Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 26):

It can be said that the last few weeks of my study in Australia felt darker and dull than during the early and middle months. I no longer felt cheerful and excited like what I used to have during the first 2/3 duration of my study. Going to the college felt rather bland and uninteresting, worsened by the fact that the weather was already hot. Although the environment in the campus was just similar like what it used to be, there are several things that bothered me by then.

Midway through my study, I heard news about the “Asian Economic Crisis” which severely affecting the economy of many Asian countries. It was initially started in South Korea, but later spread to South East Asia. Thailand was the one that was first hit by the economic crisis. So much that many Thai students decided to cancel their study prematurely. Ake, my Thai friend whom I met during orientation and briefly close to me during the first days in St. Mark’s, decided to cut short his study and head back home in October.

Map of countries affected by 1997-1998 Asian Economic crisis. It can be said that Indonesia was the worst hit by the crisis.

At first, the effect of the crisis hadn’t sink in on me. I was still full of excitement; especially since I was madly in love with Denise back then. But the effect of the crisis gradually hit me. I remember at that time I was thinking about heading to Europe at the conclusion of my study. At first my father agreed, but later he suggesting otherwise upon knowing that Indonesian currency suffered severe devaluation. Indeed some of my Indonesian mates decided to cancel their plan to study in Australia returning back to Indonesia instead.

During that period, we also began to hear ugly news from our country. Severe smoke haze caused by illegal land clearing was said to engulf most of Indonesia (the fact that proved to be untrue upon news testimony from my high school friends). And then we heard news about airplane crash near the city of Medan, which is said to be the worst aviation disaster ever in Indonesia. And Australian media were all too happy to make dramatization about these events.  So much that Alvin commented “Our country seem to descend into the mess while we’re out having fun in Australia!”

The wreckage of Garuda Indonesia Airbus A300 on flight 152, which crashed in North Sumatera. The accident is still ranked as the worst air accident in Indonesia.

Other thing that made me anxious during the last few weeks of my study was English language exam. In order to enter university in Australia, an overseas student (from non-English speaking countries) must undertake English language exam to prove that they have sufficient language capability to study in Australian university.

Although back in Indonesia, the most popular English language exam was the American TOEFL, in Australia there is another exam which is said to be more comprehensive (in other words: more difficult). It is called IELTS. This exam is originating from Britain, and pretty much rivaling the TOEFL. Compared to TOEFL, IELTS is more complex: it involves several sections that test our ability to write, solve problem, listening, and even speaking. While on the other, TOEFL only involved multiple selections and listening. Although TOEFL is accepted on Australian universities, IELTS is more preferable. So, I decided to take this one instead of TOEFL.

First, I must also check out the available schedules for the exam. This exam only held on certain dates every month. And there were two different venues: the Bentley campus of Curtin University, and Murdoch University. Since my time in Australia was already limited, I had no choice but to undertake the exam in early December. I also choose Bentley campus as it was more accessible than Murdoch.

Then I also must pay the fee to join the exam. The price was $50 (Australian Dollar). This is quite cheap when compared to the price if I took the exam in Indonesia which is counted in US Dollar! Registering and paying the exam fee also gave me opportunity to find out where Bentley campus is located. From my college, I traveled by bus to Perth station. Upon alighting at Horseshoe Bridge, I went to the platform and board the train on Armadale line. After several minutes of trip, I disembark at Oats Street station, where from there I caught the bus to Bentley campus. The bus traveled through old residential area around this suburb. They were mostly middle class housing area.

Oats Street station, seen in 2005. In 1997, it looked exactly like this. The bus lane and shelters can be seen on the left, behind the fence. The Multirider validation machine is similar to what in 1997.

