Image courtesy of Jennifer Fang
Universitas Indonesia. Image courtesy of Jennifer Fang

 

I recently traveled to Indonesia in November 2014, combining study and leisure in the space of a few weeks. The University of Melbourne offers a week-long intensive subject called ‘Social Policy and Development’, taught at Universitas Indonesia’s (UI) Depok campus, situated south of Jakarta. The subject runs every November and is open to Masters students at the University of Melbourne’s School of Government and Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Combining theoretical knowledge learnt in the classroom with first-hand experiences and observations of life in Jakarta, the program is ideal for anyone with a keen interest in Indonesia and its social welfare policies and practices.

This was my second visit to Jakarta and the first time that I had studied in Indonesia. Our cohort was made up of 16 students from various degrees, including the Master of International Relations; Master of Public Policy and Management; Master of Development Studies; and Master of Social Policy. When I first set foot on UI’s Depok campus, I felt so lucky – it was beautiful! From the outside, the campus grounds appear to be enshrouded in jungle foliage, however after venturing further in, everything opens up to wide, green spaces, iconic red-brick multi-tiered buildings, and a large, picturesque lake in the middle of the campus. So hidden from the outside world, I imagined that students must feel as though they are being protected from the flurry and chaos of the Jakarta daily grind. However, the trips to and from campus were not so idyllic; even in Depok, one cannot escape the ‘macet’ (traffic jam). Since we were staying at a hotel and not on campus, we were required to take a taxi to university each day, which cost about AU$5-10 for one full taxi, each individual trip.

For five days (Monday to Friday) we attended intensive classes co-taught by Professor John Murphy and Dr Bagus Aryo, with guest lecturers and occasional afternoon field visits to the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs and BPJS Ketenagakerjaan (Board of Social Protection for Labour). Among others, topics learnt and discussed in class included the history of social policy in a development context; measuring the outcomes of social protection policies especially in relation to poverty; the Indonesian welfare system; challenges associated with financing social welfare policies in Indonesia; the roles of Indonesian civil society, NGOs and the family unit in tackling social problems; the question of how to look after Indonesia’s ageing population in the absence of adequate pension schemes; and the role of foreign aid (from international organisations and foreign governments) in supporting Indonesia’s development outcomes.

I was interested to learn about Indonesia’s extensive informal labour sector, which makes up around 60 percent of the labour market. This labour sector is one of the biggest impediments to effective development outcomes in Indonesia due to the ‘cash economy’ it creates; the inability to tax informal workers; and the difficulties involved in physically locating these workers for social services. This was also a good example of theory aligning with reality – one only needed to step out onto the busy Jakarta streets to find unregistered hawkers selling cheap and delicious street food at every turn, to realise just how prevalent the informal labour economy was.

I also found the topic of ‘zakat’ (Islamic alms-giving – one of the Five Pillars of Islam) as a government social policy particularly fascinating, as it raises the question of whether it is right and proper for the Indonesian government to institutionalise what is normally an expression of religious piety.

The format of the subject was ideal as our classes were shared with local Indonesian students of social policy and lectures were always followed by whole group discussions, enabling us to gain rich insights into the impacts of various social welfare policies on Indonesian society. Having fellow Indonesian students in our class also meant that we could practise our Indonesian, make new friends, and understand Indonesia more from the perspective of its future leaders.

Our Indonesian classmates also kindly showed us the best places to eat on campus, leading us to discover an array of delicious restaurants and cafes to choose from. ‘Kopi es’ (iced coffee) became the drink of choice during break times. When the subject came to a close, most of us went our separate ways and either returned to work in Australia, or were lucky enough to travel around Indonesia for some time (but not for too long – our first assignment was due a few weeks after the program finished!). I was among the latter group as I had made plans to visit my Indonesian friends, and fortunately I had been able to catch up with some in Jakarta as well.

These were all friends I had made during the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) in 2012-13, a DFAT-sponsored program.  It has been more than two years since I participated in the two-month program, but in fact, as all AIYEPers learn, the program never really ends, nor does the ‘AIYEP rindu’ (missing AIYEP).

We are anak AIYEP (children of AIYEP) and our experiences unify us in our love for Indonesia, its people, its places and the opportunities afforded us by what we have learnt.

AIYEP is one of a kind in that it combines cultural immersion with intensive people-to-people exchange, community development projects, internships and official visits, culminating in profound connections to Indonesian people and locations that no other experience provides. In 2012-13, AIYEP took place in the Special Region of Yogyakarta and our village stay was in Sermo Village nestled within the regency of Kulon Progo.

At the conclusion of the Social Policy and Development intensive studies unit, I first visited an AIYEP friend in Belitung – an absolutely underrated jewel of an island – followed of course by Yogyakarta (my second home in Indonesia). I stayed with the same wonderful host family that I lived with during AIYEP; ate at my favourite restaurant; visited my former internship supervisor; shopped at Mirota Batik (the best smelling shop in the world); and caught up with all my AIYEP friends living in Yogya before flying back to Melbourne. At the start of my AIYEP exchange it was said to the cohort that our experiences would leave us coming back for more: happily, this has certainly proven to be true.

I would recommend the program to anyone with an interest in learning more about Indonesia – the true Indonesia that is seldom discussed in the Australian media. But a warning – the deep, resonating gongs of an Indonesian gamelan will seep into your skin and you will not be able to get these otherworldly sounds out of your head.

While the lives of all past AIYEP participants are moving in different directions now – some studying, some settling down and starting families and some continuing to build their careers – not much has changed when all is said and done. We are anak AIYEP (children of AIYEP) and our experiences unify us in our love for Indonesia, its people, its places and the opportunities afforded us by what we have learnt. Most importantly, many of the friendships that began then are still going strong and no amount of bilateral wrangling between our two countries is going to change this.

Photo courtesy of Afif Ismail
Photo courtesy of Afif Ismail

 

You can find out more about the AIYEP experience here and read about Heath Jamieson’s experience. You can also visit the AIYEP website here.

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Jennifer Fang

Jennifer has recently completed a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, and wrote her minor thesis on Chinese soft power towards the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. She is currently working as a research assistant at the University of Melbourne's Asia Institute, and is also managing an online mentoring program for WhyDev.org and Monash University. She is interested in the customs, cultures and foreign policies of China and Indonesia, and is a regular tutor for the subject 'Musics of the World' at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. She speaks Mandarin and Indonesian, and hopes to one day speak Minnan yu, her family's native language.

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