It was at a cloudy day that I found myself sitting in the train on the way from Tilburg to my hometown Utrecht. I studied Interdisciplinary Social Science in Utrecht before and now I was enrolled in the Master’s Program Victimology and Criminal Justice at Tilburg University. Although the first semester had just begun, I already needed to think about my Master’s research. While scrolling through a list of possible thesis topics I found a folder about the Frans Seda Foundation Twin Scholarship Programme. As I was very curious I decided to open it. Back then I didn’t know that this little decision would lead to great adventures..
I was one of the lucky students to get awarded a Scholarship and super excited as I was I started to prepare myself for three months Indonesia. It was not my first time living abroad (I studied in Canada for 5 months), but I felt a little anxious this time since I was not familiar with the culture, didn’t know the language and was planning to live near a red district area in Central Java to conduct my research there. However, the information sessions in the Netherlands, and especially the one where we were provided with tips and tricks from former Twin Scholarship students, gave me courage and made me even more enthusiastic!
The second of April I arrived in Jakarta together with Eva, another Twin Scholarship student. We were so impressed by Jakarta; what a city was that! First we drove through the poor outskirts to later arrive in the rich business district, which was such a difference. There was traffic everywhere, which caused a lot of noise, smog and TOTAL CHAOS. I thought I would experience a huge culture shock, but actually I felt like exploring the city. The next days I visited former Bataviastad (where everyone wanted to take pictures of me), China Town, Grand Mosque Istiqlal and the Indonesia Grand Mall. The evenings I tried to get familiar with street food and it was amazing and super cheap! I only paid one euro for Nasi Goreng Ayam and a Coke. Although it did not look like at first, it was delicious and I really enjoyed the whole atmosphere.
The end of the first week we had a scholarship meeting at Atma Jaya University. The place was a bit different than cosy and quiet Tilburg University. It was surrounded by busy roads and it seemed like they tried to put as many buildings at a square as possible, but I must say it looked nice from the inside. Eva and I went to the seminar room where we met the two other Indonesian scholars: Heri and Septa. Also our contact person Rennie Roos and two members of the Trustee commission were there. Inside the room we found fancy cups of water and some Indonesian food. We felt very welcome! We all introduced our research topics, and finally Heri and Septa told us something about Jakarta and we told them about the Netherlands. This part was actually the funniest: they told us we didn’t have to worry if Indonesian people would like us because “we handsome and pretty” and we forced them to taste Dutch caramel waffles and liquorice (the latter one was not a success haha). The meeting made me feel more comfortable about the idea of living in Indonesia for a while.
After a few on-arrival trainings at the office of IIWC in Semarang (the organisation I would do volunteer work with and that would assist me in doing my research) I was ready to go. The staff of IIWC gave me a detailed map of all the bus stops and dropped me at the first bus station. “Hop, there u go, good luck with everything!” And there I was going, to Tegalrejo red district area, where I would be living for one month. The 1,5 hour bus ride itself was already an experience. In my best Indonesian I tried to explain the ticket seller that I wanted to go in the direction of Bergas: “Makau ke Bergas”. Fortunately, they were really kind to me and made sure that I got off at the right stop. All the people in the bus wanted to take selfies with me, so I had no time to overthink the whole situation, but everything went well. At my final destination my local peer volunteer was waiting for me and with her motorcycle she drove me through the rice fields. The view was amazing! After ten minutes we arrived in the little village near the red district area where all the people came outside their houses to see me. At that moment I knew that this was the beginning of the real adventure.
I lived with the family of Ibu Dini (Mrs Dini) in a small house in the village. There I had to adapt to different living standards and customs than I was used to in the Netherlands. One example of this is that they are not familiar with taking a shower. Instead they are doing a “mandi”. Mandi is a traditional Indonesian way of washing oneself whereby you take a small scoop dipped into a large tub of cold water and pour the water over yourself. It is not that comfortable as taking a regular shower, but it worked for me. Despite all the big changes I felt home in Indonesia. All the neighbours were so kind and the host family took care of me as if I were their own daughter. The volunteer work with the kids in the red district area was sometimes a bit challenging, as some of them could be quite rough, but it was also a good experience. I am still very thankful to the people in Tegalrejo red district for making me feel welcome and for being open to my research. Before I went to Indonesia I was not sure if my research would work out, but all the respondents took the interviews very seriously and provided me with useful information.
After I finished my work in the village I decided to write my findings down while discovering other parts of Indonesia. I snorkelled near beautiful coral reefs in Karimunjawa, spotted Orang-Utans in Borneo, saw historical temples in Yogyakarta, climbed the Bromo Vulcano in Central Java, walked through the rice paddies in Lombok, explored the fascinating little islands near Flores and did so much more! Honestly, every single part of the journey was amazing and I learned not only much about my research topic, but also about Indonesia and its people. I sincerely want to thank the Frans Seda Foundation for giving me this opportunity. It really was a once in a lifetime experience, which I will never forget!
Melissa van der Meijden, 2018 Frans Seda Foundation Twin Scholarship Student