Coming from a developing country like Indonesia to compete at the International level is always challenging yet interesting as not really many people know in which side of Asia this big archipelago is. Or when they know, they will still ask you interesting questions that indicates how primitive we are. Moreover, if you come from a developing city like Pontianak where not only people worldwide don’t really know its existence, but also ignored by many Indonesians.
But Rico Polim turned the table 180 degrees. This long-time friend of mine is from Pontianak and proved the old proverb of “It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going” to be true. He studied both Bachelor and Master study in the United States of America and earned himself the highest recognition an engineering student of Pennsylvania State University could get, as he was named as College of Engineering student marshals which is selected for their outstanding academic achievement and contributions to engineering student life, every year.
As he and I had this little reunion after several years when we both were home for the holiday, I got the opportunity to interview him for the January 2017 edition of Boy’s Brunch so that he could spill every amazing thing he experienced the past few years.
(Feby): Hey Rico, long time no see! How’s everything going? Last time we met, you were still in High School, weren’t you?
(Rico): Hello Feb! Everything’s great. It’s really nice to being back home and catch up with you again. Thank you so much for reaching me. I also remember the last time I saw you that you were busy preparing your departure to Canada.
(F): Yeah, it was 2011. It’s been to long! So how did you start this entire amazing journey?
(R): Well yeah, as a Pontianak native I always lived here and spent my education in this cozy city. When I graduated high school, I was looking for a bit of a ‘fresh air’ and followed my passion. I moved out of the city to study at The Pennsylvania State University, and took dual Bachelor Study and Master Study in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.
(F): Why did you choose to study abroad, especially in the USA?
(R): I can say that I am privileged enough to be able to have parents who can support my dream to study in the place that I desire. I feel that furthering my education abroad doesn’t necessarily mean that I do not trust our education here. We have equal level of education, and I would think that there are aspects of education in Indonesia that would excel compare to the US. But in my opinion, there are also some aspects in the American system of education that happens to be more interesting for me. And my parents thankfully support the idea of studying abroad. USA is a personal dream of mine, and I worked really hard to be accepted in where I studied.
(F): Tell us a little bit about your study. How interesting that was to study Industrial Engineering in the US?
(R): I took dual degree in Industrial Engineering which is basically the study of optimizing and reading the system, where efficient processes are developed for the particular process. It was a study that I am really passionate about as in the nowadays society, we become more connected to each other. Nowadays, a technology can be brainstormed in the US, produced in China, and be exhibited in Mexico, and my study allowed me to be the part of the process. I enjoyed the study of optimizing and reading data for tons of interesting purposes. I was in this amazing program which they combine Bachelor and Master Study and I was focusing the Industrial Engineering to Operation Research. I basically learned the mathematical property of life, for my additional ability to understand life. HAHAHA.
I worked really hard and took that study seriously. I received more than 5 awards and scholarship including the most prestigious award to be named as the student marshal for the Penn State College of Engineering last fall commencement ceremony on Dec, 2016.
(F): That sounds great. But how did you survive being an Asian at school, Especially from Indonesia and Pontianak as developing places?
(R): I knew the consequences and I was prepared to face the social life there in the US. I realized that I was Indonesian with Chinese descendant which made me do not only limit my involvement in the society to just with people in own ethnicity. I always tried to get out of my comfort zone and saw people from a lot of culture and background. I was comfortable with the diversity that I experienced as much as I was comfortable with adapting to them. I would say hard work and timing was really important to survive in a really diverse lifestyle. I needed to prove my capability of being a responsible person that I was independent and lived miles apart of my family. But being responsible didn’t necessarily mean to be strict. I liked to experience new things; it’s just part of the process of being nurtured by life.
And as a minority, I was doing pretty well. I was involved in this Schreyer Society – an honourable society in PennState where only crème de la crème students get to be part of. It was awesome, members of this society gets multiple privileges that we enjoy so much. HAHAHA. I also acted as a co-captain of this club named Penn State Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (Formula SAE) where I got to make an actual Formula 1 car. It is really challenging yet obviously so much fun. Last time we showcased our F1 car in the 2015 Formula SAE Michigan series competition where we ranked 33rd out of 120 International teams, which was the team’s highest since 2008.
