Indonesian PhD student realizes dream of earning his doctoral degree

The Dean of the Indiana University School of Social Work often tells new doctoral students that their commitment will determine whether they succeed in the PhD program.

Lessy ZulkipliPerhaps no one knows this better than Zulkipli Lessy from Indonesia, a PhD student who graduated with his doctoral degree from the School of Social Work in May. Convinced that obtaining a PhD degree was important to his future as well as the future of his country, Dr. Lessy left his home in April of 2008, a month before his wife gave birth to their first child. During the next five years, Dr. Lessy was only able to return home once as he did research for his dissertation. The first time he met his daughter, she was already old enough to speak and she wasn’t sure who he was.

Still, he believes his decision to travel to the U.S. to get a PhD was the right one. “Since the PhD degree is generally valued by society, it became important for my future; also, the process of obtaining the degree became a significant life experience for me,” Dr. Lessy said of his decision.

His preparation was much more than simply filling out an application. “I spent a long time in English language preparation for the TEFL and GRE tests.” He visited internet shops and cafes in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to research opportunities to study abroad.

“After applying for several scholarships, I was fortunate in having the Fulbright Foundation accept my proposal to study in the United States.”

In April 2008, Dr. Lessy was scheduled to go to the English Program for Internationals (EPI) at the University of South Carolina to take part in a three-month long language and cultural immersion.”

Dr. Lessy was torn between wanting to be with his wife when she delivered their first child, Lisa Jasmine, but he worried if he postponed his trip, he might lose his Fulbright scholarship. “Rather than hope for a second scholarship chance, I had to make a difficult decision about my family’s needs at home in Indonesia.” He decided his mother-in-law would have to replace him in helping his wife take care of their newborn daughter.

After three months at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Lessy moved to Indianapolis as the IU School of Social Work had accepted his application.

“Indianapolis has been a perfect place to study because it gave me a setting in which I could devote my time to coursework and research without distractions. Focusing on my intensive study was my priority so that I could complete my degree as soon as possible,” Dr. Lessy noted.

Living in the homes of American families turned out to be a real advantage, Dr. Lessy said. “I used my time better as we shared work for grocery shopping and for some domestic duties, such as cooking and cleaning. I cannot imagine how I ever could have used my time so wisely if I had lived alone and had needed to do all these jobs on my own. Furthermore, living with these families made me feel that in the United States, I truly had a home away from home.”

He found the work involved in earning a PhD was more intense that he had experienced in his schooling and professional life. “
As a PhD candidate in a second language, Dr. Lessy worked until midnight, spent less time sleeping and coped with the challenges of staying in touch with family and colleagues so many time zones away.

“My motivation stayed high because I believe the degree will be a blessing for my future and for my family, and our home country. The honor of earning a PhD will benefit my career as an academician, my level of professionalism, my effectiveness as an educator, and my goal of improving social work in Indonesia.”

With his degree in hand, Dr. Lessy believes he can have an impact on the teaching process at his university because he is returning with new methods to guide his students and for helping them to learn effectively. Prior to coming to IU, Dr. Lessy was an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Sunan Kalijaga University where he taught from 2003 to 2007. The university gave him academic leave while he pursued his PhD. He will return to the university in June.

“Last but not least, I am joyful to know that my return home will make my colleagues, friends, and especially my family very happy that we are together again on our life paths.”

Press Release Contact:
Rob Schneider
(317) 278-0303