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

The beginning of 1997 was quite a busy one for me. It was the last year of high school. Every students were busy with many activities, where ironically some of them are actually conflicting. Despite of impending final exam, we still occasionally held some events in the school. Some of the festivities were held to commemorate certain events, while others are just to fill up the spare time.


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.

At that time I was still undecided on which university degree should I take. Earlier in my high school years, I was so ambitious on becoming pilot. I was so focused on becoming pilot that I became obsessed with aviation. 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.

The last year of the high school was an anxious one for me, especially the last 6 months of it. We were busy preparing our final exams. Even more stressful was the fact that 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.

However my tension was eased as I was offered to study overseas. It sounds interesting, although initially resented the idea of studying overseas. Because I never felt comfortable for living away from my parents. And 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). It felt like Close Encounter of Third Kind, very scary and hair raising experience.

Prior to that year, 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. So visiting a western country, and staying for long, would be a new (and actually daunting) thing for me.

For this overseas study program, I was offered 2 places: Australia or United States. I initially felt too nervous and resenting the idea. So in order to make it easier, 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 chosen 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.

An overseas study consultant company also play major role in helping me to go there. The name of this company was “Pirax Overseas Education Consultant”. 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. Back then, going to study overseas was quite popular. Thanks to our strong currency, the tuition fee of overseas colleges were not very expensive when compared to studying in local universities. I often use the occasion to adjust myself meeting foreigners and westerners, while practicing my hobbled English language skill.

Interacting with westerners was actually not new for me. Prior to this, I had actually attended English language extra-curricular course in a small 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. This gave me some insight on how to interact with them, and adjusting with their first world discipline. Sometime I failed to satisfy with their strict standard, which resulted in failing to go up the grade.

Since I often failed to go up rank on my English language classes, living in their country was unthinkable for me at that time.  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.

It means, aside of preparing for high school’s final exam, I also had to preparing myself for study in Australia. The study would initially 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.

Some of the representative from the Australian college would come to Surabaya, and in the spare time during exhibition they tested my English language skill. I remember the head of the college asked me to read an English language book, and then he assess the way I pronounce it. I found their impromptu exam very difficult, 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, up until then I still remain undecided on what major I will take for my university study. Aviation, although not out of question, have already losing its momentum on me. My interest in pursuing study as a pilot simply waned as the month progresses. My father didn’t mind about that. He said that I should just come to Australia, and decided about it later on.

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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