AIYA Links: 20 January

In the news

At the AIYA Blog

Events & opportunities

The Exciting Advantages of the Darmasiswa Scholarship

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. For all the information on requirements and how to apply, head to our Jobs and Opportunities page.

Australian & Indonesian teens’ quest to build a library in Bali

Teenagers Samara Welbourne of Australia and Tyas Latra of Bali are on a mission: they’re aiming to raise AUD $20,000 by April this year to build a library in Tyas’ village of Bungaya in the eastern Balinese regency of Karangasem. Despite being one of the world’s top holiday destinations, some areas of Bali – particularly in the east – remain relatively impoverished, with some villages still lacking sanitation, electricity, and health and education services. “The young people of the Bungaya village need this library to improve their English and education so they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty,” Samara said.

For the last two years Samara lived in Bali while her mother worked at Puspadi Bali, on the Australian Volunteers International (AVI) program. Puspadi, which helps over 4,000 clients with physical disabilities, runs Bali’s wheelchair program and also makes prosthetic limbs, will be managing the library project. Through its annual Direct Aid Program (DAP), the Australian Consulate-General has supported Puspadi for many years, and also through DAP has contributed $5,000 to the girls’ admirable fundraising endeavours.

Samara has a long history with libraries. When she was just 12-years-old she had her book How to Make Fairy Houses published by Boolarong Press. She gave 10% of the royalties to a children’s hospital and conducted free fairy house making classes at Sunshine Coast Libraries. Her fairy house classes became a viable small business through which she supported local charities. In 2014 Samara was named Sunshine Coast Young Citizen of the Year for her efforts, and her desire to continue her humanitarian work naturally extended to Bali.

Tyas, Sam and Freya, a member of the Sunshine Coast fundraising team. Photo: Samara Welbourne

“If we want peace and sustainability for our future, then we need to do what we can to assist less-fortunate nations, especially Indonesia as it is our closest neighbour. I feel the Australian-Indonesian relationship could be improved more effectively through the efforts of the next generation – Australian and Indonesian – coming together to make a difference,” Samara enthused.

The library was designed by Journeyman International, a platform connecting volunteer architects, designers, engineers and project managers with humanitarian project needs around the world. The library centre includes a small kitchen and bathroom, and a bale (traditional open pavilion). Said Samara of Journeyman International, “They loved our project so much the lead architect flew to Bali to meet us on the library site in the last school holidays.”

Samara is confident she and Tyas, along with Samara’s friends in the Sunshine Coast fundraising team, will have raised $14,000 by the end of March, leaving a shortfall of $6,000. If they’re able to reach their target, Samara will return to Bali with a group of teenagers from the Sunshine Coast to build the library in April. “While living in Bali I was involved in quite a few fundraising projects, such as helping to get a 13-year-old boy whose father had been paralyzed back to school, and also to support some animal refuges. I learnt that the Balinese are a wonderful group of people – gentle, resilient and grateful for what they have in life, and also fun loving!

During her time in Bali the thing that made the biggest impact on Samara was the realisation that, “it is so easy to make a difference – even for a teenager – so this is one of the things that drives me to do more.” Sam wants to spend every school holidays in Bali working on charity projects, but for now her full focus is on the Bungaya library.

For more information and to donate, head to their Go Fund: Me Bali Library page.

AIYA Links: 13 January

In the news

At the AIYA Blog

Events & opportunities

Celebrating Christmas and New Year in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

Despite current tensions over religious tolerance and diversity in Indonesia, the lives of many people continue as normal in many parts of the country, unaffected by political machinations at a national level. This week we hear from Rivaldy Pandie, with translation assistance from Albert Christian Soewongsono, about the nature of Christmas and New Year celebrations in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

Christmas and New Year celebrations are two things that people look forward to most during the year because they give special enthusiasm and joy to those who celebrate them. The euphoria surrounding Christmas and New Year are realised in many ways, such as the different kinds of Christmas accessories that decorate the city, Christmas trees in every house, fireworks parties for New Year and a street parade that involves a huge number of people. Christmas and New Year are enthusiastic festivities because these two events are universal and only celebrated once a year.

