I still remember distinctly: it was 5 PM in the crowded city of Jakarta when I left the hotel to go to the airport and started what I think the most significant journey in my life to this day.
I told myself, “Okay, here we go. All the months and years I’ve spent, all the hardwork and the hassle is finally paying off. I’m leaving. My plan is working out. I’m leaving everything behind and I am never gonna look back. Time to start afresh. New life, new identity.”
If you’re new here, I am studying for a bachelor’s in journalism at UBB Cluj, which is considered one of the best in the country, under a fully-funded scholarship from the Romanian government—though I still have to finish a one-year language preparation year beforehand.
I landed in Cluj on December 2 at 9 PM, and it was vehemently freezing. I was shocked when I found out that it hit -7 C, something my tropical body is never accustomed to. The coldest I’ve ever experienced in Jakarta was probably 20-something during the rainy season, and that’s it.
Now, no offense if there’s a Romanian reading this, but to be honest, I was a little bit skeptical before coming here. I mean, let’s be real, it’s not the most popular, or even the best destination around, especially in Europe where you could be in, let’s say, Germany, France, or Spain, or even the UK. Even my friends thought I am in ROM-e, the capital of Italy, not ROM-ania. This is a country that had been battered by communism for years, and in a weird way, maybe my roots as an Indonesian found a way to relate to it. Even my Romanian friend whom I met when I tried to make a student’s card asked me why I’m even bothered to come here.
Then, I remember this: the place where we are, the university where we study, and the country where we were born do not make us who we are. It is us who represents, and it is us who makes us who we are.
So, yes, here I am. I live in this fancy student dormitory with an Ethiopian roommate who cooks exceptionally well. I made some new friends, and most of them are Arabs from Syria, Jordan, Saudi/Ethiopia, and Israel, and then some Turks and an Azerbaijani. I know a Pakistani and two Turkmenistanis from the dorm, and maybe two or three Romanians who live somewhere in the city. I barely see any Asians here, except for one student from Thailand who has a Vietnamese roommate, and that’s it.
Coming from all different walks of life, this kind of diversity challenges me to absorb and become the best version of myself. I mean, we have one who likes to smoke and drink, one who is strictly religious, one who is deadly serious, and one, like me, who mostly fits in every group.
I know I’m expected to feel strange or empty, but I am not. Yes, the foods can be tasteless sometimes, and all I could ever have is a bowl of cereals for breakfast. If I’m lucky, I may treat myself with some shawarmas or anything Asian in the downtown, or cook a nice bowl of fried rice with nuggets and omelet. The building looks old, and Bucharest was way worse than Cluj as it has so many con-men trying to scam foreigners. Although I wouldn’t call myself the most religious person around, a mosque is kind of hard to find, and it would be nice to see one.
But my friends have been so welcoming, and it’s insane that I don’t think I’ve ever missed what it was back then—so far, at least. We explored some city’s favorite spots, like Unirii Square and this beautiful hill called Cetățuia Park, where you can see the whole city from atop.
You know you’re doing so well when looking back does not interest you anymore.
It’s crazy how time flies. This month two years ago (2018), I was a mentally-unhinged wreck. My parents were divorced a month prior. I forced myself to move out of the toxic environment in my “home” to start living independently in Jakarta, the country’s busiest metropolitan city. I barely had enough money. I applied for my first-ever job, but they fired me six days later because of my “attitude problems.”
I picked myself up. I worked twice, three-times harder than everybody else because I know I am not as privileged as them, that I am not as lucky as them. I had to stand on my own feet with a tiny-bitsy segment of people as my support system.
They said a man’s character is not judged after he celebrates a victory, but by what he does when his back is against the wall. So, I guess this is it. Here I am, and my plan is starting to work out. Maybe this is all I need: a fresh start no matter where.
Every ending breathes a new beginning. Will my view of this city ever change? We shall see. One week, and I am here for more to come *clinks*.