(F): I am loving all of these stories. Were there any unpleasant incidents that happened during your study, though?
(R): There were obviously quite a few of them, but nothing big. During classes and assignments, group works could be really challenging. But everyone has their own battle, don’t we? For locals, it probably sucked that they needed to re-take some courses, but it was pretty demanding for me that I needed to re-take a visa in certain period. But the opportunity meant more to me than to them, so I guess sticks and stones didn’t break my bones. I focused on enjoying every moment and I earned my due.
(F): I agree with the spirit. How do you think those experience will make you become a better Indonesian?
(R): Being lesser part of Indonesian community in the US, gave me the chance to being exposed more in the community. Man, our country offers lots of magnificent thing to the world. They can be amazed by even basic information of Indonesia and I enjoyed being ‘ambassador’ of this country at my school. Again, in the diverse situation, it’s always opportunity that we need to explore. I learned too many things this life could offer, such an eye opener. I got to know lots of people from not only US but also other International students and professors, and dealt with them. I became more mature of a person and I think every Indonesian youth should experience that in the best way possible.
(F): What do you think has shaped you as a person you are now? What made you this positive?
(R): My parents and family, shootout to them! They teach me more than I could ever think of to be the person that I am now. I am also a life learner and I feel like I learned many things from people that interacted with me as well. Like from many Indonesians at Penn-State, from the Indonesian Student Association in the early days who guided me how to survive and everything. And after all, I am obviously still learning and my graduation was just a beginning. I’m hungry for more –hopefully– great things to conquer now!
(F): What will your next move be then? What big things are coming?
(R): I want to get a Job and continue my study to get Ph.D in the US because the excitement from graduation is obviously still there. I am coming back to US very soon, but I always want to be connected to Indonesia. I garner all these knowledge to contribute back to my community back home and help the society improve the current process. As a big Nation, our people need to embrace the digital era and seize the moment, and I believe we can. I want to tell the world that anything is possible as long as you work hard and commit yourself to what you love. Being honest and sincere to ourselves is the most important; those things are activities that I want to be associated with.
For a boy who will turn 22 years old this year, Rico sounded really mature yet still managed to show it in a really fun way. He ordered Bakmi Jawa (Javanese Noodle) as he seemed like he wanted to redeem his longing of Indonesian food. We had this brunch at the new hip-eatery in Pontianak called Botani, where his pure white shirt complimented the earthy ambiance of the café perfectly.
I remember the first time I met him circa 2010 at a debating tournament where he was a debater and I was a chief adjudicator. His sharp and strong argument became the highlight that it brought him a ticket to a national level debating tournament. His evolution to be the person he is today does not surprise me and probably everyone who knows him at all. Rico is an Asian Sensation of Penn-State and as he said, this was just a beginning. Watch out, World. This boy is from Pontianak, the city that you do not really care about.
- What will you rename yourself?
Rico sounds good.
- Who is your first Celebrity crush?
- Where do you want to get married?
- What is your current jam?
Take Five by Dave Bruebeck
This or That
- Katy Perry or Lady GaGa?
Ahhhh I really don’t want to choose! – Katy Perry
- Swimming or Bowling?
- Alpen or Machu Picchu?
- Cappuccino or Espresso?
- Rico Polim was born and raised in Pontianak, West Kalimantan on 11 Maret 1995
- He was a club junkie in High School. He joined both Basketball and English Debating Club and his serious commitment in debating ranked him #16 out of 99 debaters who participated in National School Debating Chhampionship 2011
- Grew up to be a physically active person, he lost 10kg due to his basketball routine throughout the age of 12 to 16 years old
- He’s been in a long distance relationship since 2012 as he studied in The US while his girlfriend chose to study in Australia
- In Penn-State, Polim was a recipient of the 2016 John W. Oswald Award, the President Sparks Award and the President Freshman Award. He also earned numerous scholarships, including the Harold and Inge Marcus Scholarship in industrial engineering, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation’s E. Wayne Kay Graduate Scholarship, the International Society of Automation Scholarship, the Material Handling Education Foundation Scholarship, and the Society of Automotive Engineers Long-term Member Scholarship. – a solid long list of award not a regular student could just receive