Making the most of the Darmasiswa Scholarship Program

Image courtesy of Jane Ahlstrand
Image courtesy of Jane Ahlstrand


In 2011 I joined the Darmasiswa Scholarship Program offered by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. After spending a number of years away from Indonesia, forgetting the language and losing part of myself, I decided it was time to reconnect with the country that had captivated my heart as a 17-year-old. From behind my desk in the boring public service, I had conjured myself an absurd dream of becoming an Australian Balinese dancer. While the application process, arrival, orientation and academic program were confusing and sometimes disappointing, these were somehow outweighed by the enormous potential for adventure made available thanks in large part to the semi-structured nature of the Darmasiswa program.

In all honesty, the two major draw cards of Darmasiswa are access to the KITAS (Kartu Izin Tinggal Terbatas) visa and the monthly stipend. The rest is what you make of it. Without a legitimate sponsor in Indonesia, it is very difficult to obtain a long-term KITAS visa. In my experience with Darmasiswa, I obtained a Sosial Budaya visa in Australia and a few weeks after arriving, converted it to Izin Tinggal Terbatas under the sponsorship of my university and the Ministry of Education which enabled me to stay for the length of my program. The process of obtaining a visa work or study visa in Indonesia is notoriously tricky and my experience was no exception, even though I was in attendance with my fellow Darmasiswa students and a representative of the university.  The process of dealing with the immigration office is ridiculously inefficient, requiring multiple lengthy visits. In any case, let’s just say it is even harder to go it alone.

Darmasiswa is available for 6 month or 12 month stints. I took the 6 month option which was basically like ‘testing the water’.  At the time of the 2011-2012 program, we were paid a monthly stipend of 2 million rupiah which was the equivalent of around $200. I used that money to pay for my kos and some of my day-to-day essentials.  The rest I paid for myself using my own savings. Participants enrol at a university, usually of their choice, although some are not so lucky. I chose the Insitut Seni Indonesia (ISI) in Denpasar, Bali, as part of realising my dream of learning to dance. Thankfully I was granted a place.

In my musings during the application process, I imagined joining lectures in lecture halls, completing assignments, engaging in theoretical and practical study of dance and most of all, interacting with Indonesian students. Little did I know that we would be lucky to participate in 2 classes a week. The classes were held specifically for foreign students in the darkened practice studios of ISI. In spite of regular unscheduled cancellations, I kept showing up at our scheduled class times, often having to search for my teacher at the front office or phone her to ask her to come and teach us. With so much free time, I quickly made the decision to take extra dance classes outside the campus and also made an effort to befriend Balinese people and speak Indonesian as much as I could. I also put my language skills to use by offering free Indonesian lessons to my fellow Darmasiswa students at my kos to help them get by at the market, on the streets and at the beach.

While the actual provisions of the program are best described as ‘bare bones’, with a determined and adventurous spirit, you can have a truly life-changing experience with the Darmasiswa Program. I think its lack of restrictions and guidelines inadvertently provide participants with limitless opportunities for discovery. You may be disappointed at first but if you exercise your creativity you’ll find that there’s a wealth of opportunity for you to engage with your surroundings. Along the way, you will challenge yourself and test the limits of your own mental, physical and emotional capacity. I think you will be surprised to know just how capable you are! Having a long-term visa and monthly stipend to do this is quite a sweet deal when you think about it. While the educational offerings at your university may range from perfunctory to regularly-timed classes including language classes, there are no standard guidelines and there is no guarantee that these so-called regular classes will continue beyond the first month. However, don’t be disheartened as there is so much to see and learn in Indonesia. And having the Darmasiswa program behind you is a great safety net for your adventures.

For me, I can honestly say that Darmasiswa Scholarship Program changed the trajectory of my life. In Indonesia, I pushed myself to learn many things. At the same time, I also discovered the joy of helping others. I realised that learning is not a one-way process between the teacher and student. I felt so touched by the honest and sincere way in which my teachers conveyed their knowledge of their art to me, to this day I feel a responsibility to reciprocate the work of my teachers. I came to understand how important it is to share knowledge freely with others as a way of enriching the world. Now I live in Australia again and am doing my PhD at the University of Queensland in Indonesian studies while sharing my love of Indonesia and passion for Balinese dance. I teach and perform regularly here. Inspired by my experience in Indonesia, I hope to share that positive energy with my students and the audience here in Australia.


Find out more about the Darmasiswa Scholarship Program, including links to the application form and list of participating universities.

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Jane Ahlstrand

Jane grew up in a rural town called Toogoolawah. Always fascinated with the image of Asia, she dreamed of an exotic world beyond paddocks and dusty roads of her hometown. Jane went to Bali with her family in 1998 on her first trip overseas and was immediately spell-bound. Upon her return, Jane borrowed the unused Indonesian text books from her school library and determinedly studied the language by herself for a year. In 2000 she entered Griffith University and formally enrolled in the Indonesian program. Afterwards, Jane explored other parts of Asia and eventually found a job in the public service. Her Indonesian fantasy gradually faded into the past; however, becoming fed up with the limitations of the public service, Jane drifted back towards Indonesia. In 2011, Jane enrolled in the Darmasiswa program and began to construct a second life as a student of Balinese dance. Jane managed to reconnect with Indonesia through dance and is now doing her PhD in Indonesian studies, focusing on the role of women in Indonesia’s democratisation.

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