Since around November 2010 to March 2011, I used the following picture, the cherry blossom in the Quad, as my desktop background of my notebook. Now I proudly say that I do not use that picture anymore. Why? Because I just need to walk for 10 minutes to see those hilarious cherry blossom.

The story started two years ago when I should decide which universities I wanted to apply for. Picking a right university to study in the US is not an easiest thing to do. There are more than 2600 accredited universities in there and I was just not so familiar with most of them. At that time, I was also pretty naive about my university preferences. I didn’t have high expectation for it because inherently I am just not a very competitive person (-not in my junior high school phase though. I was SUPER competitive student back then in junior high school, kind of an Asian student :p I don’t know why).

Then, I met my prior research supervisor to ask his opinion about which universities that I should apply. He graduated from Texas A & M University, so I thought that he would have some ideas about choosing universities in the US. He gave me quite a wise input. Gain as high as possible for my upcoming GRE and TOEFL test and also apply for more than five universities which consist of two dream universities, two good universities, and one less-good university -as a back-up plan if I got doomed-. At that point at least I knew what should I do next but the question was what was my dream university?

Indonesian people always think that Ivy Leagues (MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, etc) are dream universities. Yes, in some degrees it is certainly true, studying in Ivy Leagues  will provide you the best environments to study, the best instructors, the cutting-edge research groups, and also the highest tuition fees and highest competitive atmosphere :p . But again, it really depends on what field that we want to study. I was interested to study Human Computer Interaction (HCI), an interdisciplinary field between computer science, informatics, cognitive science, art, etc. So at that time I needed to ask “what are “the ivy leagues” for HCI?”  There were three references that I could count on. First was the online bibliography for HCI field ( http://hcibib.org). The website actually provided overarching details about which universities in the US who offer a HCI program. Second, I could look on the HCI journals, and see who were the major players of this field (based on which universities that consistently publish academic articles). Finally, I could also look at a university ranking list as the baseline to predict the overall quality of  each university. As the result I made the following list, a list of dream universities :

1. Carnegie Mellon University

2. Georgia Tech

3. University of Maryland, College Park

4. Stanford University

5. University of Washington

6. University of Michigan – Ann harbour

7. UC Irvine

Those seven uni are the best for HCI field as you may already see, they are pretty decent universities that are also pretty competitive  (especially  for the HCI-alike graduate degree). Carnegie Mellon looked really tempting, but do you know what my supervisor said about CMU? He said “Have you ever published a paper that is accepted in an International journal? If not yet then just forget Carnegie Mellon”. Hahahha. I still remember that statement. Okay then, I crossed Carnegie Mellon from my dream universities list because it was even higher than a dream for me -that was what my supervisor said :p. Then, because of several reasons I decided to choose between University of Maryland, University of Washington (UW), and UC Irvine.   U of Maryland because Ben Schneiderman -one of the founding fathers of HCI- still teaches there. UC Irvine because my bestfriend told me that California is really nice and Irvine is a very awesome city. And last but not least UW because of its cherry blossom. Yes..its cherry blossom. Hahahah.

For every university, I dug down more information about it -its program, its city, its rank, its research groups, its instructors, etc.  The same thing I did for UW. I looked carefully its HCI-alike program curriculum, syllabus of some classes, etc.  At one point of my exploring time I encountered a picture of cherry blossom in UW. It was just beautiful. I knew that I just fell in love with that university. My American friend and Indonesian friend who works in Berkeley also said a lot of good things about UW and Seattle, therefore at that time I decided to make UW as my dream university.

However, the challenges are not easy. The probability to get accepted in the HCI program in UW was not so high for me – at least that what I thought. UW ranks in the top ten best universities (#7) in computer science field and I didn’t have an awesome resume. My bachelor degree GPA is just mediocre and I haven’t published any paper. Furthermore, honestly what was the probability for the applicants reviewer to know about Indonesia and my beloved Gajah-Duduk-University? almost none! So frankly speaking, the odds was not in my favor.

But I thought that UW (the cherry blossom) deserved to be pursued. I tried really hard (hmm…okay I was lying..not really hard..just hard. :p) to get a high score  for the TOEFL and GRE test. I also asked my American friend to revise and proofread my essay writing and contacted the professors who teach in UW – just to show that I am really SERIOUS to get into the program.

After I did the test, I was quite satisfied with the results. I got a perfect score for the GRE’s quantitative section and quite a decent score for the TOEFL test (-except the speaking section :p). Several UW professors also responded my emails.  Yeay! But…….did I feel more confidence afterward? No. I believed that the odds was still not in my favor. So this was the last thing that I did: I prayed! hahaha

To remind me to keep praying, I used the cherry blossom picture for my desktop background. So every time, I used my notebook and looked that picture, I would remember to pray : God, I want to go to that place!

In short, I had five months of waiting and praying before finally an email came to my inbox. Booyah!!! I was accepted in UW! hahahha. So EXCITED!

And here I am right now. I see the cherry blossom every time I walk to my room classes.

I didn’t win a Nobel prize and for some people, it is not a big deal to get accepted in HCI-alike program in UW.  Got accepted and studied in UW also is not a guarantee to be successful in the future. But for me, the experience can be a token to keep reminding me to believe that my God is alive and hard work is always important. At this point, I should pat myself on the back and say “Good job, El! You just  reached one of your dreams.”

Seattle, March 29th 2012


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