The exciting cultural experiences of the Darmasiswa Scholarship

Posted on 19 January, 2017

The Indonesian Government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship provides funding for foreign students to study Indonesian language, culture and arts at one of a selection of institutions across the archipelago. With applications for the 2017-2018 program now open, we asked a few past recipients to share their story – including Peter Rothwell, who has shared his personal thoughts on the application process and scholarship experience.

The Darmasiswa scholarship is not very well known in Australia, even among those taking Indonesian or South East Asian studies. It is an Indonesian government program offered to foreign students to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia. Last year’s intake had a quota for ten Australians, but… there were only three applicants. I was one of them. In this article I highlight the unique aspects of the Darmasiswa experience and give a brief outline of the application process.

Peter met Consul Novan Ivanhoe Saleh at the Consulate-General in Sydney before departing for Indonesia. Photo: Peter Rothwell

The Darmasiswa program really promotes Indonesian culture. Even for those who chose to focus on language, there are many opportunities to participate in additional classes in batik and dance, for example. Host universities often arrange workshops and trips to neighbouring areas. Some of the students here in Yogyakarta had the good fortune of being invited to form an international gamelan ensemble. Studying under the supervision of an accomplished teacher, we got to perform at the ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of Darmasiswa is that it is a truly global program. The current cohort of around 500 students come from more than 70 different countries. It has been really enriching to meet some of these students, to spend time together, and to share and learn with each other. Before coming to Indonesia, I had never met a single person from Madagascar; now I know ten. There was even a student from North Korea, yet they either didn’t make it to the orientation or wanted to keep a low profile.

In terms of monetary value, the New Colombo Plan grants offered to ACICIS students far outrank the Darmasiswa stipend. Whilst very generous by Indonesian standards, it can be a challenge to live off. However, this in itself can promote a greater immersion as it forces you to abandon many of the luxuries which we are used to in Australia (e.g. hot water, material possessions and fancy cafes). In Yogyakarta, I have been living in a share house with some young Indonesians. I sometimes join in the afternoon neighbourhood volleyball games and I often have dinner at one of the nearby roadside warung or burjo.

A neighbourhood volleyball game in Yogyakarta. Photo: Peter Rothwell

The application process for Darmasiswa is fairly straight forward. It is all done through the Indonesian embassy or consulates in your home state. The Sydney consulate was very receptive and helpful throughout. The biggest hurdle is that there is not a great deal of information about the program. The Darmasiswa website is somewhat light and cryptic (although it does seem to have been recently revamped with a nice layout) and it can be difficult to find out things from the Jakarta office. Fortunately, a number of alumni have written about their experiences online.

The Darmasiswa experience varies considerably depending on city, host university and chosen program. It can be hard to make these choices without any reference, so I would recommend doing a bit of googling first. There is also a Facebook group for current students which is open for anyone to join. If you have any queries, just post them in the group and I’m sure someone will be more than happy to share their insight.

Registration for the 2017-2018 Darmasiswa Scholarship Program is open until 9 February.