It was on 9 January 1992 that I stepped on Australian soil – my first ever trip abroad and what has proven to be the start of my relationship with this country.
I flew on my own from Jakarta with Singapore Airlines, and managed the transit in Singapore on my own. It was my first real chance to put my English into practice as well and I faced it as an adventure – I don’t remember feeling scared, I suppose I was very excited to finally have my dream come true to study abroad. Travelling alone at the age of 19 is considered normal thesedays, but it was still a novelty twenty years ago, at least in my family. I didn’t come from a rich family, as chronicled in my Family History so it was a big deal to travel overseas – yet alone to study and live abroad. It was even a step of faith for my family to send me overseas to study. My parents certainly couldn’t afford sending me to Australia, so it was my second sister who paid for my tuition fees and living allowance. Her generosity allowed me to set foot on this Great Southern Land and finished my study.
I can still remember sitting on the plane next to an old lady and a young girl, presumably her granddaughter. Looking out the window as we descended into Adelaide, there was a thick blanket of white clouds and the lady commented that it looked so pretty that it was as if Adelaide had been covered by snow. Apparently I was meant to be picked up by a greeter from the University of South Australia, but I couldn’t find them. Somehow, there was somebody waiting for me at the airport. Ko’ Tony, the husband of my sister’s friend, heard that I would be arriving on the day so he wanted to see me at the airport. He was studying his postgraduate degree then at the University of South Australia as well. We took a taxi to a student dormitory in Northfield – Hampstead Centre, it was called. The facilities at the dormitory were basic – student accommodation wasn’t a lucrative business then. However, I had the best years of my study life over there. What was lacking in material facilities was richly compensated by the wonderful people who I met throughout the years. I stayed at Hampstead Centre for four years, on and off, as I also stayed in other places during my study. I got to meet students from all over the world – the Netherlands, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Ghana, and many more countries – and built fantastic longlasting friendships with many of them. I remember the food fiesta potluck dinners, the waterfights when it was too hot to sleep (there was no aircon in the two buildings used as the International Student Residence), the kitchen duty roster, Valerie the kind cleaning lady, and my first ever lesson to ride a bicycle as supervised by a Dutch student and witnessed by the residents. All great memories. Sadly the buildings that were used as the student accommodation have now been demolished to make way for the new housing development in the area. 🙁
Thinking back to the day twenty years ago – I can still remember the amazement looking at a caucasian street-sweeper. Something that I rarely saw in American sitcoms and programmes on TV when I was still in Indonesia. Who knew then, that I would still be in Adelaide in twenty years, after many wonderful years working in Jakarta and Singapore. I got to know and love Adelaide for the charming city that she was, and still is. Many things have changed since then, many for the better and some for the worst – but I still love Adelaide. She’s my kind of girl.