they agreed to fully funded my proposal in exchange for me taking photos with their organization attributes in the conference and wrote up the experience for their publication.
At the same year, I tried also to participate in an extensive course initiated by Tony Blair Project for Faith. Founded by the former British Prime Minister, this foundation focuses on ‘providing practical support to counter religious conflict and extremism in order to promote open-minded and stable societies.’
The theme was very interesting: Religion and Foreign Policy: Investigating the role of religion in conflict and post-conflict societies.” It was held in Prishtina, Kosovo. A powerful symbol for the topic itself.
My application was accepted, and I used the same method to fund myself. And to no suprise, it failed miserably. Though I provided a better proposal, the result was poorer.
Not even one company replied my proposal.
By now, I can keep repeating the same story. A fully funded conferences held by International Academic Forum in Osaka Japan. Last phase failure when joining a Youth Exchange Program to China held by Indonesia Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs.
Now back to my first fellowship.
It was probably easy to do these: admiring the beautiful photos of Sistine Chapel I took in Vatican; enjoying the short video of street musician performed passionately in Musee Cocnacq-Jay, Paris; wondering at the grandiose design of Koninklijk Paleis in Amsterdam; lauding the breathtaking view of Koln city from above the Cologne Cathedral; to cherish the moment on top of Mt. Titlis, Switzerland.
But behind that beautifully captured moments, again, there is a long hard process behind it. It is just the way things are. All the failures and success I had, are the one that pave the way to this — to my first fellowship.
Lest I forget about that.