In January this year I left my job after three good years. I had been awarded the Hamer Scholarship and was leaving to undertake a semester of language study at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Jogjakarta (Jogja). It was bitter sweet. And after a lot of umming and ahhing, my boyfriend, Michael, decided to come with me. He’s a painter, so I assured him that Jogja is the best place for him to be and that he’d be set up and be painting in no time, I’d be engrossed in study, and life would be free and easy.


Michael and Courtney while living in Jogja. Photo: Courtney Saville

Wow… What was I thinking? Had I somehow forgotten just how long things take to get done in Indonesia? And had I forgotten how frustrating studying can be there? And what about the bureaucracy, the huge population, the noise level…??

So I guess you can tell that it had been a while between visits. I did a year in Indonesia with the Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) in 2008-09, and a few two-months stints after that, but it had been at least six years since I had ‘lived’ there. I couldn’t believe the changes in Jogja – the cars, the congestion, the number of people, the 70-plus new hotels! On top of that, it had been almost five years since I had attended university in person (I did Honours remotely), so that was another major change. Add to that the Indonesian university system where lecturers decide not to turn up, six weeks of classes taken up by group presentations, and assignments done in groups of eight or so people… There was some adjusting to be done!

But after the first two months or so, Michael and I both started getting our Jogja groove on, and the results have been amazing. While in Jogja, Michael was painting for a group exhibition at Flinders Lane Gallery, Exploration 15, that included an Emerging Artist Award. We came back for the show in early June, and Michael won the award and has a solo show with Flinders Lane Gallery next year. Since then, he has also signed a contract to be represented by the gallery – awesome result!

As for me, one of the reasons for me applying for the scholarship was to take some time out and gain some insight into myself, to ‘check out’ for a while to know what I want to check back in to later. And it worked. I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t believe the changes I witnessed in Jogja, but I was equally shocked by the changes that had occurred to my own self between stints. Essentially, I’ve grown up. As somewhat sad as it is to know I don’t roll with the punches as much as I used to, I feel a lot more at ease with myself. My experience in Indonesia this time was through the eyes of an adult – someone who yearns complicated conversations, someone who wants to explore sensitive issues, someone who is unrelentingly connecting the dots between what I’ve seen to what I once thought, even while ordering nasi telor and an es jeruk for breakfast from the local burjo.

But of course the major reason for me heading back to Indonesia and to university was to improve my Bahasa and I can proudly say that it is really good right now. I bypassed INCULS and jumped straight in to mainstream classes, based on study I had previously completed in Australia. I thought I would choose classes where I didn’t have to learn any theory or concepts from scratch, but rather the language and perspectives associated with it. For me, my strategy worked, and now I can have conversations about international politics, society and culture in a lot more depth, and I have made solid academic networks that I can leverage off if I decide to take up further study.

So, in sum, both Michael and I benefited greatly from the opportunity provided by the Hamer Scholarship. We have grown, our respective skills have vastly improved, and we have gained fresh outlooks. We saw amazing parts of Indonesia we had never visited before, experienced inter-cultural tension and harmonisation, and learnt more about both Indonesia and ourselves than we could have only hoped to.

One of Michael's paintings during his stay in Jogja. Photo: Courtney Saville.

One of Michael’s pieces of art Michael created during his stay in Jogja. Photo: Courtney Saville.

A truly big thank you to the Victorian Government for this opportunity – I will never forget the experience.

For further information on Michael’s artwork please see