By Zahra Matthews (Semester 19/Aug 2004)
University of Sydney

Well, here I am again in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and it’s absolutely wonderful! To answer the question most of you seemed to be asking- yes, I have found a place to live, and no, it’s not exactly what you’d call ‘good’! But it’s quite luxurious by Indonesian standards. Although I had read all the pre-departure info we were given, I don’t think I was quite prepared for the standard of accommodation available. I am staying in a ‘kos’ (boarding house) in a rather luxurious suburb called Pogung Baru, about 30 mins walk from Uni. Before I came here I had a list of criteria for my kos room – it had to have a western toilet, own bathroom, Air Con, fridge inside room, desk, plenty of cupboard space. ha! What a joke! As I cruised around kos-hunting they sort of went down the drain and in the end I got none of those things (except my own bathroom)! But I do admit it’s not that bad, once you get used to it. I have a bed with a mattress that is too big for the frame, a very small cupboard, and a desk. That’s it. My bathroom is similarly sparse, with a non-Western toilet (am still trying to work it out) and a tap (Yes, that’s it!!!!). No sink, just a drain in the ground, and no shower head! It’s okay, though, because I do have a makeshift ‘bak’ (bath) – a plastic container filled with water, and a small plastic bucket to throw (cold) water over myself. It’s quite refreshing after the first throw!

The atmosphere of my kos makes up for the room, though. There are about 12 or 13 girls staying in it, and most go to UGM (Universitas Gadjah Mada) too. They’re all from different parts of Indonesia, and all have different religions, but they get along so well, and are very friendly (and talk extremely fast). Just don’t ask me all their names, I don’t have a clue! Just outside my room there’s an open area with a TV where we all hang out and watch Indonesian Idol and MTV Indonesia. It’s actually a very noisy kos, because if MTV is not blaring at some ungodly hour, one of the girls will be singing at the top of her lungs in the shower (very popular here in Indonesia).

After a lot of confusion as to enrolling (get different pieces of paper stamped and signed and returned to different places in different faculties), I started going to classes on Tuesday. We’re actually allowed to enrol in normal units of study from Arts, Politics, Economics etc, so I’ve chosen a few subjects pretty unrelated to what I’ve been studying at home. The first is called ‘Community Health’, which is a basic overview of the Indonesian health system and its strengths and weaknesses. The lecturer was really good, spoke very slowly and tried to explain case studies to me in English. It felt strange though, because only 4 people turned up to the lecture (because apparently it is very unusual for lecturers to turn up during the 1st week). It’s also a bit strange because the lecturer insists on calling me ‘Matthews’ eg “As Matthews here just said..” and “Matthews, what is it like in Australia?”

My second lecture was well,..completely different. “Social Change in Indonesia”, Room 01- or so I thought. Because I wanted to check the room number, I had to enter via the front door, something I had no particular desire to do, but thinking I’d look like an idiot if I walked to the back again, I bravely entered. Picture this: 200 first year students suddenly erupting into loud cheers and clapping madly as I walked between the aisles to the back of the room and slid into my seat. I don’t think I need to explain how embarrassing that was. Now picture 200 students falling over chairs (literally) to introduce themselves and ask where I’m from. I was then obliged to shake hands with all of them, and answer questions about myself and Australia and the Bali Bomb and what Australia’s like and whether I could help them practice their English. Then the class clown at the front stood at the lectern and said that it was unfair that they couldn’t hear what I was saying at the front, and would Miss Australia please come down to the microphone and give a speech! How could I refuse 200 chanting people??? If public speaking is bad at the best of times, I can’t describe to you what it was like in front of 200 crazy students, in Indonesian. My ‘speech’ went something like this:

Me: My name is Zahra
Everyone: (cheers)
Me: I am from Australia
Everyone: (silence)
Me: I am studying in the faculty of Arts
Everyone: (more cheers and clapping and shouting)
Me: In Australia-
Everyone: (shouting questions)
Me: In Australia-
Everyone: Shhhh!
Me: In Australia I study Economics, Politics, and Indonesian
Class clown: How old are you?
Me: 19
Everyone: (foot stomping)
Me: Ok, that’s enough, bye!

The lecturer never turned up, so it was only later, as I sat at a food stall for lunch, that one of the girls in the lecture approached me, and said that they thought that I was the lecturer! How bizarre! Furthermore, the subject was not ‘Social Change’, but ‘Introduction to Law 1A’, so I went through all of that in the wrong class!

The other subject I’m taking is Australian Politics. None of you Science students have anything to complain about any more- this subject is at 7am, and lasts 2.5 hours! It’s not too bad, but the lecturer talks really fast. Sort of reminded me home though – we told him how much we wanted the assessment to be worth! I have my first assignment- a few paragraphs on the ideology of the Labor Party (should have brought all my books with me!). At least it gives me a chance to work on my language.

Ok, I think I better end this. I have to go shopping for things for my kos (eg a mirror- haven’t looked in a mirror for almost 5 days!). Luckily I have a very helpful ‘buddy’ who is 100% fluent in English and willing to carry parcels on his motorbike!