Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 11)

After an uneventful night, I woke up in one chilly Monday morning. Today will be the most anticipated day of my stay in Australia: the first day in the college. Just like many first timers, I honestly felt nervous on that day. I didn’t know how the school environment would be? Would it be strict and stern? Or maybe something more humane?

My sister and father came along to pick me up. I took shower, dressing up, and also carrying any stationary and note book, as well also some dictionary that I would probably need over there. Once I dressed up and having all necessary belongings packed in my backpack, I bid farewell to Shiraj and head to college with my sister.

170 Grosvenor Road, North Perth, as seen in 4th August 1997.

The walk from the house to the college was quite a long one. We walk along the quiet Grosvenor road to easterly direction. We crossed several streets, and from one block to another. It was also an opportunity for me to get to know the neighborhood around my lodging. Most of the houses in the area dating back from 1940s until 1960s, but some have modern touch. It is occasionally punctuated by small convenient shops that sell snack or ice cream that can be purchased for anyone whose are in a hurry to get into their workplace.

Unlike the housing  in Indonesia, which can double as commercial premises, those in Australia are strictly used for residential purpose, while commercial premises are only allowed to be built on certain designated areas.

The scenery changes as we got nearer to my college, where the roads got busier. We also pass near the Hyde Park and also one flat which my father was interested to relocate from his current lodging, before we cross the busy William street. Then we head to Vincent Street, before deviating to Harold Street. We pass one primary school which is quite busy, with a lot of student sport activities on its yard.

As we descended down the road, my college can be seen just across the Beaufort Street. The sign on the brick wall on the corner of the road says “St. Mark’s International College”. Behind it, a large football pitch, tennis court, as well as the college building. The campus buildings were built from reddish brown bricks, although its interior had light grey color.

St. Mark’s International College layout as seen in 1995. It was still like that in 1997. This aerial satellite photo is not available in Google Earth View as their earliest archive dating back from 2000, where by that time the football pitch and tennis court had already gone and replaced with apartments.

An old lady who dressed in white overall clothing while wearing orange vest with “Traffic Warden” sign on her back helped us to cross the street. We didn’t see similar person on another crossings. Her presence is needed in here due to the presence of schools nearby, where small kids need some assistance when crossing the street.

We entered the campus through its main door, and head to the administration building. In front of it there are many new students who were also going for entrance exam and orientation. They are all from variety of East Asian countries. There were around a dozen of them.

Posing in front of the main entrance as we entered the college for the first time. I was nervous, and tried to smile a bit. But the result is twisted facial expression.

First we went inside the administration building. In here, my father caught up with the person that I’ve seen before. He was the college representative that I met when I enrolled for this college, back in Surabaya. I also shook hand with him upon meeting. He then directed me to sign some papers needed to settle the administration.

Once completed, I separate from my father and sister and joined with other new to enter one classroom to begin the exam. My father and my sister later bid farewell, as they’re going to return back to the hotel. I felt slightly nervous. It was the first time that I’m alone in the college in foreign land, surrounded by people that are not my countrymen, nor understood my native language.

Upon entering the classroom on the adjacent building, one female teacher gave new students some briefing. She greeted us in calm and pleasant manner. I was relieved when she made such approach to new students. Her ice breaking method helped me to adjust to this college.

She said that our first program for today is to undertake small English exam. The result will determine which level of classes the student will study. There were several levels of classes in this college, ranging from the basic which was aimed for those who have very little or even no understanding of English, all the way to advance for those who want to undertake English exam for college entrance. The advance classes was also designed to prepare students to undertake advanced English language exam like TOEFL or IELTS. Although the American TOEFL exam is highly popular in Indonesia, in Australia the more complex IELTS exam is more preferable by the local colleges.

Aside of English classes that my group will take; there was also “Foundation Program” which is actually similar to last year of high school classes in Australia. It is aimed for school-age overseas students who wanted to adjust to Australian education standard before entering college. Their course is slightly more complex as, aside of learning English, the program also involve academical subjects.

The exam was quite easy for me. The questions were similar to what I found on English language course that I had back in Surabaya. It’s just a basic exam that involves multiple choices, filling blank space, and lastly listening (where we must also fill blank space on questions with information gathered from audio recording).

