Heidegger’s Thrownness and My Sabbatical in Guangzhou

What do you do at the peaks of your life? I cry. I get lost. I feel disoriented. I experience my life as meaningless. Not just for once or twice; it’s been happening quite often that at one point my counsellor-friends recommended me to find a new counsellor, one who had not known me at all. As we discussed my situation, this latter counsellor was as baffled as my previous counsellors were: “You get frustrated at the peak of your life ….” A sudden lost of altitude, a diminished appetite for life. They just return when all’s well. So it happened again early this year.

I’m a man of many and elaborate plans. I plan my life carefully. I use many tools I know to assess, calibrate and direct my life: from SWOT to balanced scorecard, from simple check lists to elaborate graphs and charts. Speaking objectively, my life has been running extremely well. Considering my humble beginning, I’ve achieved quite some feats. I can look back to every single job and volunteer experience I’ve had and pinpoint certain aspects of those roles that I have left behind as my legacy. It’s exhilarating. It’s exciting. But it’s not ultimately fulfilling.

In January 2015, I wouldn’t have foreseen the huge turn around my life would have taken. Several weeks into this new year, I got bored – extremely and existentially bored. I thought I needed to take a break. As far as I could remember it, the last long break I had had in many years was in February 2002, when Jakarta had a major flood that I was confined – safely & dry, I must say – for a whole week. Now I’d worked for 11 years non-stop with everything going on extremely well professionally, I thought I could take some sabbatical leave and figure out where I’d head out next.

There’s one thing about sabbatical that’s not appealing: I’ll be bleeding money doing it. That means I must be very prudent and deliberate with various aspects of this decision. I considered spending 3-12 months of this planned sabbatical abroad, starting in 2016 the earliest. Some of the options I considered included learning French in France, German in Germany or Mandarin in Taiwan. Needless to say, Taiwan was the least budget-constrained option. In the midst of deliberating various options, I came up with a thought: why not apply for some scholarship?

One opportunity I knew of was Fujitsu Scholarship, a 3.5-month management enrichment programme to be held for 6 weeks in Japan, another 6 weeks in Hawai’i, and 1 week each in Thailand, Singapore, and Japan. I sent my application. If I passed the paperwork selection process, I’d be invited to attend an interview. In the meantime, out of the blue, an acquaintance sent me information about this particular scholarship from China Scholarship Council for a 1-year MBA programme in Guangzhou, China. He highlighted that this is the largest scholarship the Chinese government had been giving out. I was interested. I applied. That was in April 2015.

Fast forward a month. By the end of May, I had been interviewed by Fujitsu, received an offer from them, had a number of email correspondence and phone discussions with them negotiating the offer, and ultimately rejected the offer. It was a month of angst and excitement.

In June I received notifications that I had been granted the Chinese scholarship. Dealing with Chinese bureaucracy isn’t easy not to mention the language barrier, but I’m very grateful to have received generous and tactful assistance from my colleagues at BINUS University’s Chinese Department. At the moment, I’m preparing to apply for my study visa with mixed anticipation. It’s exciting, it gives me opportunity to take a certain distance from my routines and reinvent them; it also provides a fresh opportunity to refresh my spiritual life, reconnect with my family roots in the very province of Guangdong where I’ll study, and cast a new path ahead of me toward a more fulfilling life – another leg in this journey of a lifetime.

Time and again all this year, I’ve been constantly reminded of Heidegger‘s thrownness. I’m grateful for all the marvellous incidences that God has thrown my way. For the year in Guangzhou, I won’t be aiming for a specific outcome but I’ll be working out on my thrownness: understanding, exploring, and making the most out of it.


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