In many places, either in crowded and busy cities or in quiet and peaceful towns, Christmas and New Year mean time with family. In a small town like Kupang at midnight on 24 or 31 December, when the church bells start ringing to signify the end of the year, family members gather together to pray. After that, either the father or mother will preach about the meaning of Jesus’ birth, and everyone will sing, do a yearly reflection, and set up a plan for the upcoming year. At the end, usually the youngest of the family will stand up and kiss the elder ones in respect, as well as say “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”.

The value of togetherness among Kupang residents is deeply felt prior to Christmas and New Year. Different from a normal visit or silahturami that is usually conducted just among family or close relatives, during Christmas and New year you can enter a random house (even if it belongs to someone you haven’t met before) just to wish your host a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, without the house owner questioning your religion, age or social status. They will offer a variety of cookies and drinks for all guests, and you can have as much as you want. You can also go and visit any other houses that you would like; sometimes, it can startle the house owner knowing that the guests are coming far afield. This simple tradition is a basis of belief that all people in this town are brothers and sisters, without forgetting the essence of Christmas itself which is to share love with others.

Besides its togetherness, Kupang has high tolerance among religious adherents, which is one of the most beautiful things to see during the Christmas and New Year period. While Christians worship in churches to commemorate the birth of the Messiah and the year changing, the youth of other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism will join forces to help secure the churches from threats. At the end of the service, they will stand near the church gate just to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year with a smile to those who have finished their vespers.

So, how about non-religious events like New Year being celebrated here in Kupang? Like other places, fireworks that decorate the night sky are a must-do activity. Almost every household has fireworks during this time and many often spend a lot of money just to have them. The funny thing is, this can lead to competition among neighbours to have the best fireworks. On the other hand, most young adults choose to spend money on drinks, singing or parties with loud music until dawn. Some of them might tour around town by bike at high speed. Although this may look fun, this action is actually extremely dangerous because roads are very crowded at this time of year.

Regardless of this, nothing is more interesting than seeing children celebrating Christmas in their own way. If in the Western hemisphere kids celebrate Christmas by making snowmen, then children in some parts of Indonesia, including Kupang, prefer music. Musical instruments made of bamboo poles or carbide stone are pretty traditional and popular. Of these two instruments, carbide stone is the easiest to be used and generates the most powerful and noisy sounds. If you choose to play these instruments, you run the risk of being yelled at by others demanding you to stop, and what you have to do is run far away and be proud that you have done a good job (!).

Images of Christmas and New Year in Kupang are probably not much different from other places, but everything about joy is celebrated in unique ways. In addition, Kupang is a tropical area so instead of snow, we have rain followed by the blooming of the flamboyant flower a month before Christmas. This makes the town become more beautiful and alive with rich red colours.

However, what is it that really makes Christmas and New Year the most anticipated events for so many people? Well, most people might have childhood memories that reappear during Christmas and New Year, like of decorating the Christmas tree, the food, and also singing and worshipping together, or just sharing one’s time with each other. At the end of the day, whatever the reasons for celebrating, one thing is for sure: Christmas and New Year always bring peace and warmth to you and your loved ones that will make you want to spend time with them eternally.

Darmasiswa Scholarship: Nicholas Combe in Yogyakarta

The Indonesian Government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship provides funding for foreign students to study Indonesian language, culture and the 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 Nicholas Combe, whose Darmasiswa experience has inspired him to return to Indonesia for further adventures.

Back in 2011 I was lucky enough to be a recipient of a Darmasiswa Scholarship to go to Yogyakarta to study Javanese gamelan. I had no idea at that point just how much it would affect my life. I write this as I am back in Yogyakarta, five years later, still in love with this city, with this country and with Javanese music.

Nicholas at a weekly gamelan rehearsal in his local village. Photo: Nicholas Combe

I didn’t really have any idea what would happen when I reached Indonesia. I had heard that someone would pick me up from the airport in Jakarta to take me to orientation. The entire application process was shrouded in vagueness. No one really told me what to do when I found out I got the scholarship. Months later, I got an email asking why I hadn’t officially accepted. In a world where most applications are submitted online, the process at the Indonesian Embassy, with multiple photocopies of documents and envelopes, seemed a thing of the past.

Learning to deal with bureaucratic processes can be a big hurdle when coming to this country. Everything operates in a different way to Australia. Things may seem inefficient and unnecessary when filling out forms. Visas, application forms, and even buying train tickets can leave you wondering if anyone actually knows what is going on. But if you arm yourself with patience and a sense of humour, you will soon realise that maybe no one does, but it doesn’t really matter. Somehow everything will work out in the end. It won’t be at all how you expected it to be, but something will happen.

