ACICIS opened doors before I even knew it existed

Posted on 3 September, 2015

This year ACICIS celebrates its 20th year of serving students for in-country Indonesian studies. Its success is bountiful. It has become a premier example of how to run an exceptional exchange program overseas that makes a difference. Alumni of the program have become exceptional leaders in the relationship and their respective career choices.

Clancy O’Donnell, Jonny Mackay, Iona Main and myself in front of the UGM sign in 2013 during our ACICIS exchange. Photo: Kirrilly McKenzie
Clancy O’Donnell, Jonny Mackay, Iona Main and myself in front of the UGM sign in 2013 during our ACICIS exchange. Photo: Kirrilly McKenzie

ACICIS for me opened doors before I even knew it existed. I started studying Indonesian in year 7, not really even knowing where Indonesia was located. My family tried to deter me from choosing Indonesian given the recent history at the time, but my curiosity won the better of me. A very average student in year 8, my teacher gave me a kind of ‘semangat’ award recognising something in me that I did not yet. My teacher was experienced and cool, she had an eyebrow piercing and brought us durian much to the distaste of the rest of the school. My teacher studied with ACICIS.

I decided to opt in for year 9 and 10 Indonesian after being encouraged by my teacher’s confidence in me. My new teacher, Kirsten Stobbe, was so inspired and put me on a path I could not turn back from. She told of these wonderful stories of sitting on trains with chickens and riding buses full to the brim. She ignited a burning desire within me to experience this country she spoke so passionately about. She also studied with ACICIS.

I found an enjoyment in Indonesia outside of language in year 11 and 12, consistently, where possible, choosing to write my history and politics essays on Indonesia. I also learnt how to make a killer kue lapis for our annual multicultural day. At my year 12 graduation the guest speaker was Nicholas Parsons, an ex-student whose stories of his exchange in Indonesia delighted my ears and inspired 400 other students. His academic achievements in language and Indonesian law demonstrated the clear benefits of studying Indonesia. I knew I had made the right choice to study Indonesian at ANU. He completed his exchange with ACICIS.

Still not knowing what ACICIS is, I knew that I had to get to Indonesia. I started Indonesian at university and finally felt like I was getting somewhere with the language. I signed up for a summer course, which my parents thought I was mad for doing, having never been overseas before, let alone Asia.

I got home reaffirmed that Indonesia was for me. The food was better than it looked, the clothes more enchanting after learning the complex process by which it is made, and the people more friendly than the stories I heard.

I applied for the ANU’s Year in Asia.

I attended my first AIYA (established by some ACICIS alumni) event. It was a careers night. One of the speakers was Elena Williams who was studying at the ANU. And I finally heard those odd letters sounded together. I remember going up to her after the event and asking ‘what is acheechis?’ Ele later became my Resident Director during my second semester of ACICIS.

Not long afterwards I filled in my paperwork for my Year in Asia study with ACICIS. I called the office many times to check everything over, worried that I would not get it in on time and would not be allowed on the program.

I left for Yogyakarta to start my year-long exchange with ACICIS.

Iona Main, Sophie Wadden, myself and Jennie Bishop at Imogiri during our exchange. Photo: Kirrilly McKenzie
Iona Main, Sophie Wadden, myself and Jennie Bishop at Imogiri during our exchange. Photo: Kirrilly McKenzie

My ACICIS classes set the framework for my exchange. But, it was outside of the classroom where my passion for Indonesia exploded. The other participants and my peers created a discussion about Indonesia and the relationship that was not ordinarily available in Australia. The connections, networks and opportunities that ACICIS was able to pass on gave opportunities that could never have been available in Australia or for an exchange student in any other country.

Upon return from ACICIS I engaged in the relationship with passion and understanding.

ACICIS was there for my entire pathway into the relationship. ACICIS gave me passionate and experienced teachers and mentors that would not typically be available. It has established a large community of like-minded Australians and Indonesians. Creating opportunities not only for Australian students, but also for the Indonesian staff and student volunteers, who often go on to study or work in Australia.

ACICIS is the game changer that I think founder Professor David Hill set out for it to be. Without ACICIS it would be much harder for initiatives like AIYA, CAUSINDY, NAILA and many, many more to exist. It has created more avenues than just study to engage in the relationship. As ACICIS continues to expand its programs we will see more leaders in the relationship, whether it be in the classroom, in government, academia, in non-government or in business.

Congratulations ACICIS, happy 20th anniversary and here’s to many many more!