Upon arriving at the Bentley campus, I was truly marveled by how vast the campus is. Being the main campus of Curtin University, which is the largest in West Australia, it holds virtually every course that the university offers. Indeed the size of the campus is probably similar to a small town. Although located near the city center, it is actually self-sufficient. It has all amenities that needed by students, ranging from class theaters, several libraries, studios, laboratories, lodging, minimarkets, bookstores, café, restaurants, and even its massive football pitch. The only thing that was not available is the entertainment. For that, students must head into the city.

Curtin University Student Guild hall is the centre of student activity in the college.

It took me a while to find the IELTS administration building, but after asking direction for several times, I eventually find it nestled in one corner of this massive campus. Once I paid the exam fee, they gave me receipt as well as clearance card that I must bring when I do the exam.

Curtin University library is one of the landmark in Bentley campus. If I’m not mistaken the IELTS administration place was located nearby.

In order to prepare for the exam, I had to take some additional preparation class. Now for the first time, my study felt really serious. No longer had we dealt with easy and fun subjects like what we would normally found in regular classes. Now the subjects are truly complex and challenging. It emphasized in preparing the students to do the IELTS exam. The study materials were pretty much focused on the exam itself, and it includes examples of past exam materials.

As I have predicted before, I found that learning to do IELTS exam is a steeper learning curve than in the regular classes. Although there are no “failures” (at least for those who undertake the test), there are grades in the result. It ranges from 1.0 for “a person with no knowledge of English language” all the way until 9.0 for “a person with expert knowledge of English language”. I also learn that being native speaker wouldn’t guarantee that the person could get great result, while non-native speaker can possibly achieve top score.

The teaching materials in the class also reveal how complex IELTS exam is. Listening may not be a problem, as I have been trained in Milo’s listening exam which involve real radio news which were spoken at fast pace. I did the exercise test, and found it very easy. But still, I must not be complacent as there are some words whose are pronounced in thick accent. And obviously, no one would help me if I don’t understand what was said in the audio.

Then there is one module called “Reading”. What we do is we read a text, and then filling up the blank spaces in question part. But unlike regular exercise in the class, often we have to make conclusion of what is written in the text before being able to write the answer. Most of the time, the answer is not obviously visible in the text. To add the challenge, we only have limited time to complete this task.

And then there is one section which set IELTS apart from TOEFL: writing. In the test sheet, we would be given data figures in a form of charts (similar to what you see in financial section in newspapers or magazines). From that we must write a short article that describes what is depicted in the charts. How do we describe this determine how good our English language skill is. This is imperative for writing report in the college, although the subjects may vary when we enter the college (depending on what study majoring we will take).

Lastly: the speaking exam. Although it has the shortest duration and actually less challenging technically, but it can also be the most burdensome in psychological aspect. This part doesn’t just test your ability to speak English, but they also mark you based on your confidence in presenting yourself. The assessor also marked our appearance. Dodgy English speaking skill can be helped if we have pleasant and polite outlook. While the score for good speaking ability can be deducted if we act impolite, or we do not tidied up our appearance before coming for exam. Our teacher even says that this is the closest thing that we get to real job interview.

That is how to describe how complex and difficult the IELTS exam is. For a first timer like me, it was a daunting task, which made me really nervous. Careful and intense preparation is necessary to ensure a successful exam. Our teacher assure us that we do not need to feel nervous about the exam, as most of the time the assessors are not ruthless and would also value us based on our effort, in addition to skill itself.

Now, after I read some college guide books and brochures, I found that in order to be eligible to enroll to Multimedia programs (in many top colleges), I must have IELTS exam score around 5.5 until 6.0. It’s all depending on which university is. It means that the higher my score, the more choices that I would get. So in order to prepare for the exam, I would study harder. And from this point, I would spend more time studying instead of watching TV or going around the city.

Amidst the increasingly hectic activities, my parents phoned me. They said that they will come to Perth to see me after the exam. They missed me and really keen to see me. They also wanted to stay in Pacific motel, which is familiar to my father. In addition, they will also help me checking out from Shiraj’s house and helping offset the luggage limit when traveling back to Indonesia.  Oh well, that would be great help I think.

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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