By Lisa Siregar
Former President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie is a celebrated figure in Indonesia. His contributions to science and engineering put the country on the world aviation map, while his work as research and technology minister undoubtedly changed the lives of many. Bimo Sasongko, the founder and president director of Euro Management education service, is one of them.
The 44-year-old entrepreneur attended several prestigious schools - the Bandung Institute of Technology, North Carolina University and Arizona State University in the United States, and Pforzheim University of Applied Science in Germany, where he received a master’s degree in marketing and management.
His education abroad was possible thanks to the scholarship program of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), which Habibie led between 1974 and 1998.
“In the 1980s, the competition to get government scholarships was tight. Thousands of students applied and only 150 were selected,” said Bimo.
As one of the lucky ones, studying abroad changed his life, broadened his horizons and gave him a life goal. Now he wants to give Indonesia more people like Habibie, so that millions of lives could be changed for the better. Bimo also aims to challenge the common perception that studying abroad is complicated and expensive.
Unlike many graduates who returned and started to work in commerce and industry, Bimo decided to invest in education. In 2003, he established Euro Management, a platform to help students study in foreign countries.
Initially, Euro Management only helped those who wanted to study in Germany and France, but later expanded to other countries in Europe and the United States.
His organization helps students not only in college or university enrollment, but also prepares them for exams, such as Suite of Assessment (SAT), TOEFL or IELTS, and assists them in applying for passports or visas.
Bimo said Indonesia stopped sending students abroad in 1998, when the economy collapsed and the monetary crisis hit the country. Now the government is again sending gifted students abroad through the Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP). According to Bimo, this is an opportunity that students should not miss.
Unfortunately, too many see the challenge as being too difficult. Bimo, who is regularly in touch with the LPDP team, said the government could only send 100 applicants out of the targeted 1,000 applicants abroad last year, while Euro Management was able to assist 2,000.
Studying abroad is not only about obtaining knowledge from world-class universities, but also about learning about and from other cultures.
According to Bimo, it is possible to send more students abroad because the funds are available. Plenty of scholarships are offered by government agencies and wealthy companies, but many Indonesian students decide not to make use of the opportunity, claiming that the application process is too complicated. However, this is mostly a problem of mindset, he said.
“We need to leave our comfort zones. History shows that Islamic civilization reached its glory after thousands (of Muslim scholars) studied and translated Greek and Latin works. Europe sent scholars to Cordova, Turkey and Baghdad to study from Muslims. The United States did the same thing by sending people to Europe. Japan sent hundreds of thousands of people to study in the US and Europe,” he said.
For Bimo, studying abroad is not only about obtaining knowledge from world-class universities, but also learning about and from other cultures. He rates it as very important in creating social and cultural capital.
As part of the ASEAN Economic Community, Indonesia will face various kinds of borderless exchanges. Workers will come from different countries, while more Indonesians will also be able to find employment abroad.
Bimo forecasts that in 14 years, Indonesia will have over 300 million people - the sixth-largest workforce in the world. “There has never been a better moment to strengthen and invest in our human resources,” he said.
In August, over 2,000 students including 500 journalists started their preparation courses at Euro Management. For journalists, this included free foreign language classes. “We cooperate with the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) to get more journalists on board, because in order to cover international issues, their foreign language skills must be improved,” Bimo said.
Euro Management reaches out to students at high schools, colleges and universities across the country. Its office in Menteng in Central Jakarta currently assists 2,000 high school students and 1,500 undergraduates who want to pursue master’s degrees.
“I know we have good universities in Indonesia but if we can go abroad, why not? The experience of being far from home helps to shape our characters,” he said.