Agriculture Semester Program (ASP)

Kirrily Simmer is a 2019 New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient from Western Sydney University. Kirrily undertook the Agriculture Semester Program at Bogor Agricultural University from January to June 2019.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake ACICIS’ Agriculture Semester Program (ASP)?

Why not apply for such an amazing opportunity? I’ve always been curious about Indonesia, and I’ve always wanted to live overseas. The ACICIS Agriculture Semester Program ticked all of my boxes: a partially-funded program, the opportunity to gain university credit and an international experience, exploring a new culture, food and making long-lasting connections.

However, it was the internship that sealed the deal for me. The high-calibre and variety of internship opportunities that ACICIS offers are much better than anything I’ve seen offered in Australia. It can be hard to get relevant experience in Food Security or Sustainable Agriculture in Australia.  As close neighbours, I feel there should be more collaboration between Australia and Indonesia in finding solutions to the issues facing both our countries. Food security is important in Australia, but most of the people at risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and climate change-induced poverty live in the developing world. I wanted to see firsthand the challenges that Indonesia is facing. I wanted to be part of that solution and I thought that the ACICIS program would provide me a strong foundation for a future career in the field.

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

During my semester at Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) I studied:

Ornamental Plants and Floriculture:

We learnt about the propagation, production, disease management and marketing of the main types of ornamental products; cut flowers and foliage, potted plants, bedding and landscape plants.

Principles of Horticulture:

A good overview of tropical horticulture practice in Indonesia. Practicals included growing spinach, long-beans, kangkung and eggplant.

Plant Protection:

This unit was a lot of work, but one of the most worthwhile. The focus was on learning to identify the main pests and diseases that face tropical horticulture crops from signs and symptoms on the host plants.

Rural and Urban Biodiversity:

This unit is only for international students. It is great because it is designed to give a holistic perspective of the Indonesian environment and society. This unit gave context to what I learnt in my other subjects. Also, this subject had the best field trips!

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

While I didn’t join any groups, I went to plenty of events run by the student clubs on campus.  The IPB Olympics and the Art competitions were among my favourite activities to attend.  There was also aerobics on campus every Sunday morning, bird watching and spot lighting to do ecological surveys of the wildlife on campus. I tagged along to watch the occasional traditional dance practice and went to networking events for international and local students.

The local students are so welcoming, you’re more likely to have trouble choosing which event to attend than having no options at all.

Q: How was your experience studying at IPB? 

IPB is a beautiful place to study. When you’re on campus it feels like you’re tucked away in a big tropical jungle. The campus is actually a very popular spot for locals to come on the weekend to have a picnic, soak up the ambience or go for a run.  My favourite thing about IPB was the students, I cannot overstate how welcome I felt there. It still blows me away how the local students juggle their intense workloads, their numerous extra-curricular activities and still always have time to hang out or to help whenever you need it. They are some of hardest working, fun-loving and generous people I have ever met, and they have shown me what true friendship and unconditional support looks like.

While class schedules, field trips and assessments tend to change or pop up at a moment’s notice, it was all taken in good stride by the students and staff who worked tirelessly to make sure I had the most up to date information and everything I needed to succeed at my studies. I really enjoyed my experience in IPB; it was challenging but incredibly worthwhile. I would recommend coming to IPB on exchange to anyone who is adaptable and willing to step outside their comfort zone.

Q: How has your study in Indonesia influenced your understanding of Agriculture or Food Security in the region? 

From growing kangkung and long-beans in horticulture practicals to field trips to packing and distribution centres, shopping, cooking and eating out as well as joining in on some food sharing programs, I’ve participated in every part of the food industry in Indonesia. During that time, I’ve been able to gain experience and opportunities to direct my personal and professional development in a more meaningful way than I would have been able to in Australia.  It has also given me a broader perspective and the ability to think critically about the food system that I grew up with. When you are exposed to the intricacies of another system it opens your eyes to how often we make assumptions about how we think things should be and get stuck thinking inside the box when it comes to finding solutions.

