By Rebecca Livermore (Semester 24/Feb 2007)
University of Tasmania

“Do you have to wear a hijab?”, is what everyone wanted to know, a guaranteed question after I had said that I’d received a scholarship to attend an Islamic University in Indonesia. My head was full of at least a hundred questions, the above included, which added to the excitement and nerves. All of my questions and queries were set aside with ease from the support and knowledge of an experienced keluarga ACICIS and the staff at Universitas Islam Indonesia.

I was welcomed warmly at the University and assigned a pendamping, Dini, who showed my around the Uni, helped me find a place to live, introduced me to her friends and answered many of my niggling questions, which made the transition all that much easier. Being the first and only international student at UII was exciting and slightly daunting. I was unsure of what to expect, and so were the staff at UII, but we slowly learnt from each other, paving the way for future students.

Studying at UII took some adjusting, 7am classes, kosong’s, jam karet, and the general confusion reflected just how apparent culture is in all aspects of society. While it was some times frustrating adjusting to the Indonesian way of life at Uni, outside it was a fascinating journey of jalan jalan-ing, eating lesehan, pulang kampung with friends, weekend trips to other towns, evenings at the alun-alun, shopping at Maliboro, watching wayang at the palace, dinner on Jalan Kaliurang and much more.

Somewhere amidst this whirlwind of cultural immersion I fitted in my studies, which taught me more than I could have imagined. Although studies at UII are business focused, I was able to study as an Arts student, choosing subjects which weren’t business focused. I studied Islamic Religious Practice, Islamic Thought and Civilisation, Islamic Leadership, Indonesian Business Practice and an internship which was conducted at Rumah Singgah Akmah Dhalan, a refuge for street children. I learnt a lot about Islam and how passionate the Indonesian people are about religion, something which many of us in Australia find hard to comprehend. I was intrigued by the way the Australian media reported on terrorism and specifically labelled it Islamic terrorism, and was confused how a religion was being portrayed as the roots to such horrible violence against innocent people. By studying at UII and learning about Islam, the values and beliefs, I now understand that Islam is a loving and peaceful religion which does definitely not condone terrorism or violence.

My experience in Indonesia has been the most valuable year of my life to date. At times it was difficult and frustrating, but the lessons I have learnt, and people have I met, have influenced my life in such a positive way, teaching me to be open to others ideas and opinions and that we have something to learn from everyone.