Phil Mahnken Questions for Chelsea June 2010

How many times have you been to Indonesia before?

I've been to Indonesia a total of 6 times. I’ve been to Bali, Java and Lombok.

Why would you want to go back?

Some people say to me, “Don't you want to go somewhere different?” I tell them: “Sure, I'd love to see other parts of the world but there's something special about understanding a culture on a deeper level. If you do the tourist thing and stay 2 weeks and then leave, you'll really only get a tourist perspective of the place you've visited.” The combination of speaking the language and visiting multiple times has allowed me to connect with Indonesian culture beyond the superficial level. Although there are still things that baffle me about the culture because I have spent a significant amount of time there I have a deeper respect for the Indonesian people. I have more of an understanding of their way of thinking.


I think everybody should start their Indo by going there because of how much everybody improved at every level. I hung out with beginners and intermediate and advanced - it was amazing. By the end of the 6 weeks you had people who didn't know a word beforehand, really passionate about it and using it as much as they possibly could with the locals.

The weekends we took for travelling around and seeing the island - we made friends with the owner of 3C cafe and her whole team of staff members and we were as close to them as to our friends - we just bonded so much, it was really great - we'd go there on Jalan Pendidikan after class almost every day- we took the owner Sari around with us on our little adventures to Senggigi and a village and so forth. She refused to speak English so that was good for us. We still keep in touch through Facebook.

On the weekends we went to Gili T[rawangan] and to Kuta; awesome! - such good waves. Me, Grace, Tom from the Sunshine Coast, Pete from Tassie, and Tim from an AusAid project in Aceh always had something fun planned like fireworks on Gili T, or chilling at cafes. On Friday nights lots of people went to the TNT Cafe in Mataram or across to Gili T and we did actually study at Cafes all the time with a bir bintang in the boys' hands.

We had Australia Day at TNT and the Rektor put on a do also - we all got dressed up in Indonesian clothes and listened to speeches and sang songs.

Grace and I stayed four weeks at Airlangga 2 and then 2 weeks at Mini Handayani (very cheap and great! great aircon, rooms cleaned every day because it's a training hotel for hospitality students - students so keen to do things for you, really relaxed because it's run by students)

Many afternoons Pete and Tim and I would go surfing off Senggigi Point and Zul or other local guys would always text us if the surf was good or not. We'd share a taxi and the boys left their surfboards at the Gara-gara cafe. We'd chat to them all afternoon about Indonesian culture and the best ways to learn the language - they wanted to impart their wisdom to us. All 25 years old or so. Zul was so generous always giving us trinkets and he fixed my dinged board for free.
Pak Untung introduced me to Ozy, a student at UNRAM and I interviewed him about Islam and its meaning for young people, how much they keep to traditions and so on. We went to a cafe with his friends and they were so funny. One of them used to say "Dalem" after every thing. They had an edgy way of looking at things, young people, not status quo.

Did the classes and study do your language a lot of good?

I completed class 7 and 8 while I was there. My language improved so much because our teachers refused to speak English and wouldn't listen to us if we spoke English! If there was a word I didn't know, most of the time I could just work it out because of the context of the sentence. If we were still stuck the teachers would explain what the word meant using only Indonesian, which was phenomenal for collecting synonyms! Through the research project I became more competent with interviewing indonesian people and more familar with reading academic text in Indonesia. I particularly enjoyed building up a bank of academic phrases that I could later include in my own report. Because of the consistency of the classes, every day, from 8 till 12, my Indonesian became better than it had ever been. I felt really comfortable speaking and by the end of the 6 weeks I found my brain was doing no extra work for a casual Indonesian conversation than if I were speaking English. I still have a lot to learn but I feel much more competent after visiting Lombok.

What suggestions do you have for making the program better?

I would suggest perhaps the research project component could be more structured. We could have benefited with more tutor involvement and interviews to check on the progress of our reports. A few fun activities like cooking would also be good to break up the in class learning which can sometime become a bit tiring.

Why did you have to go get a visa half way through?

Haha. Unfortunately I visited Bali only a month before going to lombok so I  could not send my passport away for a student visa before then. This shouldnt have been a problem because the embassy says it can process the visa in about a working week i think. Not true!! I sent my passport away for my visa more than three weeks before I was due to leave. After chasing and chasing the embassy to no avail I had to get an emergency passport the day before I left and enter Indonesia on a 30 day tourist visa. At the end of 30 days there was nothing to do but leave the country and return again on a tourist visa so I spent an eventful 24 hours flying from lombok to bali, bali to singapore, 6 hours in singapore airport, back to bali to a bed bug ridden bed! aahhh, then after no sleep at all, back to lombok. Having said all that, I don't regret how the events played out. It actually conquered my fear of flying alone and I feel now that I can handle anything that travelling in asia can throw at me. After you've been chased down a dirty balinese street at 4 in the morning by a barking dog and hitch hiked to the airport you can do anything J

What sights and images stay in your mind most vividly?

Probably sitting in a little wooden boat going across to Gili Trawangan and looking out at a perfect island set up. It looked like paradise. Similarly taking the boat out to a surf break ‘outsides’ in Kuta, Lombok was pretty spectacular! Another image would be visiting a local village around sunset. From the seaside we could clearly see Mount Rinjani and the sky behind it seemed to be exploding with gold and red. When we looked out to see the sky was shimmering blue, pink and gold. We sat on the rocks chatting to the locals and watching them try to surf these tiny little waves in a dirty river mouth. Ill never forget that.

How do you think most students look upon Lombok and Lombok people?

 Most of the students who have studied in Lombok have a special place in their hearts for the people of Lombok. The majority of people we came in contact with were genuine and kind. The people of Lombok are really generous with their time and resources. They won’t just show you your hotel room they’ll stick around and chat, wanting to find out all about you and share a bit of their own story too. Of course we came across some dodgy characters but they exist in all societies. Most of all Lombok was an exciting adventure.

What recommendations do you have for other students to "get the most out of it"? Any advice for girls/ladies in particular?

My advice would be, go to learn. I mean this both academically and in terms of life experience. Firstly, go with the intention to really dedicate yourself to improving your language. Speak Indonesian as frequently as possible. Don’t get lazy! Perhaps even more importantly, go as a student of the people of Lombok. Be willing to have your horizons broadened. Don’t go to Lombok expecting the life and values and experiences to be the same as Australia. By being open you give yourself so much more opportunity to grow. For ladies, I found it much more comfortable respecting the local traditions in terms of dress sense. Although students are permitted to dress as they please, by dressing inappropriately, e.g short skirts and low cut tops, particularly in the city areas, you will draw the wrong kind of attention. It’s not just about respect for the people; it’s also about your own comfort. Also do not give out your mobile number to people you don’t really know. A number of my fellow students were constantly phoned at all hours of the night by local people who had gotten their number. Sometimes it just comes down to different values in terms of personal privacy.

Your advice about "I think everybody should start their Indo by going there",. Should we try to get many more university students over there [including mid-year] and concentrate on making USC's Indonesian program more in-country than on-campus???? It's dying on campuses in Australia.

I think you should definitely push the program in newspapers and flyers as almost a compulsory component of first year Indo. Perhaps you could do fund raisers as a class to help raise money for the trip as well as student excitement about the trip. Advertise it as a great way to get a double major without doing any more than their three/four year course. It would be good to incorporate it more into the course because when I was in  first and second year I felt like Lombok was quite a removed program, just an optional extra instead of a very important component of my indo learning. Honestly, Rudd should buck up and give us a whole lot of funding so the grants can cover more than just flights!! Haha I wish !

Ok hope that’s all ok. See update from Chelsea October 2012

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