Even when you’re not formally studying in class, you are learning from participating in the local food system. There are so many little details and challenges to achieving a sustainable and equitable food system in Indonesia that you only really start to appreciate when you spend a significant amount of time here. I found myself compromising and making dietary decisions I would never usually make, simply due to lack of information and choice.

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

I loved just hanging out in the trendy coffee shops with my friends.  Going out and trying new restaurants and cafes, finding delicious food is so easy in Indonesia. Anywhere you are you can find something cheap and delicious that you’ve probably never had before.

I also really loved going out for karaoke or to Transmart for arcade games and movies. It was so cheap, so much fun and a great bonding experience.

Q: Are you undertaking an internship while in Indonesia?

Yes! I’m working on a program called Food Smart City in Surakarta (Solo) which is co-ordinated by the not-for-profits Rikolto and their partner Gita Pertiwi. The aim of the program is to increase production and consumption of healthy, safe foods in Solo whilst simultaneously reducing food waste. The target demographic of the program is infants and babies under 5 years, school aged children, the elderly and impoverished people. Rikolto and Gita Pertiwi use a multi-stakeholder model, designing scalable solutions which involve the community, farmers, government, schools, NGO’s etc. I’ve been involved in creating detailed profiles (in English) for each aspect of the Food Smart City program in preparation for an international journalist who will be visiting at the end of my internship. Most of my time has been spent conducting site visits and detailed interviews to build up an overall picture of Gita Pertiwi, their partners and activities.

Q: Favourite Indonesian food:

This is probably the most difficult question to answer. As a connoisseur of fried chicken, Indonesia is a veritable paradise- if you can handle spicy food, ayam geprek should be on the top of your list to try.

My everyday favourites were gado-gado (steamed veggie salad served cold with peanut sauce and a boiled egg), martabak telor (a bit like gozleme) and chicken sate straight off the coals. Yum!

The things I will miss the most are deep fried tempe, being able to get fresh fruit juice every day for 50 cents and the wonders of martabak manis. It is essentially a crumpet the size of a plate topped with anything from chocolate, banana, cheese, Oreos and peanuts- amazing!

Q: Favourite place to eat: 

So many!

Warung Papan: It was just downstairs from my kost and they had the best corn fritters and delicious noodles. Cheap and cheerful, the owners helped me practice my Bahasa and had a smile and teh manis (sweet tea) for me every time!

Warung ‘not sure what it was called’ : They had the best ayam bakar (grilled chicken) and nasi uduk (fragrant coconut rice) with huge bowls of lalapan (fresh vegetables) on the table. The chicken was so soft and tender while packing a big flavour punch of sweet soy, lemongrass and that smokiness you can only get when cooking over charcoal. Delicious, healthy and a real staple.

“The green place”: A warung down Bara street which was nicknamed by my friends “The green place” because of the lime green interior. Some of the best nasi goreng (fried rice) and kwetiau. We often used it as a meeting place or when we couldn’t decide on where we wanted to eat.

Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase: 

Semangat – it means ‘spirit’ and is a very versatile word. It can mean “keep fighting” or “fighting spirit” and is often heard just before exams or giving a presentation. It is also an expression of enthusiasm or excitement, wishing people good luck for a performance or cheering your friends on. It’s fun to say and it’s a beautiful word. For me it represents the incredible support network I built in Indonesia, and how everyone is always building each other up.

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

While I was studying in IPB I managed to visit Jakarta, Kepulaun Seribu (Thousand islands), Bandung and of course Bogor and its surrounds. I’ve been hiking on volcanos, snorkelling in coral reefs and relaxing on beaches. I also managed to get away to Bali twice to catch up with family and friends from Australia on my uni breaks.

While in Solo I also spent a few days exploring Malioboro in Yogyakarta as well as the spectacular temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. I was able to appreciate a lot of traditional Javanese culture, going to wayang kulit (shadow puppet) show, joining a Javanese dance class and a wayang orang penget show. My gracious hosts at Gita Pertiwi also took me out to explore their favourite local spots in the countryside around Solo. We spent weekends relaxing and having tea in the beautiful rice fields and tea plantations of Kemuning. Then tubing and swimming in the natural springs and waterfalls of Klaten.