January 13, 2022
JAKARTA – As Australia opens up its borders to international students, Indonesians studying there have taken the earliest chance they can to re-enter. They share their stories of returning back down under.
Since Dec. 15, 2021, Australia has allowed international students to return to university in-person.
Despite their semester starting only in February, many have jumped at the chance of flying back early, as they worry that the borders may again be closed as Australia faces its latest wave of the pandemic.
The comfort of campus life
For many Indonesian students, it was the emotional security of campus life that drove them back as soon as they could.
Lutfia Novitasari is a student pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Adelaide majoring in property. Throughout the pandemic, she was one of 150,000 Australian international students studying offshore.
Although her classes does not start for another month, Lutfia says she flew to Australia early because “I have this [fear of] the border closing again, and I’m in my last semester so I would love to experience campus life.”
Rina Aulia Anggraini, a nursing student at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, landed in Australia on Dec. 19, 2021, a good two months before school resumes. She had only experienced the Australian university experience online, as she began her studies during the pandemic. But she is now eager to actually set foot in the country.
“As a native Balinese and Indonesian who has never lived in Australia before, I am looking forward to experiencing the culture and experiencing the environment in person.”
“There was a lot of uncertainty in traveling [to Australia] during the [earlier days of the pandemic],” Rina added. But by Dec. 21, mere days after her arrival, international students no longer had to undergo quarantine.
Readjustment made easy
University representatives have also tried to help these students as they return. “We give international students several types of support, such as support for quarantine expenses as well as workshops. We also monitor the students closely through the student services by calls,” Fitria Arsianti, a country manager responsible for students from Indonesia and the Philippines at the University of Queensland, said.
Lutfia attests to this, and explained that her program director helped her find housing options for quarantine upon arriving in Australia.
“He even provided information on how to do groceries and asked around among Indonesian teaching staff where to find Indonesian restaurants in Adelaide.”
Ari Pratiwi, a PhD student at the University of Queensland who is majoring in psychology, said that her university conducted Zoom meetings with returning students to discuss the quarantine process as well as locations for accommodation.
Ari was so eager to return that she took a transit flight that took 21 hours, rather than the usual direct Denpasar to Queensland flight, which is only four hours long.
Fenny Suwandhi, recruitment manager from RMIT University in Melbourne, said the university also reached out to the students by opening a counseling center.
“We also have the university’s website page where students can always check and it’s updated accordingly based on the latest health advice and government guidelines,” Fenny added.
Fitria said enquiries about entering Australia have increased since the reopening of Australia’s borders. “In general, the number of students applying to our university has increased since the borders reopened. I’ve got some enquiries from students who have chosen to change their commencement from July to the February intake,” Fitria explained.
New mindset, new experiences
During the pandemic, offshore students were required to rely on technology to support their studies, which made it challenging to complete projects and have first-hand experience. “I had to develop a market project in Adelaide from Indonesia and I found myself struggling because I did not know how life in Adelaide was [during the time],” Lutfia said.
The pandemic also resulted in students re-assessing their majors.
Rina decided to change her major from accounting to nursing, after reevaluating what her passion was and the kind of career she wanted.
“I’ve also heard that as a nurse there’s a better opportunity to work in Australia,” Rina said.
According to Baroroh Lely Indrawati, a representative from the Edlink Education Consultancy Group, which helps many Indonesian students in Australia, many students undergo self-rediscovery while studying overseas – even prior to the pandemic.
The border reopening also excites Joseph Kurniawan, a second-year audio engineering student at JMC Academy, Sydney.
“I’ve spent my first year of university studies in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to these new opportunities,” Joseph said.