Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 2)

The beginning of 1997 was quite a busy period for me. It was the last year of high school where students were busy with many activities. Despite of looming final exam, we still occasionally held some events in the school. Some of the festivities were held to commemorate certain events.


High school open day party and gathering in early 1997.


Inside one of the classroom in SMA Negeri 4 Surabaya high school.


Student rock band is seen performing their rendition.

Earlier in my high school years, I was so ambitious on becoming pilot. I was so focused on pursuing my dream to become pilot that I became obsessed with it. Unfortunately, my ambition was dashed when I fail to enter physics science major in the last year of high school due to poor math, and physics. Instead, I was directed to social science group for my last year in high school. Since pilot schools at that time only accept students who majoring engineering subjects in high school, the opportunity to become aviator was closed for me. Which means by that time, I was still undecided of what to take for my tertiary education.

Worse still, the last year of the high school was an anxious moment for me, especially the last 6 months of it. Not least because everyone were busy preparing our final exams.  In Indonesian education system at that time there were layers of exam that we must do. School’s final exam, National final exam, and finally University entrance exam. The last one have 2 version: the National one (for government’s university), or private university version. Depending which university we take, we must pass the exam in order to be eligible to enter university. You could imagine how difficult it was.

However my tension was eased when my father offered me to study overseas. It sounds interesting, although I initially resented the idea of studying overseas. Back then I never felt comfortable for living away from my parents. In addition, up until that time I always felt very nervous whenever I met Europeans. I felt like an innocent earthlings who met aliens from outer space whenever I meet white people (or any people that are not from South East Asian countries).

So going to study in overseas country was quite an unique challenge, in comparison to dealing with National exam.

Prior to that, my only experience of being in overseas countries was just vacationing with my parents and siblings to Singapore in 1994 and 1995. Although heavily modernized and westernized, Singapore is not really far off from Indonesia in term of culture and people. Which means visiting a western country, and staying for long, would be a new (and actually daunting) thing for me.

For the overseas study program, I was offered 2 places: Australia or United States. Both doesn’t sound quite easy for me. So to help me adjusting with living away from parents, I was offered to take ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) language program in Australia, in a place which is nearest to Indonesia: Perth in West Australia.


View of Perth city as seen in 1997.

The offered college was St. Mark’s International College, which had a good reputation for their English language course for prospective overseas students in Australian college.


St. Mark’s International College brochure. This is their 2008 edition. The 1997 version was predominantly green and gold.6StMarks2
The inside section showing more details.
More info inside the brochure.

To help me to go there, an agent named “Pirax Overseas Education Consultant” would help me to arrange my study. This company was founded by an elderly Indonesian named Irawati Sandjaja who used to study in Australia, and had connection with major universities and colleges in the country. They promised that they will also helped me to adjust in coping with brash and straightforward Australians.


They frequently held “Australian Education Exhibition” event on Hyatt Hotel Surabaya (now Bumi Hotel), where representative from variety of colleges in Australia would come and showing off their colleges to attract potential students to enroll to their place. At that time, going to study overseas wasn’t as popular as what it is now but their popularity was booming. Thanks to our strong currency, the tuition fee of overseas colleges were not very expensive, and even competitive, when compared to the fee of studying in top universities in Indonesia.

On the other side of the story, interacting with westerners was actually not new for me. Prior to this, I had actually attended English language extra-curricular course in one college in Surabaya, where all of its teachers come from English-language countries, with British being the majority, with small number of Australians and Americans lecturers make up the rest of the group. This gave me some insight and experience on how to interact with them, and adjusting with their first world discipline.

Since I often failed to go up the grade on my English language classes, I imagined living in their country would have been like a tough uphill challenge.  And also by mid-1996, I had to end the course as I was preparing for final school exam. So there was a quite a long gap between the last times I met my English-speaking teachers, and coming to stay in English-speaking country of Australia. I wonder if this lengthy gap means I had to readjust with such strict discipline?

With the preparation for overseas study, it means that aside of preparing for high school’s final exam, I also had to prepare myself for study in Australia. The study would focus on English language course. Pretty much like what I had in the English language college in Surabaya, unless that the venue is right down in English-speaking country. So it’s not just learning the language, but also adapting with the culture and customs as well.

Occasionally, some of the representative from this Australian college would come to Surabaya for exhibition and briefing, and in the spare time during exhibition they would test my English language skill.

I remember the head of the college asked me to read an English language book and pronounce what was written, and then he assess the way I pronounce it. I found their impromptu exam very difficult in term of psychological aspect, mainly due to my nervousness in meeting with them. Despite of the adversity, these hindrances proved to be false dawn because they didn’t reflect on what I will have once I came in Australia.

Back to school,  since I still undecided for my future tertiary study, my father said that I should just focus to my upcoming study in Australia, and then decided about over there. And due to the fact that I’m not heading to one of those elite universities in Surabaya and Indonesia, I didn’t felt any pressure to reach the highest mark on my final exams.

I honestly think there was nothing very interesting to remember about my last months in my high school. Because what happens after graduation is what eventually become the highlight of the year 1997.



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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