Rechelle Marshall ACICIS student semester 2 2006

 

Fellow student Greg, red-eyed Katie, Yoga and Rechelle

I started university as a 28 year old mature age student. It was a life goal of mine to learn a second language and university provided the opportunity to study one of three languages. Indonesian appealed to me the most, mainly because of itÕs relevance and location with Australia. It is one of the best things that I have ever done both personally and educationally. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my experiences with studying Indonesian. Phil, the lecturer is very patient and extremely knowledgeable and I have learnt so much with his guidance, puns, experiences and excellent teaching skills. His commitment and enthusiasm for Indonesian is very contagious, I really couldnÕt help but develop a passion also even though I have had to work very hard for any progression. Indonesian hasnÕt come easily for me, but Phil encouraged, pushed and coaxed constant and steady improvement.  I am so grateful for such a high quality lecturer who is so committed to his subject and students, even when it costs him.

 

The decision to study in Indonesia was a last minute one for me. When I first started studying bahasa Indonesia at the University of the Sunshine Coast, I asked our student exchange officer if we had a student exchange program with Indonesia and was told that we didnÕt. That should have been my first lesson about Indonesian culture, ask the right questions!

 

Some photos in a Powerpoint show [ppt] I used for class presentation ]

I put the hope of studying in Indonesia until our head of languages/ Indonesian lecturer, Dr. Phillip Mahnken informed students in his Indonesian lecture of the Lombok program over January and February. The opportunity to study Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia over two three week block programs was more than I could hope for, you see I am single mum of a daughter who at that time was only nine years old. But where there is a will there is a way. My parents agreed to take responsibility for Katie so that I could attend the Lombok program, I worked my tail off to save up the money to go and make all of the necessary preparations.

 

Lombok was a wonderful and challenging experience. I loved the constant pressure to speak (albeit very poorly) Indonesian constantly. I loved having the time to explore a foreign place, and having enough contacts to get good local advice. The problem was that I got hooked on Indonesia.

 

Phil showed a promotional DVD for ACICIS in a lecture one day in the semester following Lombok. I was stunned to discover that we were able to take part in this program. I thought about it for a week, spoke to my family, and my daughterÕs father. With less than two weeks before the application deadline I approached Phil and told him that I wanted to go study in Jogja. The paperwork was enormous, there was an enormous amount of various signatures to be collected, I had to cross institutionally enroll through Charles Darwin University ( as our university in its infinite wisdom has decided not to be a member of the program) and nearly everything had to be done twice, once for me and once for my daughter.  The pressure was on. Thanks to PhillipÕs assistance, we made it. I am very grateful to Phil for all his help and encouragement to take the opportunity even though it cut down the size of his already small classes to only just be able to run.

 

It was around this time that Yogya decided to have an earthquake just to freak out all of the families of the ACICIS students. The wisdom of going there myself let alone taking my 10 year old child with me was questioned, my arguments were not the least bit aided by Mt MerapiÕs instability either, not to mention the bird flu or the Bali bombings, or the Tsunami.

   

I knew that I was taking on an enormous challenge taking my now ten year old, blonde Christian, daughter to an unstable, third world, Islamic country. Katie had received a little exposure to Bahasa and knew only a couple of orang Indonesia. The pressures of finding a house, a pembantu, a school, settling into uni, feeding a picky child, getting around etc, seemed a lot. I had felt like I was going into the country blind, not knowing where I was going to live was the most daunting thing. I felt that I hadnÕt received enough information before we had left Australia. Now I realize that living in Indonesia is an experience, a personal one. No amount of pre Š departure information could have fully prepared me for life in Jogja.

 

 August 30th, My daughter Katie, myself, and another USC student finally left Brisbane for Indonesia. We stopped over in Bali for one night before we dived head first into life in Jogja. We arrived on the first afternoon of orientation. The schedule was tight for there was a lot to accomplish in a very short period.

 

The orientation program for ACICIS was pretty good at preparing us for life in Jogja. The ACICIS staff did such a fantastic job trying to cram most of the necessities into a very short space of time. All of our Immigration and visa requirements, police registration etc, were organized for us saving us much frustration and time. The pendumping were an amazing help, Wawan did an amazing job matching people appropriately and all pendumping were outstanding people. They were to help find accommodation and get our bearings with a little local knowledge. One of our pendumping became a nanny for Katie until I enrolled her in school, then would often baby-sit, he translated for us, taught us much about Javanese culture and customs, took us to some really neat, out of the way places, all in all he became a really good friend and the Jogja experience would have been much less enriching without him.

 

That wonderful angel Lestari was a great bridge between Indonesian and Australian culture. She has stayed in Australia for several months and has been with the ACICIS program for many years and, in my humble opinion, an incredible asset to the team. She has an amazing personality and knows where to get just about anything. She was really the one that took on the incredible task of making sure that we found a suitable house to rent, eventually, in typical Indonesian style, she found a house for us that was perfect. She had been searching everywhere and asking everyone, she was getting really worried pulled up at a Warung to get a drink, happened to ask if they knew of a house, and next thing you know, we have a house.

