By Tomas Granec
Universitas Indonesia is located in an approximately two million people town called Depok. Located roughly twenty kilometers south of Jakarta, it is easily accessible by a car or a train. Depok is a city like I have never seen before. Most of the facilities I visited (the campus, the accommodation and shopping malls) are located along Margonda Raya, a boulevard daily crossed by tens of thousands of people and vehicles. The pavements are constantly filled with pedestrians and every corner is accompanied by a street food carriage with an employee restlessly trying to get your attention. As someone who never left the EU before coming to Indonesia, I was rather shocked by the way the immense number of people coexisted side by side on every square meter of the city. Forget all about quiet evening walks or long uninterrupted conversations on a park bench. Depok is simply way too overpopulated for either of these.
The city does not have much entertainment to offer other than a few shopping malls, some cafes and the university campus itself. The malls are very much on a European standard, containing most of the common clothing brands, good restaurants and usually a movie theatre. The campus offers various sport facilities and student associations that can be joined through different faculties.
Depok, being a strongly religious city, is government by a municipal policy prohibiting sale and usage of alcohol. Consequently, there are no bars or clubs like we know them in Europe.
There are two ways to get around in Depok and Indonesia in general, the private and the public. The commonly preferred way of transport among the students is GoJek, a phone application similar to Uber. GoJek drivers mostly ride scooters, which are very convenient for short distances as they offer the quickest way to get around in the heavy traffic. Alternatively, applications like Grab or Uber offer good and cheap transport for longer distances. The public transport is somewhat different from what we are used to in Europe. There are no buses, trams or underground trains. The Indonesian variation of city public transport is an Ankot, a pickup like truck with two long benches placed on either side of the seating area. Ankots go along the main boulevards of the city, can carry up to 10 people and cost 3000 rupiah (around 0,20 EUR) per ride. For longer distances, Indonesia has a relatively well-organized railway system.
University – the courses
Universitas Indonesia offers only a limited number of courses in English. The faculty of law, specifically, offered around twelve. Most of the courses I listed in my original learning agreement ended up not being available in English and I only got to see the actual selection of courses on the faculty registration day. Thus, do not bother putting too much thought into choosing your courses pre-arriving in Indonesia.
The content of the courses I took was alright. Delivering roughly one fourth of the workload I am used to from Groningen, the courses were relatively easy to follow. The final grade usually consisted of the following: 10% attendance, 25% mid-term exam, 25% assignment and 40% the final exam. The attendance being mandatory on 75% of the classes. Midterm exams were mostly either open-book or take-home. An open book exam is commonly a more complex version of a regular exam to which, however, students are allowed to bring any kind of printed out material. A take home exam at the law faculty would usually consist of a case that students have to solve using provisions of Indonesian law. To do this the students are given a time period of 24 hours. The study materials are mostly only available in Bahasa Indonesia. Therefore, I was forced to consult my Indonesian classmates as well as the internet while studying. In general, the courses only offer a basic understanding of the subject matter.
Coming to Indonesia I had the idea that I would save a lot of money. It did not happen. I will explain later.
I stayed in a student house of kinds, called Margonda Residence, together with a majority of the international students (do not worry about not getting a spot, everyone gets one). The rent was around three million rupiah (200 EUR) a month, including water and electricity.
The prices for food in Indonesia vary greatly. The faculty food court offers a good selection of Indonesian dishes averaging around ten to twenty thousand rupiah (1-2 EUR) per meal. Then, there are the street places/restaurants where you can get a more ‘luxurious’ dish for around thirty to fifty thousand. Finally, there are restaurants in the shopping malls where you can easily spend up to ten Euros a two-course dinner.
Walking in Depok is very uncomfortable due to the heat, noise, pollution and the terrible condition of the pavements (holes, electricity cables, occasional cockroaches and rats, and a lot of people). The prices for transport, though quite low, become a daily expenditure. The only place I walked to was the University, and that was only because the faculty of law is located five minutes walking distance from Margonda Residence. Depending on how much/far you travel you can spend between 1-3 EUR a day on transport (this really depends on how often you decide to leave Depok). A GoJek scooter ride within Depok will cost around ten to thirty thousand rupiah (1-2 EUR). A taxi (Grab, Uber) to Jakarta will cost between forty to a hundred thousand rupiah (3-6 EUR). Trains are very cheap in Indonesia, a ride from Depok to Jakarta will cost less than one Euro.
The phone operators offer packages consisting of 20-50GB of mobile data and 20-100 free call minutes for 7-12 EUR a month. In other words, telecom services are extremely cheap compared to Europe. Prices of clothing and house equipment are slightly lower than those in Europe. All in all, one can easily cover the basic needs with less than 350 EUR a month.
Nevertheless, the reason why I did not end up saving any money, quite the contrary, spending much more than I originally planned to, is the fact that Indonesia offers incredible travel options. Though it might seem obvious to some, I was not aware how much free time I would have studying in Indonesia. On average, I spent every second weekend exploring one of the countless islands Indonesia has to offer. Traveling in Indonesia is cheap but spending 4 months on a beach holiday come at a price. With that being said, I would highly recommend anyone who decides to do a semester abroad in Indonesia to travel and explore as much as possible.
Never having left EU prior my semester abroad in Indonesia, I had very little experience with life in developing countries. The only thing I anticipated was that was going to be forced to broaden my comfort zone – which was exactly what made me interested in Indonesia. I did not expect too much of an academic challenge – rightly so, and I knew living there will take some getting used to. The real experience has exceeded my expectations in every area.
Starting with the main purpose of my exchange, the University shocked me with its lack of organization. It was very difficult to get exact information regarding the admission requirements, arrival dates and accommodation options from the international office during the application period. Luckily, everything became clear once I was contacted by my personal ‘buddy’ from the UI Buddy Club, assigned to aid me with my stay in Indonesia. The time schedule was far from being adhered to by the teachers. Lectures and examinations were often rescheduled in a way that they overlapped with each other. However, as it turns out, the UI staff has special consideration for exchange students and everything always worked out on the end.
With regards Indonesia and its people as such, I had a very pleasant experience. Indonesians, in their essence, are very curious (specifically when it comes to foreigners) and predominantly friendly people. At first, depending on one’s openness to random street encounters, they might come off as annoying due to the way they communicate at foreigners (shouting, staring or making random remarks). I was always trying to find a way to embrace any kind of contact with the locals and it often ended up in interesting conversations.
The most exciting thing about studying in Indonesia was the incredible variety of activities to engage in and people to hang out with. Being thrown in an alien environment together, we (the exchange students) found ways to create strong bonds very quickly. There was always someplace to travel on the weekends and finding company was never an issue.
Overall, I would say that the benefit of studying in Indonesia comes more from the diversity of people, circumstances and challenges one’s faced with rather than the studies themselves. I would highly recommend Indonesia to anyone who is adventurous, open-minded, willing to adapt and seeking for bizarre experiences that will challenge one’s perspectives on the ways to live life.
I will include some photos to give you a better idea …
A view from my apartment’s balcony.
Law students with the first dean of the Faculty of Law.
Margonda Raya – the main boulevard in Depok.
Catching one of the countless beautiful sunsets over Yogyakarta.
Exploring the Jomblang Cave with them boys.