The weekly gamelan rehearsals take place in Monggo, Gunung Kidul, south of the city. Photo: Nicholas Combe

After an orientation in Jakarta, all the students from the university I was to study at, the Indonesian Institute Of The Arts (ISI) were sent to Yogyakarta. The first week we spent trying to find houses and transport options before we studied. The international students going to my university came from all over the world. I was surprised by the lack of Australians. There was one fellow Australian studying art in her second year, but most Darmasiswa students at my university were from Europe (predominately Poland, Germany and Hungary), South Africa and other countries in Asia.

Whilst I had some prior knowledge of Indonesian from primary and high school in Australia, most of the European students had no prior knowledge. While it can be difficult to study without Indonesian, most of the students managed to pick up enough language to get by quite quickly.

A lot of the university placements offered for Darmasiswa throughout Indonesia are Indonesian language courses. The Institute Of The Arts, however, offers courses in all traditional arts (dance, music, shadow puppetry, handicraft, batik and ethnomusicology) as well as contemporary arts (theatre, film, photography, painting, sculpture and Western music). There are ISI universities scattered around Indonesia, and each one offers specialised local variants. If you want to study at an ISI it is best to work out which district of Indonesian arts you would like to study.

Each department at ISI differs in how Darmasiswa students study. In some areas like karawitan (Central Javanese music), there are specialised Darmasiswa classes run by a teacher who can speak English. Other departments such as batik, fine art and photography, Darmasiswa students are often left to their own devices, or they join the regular classes attended by local students. This can be frustrating for some students if they aren’t really sure what they are supposed to do. Others take it in their stride and use it as an opportunity to explore their own artistic endeavours.

Nicholas prepares for a wayang kulit performance. Photo: Nicholas Combe

Studying in Yogyakarta is an amazing diverse experience. University is a lot more relaxed than Australia. Classes are regularly late and sometimes cancelled and assessment is very vague. There are, however, bountiful extracurricular activities and performances and opportunities. You may find that some weeks you have lots of classes and extra classes and you spend all your time at uni. The next week, there may be not so many classes, but experiences outside of uni that fill up all your time and soul. Then of course there are just quiet weeks.

If you are willing to go with the flow it can be fruitful experience, where you can develop relationships, artistic ideas, and language comprehension, and have some very funny experiences. Some of my best friends now are from those years, and my language skills and sense of independence went through the roof while living and studying in Yogyakarta.

Registration for the 2017-2018 Darmasiswa Scholarship Program is open until 9 February. For more information click here.

AIYA Links: 6 January

In the news

At the AIYA Blog

Events & opportunities

High-quality and impressive: the inaugural Australia Indonesia Science Symposium

The inaugural Australia Indonesia Science Symposium (AISS) was held over four days in Canberra late last year at the Shine Dome, home of the Australian Academy of Science (AAS). The symposium was a collaboration between the AAS, the Indonesian Academy of Science (AIPI), the Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, and the Indonesian Young Academy of Sciences (ALMI). It was supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Knowledge Sector Initiative. Members of AIYA ACT attended this exciting new event.

The first and final days of the symposium were open to the public, while the remaining two were private events held specifically for Australian and Indonesian scientists to discuss and collaborate on joint projects and funding opportunities. They comprised three parallel but connected workshops centred around the three specific scientific areas important to both Indonesia and Australia: marine science and climate change, health, and agriculture.

AISS aims

There are already a number of joint science projects between Australia and Indonesia which the symposium aimed to build upon. For example, CSIRO and its Indonesian counterparts have collaborated on research on agriculture, fisheries and forestry for over 40 years. Further, there are currently over 250 partnerships between Indonesian and Australian universities, some of which have been running for over 20 years.

The symposium was developed to enhance scientific cooperation and exchange, and strengthen people-to-people links between the two countries. While research collaboration is one aspect of the relationship, ultimately the research needs to be translated into policy in both countries. One of the aims of AISS was to influence government policy and the public of both countries.

