Homeward bound

8 January 2014

My recent trip to Indonesia forced me to contemplate a difficult question - did my trip mean that I was leaving home in Australia, or returning home to Indonesia?

This is a question that I still don't know the exact answer to, but what I do know is that when I stepped off the plane in Semarang, central Java, everything instantly felt familiar.

This was my second time completing an ANU 'in-country' language course at Satya Wacana Christian University (UKSW) in Salatiga, Central Java. The first time I studied  at UKSW - from January to February this year - I arrived  in Indonesia with no language skills whatsoever and no idea of what to expect. However, within six short weeks my host ibu (mum) felt like a real mother and Salatiga had become a second home.

I soon felt confident conversing in Indonesian while buying fruit at the market or directing a taxi driver. I'd begun to adopt Indonesian habits such as crossing a busy road by just walking in front of the cars and waving my hand at them, or arriving at my appointments half an hour late in accordance with the local concept of jam karet (rubber time).

Life in Salatiga felt new and exciting, yet somehow also so natural and familiar...until it was time to return to Australia.

At first it was very difficult adjusting to life back in Canberra. Everything seemed so expensive and ordered compared to Indonesia, and the classroom felt so dull after being able to practice by going on a shopping spree or planning weekend trips at the travel agent.

I eventually  managed  to re-familiarise myself with my Australian surroundings, but nevertheless  I decided (with three other participants from the January-February course) to return to Salatiga in June-July this year and continue my language studies.

I couldn't have made a better decision.

My latest trip was made possible by winning an Ethel Tory Language Scholarship, which gives ANU students the chance to take the languages they learn in the classroom and apply them in the country they're spoken in.

My arrival in Indonesia this time was very different to my first time around, because  I now had some understanding of the language, culture and people of Indonesia.

I stayed with the same homestay family that I lived with during my first trip, specially requested because of my host mother's amazing cooking ability (and kind heart). The food in Indonesia was definitely one of the highlights. As a vegetarian, during both trips I absolutely  fell in love with tempe, a soybean product similar to tofu, which unfortunately is not sold in Australia.

The language classes themselves  were great. The teachers at UKSW are so passionate about making learning  as interactive  as possible and consequently class excursions - which ranged from casual café visits to interviewing local fishermen about the effects of swamp water hyacinth on the environment - were definitely no rarity.

In addition to language study, we were required to research and write a field report about any topic relevant to Indonesia, and I ended up writing two. My first report was about a very light- hearted topic: why Indonesian cats don't have tails. But with my second report I chose  to focus on a topic I am quite passionate about - women's rights.

Through researching this topic - by interviewing police officers from the Women's and Children's Protection Department and reading Indonesian domestic violence legislation - it became apparent to me that there are still many loopholes which allow for the violation of women's rights and dignity in this area.

For example, there is a much lower penalty for 'domestic violence causing death' compared to any other charge of murder. I feel this area is one that still has much potential for further research, and I would value the opportunity to look deeper into women's rights and the law in the future.

So back to where I began:  my dilemma about whether Indonesia or Australia  is home. Though I have lived in Australia for most of my life, I experienced a feeling of fulfilment and purpose in Indonesia that I have not felt in Australia.  I can definitely see myself returning to Indonesia in the foreseeable future for the Year in Asia study program; but also later to build a career, possibly in the area of women's rights.

And while Australia may be home now, I am almost certain that Indonesia will be my home sometime in the future. Sampai ketemu lagi, Indonesia!

Emma Roberts is in her second year of a combined Bachelor of Asia Pacific Studies/ Bachelor of Laws program.

Interested in studying in the ANU College of Law or the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific?