By Alex Gibson (Semester 31/Aug 2010 & Semester 32/Feb 2011)
University of Western Australia

Sitting on the floor of my kost and reflecting on the past year brings to light a number of different and conflicting feelings. Firstly how lucky I have been to experience this wonderful place, culture and people. Secondly surprise at how fast the year has flown past and the amount of things and places I still want to do and see and thirdly sadness that my Indonesian adventure is coming to an end. A year abroad in Indonesia on the ACICIS program in short has changed my life by exposing me to an entirely different world and allowing me to embrace an entirely different society, culture and way of living. A year on the ACICIS ‘in-country’ program offers you a world of opportunities and experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. From sitting in a classroom and realizing you finally understand what the teacher’s saying, to the experience of Idul Fitri celebrations in the safety of a friend’s kampung, to nongkrong on the streets of Jogja to the wee hours of the morning, to Evacuation Vacation because the temperamental Gunung Merapi to Jogja’s north, a whole new world has opened itself to me.

During my time in Jogjakarta I have been fortunate enough to take two programs ACICIS offers and my experiences couldn’t have been more different. Flexible Immersion at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) introduced me to Jogjakarta and gave me ample time to travel and experience Jogja, Javanese and Indonesian culture whilst the semester long Indonesian Language Teacher Immesion (LTI) program at Universitas Sanata Dharma (USD) provided a more structured and more demanding educational experience in Indonesia. They have been two completely different semesters but both have provided me with solid foundations in Indonesian language, extensive friend networks and the opportunity to explore Jogjakarta as only a few foreigners have.

The Flexible Immersion program at Universitas Gadjah Mada, the original and most famous ACICIS program gave me plenty of opportunities to immerse myself in Indonesian life and culture. Based around INCUL’s the program it was a mix of language classes and immersion subjects, including Javanese Karawitan and a Food Appreciation class. For me personally the highlight of this program was the free time I had to explore the archipelago. The freedom to choose from any of the classes offered at UGM meant that I could structure my timetable so I had a four-day weekend and thus was able to embrace the freedom to travel to remote areas of Indonesia. Another important aspect of my time at UGM was being able to take language development classes, such as grammar and Bahasa Indonesia for Research. Coming to Indonesia I was less than confident with my language ability and this was important in developing my ability to communicate.

One thing ACICIS does warn students about before coming to Indonesia is that most learning takes place outside the classroom and this was certainly the case at UGM. The teaching often lacked substance and during my time at UGM there was lots of class kosong (in part due to Ramadhan and the largest eruption of Merapi in 140years). The temptation to hang-out with your fellow Australians and INCULS classmates also meant that valuable time that I could have used to develop my language skills and cultural awareness was used instead with bule using English. Personally my semester at UGM was used more as a means to explore the archipelago and get acclimatized with Indonesia. This program was fantastic if you wanted ample free time to go exploring and visit places all over Indonesia. During my semester at UGM I was able to go to Sumatra twice, Bali twice, Jakarta, and to many places in Jogja region. As a student who had never really travelled in Indonesia before, the ability to squeeze in lots of travel around my university.
The ILTI program at USD in contrast involved a lot of work, with a constant flow of group assignments, no real designated holiday and all teaching in Indonesian. The ILTI program was a complete immersion program and a lot of pressure was put on us both by the lecturers and by ourselves to perform. In contrast to UGM there was only four bule on our entire program and due to personal choices in classes we could quite easily go almost a week without meeting. This to me was an important part of the ILTI experience; we were required to followed classes entirely in Indonesian, work with Indonesian students and submit almost weekly assignments and presentations for all our subjects.

For myself at the beginning of the semester I felt quite intimidated as a non-teacher going into a teaching course; the language didn’t bother me as much as not understanding the teaching concepts. However, the range of subjects on offer, even though quite restricted, meant you could style a program to suit your personal needs and requirements. As I wasn’t coming from a teaching background I decided to choose more diverse subjects rather than educational based ones. I feel that my language ability during my time at USD has improved exponentially. The tutors we were provided with were excellent, the educational and staff support some of the best I’ve come across both here and in Australia and the lecturers were clearly much more professional when compared to those I experienced at UGM.

What I found most remarkable about this program were the few foreigners that actually took mainstream courses at USD. Unlike at UGM where immersion programs seem to have become the norm, there were only four of us from Australia along with a couple of students from Vietnam, Japan and Chinese in immersion courses at USD. This meant we could go for a week at USD and only meet fellow Australian’s in FLOTE class depending on how we arranged our timetable. On all the other days I found myself hanging out with my classmates and thus speaking purely Indonesian. The compulsory school practicum also put our more formal language to the test as we interacted with teachers, staff and students at a local senior high-school. Although it had its fair share of hiccups it gave us a chance to put our teaching theory to the test as well as develop our Indonesian language skills. I chose to teach Indonesian language as my teaching focus but other students taught English and Sport. I felt that this practicum was an important part of my language development process and am incredibly grateful for the experience.

In summation both the UGM and USD programs give a unique perspective and insight into life in Indonesia and Jogjakarta. Personally, I felt the USD program was far better for language development and should be considered by anyone wanting to come and study in Indonesia (not only perspective teachers). But part of the Indonesian experience is also the opportunity to travel and UGM had ample time for this. My personal advice for perspective students would be choose the immersion program at UGM if you’re looking for a chilled academic experience and the chance to explore the archipelago, but if you want a more complete academic and immersion experience try the ILTI program at USD; you’ll be surprised how quickly your language can develop.