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My Experience as a Student Exchange in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (20th June to 19th July 2012)

An exchange programme to Indonesia – where do I begin? Well, 2 words came to my mind instantly to describe my entire experience there. The 2 words will be ‘life-changing experience’. If there is one thing that I will never doubt in my life, it is that I made the right decision to go on an exchange to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Despite its official name of Yogyakarta, it is usually also called Jogjakarta or just Jogja. It is located at the southern part of the Central Java province of Indonesia. Going back to the time when I started applying for this programme in UK, I knew that my dream of being a student exchange was finally becoming a reality as I was waiting for this golden opportunity since high school. I spent many hours reading the Student Exchange Programme (SEP) updates on the International Pharmaceutical Student federation (IPSF)’s website and immediately started working on my application. Fortunately, the Student Exchange Officers both from the United Kingdom and Indonesia were very efficient. They accepted me and approved my application very quickly. Since then, I was really looking forward to the 20th of July for me to leave for Indonesia, and finally the moment came when I took my first step out of the plane into Adisucipto International Airport.

My whole experience turned out to be truly amazing, even though Yogyakarta was really a place of unknown and full of mysteries to me initially. I felt like I was diving into an unknown ocean with no ideas of what to expect and what to prepare. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my exchange and have gained a lifetime of experience and stories from it. I acquired not just language skills, but people skills and about myself as well as the world around me that I would never be able to learn from books. I could not have been more fortunate to choose this country. The people I was surrounded by at the university, pharmacy, my newfound friends, my host family and just in general, the people of Indonesia, were very inviting and warming. My host family was very supportive, especially my host’s sister who was

incredibly helpful when I first arrived. They have taught and guided me regarding their culture, etiquettes, daily practices and religious sensitivities of the Indonesians throughout my 1-month stay.

The first few days were a combination of fantastically exciting and just plain terrifying. Although I am quite independent and used to live away from my parents, I still experienced a bit of home sickness and the culture difference. The uncertainties in the change of routines bothered me initially. For example, I was not sure what time I should wake up in the morning, what my family or friends had planned for the day, how often could I watch the TV, what time should I go to bed and so on. Just little things that managed to remind me how far from home I really was. I think I could say that was one of the hardest times of the programme. However, the benefits and the challenges far outweighed the hard times at the end of the programme.

As an exchange student, I have to conduct myself in an exemplary manner at all times since I am aware that I will be looked upon by others as an ambassador of my country. My actions and conducts will either bring respects or shames to my own country, Malaysia, the University of Sunderland in United Kingdom where I am studying and the British Pharmacy Students’ Association (BPSA) which I represented.

During my 1-month programme, I had the opportunity to carry out an external placement in a pharmacy run by the University of Gadjah Mada. This university is the oldest university in Indonesia and one of the largest universities in Southeast Asia. Throughout this period, I gained knowledge of the various medical schemes in Indonesia and how to process prescriptions in a different country. By the end of the first week, I was able to identify a wider range of medications and their indications of use. It no longer took me several minutes to find a medicine, which was the case on my first few days and subsequently able to relate the dispensing task back to what I had been taught at the university. However, the healthcare system in Indonesia and the United Kingdom are completely different. So I was still having difficulties reading the prescriptions and remembering the various local brands that were placed in the pharmacy. Despite the external placement being a short one, I enjoyed my experience and felt that I have gained a lot from it.

There were quite a number of people who have asked me what were the highlights of my trip, but I honestly do not know how to reply them. I have so many great memories to choose from, like visiting the various tourist attractions around Yogyakarta, riding on a motorcycle for the first time in my life for the entire month, went around the city by the traditional three-wheeled pedal-powered cart known as becak and the traditional horse-pulled carts known as andong and millions of humorous conversations with friends. I can also recall my bewilderment when my host’s mother told me to wear a jacket and glove in the hot and dry weather, only to realise later that the jacket is meant to prevent my skin from heat and not the cold. Places of great interest visited are the Tugu Monument which is a well known landmark located in the centre of downtown Yogyakarta, the largest Buddhist monument in the world of Borobudur, Prambanan historic Hindu temple site, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono's palace known as Kraton Ngayogyakarta, Taman Sari, Alun-alun Selatan and the Affandi Muzeum which is the home to one of Indonesia's best-known painters.

The peculiar tastes of a variety of their local food and drinks left many funny facial expressions on us. The local delicacies were so tempting that I have tasted almost all of them, thank to the local pharmacy students. Some of which include Gudeg, Tempe, Gado-Gado, Lotek, Es Pisang Ijo, Lenggang, Mie Ayam, Rawon and Sate. Among all, I enjoyed Gudeg the most. I believe it is the most famous local curry dish that comes with jackfruit, chicken and egg served with rice. Although it did not look particularly appetizing to me initially as it came with various shades of brown, but it was tasty. At the end, I bought many boxes of Bakpia before leaving as souvenirs and without realising, I had to pay an extra 675,000 Rupiah for these extra 5kg of baggage weight. I like it very much because it is a bite size snack made from sweetened green bean paste wrapped with thin dough pastry.

This experience has taught me to be grateful, independent and open-minded. My Indonesian language has improved much more than what I had expected. I have also returned with a brand new frame of mind and with broader horizons. I have developed a new sense of myself, realising how much I can accomplish and handle situations with my own inner strengths because adapting myself to new ways and environments are indeed not an easy task. Stepping out of my comfort zone in Malaysia and the United Kingdom was a right decision and I thank everyone who made it possible!

All in all, my time in Indonesia was a great experience and has made me keen on going back there in a few years’ time. I will never forget my exchange to Indonesia. It was an experience that will stay with me for life! I have no regrets whatsoever in regards to my decision to go on exchange and definitely recommend spending time abroad to absolutely everybody, as you gain precious memories, friendships and knowledge to last a lifetime. The only thing that I would emphasise is that do not forget to take loads of photos while enjoying yourself! For me, I am ready for another great experience of my life and would be delighted to be a student exchange again next year.

Lok Li Yi's Experience as a Student Exchange in Yogyakarta, Indonesia  
Lok Li Yi's Experience as a Student Exchange in Yogyakarta, Indonesia  

This is an article about the experience of Lok Li Yi, a pharmacy student from Sunderland University, England, while doing her Student Exchan...