When one thinks of a twenty-year anniversary, it may be a very normal, very ordinary thing that falls under the marriages, birthdays and country fairs column. Until you enter the other part of that phrase – “ACICIS”. When you realise that a foreign yayasan (NGO), has not just survived, but has indeed thrived in a country as complex as Indonesia. ACICIS has been through some of the most interesting times of recent Indonesian history, from being witness to the slightly bumpy transition from dictatorship to democracy, to the ongoing process of Reformasi (Reformation – the process of the decentralisation of Indonesia, and the removal of the military from the government). To have been a literal fly-on-the-wall to these events has given ACICIS staff and students a wealth of knowledge about this country.

The volunteer team for ACICIS 20th anniversary, the people who made it work! Photo: David Visser

The volunteer team for ACICIS’ 20th anniversary, the people who made it work! Photo: David Visser

Who else can say that they were around to watch the birth of one of the world’s newest democracies? ACICIS students can. Even I, in my short time here, have been lucky enough to experience the election of the first non-military Indonesian President (Joko Widodo). The 20th anniversary alone has had attendees who were on the ground to witness the collapse of the Soeharto regime, students who were here when the first elections ever took place – and most recently – people who were present to see the first ever election of a civilian president. To have students with such an understanding of our closest neighbour is a major asset for Australia.

At the 20th anniversary celebration, we had the privilege of being surrounded by people who have had an involvement with Indonesia for over twenty years. As David Reeve and David Hill addressed us, they spoke with the wisdom of a combined 70-plus years studying this nation. It was a night that celebrated the involvement of people of the same calibre from all over Australia, and had representatives from almost all sectors of Australian and Indonesian society. As we heard from both these long-serving members of ACICIS, it was impressed into us even more how much has gone into these past twenty years.

To have two decades of ACICIS alumni is something that Australia can be immensely proud of. For not only are the students of ACICIS being changed by what they are experiencing, they are also tools of change in Indonesian society. The larger a role that Australian and foreign youth have in Indonesia, the more we can change the perception of foreign nations in the eyes of the Indonesian community. This has been told to us again and again by students that have come back for this event – the trading of information, about our own different cultures, is one of the most rewarding things which actually leads to building these relationships that we hear diplomats talking so much about.

As all ACICIS alumni know, no-one comes back from Indonesia as the same person they were before. Being immersed in a culture as distinct and varied as Indonesia’s has forced me to evaluate everything about myself, up to the point where I am unable to recognise who I was before I came here. As we are shaped by our experiences here, and develop these lasting relationships, we truly gain a second home.

ACICIS provides not just a ‘well-rounded Indonesia study experience’, but provides an experience that is truly life-changing. So – here is to twenty years of changing lives, and another twenty more years of even more amazing opportunities, both abroad and at home.