The Indonesian Government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship provides funding for foreign students to study Indonesian language, culture and/or arts at one of a selection of institutions across the archipelago. Back in 2016-2017, AIYA NSW Communications Officer Peter Rothwell took part in the program, studying in Yogyakarta. With applications for the 2020-2021 program now open, Peter shares a reflection of his experience that he penned at the time.
Approaching the halfway mark of my stay, I now feel at home in Yogyakarta. In the midst of the daily hustle and the busy peak hour crowds, the metropolis is seemingly like any other. Yet under this facade, it is clear that the city holds something extra.
Yogyakarta is a hub of Javanese culture. On any given day, one might hear the mesmerizing sounds of the Gamelan, experience marathon shadow puppet shows, and stumble upon the somewhat disturbing ceremonial dance that is Kuda Lumping. Stopping at a roadside warung or burjo, you will see young and old coming together to eat, drink tea and chat together. The culture is alive; it is markedly unique; it is a source of pride for the Javanese people who are more than happy to share it with outsiders. And Java is just one island of Indonesia. As I learn more about other regions, I begin to comprehend how culturally rich the Indonesian archipelago is.
As part of the Darmasiswa program, I have been attending the prestigious Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). The university campus is impressive, especially driving through the entrance on a clear morning when Mount Merapi frames the main building. Language classes have been both fun and challenging, and at times, frustrating and tedious. Nonetheless, my interest in the language continually grows, as does my desire to understand and speak with those around me. I have particularly enjoyed learning of the history of Bahasa Indonesia, from its Melayu origins to its role in uniting the diverse ethnic groups throughout the archipelago and forming a national identity. Aside from studies at UGM, some of the Darmasiswa students were invited to form an international Gamelan group. We rehearsed twice a week for a couple of months under the supervision of an accomplished local teacher and then went on to perform at the ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.
Darmasiswa has exposed me to students from around the world. This has been invaluable. More than anything, just hanging out together is great fun. But the chance to share and learn from each other is also pretty special: to hear first-hand of the crisis in Syria from a student from Damascus, to talk about internet censorship with friends from Vietnam, to learn more about Madagascar than that which is portrayed in a DreamWorks film, and to see the despair of an American national at the result of their November election.
It is an interesting time to be in Indonesia at the moment too. The allegedly blasphemous comments of Governor Ahok have sparked mass protests in Jakarta. It is now abundantly clear that Indonesia is at a critical crossroad. It is no longer about the fate of one man, but rather about the future of Indonesia as a whole; of whether the country will continue down the road of liberal Reformasi or embrace a more fundamental and pervasive political Islam. The outcome will no doubt have a profound impact on Australia, if not the rest of the world.
Whilst my time here has not been without challenges, all in all, I find myself excited to begin the new year in Yogyakarta. On the weekends I have been exploring some of the attractions throughout the region. There are some amazing places in the surrounds of Yogyakarta. From tranquil mountain villages to beautiful secluded beaches and the stunning cemetery at Imogiri, escaping the city is always a relief. I am planning a surf trip to Sumatra and I am also hoping to travel to some of the other regions of Indonesia if I get the chance.
Darmasiswa has been a great experience – a sociological awakening. I am very grateful to the Indonesian Government for allowing me this opportunity.
Registration for the 2020-2021 Darmasiswa Scholarship Program is open until 2nd March. For more information, visit the Darmasiswa website, or contact your local Indonesian embassy/consulate.