Many people asked me, why do I choose Australia to study in the first place? The truth is, I didn’t. I knew that I would study abroad once I finished high school, but my mind was focused more on Singapore or Malaysia; because the costs are affordable for my parents. I had never thought that I would step into this country! I did dream about coming to the States, Australia, or Europe whenever I saw the EF exchange brochures, but I never thought that it would happen to me one day. It was my mom who persuaded me to come here. Actually, persuade is not the right word. She insisted that I choose Australia to pursue my undergraduate degree! It’s not like I didn’t want to come here, but I was a bit unsure at first, knowing how high the tuition fee can be. After about a year since my arrival in this country, my parents confessed that they had doubt too! They knew that they could manage to fund my education for one year, but not the entire 4 years. My dad doesn’t work in the office where the fixed amount of salary is received every month. He has a tourism business whose profit can either go down or up. So he was quite anxious about whether or not he’s able to fund my education here continuously. He always said to me that when I went to Australia for the first time, “Duitnya belum keliatan.” 😀
As I wrote earlier, my parents were not in Jakarta during the university and visa application process, nor they were present when I left Jakarta for Brisbane (well, my dad did come to sign the visa documents, but then he went back to Jeddah a few days later). So I had to do every single thing by myself and decide on which university I want to study at and which city I want to live in. My parents were sooo flexible and would say YES to everything :P. When choosing which city I want to live in, Brisbane seems to be the right choice for me. The city is not too big and crowded; therefore I assumed that there’d be fewer amusements — these things may deter my study motivation btw. The cost of living is generally cheaper compared to Melbourne and Sydney. The weather seems to be good and stable, in comparison to the Melbourne’s weird weather — many people said Melbourne has 4 seasons in a day! And there are not many Indonesians living here compared to the other 3 big cities: Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. I promised myself that my goal coming to Australia is to study and improve my English; therefore living and socialising with other fellow Indonesians was definitely not my priority. My English skill prior to coming to this country was bad. When I say it’s bad, it’s really bad! I had to take the TOEFL test TWICE in order to be accepted in a preparation college. What’s the minimum score? 525 (or 5.5 for IELTS). Yeah, that’s how BAD my English was :D. So I wanted to make sure that once I set my foot in Australia, I’d speak English 24 hours a day, 7 days a week :).
During my first year in Brisbane, I stayed at the Student Lodge located 2 minutes from my college. The Lodge was similar to a dorm, except that we got our own small room with a bed, a wardrobe, a study table, and a sink inside. The toilets and bathrooms were shared among the residents living on the same floor. There was no kitchen; so they provided us with the meals every day. I have to say that I made the right decision to live in a dorm. Although many people complained about how dodgy the place and foods were (sometimes I too complained), for me they were all nothing compared to the memories, experience, and knowledge that I had gone through at the Lodge… meeting so many amazing people from different nationalities and backgrounds! I mean, who would have thought that I’d befriended with people from Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, or Israel??? It was just great! I always love diversities :). Besides having to meet many people, I got a chance to improve my English too. My dream of having to speak English 24 hours a day came to reality. For the first few months, I got a chance to interact with Australians and Americans. We spent time together and hang out a lot, as we lived on the same floor. It was a big challenge for me to be with them, due to my limited English skill. They spoke sooo fast and some of them have an accent that I wasn’t familiar with (i.e. Australian). Sometimes I would laugh without knowing what they meant :P, ask stupid questions, or just entirely shut my mouth coz I couldn’t figure out what they’re talking about. But thank God, they were nice and patient enough to answer my questions and communicate with me.
At the same time, I attended the preparation college known as Foundation Year at IES. It’s compulsory for international students who just graduated from high school to attend the college before entering Australian universities, even if you’re from Singapore and Malaysia. If I’d like to enrol at UQ straight away, I have to do my first year of an undergraduate degree at the university back at home. So, no matter what, I had to sacrifice one year for this :). But I didn’t regret spending my one year at IES at all!! I love its multicultural environment… the students came from different parts of the world. The teachers and staffs were so friendly and helpful! I still remember the then student counsellor, Liz. The college held a Dance Party every year, and she asked me whether or not I’d come. The party was held in the City and it was organised that students would go to the nightclub after the party ended. All of my friends would go the club afterwards and I was the only one who didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to go home alone since there’s no bus operating at night. But Liz insisted me to come and told me that she would arrange someone drop me home after the party. And she did!!! She asked the Chemistry teacher, Theo, to drive me home. Although I took Chemistry subject at IES, Theo didn’t teach my class. So it’s a bit surprising for me to find out that he’d voluntarily do that! Thanks to Liz and Theo ;).
Yes, my English improved rapidly for the first few months here, thanks to my friends and IES teachers. After 8 months living in Brisbane, I took another English test; at this time I took IELTS test — instead of TOEFL. I needed to get a minimum score of 6.5 (or 550 for TOEFL) in order to enrol at UQ. I was so surprised that I managed to get 7!!! Wow… it’s just amazing… in less than 8 months!!! I think it was one of the biggest achievements I had. And for me, it was because I barely interacted with Indonesians; therefore I used English more often than my mother tongue when speaking with my friends. I did have some Indonesian friends. In the Lodge, there was only one Indonesian student. Although we did speak Indonesian sometimes, we tried not to do so in front of our friends. The same thing applied at IES. There were hundreds of international students studying in this college, and among them, less than 10 students came from Indonesia. None of them were my classmates and I wasn’t very close to them.
It’s not until my second year at UQ — which was just last year! — that I began to socialise with Indonesians (ah… too late, actually). There is an Indonesian student organisation at uni, but at first, I was not too enthusiastic to join in. In my first year at UQ, I barely saw Indonesians taking the same IT courses with me. I wasn’t really “searching” for Indonesian friends either since I already felt comfortable being with my non-Indo friends. Then at the beginning of my second year, I started to know some Indonesians. The University of Indonesia has an international program which enables the students to study the last 2 years of their degrees in Australia. UQ is one of the universities to have an agreement with UI. All of UI’s IT and psychology students who undertake the international program are transferred to UQ. Although I know some of them, I’m not very close to them. They are sort of hi-bye friends. I think there’s nothing wrong with us. We just don’t want to get out of our comfort zones. They — the Indonesians — are always in a group, and I — though quite flexible — also have my usual or preferred friends. Most of them know each other quite well before coming to Brisbane and live in the same building or on the same street; whereas I live with non-Indo friends. So yeah, I never really hang out with them. Oh, I’ve actually been to one building where all the apartments there all belonged to Indonesians! Hehehe. I wonder, don’t they want diversity? 😀 Anyway, I began to attend some events and gathering held by Indonesian societies in Brisbane, thanks to mbak Ina for always keeping me informed :). I was a bit surprised to see that we had so many Indonesians living here hehehe. I entirely excluded myself from this society for 2 years, no wonder I was surprised :D.
To answer the question from Mulia, as an Indonesian, I honestly have no difficulties at all living in Australia. I’ve received so many positive feedbacks from many people — especially the Aussies. I gotta tell ya, thank God we have Bali! Cause that’s what makes us so famous. Hehehe. Every time I told them that I’m an Indonesian, they would usually tell me about their last trip to Indonesia and how they like the country and the people :). I was a bit worried about our reputation in Australia when the bomb blasted in Bali or when Schapelle Corby was sentenced to jail. But so far I never received any discrimination that directly mentions my nationality.