Embracing the unexpected in Indonesia: Sophie Hewitt’s reflections one month in

07 March 2018

Fifth-year Law/Asia-Pacific Studies (Year in Asia) student Sophie Hewitt recently arrived in Indonesia to commence her journey on the Year in Asia program. We asked Sophie to share her experiences from her first month in Indonesia, and to reflect on her goals for the year ahead.

Since I returned from a semester exchange program in Bandung in 2015, I’ve known I wanted to come back to Indonesia. Having spent a fair amount of time here in the past has meant returning in 2018 has not been filled with as many shocks or unknown experiences as the first time. But I’m definitely still learning! 2018 is instead more about honing my Indonesian experience, and thinking more strategically about how I want to be professionally involved in Indonesia in the future.

I have two broad goals as a New Colombo Plan scholar on the Year in Asia program. Firstly, it’s to gain as much professional experience and skills as possible within my time here.

Each part of the year, I’m trying different things. In semester one, I’m studying law and language units in Bahasa Indonesia at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, in the mid-year break I’m interning at a commercial law firm in Jakarta, and in semester two I’m writing a thesis about Indonesian law at Universitas Muhamadiyah in Malang.  

By choosing Yogya, a modern, student-centred city; Jakarta, the centre of all commercial activity; and Malang, a less metropolitan area, I will be able to experience a range of perspectives on Indonesian law and gain a more informed understanding of what careers in the Indonesia space look like.

The second goal is to get a sense of the career opportunities that might be available for me in Indonesia in the future, and whether it’s a country I could live and work in for long periods of time.

One of the ways to achieve my second goal is to make friends. When a person has a supportive network of people and has shared experiences, their experience in that country is so much richer.

In my 2015 exchange I made wonderful friends who I still keep in touch with and have returned to visit since then: it’s because of these friendships I’ve wanted to return to Indonesia. So making new friends in Yogya is a major goal.

To achieve this, I’m living in a kos (student boarding house), eating at local warungs (food stalls) and organising activities to go out by myself, as well as with other exchange students, so meet as many people as possible.

Importantly, I’m also taking two Indonesian law courses, deliberately without any other exchange students. This has been daunting as lecturers in both classes have made me stand out the front of every class, introduce myself in Indonesian and explain the differences between Australian and Indonesian law schools. While this hasn’t been great for my nerves, it’s been great for my Indonesian skills! I’ve now started hanging out with a few students outside class.

Food is also a great way to make friends. Food diplomacy, where Australian and Indonesian food is discussed, explored and shared together, has the capacity to bring people closer. I’ve found that after sharing initial introductions with an Indonesian student, asking about what they study, where they’re from and about their family, it may be difficult to think about what to chat about next.

But if you mention that you’re looking for a new martabak manis (sweet, crumpet-like dessert) or soto ayam (chicken soup) recommendation, this shows that you’re interested in Indonesian culture and want to learn more about it from Indonesians themselves. The best food I’ve eaten in Indonesia comes from conversations such as these!

Conversely, Indonesian students love trying Australian food. In Bandung I brought dozens of packets of Australian Tim Tams to my friends which they said ruined the taste of Indonesian Tim Tams for them!

Another wonderful element of Indonesia is the unexpected things which happen. Sometimes things not going to plan can be negative. For example even though it’s week five of my law courses, I still haven’t received a syllabus or any information about assignments for one class. This is common in Indonesia and something  you  have to go along with, but it doesn’t stop it from being frustrating at times.

But on the other hand, unexpected things can be great! For example I have made friends in really strange places: like meeting a young woman in a café who has shown me and my friends the most famous cafes in Yogya, to making friends with a Masters student from Timor-Leste while waiting in line to register my SIM card.

Moments like this mean while I may have many plans for 2018, I have no doubt that the best parts will come by complete surprise!


Sophie’s Year in Asia program is being completed in Indonesia through the Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies (ACICIS). ACICIS programs funded by the New Colombo Plan scholarship, mobility grants and short-term grants. Sophie is passionate about food diplomacy and in her spare time writes a food blog about  Indonesian food, The Lonely Bule

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team