The Indonesian Government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship provides funding for foreign students to study Indonesian language, culture and the arts at one of a selection of institutions across the archipelago. With applications for the 2017-2018 program now open, we asked a few past recipients to share their story – including Catherine Coyne, whose Darmasiswa experience has continued to influence her life and love for Indonesia.

Catherine and her friend Wayan. Photo: Catherine Coyne

I had been to Indonesia once before starting Darmasiswa, for a backpacking trip in 2007. I had not yet realised it, but that first trip had already sealed the deal for my long-term love for Indonesia (we’re currently having a ten-year anniversary and I’m heading back there to celebrate). That’s probably the truest reason why I had chosen to apply for a Darmasiswa placement at Universitas Udayana in Denpasar, but at the time I thought it was the allure of Ubud’s beauty and the bright colours of the Sesajen and Kebaya – Bali was so luscious and alive compared to Melbourne’s grey and black symmetrical streets. That year, in 2010, the Darmasiswa intake was around 600 students from all over the world. I was so excited to find out that I was one of the three successful applicants in the Victoria/Tasmania area. I later found out that only three of us had applied!

My fellow students were from all corners of the globe – Estonia, Venezuela, Ukraine, Korea, Mexico, Greece, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Russia and Slovakia – and that was just in my class. I eventually met many more people from many more countries who were studying in different cities. It was incredible to share the experience with a group of people who had such an array of different perspectives and ties with Indonesia. I became acutely aware of my own nationality and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia, and began researching our past and present ties. This inquiry became a passion and I am still to this day engaged in projects and volunteer work that aim to strengthen the relationship between our countries.

The Darmasiswa experience was not just about learning Indonesian, it was about living in country and learning about and connecting with the place where each student was located. The students in Jogja learned about the Sultan and how to cook using just the right amount of sugar for the central Javanese palate. In Bandung they learned Sundanese slang and in Bali we learned the importance of teeth filing and the effect of tourism.

Graduation Day at Universitas Udayana 2010. Photo: Catherine Coyne

This distinction became apparent to me when I went to Bandung on my second Darmasiswa scholarship in 2012. I started to appreciate Indonesia’s diversity more so than ever before and my interest and affection for the country deepened. The coursework at Universitas Pasundan was at beginners level so I often skipped class to go and hang out with people on the street and take an angkot into Dago or to a shopping mall – one of the country’s favorite pastimes. Aside from the set hours of study during the working week our time was completely free for us to do whatever we wanted. I think this is one of the reasons why students deepen their relationship with Indonesia – they have a great deal of opportunity to engage with the country however they like. It’s probably also the reason why many former Darmasiswa students remain such great friends. So many of us have stayed in touch over the years and I always catch up with Darmasiswa people when I’m back in Indonesia. It’s almost unbelievable how many of us continue to visit Indonesia, or have never left since 2010!

Being a Darmasiswa student is a huge privilege and that fact never escapes my attention. The experience is unforgettable and remarkable – it offers a unique way to engage with the country and for many of us, it was the start of a long-term love for Indonesia.

Registration for the 2017-2018 Darmasiswa Scholarship Program is open until 9 February. For all the information on requirements and how to apply, head to our Jobs and Opportunities page.