Another aim was to enhance scientific collaboration between the countries through people-to-people links. Dr Nikola Bowden, Chair of the Australian Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, noted she had learnt more about Indonesian culture and society in the past two days than she had ever before. Through these connections, one of the most unexpected things she discovered was that Australian medical research could benefit greatly from Indonesia. As research conducted in Australia is limited to its small population, conducting research in – and in collaboration with – Indonesia would be enhanced as a result of its significant population, while also benefitting communities on a much larger scale.

AISS outcomes  

On the final day, Diastika Rahwidiati, Chief Technical Adviser of Pulse Lab Jakarta, moderated a session on ‘Big data and disruptive technologies’. Through the lens of big data, outcomes of the previous two days were discussed. Most of the ideas involved adopting Australian ideas or technology to improve Indonesian systems.

  • Agriculture and Big Data

The sessions on agriculture looked at combining crowd-sourced ground data (such as data from Indonesian farmers) and data from satellites and drones to monitor disease and trade dynamics. Technology is already used for the monitoring and prediction of rice crop outcomes, so this could be extended to other Indonesian crops. One idea was to use automated image processing for image recognition and classification of hybrid varieties of rice.

Another proposed tool was to use community volunteers, with monetary incentives, to take pictures of commodity prices in local Indonesian markets. By using picture recognition technology, suppliers, farmers and consumers would be better informed about commodity prices which would encourage price stability.

  • Health and Big Data

Big data technologies can also be used for health. For example, social networking analysis of infectious diseases could be used to monitor Indonesian households with tuberculosis and who they’re in contact with.

Another proposal was to redesign the registration process to monitor infectious diseases. In Indonesia, the current registration process is unnecessarily complex and discourages people from completing the required forms. However, by embracing big data technologies, the Indonesian government could benefit from an increase in information which would translate into better policies.

Finally, technology could be used to track diseases with the use of mobility data. By notifying Indonesian provinces and other countries of relevant infectious disease risk factors, this would enable areas to better prepare for such outbreaks.

  • Marine Science, Climate Change and Big Data

Marine science and climate change research would also benefit from big data. For example, to record the health of marine ecosystems in Indonesia, a crowdsourcing idea was proposed where fishermen could take selfies with fish they’ve caught. This would record the species, size and quantity of the fish and measure the impact of fishing in that area. A Tasmanian scientist in the AISS audience noted that Redmap, or Range Extension Database and Mapping Project, is already being harnessed in Tasmania. It uses pictures from members of the public to log changes in marine habitat, which is especially useful for gauging the impacts of climate change. It is possible Indonesia could use similar strategies to monitor small-scale fishing.

Ecosystem tagging was also proposed. Instead of tagging a single species to monitor its geographical location, ecosystem tagging will measure all species within one specific marine area. This would be a more holistic and systematic approach to monitoring the effects of climate change on the entire marine environment.

One of the biggest problems voiced by the scientists at the symposium was the translation of evidence into policy. Rahwidiati noted that big data can be a useful tool in advocating for this translation as it can complement ‘ground truth data’ (for example socio-economic surveys), and is good for identifying the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of certain community issues. However, for the use of big data to be effective, it must be used in conjunction with a deeper analytical approach to perform the ‘why’ analysis.

What’s next?

Allaster Cox, the First Assistant Secretary of the South-East Asia Maritime Division, DFAT, commented that the AISS is a valuable mechanism to identify the priorities between the two countries, establish more connections between Australia and Indonesia and the implementation of these new ideas at the next stage.

Dr Leonardo Adypurnama Alias Teguh Sambodo, Director of Industry, Tourism and Creative Economy, in the Ministry of National Development and Planning, noted the significant amount of collaboration between Australia and Indonesia, without government intervention. Thus, while both governments should continue to pursue joint projects, non-government collaboration should also be allowed to flourish.

Panellists in the Conversation Wrap-up Session. From left, Dr Nikola Bowden, Professor Jamaluddin Jompa, Dr Leonardo Adypurnama Alias Teguh Sambado, Allaster Cox, Professor Andrew Holmes and Professor Sangot Marzuki with Prodita Sabarni as moderator. Photo: Sophie Hewitt

The AISS was a fantastic and high-quality symposium, and especially impressive considering it was the first of its kind. There is interest not just to continue these symposiums in the future, but to increase their size. Of course, the most important aspect of the conference is to be able to translate scientific evidence into bilateral policy. While both Indonesian and Australian institutions are aware of these challenges, the fact that the senior ministers of both countries, including Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia, were present at the event is a good indication both governments will be proactive in implementing and encouraging the AISS outcomes in the future.

