Indonesian Student Group Builds Cultural Bridge


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Dr. Priyanto Wibowo (fourth left), education consul at the Indonesian Embassy in China, along with members of PPIT Harbin ahead of the performance of Roro Jongrang: The Legend of Thousand Temples.


By Liam Zanyk McLean

When Albert Giovanni first arrived in Harbin in northeast China following his 6,098-kilometer journey from Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend university in 2013, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Even though we arrived at the end of August, I thought it was already a bit cold,” Giovanni recalled. “Harbin is really far north, so for me the weather was something to get used to. Jakarta is hot all the time.”

Giovanni is one of a growing number of university students from Indonesia currently study
ing in China. He is also a member of Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia Tiongkok (PPIT), an Indonesian students’ organization in China. While most Indonesian students are based in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, there are growing numbers spread across China, including in Harbin, China’s northernmost major city. PPIT, which hosts events and serves as a bridge between Indonesian and Chinese culture, is officially represented across 23 Chinese cities. The total number of Indonesians studying in China has reached 15,000. Of those, around 8,000 are PPIT members, according to Martin Tanuwijaya, a member of PPIT Beijing’s business department.

“At PPIT we do events involving sports, education, culture and art, social activities and more,” Tanuwijaya said. “We do all kinds of events to promote Indonesia’s name.”

Tanuwijaya studies mechanical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is ranked as one of China’s top educational institutions, along with Peking University. He will graduate in 2017.

Like Tanuwijaya, Giovanni decided to come to China to study engineering after noticing the high rankings of engineering programs in China. After receiving an offer from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), Giovanni jumped at the opportunity to go to China for study.

“Since high school, I’ve wanted to study engineering,” Giovanni said. “In 2012 I went to an education exhibition in Jakarta and I found that HIT had a booth there. I registered right away.”

In recent years, China has proven to be a top destination for university students from Southeast Asian countries, thanks to China’s internationally respected universities and the Chinese government’s widespread scholarship schemes for foreign students. As the Indonesian economy continues to grow, more and more Indonesian students are seeking education abroad.

PPIT’s Role

PPIT is more than just a place for Indonesian students in China to meet one another. It also brings Chinese and Indonesian students together through performances, tours and shopping events.

PPIT Harbin performed a musical on May 22, 2016, known as Roro Jonggrang: The Legend of Thousand Temples, a traditional Javanese folktale. It is a story of love and betrayal that also explains the origin stories behind several of Indonesia’s most sacred temples. The performance, which attracted a crowd of 250 Chinese students, international students from other countries and teachers, was a big hit. Dr. Priyanto Wibowo, the Education Consul at the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing, was also in attendance.

Lazuardi said that during the final month of preparation leading up to the show, the cast, behind-the-scenes helpers and directors spent four days per week rehearsing, including around six hours every weekend.

Felicia Lazuardi, who played the role of Princess Roro’s maid, said the performance was a life changing experience for her.

“I had to sing in one of the scenes, and it was really stressful for me, since I’m not a professional singer,” Lazuardi said. “I was afraid it would turn out badly and ruin the show, but thanks to the talented people behind the curtain, the sound effects and the background LED lights, even my mediocre singing voice turned out amazing.”

Lazuardi said that during the final month of preparation leading up to the show, the cast, behind-the-scenes helpers and directors spent four days per week rehearsing, including around six hours every weekend.


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Albert Giovanni, a Harbin Institute of Technology student from Indonesia, plays main character Bandung Bondowoso in Roro Jonggrang.


Other past PPIT Harbin events have included hosting bazaars in which Indonesian students sold prepared Indonesian food, coffee, instant noodles, jewelry and other Indonesian specialty products. Such events have allowed Chinese students as well as international students from other countries a chance to experience Indonesia’s diverse and unique fashion and cuisine.

Unique Challenges with Unique Benefits

As with any big change, studying in another country comes with a host of challenges. The language barrier proved difficult at first for Lazuardi, who arrived in Harbin at the age of just 16.

“When I first arrived, I couldn’t speak Chinese, so at first I didn’t know where to go and what to eat,” Lazuardi said. “But after a while, I realized that Chinese isn’t that hard to learn, and now I enjoy my life here.”

In addition to a role in the musical, Lazuardi said she has gained leadership experience in her role with PPIT.

“For the years 2015 and 2016, I have been head of the entrepreneur division,” Lazuardi said. “I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge about entrepreneurship. I have also met a lot of people who have helped me achieve my goals.”

Participation in PPIT events is not limited to Indonesian students. Performances like Roro Jonggrang and other events have involved international students from other countries and Chinese students alike. In Roro Jonggrang, performers included students from China, Russia, Thailand, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Claudio Rachmadi, who is from the Indonesian city of Surabaya, said that in addition to excellent engineering program, the student lifestyle offered by HIT drew him to study there.

“There is a lot of entertainment here,” Rachmadi said. “There are coffee shops, bars, clubs, international student organizations and so on. And it’s affordable.”

The growth of the Chinese economy as well as economies across Southeast Asia has led to an increase in opportunity for educational exchange. China’s high-ranking and well regarded universities have proved a magnet for students across the region, and as the region continues to grow, such educational exchange looks set to increase significantly.

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