Indonesia Expat
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A Semester in Yogyakarta: Education, Exploration, and Expectations

Universitas Gajah Mada

Yogyakarta or Jogja is the Indonesian city of education. The city is filled with students and all the cool cafes and hangout spots you’d expect, minus the bars brimming with beer every night. As well as attracting some of the best Indonesian minds to study here, there are lots of international students.

There are myriad overseas universities with links to the schools in Jogja and a range of courses on offer. As a wide-eyed student coming from Europe to the city to study, what is life like? My university days are far behind me now, so I sat down with a couple of groups of international students in Jogja to understand their impressions of the city, the education, and what they’re learning outside the classroom.

First, I had a conversation with three students from the Netherlands, Remke and Isa who are here for a semester in their teacher training studies, and Lotte, who is here for a semester of her International Business degree.

“I’m following Cross-Cultural Understanding at University Sanata Dharma (USD) and although I might not be learning that much, I do like the interaction with students from another cultural background!” explained Isa, who will be a qualified preschool teacher once her term studying and interning here is finished.

Universitas Sanata Dharma in Yogyakarta

I was intrigued as to how they came to choose Yogyakarta to do an exchange program. For Remke, it was a considered choice, “For an English major we were required to do a minor abroad. There was a list of countries to choose from. I chose to go to Indonesia because I loved travelling here four years ago. I especially enjoyed the nature and the people. I also chose Jogja because of the international school; it follows the IB curriculum which I am particularly interested in.”

Isa in Jogja

Isa’s temporary move here was a little more unplanned. “I didn’t particularly choose Jogja or USD, and I didn’t really consider anywhere else in Indonesia. I’m doing my minor here and I could only choose the country I wanted to go to. This automatically meant I was going to Jogja and USD because HAN University and USD are collaborating in regards to studying abroad and exchange students.”

“Some perspectives are quite nice to consider. For example, I’m learning Human Resources Management now from a less wealthy country. It’s fun to learn how Indonesians would manage a company. However, most of the time they consider only one perspective, whereas in my home university, we talk about all different options, strategies, and structures,” explained Lotte when I asked her about the value of studying her subject in a different culture.

Lotte in Jogja

As well as students completing part of their course in Jogja, there’s another type of study available here. I met up with Ania and Karla, from Poland and Czechia respectively, who are both students at Atma Jaya University on the Darmasiswa Scholarship program, studying Bahasa Indonesia as a break from their normal studies.

The culture shock wasn’t too big a deal for Karla, whose major is Indonesian studies at the faculty of arts at Charles University in Prague. “Before I came to Indonesia, I had already studied about Indonesia for a year, so I knew quite a lot about this country. I definitely expected that transportation would be crazy. The weather is really hot and humid, and the food is completely different,” she explained.

They both note that life in Jogja isn’t as busy as back home, with Ania explaining, “In Poland, I’m not only a student, but also a worker, I have many things to do. Here, I have plenty of time. Of course, student life is totally different: not so many parties nor is there much alcohol!” Whilst Karla notes, “I’m busier in my city than in Indonesia, so I don’t have so much time for student life.”

All of the women I spoke to were very positive about their time in Jogja; Ania and Karla have hitchhiked all over Java and Isa told me how she loves to jump on a motorbike and explore the countryside. In both chats their expectations before moving over here came up.

“I didn’t have too many expectations, because I like to have no expectations at all. I did prepare myself by knowing it would be a big culture shock though! But I arrived here open-minded hoping I would adapt to the Indonesian culture quickly,” was Isa’s response, whilst Ania had a similar attitude, “I didn’t have any expectations, honestly, I just came here!”

Remke said, “I expected the level of the university to be lower than in the Netherlands, which was the case.” This sentiment was echoed by Lotte, “Since I had never been outside of Europe, I didn’t really know what to expect. The only thing I really thought was that the university level would probably be much lower than my home university. This is definitely true… I also thought the country would be less wealthy than the Netherlands. This is true; however, they are wealthy in a completely different way. I really like how people are mainly outside and eat together at a warung all the time. They spend much more time with family and friends compared to the Netherlands.”

Remke in Jogja

Finally, I asked everyone for one piece of advice they’d give anyone planning to study in Yogyakarta.

From Ania: “Think about what you want to do in your free time; do something interesting and helpful. You can be a volunteer, learn some new skills, and you can travel a lot!”

Karla’s advice: “Enjoy the student life here and join interesting events that Jogja can offer you. Student life here is unique because there are many artists, international students, and local students from all parts of Indonesia.”

Lotte offers: “Don’t come here for the best universities in the world, but I think it’s worth experiencing different cultures and to understand them better! At UGM (Gadjah Mada University), you can choose your own subjects and timeslots, which results in a lot of free time to travel and explore Indonesia!”

And Isa’s thoughts are: “I would say come to Jogja! If you’re looking for a place to chill and also do a lot of fun stuff besides studying, this is the place!”

See: Jokowi Sees in New Year in Yogyakarta

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