For more information about AISS, head over to the website.

Darmasiswa Scholarship: Catherine Coyne in Bali and Bandung

The Indonesian Government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship provides funding for foreign students to study Indonesian language, culture and the 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 Catherine Coyne, whose Darmasiswa experience has continued to influence her life and love for Indonesia.

Catherine and her friend Wayan. Photo: Catherine Coyne

I had been to Indonesia once before starting Darmasiswa, for a backpacking trip in 2007. I had not yet realised it, but that first trip had already sealed the deal for my long-term love for Indonesia (we’re currently having a ten-year anniversary and I’m heading back there to celebrate). That’s probably the truest reason why I had chosen to apply for a Darmasiswa placement at Universitas Udayana in Denpasar, but at the time I thought it was the allure of Ubud’s beauty and the bright colours of the Sesajen and Kebaya – Bali was so luscious and alive compared to Melbourne’s grey and black symmetrical streets. That year, in 2010, the Darmasiswa intake was around 600 students from all over the world. I was so excited to find out that I was one of the three successful applicants in the Victoria/Tasmania area. I later found out that only three of us had applied!

My fellow students were from all corners of the globe – Estonia, Venezuela, Ukraine, Korea, Mexico, Greece, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Russia and Slovakia – and that was just in my class. I eventually met many more people from many more countries who were studying in different cities. It was incredible to share the experience with a group of people who had such an array of different perspectives and ties with Indonesia. I became acutely aware of my own nationality and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, and began researching our past and present ties. This inquiry became a passion and I am still to this day engaged in projects and volunteer work that aim to strengthen the relationship between our countries.

The Darmasiswa experience was not just about learning Indonesian, it was about living in country and learning about and connecting with the place where each student was located. The students in Jogja learned about the Sultan and how to cook using just the right amount of sugar for the central Javanese palate. In Bandung they learned Sundanese slang and in Bali we learned the importance of teeth filing and the effect of tourism.

Graduation Day at Universitas Udayana 2010. Photo: Catherine Coyne

This distinction became apparent to me when I went to Bandung on my second Darmasiswa scholarship in 2012. I started to appreciate Indonesia’s diversity more so than ever before and my interest and affection for the country deepened. The coursework at Universitas Pasundan was at beginners level so I often skipped class to go and hang out with people on the street and take an angkot into Dago or to a shopping mall – one of the country’s favorite pastimes. Aside from the set hours of study during the working week our time was completely free for us to do whatever we wanted. I think this is one of the reasons why students deepen their relationship with Indonesia – they have a great deal of opportunity to engage with the country however they like. It’s probably also the reason why many former Darmasiswa students remain such great friends. So many of us have stayed in touch over the years and I always catch up with Darmasiswa people when I’m back in Indonesia. It’s almost unbelievable how many of us continue to visit Indonesia, or have never left since 2010!

Being a Darmasiswa student is a huge privilege and that fact never escapes my attention. The experience is unforgettable and remarkable – it offers a unique way to engage with the country and for many of us, it was the start of a long-term love for Indonesia.

Registration for the 2017-2018 Darmasiswa Scholarship Program is open until 9 February. For all the information on requirements and how to apply, head to our Jobs and Opportunities page.

‘You will forever crave more’: NAILA Tertiary Awardee Shanti Omodei-James

The National Australia Indonesia Language Awards (NAILA), now in its second year, encourages youth at a variety of stages in life to hone their Indonesian language skills with a speech competition. This year’s Awards Ceremony was held in Melbourne on 14-15 October and was attended by a number of high-profile guests, including the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia His Excellency Mr Nadjib Riphat Kesoema. We invited Tertiary Awardee Shanti Omodei-James to describe just how she came to present her speech submission at the event.

My relationship with Indonesia is a long and complex one, albeit at times somewhat temperamental. Although there were many frequent trips to Indonesia as a young child, my relationship with the country realistically only began at the age of eight when my mother decided to spend a year in Yogyakarta and bring her two young daughters along. To be quite honest, I am not sure what she was thinking! It is safe to say I had my doubts. I had never been to Java before, could not speak the language and was terrified my friends in Adelaide would somehow forget me. Keep in mind I was eight and not simply being melodramatic.

