New Colombo Plan - Connect to Australia’s future - study in the region.

Flexible Language Immersion Program

Balram Dhillon is a 2019 New Colombo Plan Scholar from the University of Melbourne. Balram undertook the Flexible Language Immersion Program at Gadjah Mada University from January to June 2019.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake ACICIS’ Flexible Language Immersion Program (FLIP) ?

Despite having studied Bahasa Indonesia for two years at university, I still didn’t feel confident using the language. Studying any language in the controlled setting of a classroom lacks the opportunity for improvisation we all need for speaking in more practical contexts. I chose the FLIP because it pushes you to be surrounded by Bahasa Indonesia, and forces you to use it without the safety net of being able to revert back to English whenever you’re nervous or unsure. In addition, you have the opportunity to undertake immersion subjects, which allow you to understand how Indonesia understands the rest of the world, especially within the context of studying politics, history, or international relations.

Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Scholarship? If so, how did this contribute to your experience in Indonesia? 

I did receive a New Colombo Scholarship. The scholarship allowed me the financial security to get the most of my semester in Yogyakarta. It helped balance having the best, most immersive time possible with keeping your finances under control, as it is a very generous program. A lot of us used our funding to travel outside of Yogyakarta, and experience as much of the country as was possible.

Q: What classes/units are you currently enrolled in? 

As part of my language-learning classes at INCULS, I studied Sejarah Indonesia (Indonesian history), Kebudayaan Indonesia (Indonesian culture), and Percakapan (Conversation). At the university’s department of social and political sciences, I studied Policy Implementation, Systems and Institutions of Governance, and Australia – Indonesia Relations.

Q: Are you involved in any clubs/societies at the university? 

I joined the tennis club at UGM because I wanted to use the sport as a means to make friends. The club met several times a week – on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. During the week, the more competitive, experienced players were able to compete against one another. On Sundays, the courts were open to everyone. I was able to make many lasting friendships through the people I met. The environment was welcoming, and everyone was interested in what the tennis culture is like back in Melbourne, and how it feels like to attend a match at the Australian Open.

Q: How will your proficiency in Indonesian, gained through FLIP, influence your future career or study pathway?

I know that the language ability that I have developed will now allow me to work and intern in the non-government sector in Indonesia. This has opened up a new realm of possibilities for my New Colombo Plan program and career pathways following graduation. In Yogyakarta, I learnt that it was not common for individuals working in local NGOs to be fluent in English. Hence, a proficient knowledge of Bahasa, along with the willingness to learn from your mistakes and show your colleagues your passion to learn about them and their country – that takes you a long way. This has transformed my ability to forge relationships, share and absorb knowledge, and work together with Indonesians in work contexts. This motivated me to pursue an internship in Bali in July.

Q: How different is in-country Indonesian language learning to your previous experiences in an Australian classroom environment?

It is very different. Be prepared to be forced to revise grammar and memorize vocabulary in your own time. While you are out and about, or in class, you will need an arsenal of phrases, words, or expressions that you can draw upon to get you by. I couldn’t revert back to English when I needed to in class, and at times my inability to articulate my perspective was both frustrating and embarrassing. However, this motivated me to push myself further than I would if I was in a comfortable setting.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time in Yogyakarta?

I enjoyed either spending time with my friends, or spending some down-time reading. When we were together, we’d be very busy sampling the city’s enak food scene.

Q: Are you volunteering while in Indonesia? If so, what are your tasks and what are you looking forward to in these opportunities?

I will be returning to Indonesia in July to intern full-time at Stella’s Child – a non-government organization that works with children and young people from disadvantaged and challenging backgrounds to find employment and start businesses. I will be a Youth Mentor, and hope to help out with a few other aspects of running the organization. I’m really looking forward to learning about how non-governmental organizations operate in Indonesia and service the needs of the population. It is both an interesting and exciting career prospect for me.

Q: Favourite Indonesian food and place to eat: 

I couldn’t pick one. I’d have to narrow it down to three places: Preksu, Warung Flamboyan, or Rata-rata. Preksu’s Yogya-renowned Ayam Geprek is impossible to dislike (unless you’re vegetarian!). It’s essentially KFC chicken smashed by mortar and pestle with added salt and chilli. It’s served with rice and a cold drink – everyone I knew, including my parents, fell in love with the dish. The other two are warungs where food is made in the morning and afternoon and left out for customers. You take whichever sides you’d like with your nasi, and enjoy!

Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase: 

Aduh – I used that one a fair few times.

Q: What places in Indonesia have you visited during your semester so far? What is your favourite trip? 

I saw Surabaya for a few days, and it reminded me a lot of Singapore. Of course, I also went to Bali. I really enjoyed both places, but this semester has given me the confidence to travel outside of Java and Bali the next time I am in Indonesia. Lombok, Flores, and Sulawesi are on my visit list for the next time I am in-country.

Q: What is the most special thing that you will miss about Indonesia, specifically Yogyakarta?

I will miss the warmth of the people that I encountered each day. I will miss the conversations I had with my laundry Ibu, the cooks at various warungs, and with people in shops and on the street. I will miss all the smiles, the selamat siangs, and the respect with which I was treated by locals despite being a foreigner studying in their country. Their warmth and kindness has left a deep mark on me.