By Ben Davis (Semester 22/Feb 2006)
University of Sydney
Having experienced both the ACICIS program (at UGM in Yogya) and a privately-organised short-course to Padang, Sumatera, I can offer some pretty good tips to students planning on taking the plunge into Indonesian exchange. Although both experiences were fantastic, I have to say the organisation and support provided by the ACICIS coordinators made the whole expedition a lot less stressful. (PS They are not paying me to write this!)
Independent trip to Indonesia:
On January 15, 2005, I set out to Universitas Negeri Padang as part of an internal university program. Although I thought that I was fairly prepared, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I can still remember walking out of the airport feeling totally lost and disoriented. I was boiling hot, swamped by a different lifestyle and just surrounded by hundreds of staring people.
Although I eventually got used to the way of life, I still feel as though I didn’t really get to experience all of Padang due to the limited time of my stay. I was fortunate to stay with a lovely host family and I think this can really shape your experience – you really get to see how a typical Indonesian family lives (where in Yogya, most people choose to live by themselves or with other university-level students).
What tends to stick in my mind is the feeling of being unprepared and on edge just because I had jumped – so quickly – into a different culture. However, I guess in some sense this was an advantage because it forced me to adapt quickly and put my Indonesian skills into action. All in all, the trip required much more self motivation and organisation!
To strengthen my Indonesian skills, I undertook six months in-country study at UGM from January of 2006. From the time I was planning to go away, ACICIS made it so easy. All the paper work was there, my visa was sorted out and there was even information for my family to read in regards to what I was doing and where I was going (that helps with worrying parents!). As we know, many things can go wrong in Indonesia – ie earthquakes, volcanoes, illnesses, etc – however, in this program there is always someone there to help which really makes the difference.
Another appealing aspect of ACICIS is that although you live in a typical Indonesian surrounding, you share the experience with a number of other students doing a similar sort of thing. This means there is always someone to talk to while you are immersing yourself in the culture (in Padang I didn’t have this – no “Western” outlet). Just be careful you don’t get in the habit of speaking too much English – REMEMBER that you’ve done this trip for a reason! Moreover, Yogya is a university city with over 100 universities which means there are a lot of young people and activities in the area.
Padang was a lot hotter, wetter and sweatier than Yogya. An intense six-week course is good for those who can’t take a whole semester off but perhaps the language skills don’t sink into your brain as much. In my case, Yogya really strengthened my language skills and fluency. As far as lifestyle, Yogya was a lot more laid back and accepting of foreigners than of Padang (maybe because it is a university city and is used to having lots of outside visitors)