 

Our house was located in Karang Wuni, just north of UGM. It was such a great neighborhood, everything was close by and the people were fantastic. Our house was situated right next to a mosque, which took a little getting used to, as did the breakfast warung out the front. We became accustomed to the regular prayer calls and the constant bustle of people, which both are a little difficult to escape from any where in Indonesia. The neighborhood was kind and very patient with our western ways and poor bahasa. Everyone was friendly and tried their best to answer any questions that we asked.

 

The house itself was clean and large enough for Katie myself and our friend from USC, we were also later joined by another lady from ACICIS. There was only cold water, but it was plentiful and clear. The bathroom was bak mandi and squat toilet; it took a little while or my daughter to get used to it all. We ended up buying a saucepan to heat water for her mandi. The bedrooms were large, but we had to furnish them ourselves, including wardrobes. The house was furnished with lounge chairs, coffee table, dining table and chairs, fridge and a huge fish tank with the largest and ugliest pet fish you have ever seen. Apparently these Saratoga, as they are called in Australia / Arrawonga, as they are called in Indonesia , fish are good luck and a sign of wealth, his would make sense considering they cost a million RpÕs each.  I am told that in Jakarta the Arrawonga is used as slangy currencey term for a million Rupiah.

 

Our daily life in Jogja was pretty easy, once we settled into routine. The low cost of eating out, the pembantu, our rented motorbikes and the security of having ACICIS look out for us all made the stay pretty cruisey. All of the pre departure info, the briefings, the check point meetings, tutors, pendampings, ensured that we were well enough equipped to deal with day to day living in this land that is so foreign to out own.

 

I enrolled my daughter at S.D. Kanrung Wuni, a small local school which was only about 2-3 minute walk from our house. It was a lovely school, the staff were all very patient and caring and Katie made many friends. The 7am start was a bit of a shock to her system, but she appreciated being home by lunch. I decided to not be cruel and make her go to school on Saturday, but mainly because we used the weekends to get out and explore the area. Truthfully though, she was there for the experience and exposure to another culture, not to just do school work. Katie had taken over her school books to keep up with some of her studies and I hired a tutor when we came back to help bring her up to grade 6 level with anything that she may have gotten behind on.

 

 

 

The neighborhood was pretty secure for Katie to run around in. She was known by everyone and there was always a hundred pair of eyes on her. She was able to just get out and play, kids were everywhere. There were trees to climb, games to play, rubbish piles to explore, bikes without brakes to ride and shops to wander down to and spend your pocket money at; All the things kids used to be able to do in Australia. It makes you wonder where all our civilizing and advancing has gotten us.

 

Universitas Gadja Madah was a pleasant surprise. Its size, cleanliness and attractiveness make it a welcome haven from the hot, crowed, noisy, dirty streets of Jogja. There were many oasis were students would gather in the cool shade of the large trees. The gates kept through traffic to a minimum and there were few beggars in the grounds.  The prestige of the university was reflected in the attitudes of the students, who appeared to be proud of being there. Many students had some level of English, as did all of the lecturers that I encountered.

 

 

My immersion politics course was very good, and only had one kissing the day before the exam paper was due. The quality of the lectures was high and the lecturers assigned tasks that made the students think, not just regurgitate. The students were always excited to here our Australian perspectives and often asked our views, their questions revealed a lot about their own society and education.

 

The immersion course was difficult to follow, and the initial 1,000 word essays every week were daunting, however I am very glad that I took it. I was a little anxious that I wouldnÕt be able to follow the lectures, which I didnÕt, or that the assignments would be too difficult to do in Bahasa, which they were, or that I would be asked questions that I couldnÕt understand in front of the class, which I was. The lectures which were accompanied by power point notes in English, key words which could be easily translated, talking with students and my previous studies of politics enabled me to fumble through the course. My tutor patiently assisted me with my assignments and helped with the translating of my thoughts into readable Bahasa. I would repeat back questions that I wasnÕt sure of to make sure that I had understood them, if not the lecturer would try another way I hold the microphone away and repeat the question in English, then the poor students would patiently listening to me mutilating their language. It was a great experience! I would recommend taking an immersion course. It is great for listening skills, stretching your self, meeting Indonesian students and because it is a window into what the university is really like outside of the sheltered walls of INCULS. 

 

INCULS was a great program, the facilities and the lectures were very good as was all of the INCULS staff. It was challenging to study Indonesian when all of the lecturers rarely spoke in English. It required an awful lot of concentration, but it really increased the efficiency of learning a second language. During the first week I was so overwhelmed by the constant assault of Indonesian, I thought to myself constantly, Ōwhat are you doing here, Shell!?!?!Õ But after a few weeks my listening skills improved dramatically. We had always been told to try not to interpret every word; the problem was that I never knew enough words to make out anything. But themes, dictionaries, repeated answers, clear speech, patient teachers and even a little study all came together enough for me to be able to follow the classes pretty well.

