By Anna Himmelreich (Sem 43/Aug 2016)
The Australian National University

Growing up in Canberra I considered myself rather cosmopolitan, but it is very hard to get a meal after 9pm or a bus on a Sunday, and I really had to think about if I’d ever been in a traffic jam. Well, moving to Bandung certainly destroyed any illusions I may have held about the capital. Turns out I was really a small-town gal in big bustling Bandung. But it didn’t take me long to adjust to life zipping around on go-jeks (motorcycle taxi, similar to Uber) and navigating the winding alleys of the kampungs near my kos (boarding house). I got to know the ibu ibu in my neighbourhood and where to get the best nasi goreng, as well as where to avoid. I also just learned to santai (relax) and be more flexible with whatever life or university threw at me, as well as to be more open to new experiences and the hospitality of new friends. I said yes to lots of opportunities and invitations and was rewarded every time.

Although I had completed a major in Bahasa Indonesia, at the beginning of my time in Bandung I was not very confident and my Indonesian was slow, formal and awkward. After close to 5 months of chattering to friends, my Ibu kos (land lady) and taking classes in both Indonesian and English, I feel now that I am more confident and a lot more relaxed when speaking Indonesian. I also learnt so much more than I ever could have from a textbook or a classroom just by chatting to people or just listening to the world around me. Listening to people talk about Ahok and the demonstrations, or chatting about the legacy of colonialism over coffee, or talking to Chinese Indonesian friends about their sense of identity as Indonesian, or going to friend’s houses to celebrate Idul Adha and discussing different forms of Islam, these things were all part of life outside the classroom. I only had a few months with new friends but the attitude seemed to be ‘oh you’re only here, til December! We must hang out as much as possible!’ rather than the attitude in Australia of ‘oh you’re only here til December, I’d rather not go to all that effort.’ The warmth and friendship I encountered and endless patience with my dodgy Indonesian were something special for me, but seen as nothing out of the ordinary for my friends.

I took a semester of International Relations at UNPAR, as well as a two day a week internship at the Resilience Development Initiative, a local research organisation focused on disaster resilience and sustainable development in Indonesia. While my classes were interesting and fun, I learnt the most in my internship where I studied the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba, NTT. From that research, I’ve recently found work in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden assisting a researcher in her work, again focused on Sumba. This was an area I had no knowledge of prior to my internship but my time in Indonesia and newfound interest in Sumba led to unexpected opportunities.

While there were some trials and tribulations, mainly limited to macet (traffic jams), rainy season and the resulting mould – no one ever mentions the mould! – I absolutely loved my time in Bandung. I learnt so much from my friends, colleagues and teachers but also just had a fun time. I’ve been fortunate enough to study in Europe as well as in Indonesia and no one questioned I would want to study in Europe. New friends, new experiences and the fun of being an (unemployed) student in a new city, are seen as reason enough. Going to Indonesia I fielded a lot more questions about why I would study there. But setting aside buzzwords like ‘the Asian century’ and ‘cross cultural communication’ and future job applications, studying abroad, whether that is in Bandung, Budapest or Berlin, is just a whole lot of fun.

A large part of just being able to have fun and be immersed in life in Indonesia is down to ACICIS. I felt like I was in incredibly safe hands and knew that I always had someone to message or who would help me out. I met other non-ACICIS exchange students in Bandung doing battle with immigration or the university administration or even their accommodation. I felt well looked after and that meant that I could enjoy my time in Indonesia to the full.

For more information about this program visit: International Relations Program