Upon completion of the exam, the teacher collected our exams. Then she asked us to gather in the courtyard below for the orientation program. The orientation program in this college is quite simple; it’s generally a guided tour for new students to learn about campus facilities.

The courtyard of St. Mark’s. Notice the apartment building (left) in place of tennis court, as this photo was actually taken after year 2000.

While we walked down stair, I also use the opportunity to get to know the other students. It was the first time in my life that I share the same class with people that are not my countrymen. I introduce myself to the students in here, and they also politely replying by introducing themselves. I can’t recall all of their names, except a few, such as a Thai student named Petchmanee Ake, Namu* from Japan, Nami* and Sung-Ho Park from South Korea.

In the courtyard, a lady introduced herself as Mrs. Philippa Beckerling.

She is a senior administration staff of the college. She will guide us for orientation tour around the college. First, we visit to the main administration building where she introduced many staffs over there including their roles and duties.

This was actually the official entrance of the campus. But I only went through this door once throughout my study there.

Then we goes to the back of the building where there was a “Student Service” room, where the staff would helped them to find info about lodging, vacation, as well part-time work opportunity.

And just next to it is the computer classroom, where students learn some courses that involve computer usage.

All of those rooms are located in the old heritage building.

Then we head to the library building, where its ground floor is occupied by canteen.

She also introduced us to the canteen employees. All of them are female, and all are Asians. The head of the canteen was a Chinese, while the employees are mix of Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese. During the lunch we can buy many food menus in here. There are also some ice creams, and also soft drink vending machine. Although the item sold in vending machine tend to be more expensive than in supermarket, I sometime buy from the machine. Aside for practical purpose, I also like the sensation of operating the machine.

From canteen we go up stair to the library on the upper floor.

The view of upper floor of library building. The library entrance door is located on the left, at the end of this alley. You can also see the library from the window on the left.

She introduced us to the librarian and also showing the book collections as well as the facilities in here. One facility truly stood out: computers with internet connection! Back in 1990s, internet was quite novelty as the dial-up system was very expensive. So being able to use it for free was a luxury that we cherished. Especially since the broadband, smartphone, or WiFi didn’t exist back then.

Although I later learn that in Australia, the internet usage had better value for money than in Indonesia as you were only charged per connection, not per hour. And the internet speed in Australia was much quicker than in Indonesia.

From library, we went to the back of the yard where she showed us the large meeting hall. This hall is normally used for orientation briefing (if the number of new students is large), exhibition, or concert. It was often used by Foundation program students for indoor sport activities such as basketball, badminton, or volleyball matches.

Next to the meeting hall there was an outdoor swimming pool. Wow! This is the first time I’ve been to a college that feature swimming pool. It’s quite a luxury to have such thing. Although since it was in the middle of winter, I don’t think anyone would bother to swim. Maybe in the summer, that would be lovely.

They also showed us our classrooms, which is located in the boxy building next to the administration one.

The view of St. Mark’s International College courtyard in 1997. The photo was actually taken sometime in September as there are some European students in the photo. Note the tennis court can be seen on the left, while it is absent in the previous photo. The photo was taken from the open alleyway in library building. My class was on the top floor, third room from left.

The Foundation program uses the classrooms on lower level, while the English language course uses the classrooms on the higher floor. Indeed my classroom turned out to be on the top floor, where you could get commanding view of the campus as well as the neighborhood.

The balcony in front of the classes.

After that, the orientation program concluded. It was really fun and nice event. The orientation program really goes right to the target: an “ice breaker” program aimed to help new students to get to know and adjusted to the campus, and getting to know the staffs in here. All of the staffs in the college were friendly and helpful. They know how to help overseas students to adjust with Australian way of life. It was the first time I had proper orientation, far cry from the “orientation program” that is full of complication, hazing, and bullying that was norm in Indonesian higher education institutions back then where they were essentially a hazing and bullying rituals.

The view of the courtyard as seen from the classroom balcony.

