By Heather Christie (Semester 27/Aug 2008)
St Lawrence University

My name is Heather Christie and I believe I am one of a small handful of Americans to ever travel with ACICIS. I first thought of going abroad to Indonesia in the fall of 2007, several months after I began learning the language on my own.

My home university was not entirely enthused with this idea. My advisor was a bit skeptical, my parents were nervous, and the international studies (and therefore study abroad) office was quite unhelpful. I had gone online to find an abroad program to Indonesia for a semester. There aren’t many. USINDO, an American program, is only two months in the summer and I decided I wanted a bit more time. The only two programs were SIT out of Brown University and ACICIS in Australia. SIT was based in Bali (not anymore) and had four classes, all of which were taught in English and with the participants of the program. As in, you never took a class with Indonesians. Since Bali isn’t like the rest of Indonesia and there were the other factors mentioned, I decided to look at ACICIS first.

The first barrier with ACICIS was that I wasn’t Australian. I emailed them and David Armstrong replied saying that they had had Americans in the past, so that was that. It didn’t matter that I had never had an actual class in Indonesian and all I had to do was apply and hope I got in.

I had to apply to ACICIS and ask for permission from my home uni at the same time (if there are Americans reading this, uni = university in Australia). I sent off the ACICIS application, had a large amount of trouble with my uni’s application but got it in, and then I waited. ACICIS accepted me but my uni rejected my application, so in the end I decided to take a personal withdrawal. (Warning: to all those who are not part of an ACICIS member university, there is so much paperwork and running around that you will explode, numerous times, but it’s so worth it. Those of you at an ACICIS member university, I envy you so much!)

From the minute I started my email contact with David and Claire, ACICIS was basically wonderful from beginning to end. I have never had such an easy time of actually getting paperwork, figuring stuff out, or finding what I needed. Ever. Maybe that’s because I live in America, but still, it’s amazing. I know of no other abroad program that sends their participants a DVD of what to expect, nor a CD with potential living areas. And absolutely no one would have put up with the amount of questions I had.

The only thing that made me stop for a minute was when we got a list of all the semester participants. I was the only American, there were 2 girls from the UK, and everyone else was from Australia. So…I was easily the only one from what we could call the New World… and I was one of three from north of the equator. Actually, also one of three from the Western Hemisphere. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more insignificant.

But in reality, being an American in Yogya is fine – especially now that Obama has been elected – they love him, so as long as you like him too, you should have no problems. If you don’t like Obama, then you may want to stay quiet. There are certainly times when being an American isn’t all that great, such as when people get mad at you because of something a president did or something. The Aussies are great, but be aware that you will be made fun of with the way you speak and act. Nothing mean, just poking fun, but it’s quite easy to poke fun right back. I personally loved the defense of “There are 300 million people in my country who say it this way and only, what, 20 million in yours who say it that way? I believe we have you beat by 280 million people.” Those conversations always get a bit interesting and are extremely fun. What’s great is watching a movie, since they are mostly Americanisms. For instance, my friend Ada and I were watching Ratatouille and the food critic said something about the chef being akin to “Monsieur Boyardee.” Ada didn’t know why that was funny, so I said, “You know, Chef Boyardee?” She gave me a blank look, which I found hilarious, then proceeded to explain about how chef Boyardee is a canned spaghetti company. It was wonderful.

All of the Indonesians (well, many, I should say) are very interested in the US and what it’s like to live there, if I live in a mansion (no), if I know Tom Cruise (double no) and if I can say hello to Barack Obama for them (um… possible, but also probably no). They also want to know how far away it is (23 hours in a plane, 36-40 total travel) and usually want to come visit in some way.

So basically being an American in Indonesia is perfectly fine now, no different than for any other bule (foreigner). Before, with Bush, it was interesting, but not terribly difficult. You just had to make sure you didn’t mention him. I will say that with Obama being elected, there is definitely much more interest in Americans and much more attention towards them!