Choosing a college is always a difficult decision, but for Jakarta, Indonesia, native Mohammad Ali, it was a true leap of faith. Where to go? What to study? Someone suggested Johnson & Wales University's Providence Campus to him. Although he had never heard of the school — or the state, for that matter — he started doing his research. He read about the school and the Providence area, and he watched a virtual tour of the campus. Surrounded by the tropical heat and noise of Jakarta, he began to picture what life would be like halfway around the world. “I looked it up. I loved the city, I loved the state,” he said. He decided to apply.
He was accepted, and things moved fast from that point. Without visiting the campus in person, and with help from his parents, he moved 10,000 miles away to begin work on his bachelor’s degree and his new life in the smallest state in the U.S.
“It’s so diverse, so friendly, it doesn’t matter where you are from. I love it here.”
Transitioning and Settling In
Ali had some major culture shock to deal with, and some of the biggest differences between Jakarta and Providence were easy to see as soon as he arrived. “My first year, it was kind of hard for me to adapt because everything is so different — the weather, culture, food, people — it took me a while,” said Ali. One of the good things about moving to Providence was leaving the mass of people in Jakarta — home to more than 10 million — behind him.
Although he missed his family and the food back home, settling in on campus in the middle of a smaller, quieter and less crowded city — with about 180,000 residents, was a big change — and one he welcomed.
A few months after arriving, Ali experienced his first winter in New England, which took some getting used to. Back home in Jakarta, the lowest the temperature drops to is about 70 F. “Winter always hits me hard for the first two weeks,” Ali said, about living in Providence. “In Indonesia, we don’t have winter. We don’t even have cold weather … the first year here it was kind of rough, but after that it got easy.”
When Ali finds himself needing a dose of a big city, a change of scenery, or a break from studying, it’s easy for him to take a quick day trip to Newport, Boston, or New York, three other cities he has come to know and love since moving to the states.
During his first year at JWU, Ali wasn’t very comfortable around students from the U.S., and almost all of his new friends were other international students. “I was not confident enough with my English. I’m kind of shy. I didn’t join any clubs, I stayed in my room.”
But, during his second year, he made big changes. He felt more self-assured and pushed himself to be more social. “In my Sophomore year, I made new friends, and they got me outside my shell. They brought out who I really am, right now. Now I want to get more and more involved,” Ali said, and he did just that.
Ali eventually earned a job on campus as a student ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective students and their families, sharing what he has learned about JWU and Providence. He’s also become involved with several student organizations, including serving as University Senator for the Student Government Association and as Treasurer for the Southeast Asian Club, and as a member of the Collegiate Ambassador Team, Intramural Soccer team, Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and others.
“JWU Global helps international students in a lot of ways. They make sure everything is going good for us.”
Best Part of Being a JWU student?
After coming full circle from having never heard of JWU, to being an involved, successful student, there’s a lot of things Ali would include in his Top 10 list about the university, but the people — students, faculty and staff — would be #1. “There are a lot of things that are good. I think the community of friends — it’s so diverse, so friendly, it doesn’t matter where you are from … and after getting new friends and becoming more involved, I love it here.” He’s especially grateful to some of our faculty and staff, and speaks highly of Assistant Professor Bryan Lavin, who Ali says “helped bring out the inner marketing part of myself,” and JWU Global staff Joanne Yen Gilbert and Shawn Riendeau for helping him with the intricacies of being an international student.
Ali is a big fan of JWU Global, which goes above and beyond to help international students transition to life in a different country by providing support services, advising, and cultural and social events for students, staff and faculty. “JWU Global helps international students in a lot of ways. They make sure everything is going good for us,” says Ali.
Would Ali recommend JWU to other students?
“Yes, I’m doing that right now, to Indonesian students, mostly. I’m the president of the Indonesian Student Association of Rhode Island.” The group meets every month or two with students from Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Rhode Island. “We want to promote Rhode Island to Indonesian students who want to come to America. Most of them usually want to go to New York or Los Angeles — just the big cities. When you think about it, in Rhode Island, there are a lot of good universities, unique universities.”
Having come a long way since he arrived, Ali has made JWU and Providence his second home and is on a mission to bring more students from Indonesia here, too.