By Martin Newkirk (Semester 20/Feb 2005)
I was deeply unsettled on my way to the airport. ‘Butterflies’ is not the right word, it’s far too cute, I was terrified. My friend was giving me a lift, I wouldn’t see her for 6 months but I could hardly speak as I was trying desperately not to be sick.
It’s amazing for me looking back on the days before my departure and my arrival in Jogjakarta. It was the beginning of the most memorable, enjoyable and rewarding six months of my life, but I certainly wasn’t aware of that then. I blame the fear I was experiencing before I left on the media attention Indonesia, and Muslim countries on the whole, where receiving after 9/11 and the Bali bombings. I knew deep down that I would be safe and learn lots, but when it came to actually departing Australia all the fears that the media conjured up came rushing at me. Realistically, I can’t solely blame the media for my ignorance. I knew nothing about the place I was about to fall in love with. I was expecting aggressive anti-western sentiments to be in my face 24 hours a day. I was pleasantly surprised when all I got in my face were cameras from people wanting photos with a bule (foreigner).
I was right that I would learn a lot, it was not the most studious of my semesters at university, but it was definitely the most beneficial. As for my safety, the only thing I had to fear was my motorbike driving, and perhaps the traffic.
I climbed two volcanoes, walked through some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, lived like a prince (on my meagre Centrelink payments), ate out for every meal, met fabulous people, learnt a language I couldn’t put a sentence together in before I left, ate fantastic food at amazingly scenic restaurants, had hundreds of memorable nights out, bathed in thermal springs, lounged on the beach, but above all made a lifelong connection to a country and a people I will always cherish.
One of my first experiences eating out was with a group of bules who couldn’t read an Indonesian menu. The others went for the safe choice of ayam (chicken), but I had had that for my previous two meals. My stab in the dark turned out to be a selection of chicken… intestines, heart, liver etc, on a skewer. I can honestly say it wasn’t too bad, I even ordered it again. But it’s not all about getting out of your comfort zone, there is amazing support if you’re feeling a bit homesick, but usually the best remedy was a drink and a sandwich in the old tourist traps, or a night or two in the Jogja Plaza Hotel.
Jogjakarta opened my eyes to a wonderful new world. I hope that future generations of Australians will have more first hand access to foreign cultures. It wasn’t for everyone, there were a few odd (being the operative word) ones that didn’t enjoy themselves, but for most of my fellow students in the semester it changed their lives. ACICIS has been through a lot of challenges that could have stopped the programme, but it has got through to now and I hope it continues for a long time to offer encouragement and support for those that are thinking about an Indonesian experience.