 

 I would be lying if I said that I understood it all or that I am even remotely fluent. I did, however, become practiced enough to be able to casually converse with people, to be able to get myself into trouble and out again, to be able to read signs, to be able to make jokes and get my point across. It is such a buzz to be able to converse with someone who doesnÕt speak English. What was just as exciting was to understand the local customs and cultures.

 

It is so easy to feel like the big, fat, clumsy Bule when you are surrounded by these tiny people who have their own set of rules and customs which backed up by thousands of years of practice. After spending a semester in Jogja, an understanding and respect for Indonesian/ Javanese traditions really developed in me. It is easy enough to say that you respect other cultures but until you cannot truly mean that until you immerse yourself in them and experience the good and the bad and also the affect of outside influences on these ancient cultures.

 

I was surprised with the extent of Western influence in Indonesia and the contrast that it had with the lifestyle of those of the villages. In many ways the Westernization sat poorly against the backdrop of tradition, religion and poverty. To see beautiful Indonesian girls getting around in skimpy Western clothes was a sad sight for me, many of them probably not realizing that they would look more becoming in a sarong. Young men acting like 12 year olds but trying to be cool, sneaking a bottle of beer to drink around the corner from the Circle K and trying to look fashionable. Westernization seemed to take the beautiful things about Indonesian culture and exchange them for smut, selfishness and loss of identity. It was great to travel out to the villages and see the real Indonesia.

 

One of the villages that I took my daughter to was profoundly affected by the earthquake. Seeing first hand the devastation and destruction was heartbreaking. Seeing the whole community staying united, calm and accepting in the face of such loss and devastation was inspiring. This village with little to offer loaded up the back of the car with coconuts for us in a touching gesture of generosity. It is always beautiful to see people who are comfortable in their roles. There is a confidence, even if they may be ashamed of their roles, in fulfilling your natural role, I suppose because you are not trying to be something that you are not, always looking around to see if you are doing it right.

 

 

Our travels took us to many places. Kasongon was a town just south of Yogya that had a huge pottery trade as well as many other souveneirs. It was really interesting talking to shop owners about the extent of damage that the earthquake had caused. As well as structural, and personal damage, the stock of their trades had been severely damaged and a huge mess was left to clean up. 

 

 

Parangtritis was an experience, we went during Idul Fitri. It was crowded and noisy, a terrible beach that was filled with many touts constantly hassling you. I had my worst beer ever there it was warm (no surprise by now) and the ice dropped in it had a fishy taste ( pun intended) and as we were sitting right on the beach every time someone walked by sand would kick up and get in our drinks. The beach at Barong was completely different though, really worth the trip and the stay at Ōcamp crapÕ. It was devastating to see this beautiful coastal resort town just ambandoned after the Tsunami. Indonesians would sometimes ask us if we had been to the beach and would then marvel at our lack of fear of a tsunami happening again, many of them swearing that they would never go back to the beach again, preferring to stay in the shadow of an unstable volcano instead.

 

I took Katie to see the Ramayana ballet at Prambanan temple. We both loved it enormously. It was a fantastic experience, lots of color and action, actors and music. We also went to Boroburdor temple where we were relentlessly accosted by touts. At both places we hired an English speaking guide and received much knowledge from them about the history of these magnificent structures.

 

There were many other places that we went to, but you can read about them in a Lonely Planet guide. The thing is I, a single mum, took my ten year old over to study in Indonesia for a semester. Sometimes it was hard, especially all of the official stuff, but most of the time it was a wonderfully and extremely enriching experience. We both learnt so much there, more than just the language. I got to know my daughter better, we both grew immensely from the experience and I think that we have both come back better people for it.

 

Studying in Indonesia was a little expensive to get organized, the visaÕs, tickets, insurance etc were pretty costly but fortunately I was able to obtain a HECS loan that is set up specifically to help those wishing to study overseas. Austudy was enough to live reasonably with and we certainly didnÕt want for much. I would really recommend anyone with remotely compatible degrees to seriously investigate the option of spending at least a semester with ACICIS. Another alternative which I recommend just as much is the Lombok course. Phil and Richard Curtis from Charles Darwin University put in much planning and effort in order to maximize the experience for all participants. ItÕs a fantastic way to get a unit or two in a relatively short space of time or to at least do a little study overseas if a whole semester is too daunting. The HECS loans are even available for that too. A lot of people put in a lot of hard work to make these opportunities available so stop making excuses or being lazy, get out there and take advantage of these amazing opportunities. If I can do it, then anyone can.

 

 

5 March 2007

 

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