We also get to know every one of the new students, although these days I barely able to recall most of them. Aside of Ake, Namu*, Nami*, and Sung-Ho, I also get to know other students. They were mostly South Korean and Japanese, although I and Ake were surely minority because we were just the only one from our respective countries.

At the end of the orientation program, the school management handed in our student cards. There were two of them. One is issued by the college, complete with Transperth’s concession sticker, which enabled us to purchase discounted public transport ticket.

My St. Mark’s student card, complete with Transperth Concession sticker on its back.  Due to Australian (or anywhere in western world) legal rule that mandating a person to mention their family name, I had to add my father’s name. So, in Australia I was legally named “Bagus Widyanto Darmowandowo”.

The second is an ISIC card. Although this card may not allowed me to purchase discounted public transport ticket, it enabled me to buy airline or intercity train tickets at “student fare”. It could be used to get discounted accommodation rate, on selected hotels. And this card was even valid to be used around the world, although alas I never manage to test it.

My ISIC Student Card, with my correct naming format which is like what is written in my passport.

Something that puzzled me though: in the brochure, there were some images of European students studying in the college. But in reality, that day I didn’t see any European students at all. All are Asians. Where are they anyway? Are the Caucasians in the brochure are just Australian models pretending to be “foreign students”? The fact was revealed several weeks later, but first let’s gets along with the story.

The St. Mark’s brochure predominantly feature caucasian students, yet there were none to be seen when I first entered the college.

I return back to see my father and sister in the hotel. Apparently while I was in the college, they went around with Doddy again. They visited some universities around the city, such as Murdoch, Curtin, or Edith Cowan. They gather some brochures which were given to me so I can use them for reference.

We also head to the nearby ANZ bank to open local bank account for me. The process was quite breeze. They only asked my passport and student card in order to open the bank account. And in a very short time, I even get my ATM card ready to use!

By that time, Australian banks no longer used account book, like what is still done in Indonesian bank. The ATM card is generally the way used by bank customers to do transaction. In every bank counters you will see keypad on the top. When customers want to deposit cash money, they only need to swipe their card and entered their PIN number. Stark contrast to Indonesian banks where customers still need to fill up the form and even carrying their account book when making transaction in the bank.

Later in the afternoon we relaxed in the room when we heard someone knocking our door. Apparently it was the owner of the hotel. He  apologized to us for the poor service of the hotel, and addressing problems that we had such as extra bed (which was eventually given). He even gave us some free vouchers for some restaurants in the city. Since my father satisfied with the complaint handling, we decided to remain in the hotel for the remainder of their stay in Perth.

Later in the evening, we went to explore the Beaufort Street. Although busy in daytime, at night it was almost deserted. The only places that are still crowded are just the pub or restaurants. All shops are closed, with the exception of the Asian grocery store at the corner near the college.

We browse around the area to see if there are any good restaurants around. Back then, there were 2 or 3 restaurants near the campus, one Italian, one Vietnamese, and one that I already forgotten (I think it was a fish and chips, but I’m not sure). All of them were located just across the road from the Queens  pub over there.

We decided to have a dinner at the Italian restaurant. It’s a small restaurant, owned by southern Italian émigré family who offered authentic Italian cuisine. We looked at the menu; both I and my father were quite puzzled by the items in the menu. None looks familiar for us. Only my sister, who studied hotelier in Switzerland at that time, understands them. Eventually, I decided to order “Ravioli”, my father ordered Spaghetti; while I my sister ordered lasagna.

While waiting for our food, the owner asked us where we are from. My father answered that we are from Indonesia. He was happy upon knowing that. He said that he really love visiting Bali. Once or twice every year they would go for vacationing in Bali. The warm tropical weather and hospitable locals truly endear them.

Our food eventually come, and ready to be eaten. Upon seeing my meal, I’m a bit perplexed. Honestly, I initially didn’t really like what I found. The food smells quite putrid. Almost like puke! Yet, the appearance is slightly appetizing. So I decided to give it a try, and it turned out that the taste is quite good! They also serve a cup of Parmesan cheese on the table which we can add to our food if we like to.

After we finished our food, we paid the bill and return back to the hotel for overnight rest.

TO BE CONTINUED

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About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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