Updated: Apr 8
An international summer exchange took students to Indonesia - here's how they remember it...
Photo: Gera Kazakov
On December 29th, 2022, I left humble Perth and embarked on my journey to Jakarta as part of the ACICIS Journalism Professional Practicum (JPP).
Google says the distance between the cities is 3,010km - my journey took me nearly 7,000kms. Originally, I was flying direct from Perth to Jakarta, then Qantas re-routed my journey via Sydney. A five-hour direct flight had turned into a 12-hour transit.
But this taught me an important lesson: sometimes to go forward you have to go backwards…
This is a lesson that stuck with me throughout my time in Jakarta – whatever set back, no matter how minor, was merely a step in the right path. And by all accounts I had already won – I had left Perth after all. Being a part of the JPP was just the icing on top.
On December 29th, 2022, I left humble Perth as part of the ACICIS Journalism Professional Practicum (Photo: Gera Kazakov)
We weren’t there as tourists. No, we were students first and foremost, then interns second. Young professionals, with an Asian megacity at our fingertips. A true 24hr city, you always had access to all your vices via the local rideshare app, GoJek. We were there to study, then work, but talking to those who were on the program as well, it seems like very few of us did either of the two.
Our time at our host university, Atma Jaya, flew by. Most of us underestimated just how intense an intensive Indonesian language program could be. But Jakarta is not a tourist hotspot, so we were quicky thrown into the deep end and forced to learn Bahasa Indonesian whether we wanted to or not. How else could we order food from the vendors, or get our fruit juice before class? The streets taught us just as much as our language teachers did.
Those same streets quickly taught us on the program the word “Bule,” or foreigner in Bahasa Indonesian. Walking through the streets of Jakarta, especially as a white, Caucasian male, you stick out like a sore thumb. You rarely see another foreigner around. During a trip to the laundromat, it was never uncommon to hear the word “bule” shouted at you from across the street.
But it never felt rude. Having a group of kids run up to you, excited to see a tourist is an experience that’s hard to get now. Mass tourism is in most parts of the world, and South-East Asia is an especially popular destination. Bali is a good example of this.
Having only Bali as my perception of Indonesia showed just how wrong I was about the country. When in Bali it’s very easy to forget that Indonesia is a majority Muslim country. It very easy to forget that it’s the fourth most populated country in the world. It’s very easy to forget the diversity which can be found within Indonesia. The sun, the sand and the carefree Bali lifestyle means you don’t have to think about things like that.
But in Jakarta those factors confront you very quickly. It opens your eyes to the amazing people that inhabit our closest neighbour. And by participating in the JPP, I was given the opportunity to meet some of them.
Being called a 'bule' never felt rude in Jakarta (Photo: Gera Kazakov)
The JPP itself was run exceptionally well. The Indonesian journalists and editors who graciously took their time to come and talk to us were incredible. Some of the biggest names in Indonesian media sat right across from me – a humble Perthian – and instilled their years of knowledge and experience into me. A priceless experience.
The journalism seminars helped us better understand the Indonesian media environment, and ultimately set us up for success in our internships. I was placed at Voice of Indonesia, the English language radio station run by the government.
I was placed at Voice of Indonesia, a governmet-owned radio station (Photo: Gera Kazakov)
I had been volunteering at various radio stations back in Perth throughout 2022, so initially I thought this was another step backward. Yet when I started the internship I quickly learned this was not a typical radio station, and I quickly had to adapt to their hybrid broadcasting style. Never in a hundred years would I have imagined that a radio station would have me utilising so many mojo skills, but then again that’s the beauty of Jakarta. Every day was a surprise.
Whether you’re in the cheapest bar in the backpacker district which is 20 years past its heyday, or on the back of scooter zipping through the mangrove forest in the north of the city, everywhere you went you met someone new, tried something new, or saw something so out there you could sit back and watch in confusion.
A good example of this happened during the Chinese New Year celebrations in Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown. Some other students and I were perched on the second storey inside the markets, looking down into a courtyard hoping to catch some traditional celebrations. The second story was packed full of people all with the same idea as us, and behind us were various food stall and vendors all selling different food. Sweat and the smell of dumplings surrounded us, until the drums started.
A group of performers were banging these huge drums, all choregraphed. It felt (to my uneducated perspective) very traditional, very Chinese New Year. The drums built in tempo, and another group of performers started doing a choregraphed dance in front of them. Everyone around is filming this. Then suddenly the drums stop. The performers arrange on the stage, all has gone quiet. A trap breakdown of traditional Chinese music starts playing, and the performers start krumping with the song.
Then a local politician walks out, and a political rally starts. It was not a traditional Chinese New Year celebration after all, and as my first time at a Chinese New Year celebration, it was one I’ll never forget.
Looking down into a Chinatown courtyard, I saw a political rally (Photo: Gera Kazakov)
Again, one step backward, only to move forwards onto something much bigger and greater. Watching an Indonesian political rally from the second story of a market, cold beer in hand, with a lucky strike in the other, is a memory I’ll forever cherish.
I have hundreds of other memories from my time in Jakarta, a time that ended just as quick as it started, but they are best shared in person with the friends I made on the program. These friends are all over Australia (and New Zealand), again another step backwards, but I know they will be there when I take my next step forwards, wherever that will be.
The ACICIS Professional Practicum runs for six weeks in Indonesia, including a two-week intensive Indonesian language study and industry-led seminars at Atma Jaya University, Jakarta, followed by a four-week supervised industry placement. The program runs from early January to mid-February each year.
Applications for the same six-week summer exchange I went on are open through to June 5, 2023 here.