Development Studies Immersion Programme – Amali Dias
The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) has recently partnered with SOAS’ Development department to enable single honours Development Studies students the opportunity to take part in the Development Studies Immersion Programme (DSIP) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia with Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM).
Last year, for the first term of our academic year (and slightly more), I took this opportunity. I spent the first half of my final year at SOAS studying at UGM and interning in Yogyakarta through ACICIS, gaining in-country experience of development, which I now believe to be vital for development students, especially for those who want to work in the field after graduation, and even more so for those who have ambitions to work overseas, particularly in the Global South, in development. The DSIP programme comprises 2 components: half of the semester (8 weeks) is dedicated to learning Indonesian, followed by a one-week break which most students took advantage of to travel to other parts of Indonesia, or to other Southeast Asian countries. The final 8 weeks are spent interning.
The semester came with many ups and downs, but after reflecting on my return to the UK, I’m glad I did this, as the experience has been invaluable for my own personal development and for helping guide me on future paths I’d like to explore post-graduation (which is approaching scarily fast!!!).
To help you make your mind up, here’s some key things I think everyone considering the module should know before making their decision:
- The majority of universities that ACICIS partners are Australian universities – of our cohort of 37 students, 31 were Australian students from Australian universities. Not all students on the ACICIS cohort are DSIP students, 17 of us were on the development programme, and the rest were on a range of language, business, law or international relations courses. DSIP students typically spend much of their time together in the first half of the semester so these are likely to become your closest peers.
- ACICIS provide good support, but Indonesian organisations look and operate differently to ones that we’re used to, you should remember this when you go. Things are a lot more laid back in Indonesia and sometimes it seems like people might not know what they’re doing or things are falling apart a bit, but this isn’t the case. Just trust the process and everything ends up fine – it’s ACICIS’s job to make sure you’re okay and that everything with your course goes fine, and they will do this.
- Indonesians are some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. They are extremely hospitable and welcoming and excited to share their culture and get to know foreigners (especially in Yogyakarta). They tend to go above and beyond for people, you will find that they even do this for strangers. ACICIS and UGM provide you with Indonesian buddies to help you find a place to live and settle in (they are all fluent in English), and they often remain good friends for the rest of your time there (and beyond), even those who are not your personal buddy. You will have no shortage of friends and company in your time there. Be aware of your extremely privileged place as a westerner, as this is definitely part of why we received such good treatment.
- Despite the friendliness, Indonesia is incredibly racist and colourist. This was very relevant to me and the other SOAS student as we are both non-white women. People were still very kind and friendly to us, but we were treated noticeably differently to the white students by whom we were surrounded for the duration of the trip. We were often ignored and not welcomed in the same way. People would assume we were from India (many Indonesians genuinely think that everyone in the Europe and Australia are white, so don’t understand you can be from Europe or Australia and not be white) and sometimes treated us a little rudely. On discovering that we were from the UK, they would apologise, or change their behaviour. Indonesians (particularly women, sadly) idolise white skin and often bleach their own. Be careful of moisturiser, SPF and lip balm there as most is skin lightening. I would also have people take pictures with me, only to lighten my skin in them afterwards. It is a complex issue, as the west, and especially the UK, are responsible historically and continue to perpetuate the idea of being white equating to being of more value as a person. We were of course also aware of our place there as westerners who still received better treatment than Indonesians, but it did change the trip for us. Many Indonesians truly believe that white people are better than them, and of more value, it’s really sad and complex, but be mindful that this will also be applied to you if you aren’t white. And if you are white, think about how you use such a privilege responsibly.
- The language progamme at UGM, INCULS, was disappointing. Most people took to paying for private classes to learn the language. The teachers don’t really speak English, which might be okay for intermediate and advanced learners but for beginners it doesn’t really work, as they just went straight in speaking in Indonesian and didn’t understand our questions, nor could they translate for us, so communication was very difficult. Organisation of the course is poor, and the tests were not near the standard we are used to (though it does mean that everyone tends to do very well!). Wisma Bahasa charges around £15 per class (1h 45mins) and as you get a student discount on top of that, I’d recommend going to them to really get to grips with Bahasa. It isn’t imperative as you can pass the classes without additional lessons, and even Duolingo can go a long way helping your language skills, but if you want to really be able to learn properly and talk with Indonesian’s I’d recommend Wisma. The teachers are excellent and they are flexible around your schedule.
- Professional workplaces look very different in Indonesia, and I think they´re great. They are friendly and caring – if anyone is off sick, they are simply concerned and there is no irritation towards people for being off or missing work. They have lunch together every day, the whole office, and it makes the work environment so inclusive and friendly and easy to fit in to, especially as foreigners who aren’t fluent in the language. They also chat a lot with each other, and it’s absolutely fine, no one is worried about their boss seeing them chat or waste time. Everyone knows that everyone works hard and will finish what they need to when they need to. The internship component was extremely enriching for most students and again, I’d highly recommend the module for everyone who wants to work in overseas development, even just for this component.
- Expect to get sick at some point. It’s never really serious and is usually just your stomach adjusting to different foods. It’s a bonus if you don’t, but pretty much everyone did. Expect different standards than we’re used to here in London for lots of things, accommodation, food, roads – it’s all part of the experience and a lot of fun.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend that development students who have the option take up this opportunity. It is invaluable as a development student to apply what we learn in our degree to real life, and to understand the in-country context of development instead of just reading and writing about it. The negatives are commonplace everywhere in the world, and I spent 6 months pushing myself out of my comfort zone, travelling an incredibly beautiful country and part of the world, trying new foods and meeting people from all over the world, some of whom will be my friends for life, and some will be useful contacts for the future. London is still home to me, but a little less so now, as this trip has absolutely confirmed my ambition to work overseas in development.