By Danny Carney (Semester 34/Feb 2012 & Semester 35/Aug 2012)
University of Tasmania
It’s been a few years since I spent a year studying with ACICIS. I credit that year as the time my relationship with Indonesia became serious, that I went from flowing in and out of Bali with a tourist visa and three surfboards to being the batik-wearing, gamelan loving, es-teh fanatic I am today. The surfboards are still there, but my year with ACICIS, with perhaps only a little exaggeration, changed the way I view the world.
Having come to Indonesian studies through travel, spending a few months here and there in the usual surfer haunts of Bali and Lombok and Aceh, I had always intended to spend as much time as possible in Indonesia as part of my undergraduate degree. After spending 6 weeks in Lombok with the wonderful RUILI program, I was encouraged to take a year with ACICIS in Java. We’re incredibly lucky that dedicated and passionate people have put together such a generous program. Any concerns I held in the lead-up to departure were gently and swiftly put to bed by ACICIS staff. Visa concerns, orientation and ongoing support were all managed in such a way that I only needed to think about how to make the most of my time in Jogjakarta and Malang.
Though much of what went on in 2012 has been superceded by more recent memories, bits and pieces filter through. Studying flexible immersion at UGM gave way to a sense of independence and choice not available in other language-centric study programs. I studied Arab literature and culture, Indonesian literature and contemporary politics. This expanded my vocabularly ten-fold and eventually took me from learning how to understand Indonesian as a language towards learning in the Indonesian language. Four years down the track, it is still a very satisfying thought.
The 3 days a week I had to myself allowed me to explore parts of the surrounding countryside, street-side warungs, suburbs and beaches that make Jogjakarta such a pleasant and easy place to be a student. During this time I met people who are still good friends, and I came to know the daily sway of life in a very different part of the world. Opining about political scandals with the parkir next to my favorite lotek haunt, flirtatious banter at the nearby laundry, holding the newborn child of a neighbor… These details of every day life are perhaps my most treasured memories of Jogjakarta. The best advice I could give anyone joining the program would be to make the most of these moments.
My second semester was taken in Malang on the Field Research program. It was a pleasant move to Malang – as a Tasmanian used to uninterrupted vistas and silence, city-life in Jogjakarta was a novelty I was sure to tire of eventually. Only a small cohort of students were in Malang that year, and we seldom bumped into other Westerners about town. By this stage, even those who arrived as pure beginners had a fluency in language that enabled a freedom of movement and independence that took us all by surprise. My project was in the far western corner of East Java, where I spent several months living in a small village that fitted all the idyllic representations of paradise I’d dreamed about. Daily life in the village became less cluttered with noise and distraction – sipping coffee on the porch as the world woke up around us, always the scratching and chewing of chickens and goats in the background, cackling with bitter laughter as we ran home through a sudden squall in the fields. Though life was busy with social and ritual activity in the village, I felt a strong connection to a place and that I had been accepted as part of a community. If the Flexible Immersion program at UGM had opened a door to Indonesian life that I had been knocking at for years, the Field Research Program blew open the windows and knocked down the walls. I was finally starting to see Indonesian life as ordinary rather than novelty, but none of the beauty that attracted me in the first instance was lost.
Several times during the field work my mind caught up with my body, whether it be at a slametan in the small mosque near my house or sitting in a comfortable and familiar silence with the family that took me in, and realised that in the 7 or 8 months I had spent with ACICIS the boundaries of my comfort zone had moved forever outwards. Where as a surfing tourist I felt having a Bintang with a beach boy in Kuta constituted a transformative connection with local Indonesian life, I now found myself feeling entirely at peace driving my neighbor’s adorable but mischievous children to school on a decaying old motorbike before spending the morning collecting kerikil and sea weed along the beach with my new friends. Inadvertently I had found a second home in Indonesia and developed a deep and enduring affection that continues to pull me back year after year.
Since the ACICIS program I’ve gone on to do an honors year, a follow-up to the field work project I did as part of ACICIS. I’ve worked with the Bebali Foundation and Threads of Life based in Ubud, researching ceremonies and traditional textiles across Indonesia, and spent time with weaving communities in Bali and Sumba. And I’ve had the privilege of teaching Indonesian to students at the University of Tasmania, and supporting students from all over Australia on study programs in Lombok with the RUILI program. My experience with ACICIS has been an important part in opening up those opportunities to me. It seems, and rightly so, that a semester or two abroad with ACICIS has become a rite of passage for Australians with a passion for Indonesia, in all the diversity of forms that such a passion can take.
Above all else, what is most important to me is that my relationship with Indonesia, this seemingly unending love-affair, continues and deepens each year. Whether it’s the warming calls of the rebab to the siyem and gong at the start of a gamelan performance, the smell of kretek and coffee curling in an afternoon breeze, or the elemental, rhythymic thud as Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti works thread into cloth at her loom in Rindi, these things still make my heart rise in my chest, often times catching me off guard and overwhelming me with a burning desire to just ‘be there’ once more. For better or worse, though I think better, “Indonesia” has become as important to who I am as anything that came before it. The opportunity to spend a year in Indonesia developing this relationship through ACICIS was a blessing. I couldn’t recommend it enough.