By Maggie Dunn (Sem 49/Aug 2019)
The University of Melbourne

An exchange in America or the UK would be incredible, I have no doubt. But after a period of adjustment, life could be lived in a similar fashion to your life in Australia. New friends, new sights, new experiences no doubt, but similar in many ways. And exchange in Indonesia is equally as incredible, but life is completely different to life back home. And how fantastic that is!

Let’s start with the obvious difference in language. I participated in the FLIP program which is designed to improve your Indonesian language, not only in the classroom, but through using it every day. When you learn Indonesian in Australia, you leave class, maybe do a bit of homework, but don’t speak Indonesian again until your next class. In Indonesia, if you make the effort, you can practise your Indonesian everywhere you go. Every gojek ride, every meal at a warung, every time a random group of middle-aged women invites you to join them for ice-cream. I really felt that my Indonesian really helped me establish a connection with other people. Every Indonesian person I interacted with was thrilled by my attempts to speak Indonesian and would immediately engage me in conversation. While this was a test in the early days when I only had a grasp of the basics, it was a great way to use the new words I had learnt in class and it was always a great feeling when I was able to understand and communicate back.

Food is another big difference between life in Australia and my life in Jogja. Never before have I eaten so much rice, literally every meal of the day. Sometimes even in my drinks (Es Doger is the whackiest drink I have ever consumed but actually tastes pretty good – give it a try!). And sambal too, again at every meal. Take away pizza comes with little sambal packets (it also comes drizzled with mayonnaise, oddly enough). Sweet foods are big in Indonesia too. Chocolate and cheese are often paired together, and condensed milk is in everything! I had an Indonesian friend cut up a fresh, delicious mango, and then proceed to smother it in condensed milk. I was horrified, but again it actually tasted pretty good. Exploring the food in Indonesia will lead you to so many new flavours and textures and experiences. And you’ll come home with an exceptional spice tolerance. Eating whole chillies as a new party trick anyone?

Even volunteer programs and internships are different. While the programs and their values are similar, the way you go about it all is very different. I was overdressed at my internship when I wore a collared shirt – tshirt, jeans and flip-flops were the norm (although you probably should dress formally on the first day at least, just in case). I did some volunteering also, which was a great decision because I made some Indonesian friends who felt comfortable enough to laugh (nicely) at my formal Indonesian and teach me slang. But they were late to everything; every class planning session, every meeting. Jam karet (rubber time) is real! You learn very quickly that 2.00 really means 2.15-2.45ish. also, the first time I walked into a class I was helping to teach with this volunteer program (Project Child) one kid turned around, pointed at me and yelled “BULE (foreigner)” at the top of his lungs and I was swarmed by children wondering what a very white girl was doing in their class. All I did was show up with some patchy Indonesian and I was a celebrity!

My advice to anyone tossing up between a short course and a semester-long course is to do the semester long, really. You’re likely eligible for the New Colombo Grant and that will go a long way to pay for the course fee, flights, insurance etc. and the cost of living in Jogja really is cheap comparative to the cost of living in Australia. When you’re there, sign up for anything and everything. Do an internship, volunteer in as many programs as you can, join a few different groups. The first few meetings or sessions are always daunting, especially if your Indonesian is limited, but stick with it. You’ll make some friends and find your place before you know it, and time will start flying by.

I’d like to thank all of the ACICIS team who helped me the whole way through. And to my fellow ACICIS students too, you’re all amazing.