Suddenly I feel free to speak out!
Up until a week ago, very few Indonesians dared to speak out against their government for fear of reprisals concerning their career development or even imprisonment. But with the stepdown of former President Suharto on May 21st, this situation has changed
This stepdown was the culmination of a monetary crisis and mounting pressures over the last months, all closely followed by the Indonesian students studying here in Wageningen as they keep touch with their families back home.Rahmad Suhartanto came to Wageningen six months ago to study for a PhD in Plant Physiology. He is also the president of the Indonesian Students' Association to which 15 of the 20 Indonesians studying in Wageningen belong. Suhartanto could not contain his excitement looking back over the events of the past week: It's amazing that a group of students were able to force the stepdown of the president of the last 32 years! If Suhartanto had still been there, he would have joined the students' protests as well: Even the Rector of my university in Bogor took part in the demonstrations.
Gamal Pasya and Agus Ahyar both came to Holland to follow the MSc course in Urban Environmental Management. Like Suhartanto, they have a wife and children back home, and have been glued to the 24-hour news channels to keep track of the events unfolding in their country. Pasya: I could not turn the TV off on the 20th, and in the middle of the night I woke up to all the noise that accompanied the unbelievable news of Suharto's stepdown. Pasya's family lives in southern Sumatra and has felt the effects of the monetary crisis especially in the fluctuating buying power of his salary working for the provincial government's tourism department. Before the monetary crisis, I could buy twenty 1600 gram cans of milk with my salary. Now, it only covers five cans of milk, which is just enough for my family's monthly milk needs. At least it's better than at the height of the crisis in January, when my salary could buy only two cans of milk!
Most Indonesian students here have benefitted from the rising exchange rates of their foreign scholarships, and can send extra money home. But for those depending on scholarships from Indonesian universities, the monetary crisis has had immediate effects on their lives in Wageningen. When I came here in August, the exchange rate was 1,300 rupiahs to the guilder. Now it has risen to 5,000 rupiahs, explains Aquaculture MSc student Jakob Uktolseja who has helplessly watched his research options shrink
For Ahyar, the goings-on of the last few days have been extremely close to his heart. His wife and son live in the capital city of Jakarta, within two kilometres of the parliament buildings occupied by students last week. Metropolitan Jakarta has a population equal to that of Holland (15 million) and covers an area about 60% of that of Holland. Seeing all the media images of chaos and hearing about transportation blockages around Jakarta, he explains how his family could survive: People knew that trouble was coming and they stocked up. Although the commercial supermarkets have been closed, the traditional markets still keep selling food - though the prices are now three to four times higher than normal! His family did not dare to leave home during the height of the demonstrations last week, and Ahyar phoned regularly. Watching the news, he tries to cope with being so far from his family: I have to hope it's not as critical as they say. In July, Ahyar will return home to conduct research in solid waste management. Because of the current state of instability, he may have to change his original research plans of comparing several cities to staying in one location
All three students are very happy that the changes are taking place although they are well aware that it is still too early to tell how far-reaching the promised reforms will be, especially because things are changing so rapidly
Wageningen resident Ottis Simopiaref, who came from Indonesia to Holland 22 years ago as a political refugee, agrees but remains sceptical about the reforms. He left Indonesia because his life had been threatened as a student in Java demonstrating for independence for his province West Papua. Simopiaref is also amazed by the rapidity of changes taking place, but would not yet feel free to go back home because the outlook on political reforms is still unclear
One thing seems certain though: the media has become much more openly critical. Suhartanto said that when he left Indonesia six months ago, he would not have discussed the political situation with people unless he knew them very well, but now, I suddenly feel free to speak out. While the Internet had already become the most reliable source of uncensored news within Indonesia over the last years, Suhartanto now looks eagerly at the Internet pages showing transformed Indonesian newspapers, highly critical of the government and permitted for the first time in 32 years
Extended Library Hours at Leeuwenborch
The 1st of May marked the beginning of a one-year trial period offering improved library services at the Leeuwenborch to international students. The library now offers all normal borrowing and computer research services in the evenings (Monday to Thursday, 19:00-22:30), and on Saturdays (10:00-15:00). According to librarian Dik Kaandorp this initiative is a direct response to international student complaints over the last few years. The Leeuwenborch library was chosen because it has a large concentration of international students studying there, and because it was relatively easy to extend the already long opening hours. This is the second attempt to provide extended hours. The first was in 1996 at the Jan Kopshuis library, but only lasted four months because of minimal use of services by students. Kaandorp hopes that there will be a better response from students this time, who will be asked for an evaluation at the end of the year. Funds have been made available for this period by the University Board in order to hire the extra staff needed. Extended services will not be offered from July 1st until October 1st when most international students are away for research
World Cup '98 at ISOW
ISOW, International Student Organisation Wageningen, will be offering daily screening of the World Cup games from 10 June to 12 July. Since Wageningen's international student population represents just about every country taking part in World Cup '98, gathering in a central location should make the viewing more exciting. A big screen and refreshments will be on hand in the ISOW hall
New Face at Dean's Office
An extra person has recently joined the staff of the Dean's Office to work alongside Ankie Lamberts. Anne-Marie Zijlmans has a seven month contract until the end of December and is there to help international students arrange their housing and settle in Wageningen
Watch the -letter!
The departments and course directors of the university give information about courses and lectures on the service pages in the second part of the WUB. The information which is marked with the letter E is in English and often relevant for international students