Shanti presenting at the NAILA Awards Ceremony 2016. Photo: NAILA

It was some 15-odd years later when I nervously recited my speech at the 2016 NAILA awards ceremony. My journey to that point was similar to many others. On a whim I had decided to study Indonesian at university, deciding that learning the language properly was the least I could do for a country and a people who had treated me so well as a young girl. A year and a half after studying Indonesian through Flinders University, I attempted to put my language to the test and participate in an Australian Consortium for ‘In-country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) exchange program. I can safely say this was a shock to the system. I found out very quickly that learning Indonesian in the classroom was no match for people-to-people interaction. My awkward and excessively formal Indonesian got me by for the first two months before a friend asked me to her home town. Two weeks of no English and lots of hand signalling enhanced my Indonesian skills far more than six months in the classroom ever could have.

From that point onward I made a conscious effort to engage with Indonesian people wherever possible. Whether it be on an eight hour train ride across Java, in the middle of a bustling market, or even with my very chummy ojek driver. Upon returning to Adelaide I found it understandably more difficult to interact with Indonesians. I recall spending my time on campus attempting to eavesdrop on conversations in any attempt to hear some Indonesian, often transgressing the lines of normal social interaction. In the end I was fortunate enough to find AIYA. With persistent effort I managed to find myself surrounded by a lovely cohort of Indonesians and fellow Indonesian lovers.

Shanti receiving the Tertiary Award from Ms Julie Barber, Chief Marketing Officer at Allens. Photo: NAILA

Frequent trips to Indonesia had helped to keep my language skills up to par but I craved a new challenge. This was when a friend suggested I apply for NAILA. Winner or not, I thought to myself, what a great chance to refresh my skills and challenge those public speaking skills. Luckily I was able to write about something that I feel quite passionately about, religious pluralism. Having studied this topic extensively in university, I applied for the Tertiary Category and ran with it. When I got down to writing my speech I realised that five minutes would not be enough! I had so much I wanted to say but not enough time to do so. It is amazing how quickly time flies if you feel strongly enough about something. After the last minute scramble to get the video entry submitted in time, I was left waiting, twiddling my thumbs. Then the news came that I had been hoping for.

So there I was, reciting my speech in front a room full of Indonesian language experts, Indonesianists and the Indonesian Ambassador to Austalia. The experience was both daunting and rewarding. The NAILA awards weekend was beyond my highest expectations. I was blown away by all of the other winners, especially those from the primary and high school categories. I sat there smiling and giggling like a little girl as I realised there was a whole community of like-minded Indonesianists. A group of young Australians who, despite Indonesia’s sometimes challenging demeanour, retain a deep love for the country and its people. Of course meeting the fellow awardees and wonderful NAILA volunteers was another great highlight. Over the course of the weekend I came to the realisation that everyone’s journey to Indonesia is a unique one but like an elusive drug, once you get a taste of the crazy, perplexing and outstandingly beautiful country that is Indonesia, you will forever crave more.

I would like to briefly take the chance to thank the brilliant people behind NAILA, in particular Sally Hill. Without this passionate team of volunteers, my experience would not have been possible. The importance of such a competition is vital in the current bilateral climate, with any program supporting Indonesian language learning a big step in encouraging Indonesia-Australia engagement.

2016 NAILA awardees with HE Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, his wife Mrs Nino Nadjib Riphat and Consul-General Ibu Dewi Savitri Wahab. Photo: NAILA

For any future competition participants out there, I would highly encourage you to challenge yourself and enter NAILA. Find a topic you are passionate about and share it with the world. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to create your speech and even more time for the deceptively easy task of submitting the video entry. Keep practicing your Indonesian. For those currently in Indonesia, why not chat with a taxi driver or simply do your best to engage with people on a personal level. Your skills in Indonesia are highly valued, providing you with a diverse range of career opportunities. Most importantly however, your ability to communicate with a person from a different country in their own language allows you to see the world from a different perspective. Your cultural understating will grow, as will your worldview and of course your friendships. Selamat belajar!

Shanti has spent the past four years dividing her time between Indonesia and Australia. While completing her undergraduate degree in Development Studies from the University of Adelaide, she participated in both AIYEP and ACICIS exchanges. She has spent the last year conducting her Honours research with Flinders University on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue in Indonesia.