Media intern's
Indonesia romance

Sherry Zhang says she didn't expect to fall in love during her media internship in Indonesia, but the country quickly swept her off her feet. The Foundation supported Sherry to spend six weeks in Jakarta working for Hill and Associates as part of the ACICIS Journalism Professional Practicum.

Sherry with two Indonesian students with a pink sunset in the background

“Remember to eat everything, take risks and let yourself have a little romance!”

That was the sage advice I heard from a previous intern at Asia New Zealand Foundation’s predeparture meeting before I was sent on my merry way to Indonesia for one and a half months  ACICIS’s Journalism Professional Practicum programme.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I applied for the programme; I knew I had felt unsure of my path in journalism so far, and that I knew I wanted to be thrown into the deep end to get far away from the familiar, the bubble, of Auckland. 

But Romance? Pooh-ey not for me!

Except love always hits you out of nowhere, and Indonesia hit me square between the eyes -  the traffic congestion, smoking street food carts, and cats skittering around every corner. My favourite memory of Jakarta was walking to my kos (accommodation) with the cheapest bags of fruit, under hazy and purple sky, past lime green warungs and with prayers ringing out from the mosques.

A group of people sitting at a table eating lunch

The Jakarta I fell head over heels is the young democracy precariously balancing 22 million people, with 6 religions intertwined and one of the most rapidly changing political spaces. There’s a special kind of understanding you can only begin to scratch by studying, working and living in a space.

My summer fling went by far too quick, and I only wish I had more time to explore all the nooks and crannies across the archipelago of over seventeen thousand islands.

Working at Hill & Associates 

“Sherry don’t tell your boss… little father. We gonna take you out to lunch! Meet us in the lobby!”

There are some office politics that are universal. Like code-names to talk about the boss behind the back.

My time at Hill & Associates challenged me in the best way. While risk analysing was an unexpected placement for me, and initially didn’t sound as sexy as shadowing a foreign correspondent in a news room, it taught me invaluable skills and a deeper appreciation of Indonesian politics and society.

The mornings were spent picking through English and Indonesian newspapers for political and social unrest. Only in this field of work do you hear your mentor moan over morning coffee:

“Damn there’s no deaths today!… Nah don’t worry about that car crash, no one died… I guess we can do that one but we did cover mount Merapi lava flow yesterday. Any more terrible things happen?”

I’d hunch over newspaper clippings with the Bahasa (Indonesian) I knew and google translate to piece together reports on dengue fever, flooding and million rupiah corruption cases, while next to me my fellow ACICIS intern, Jade, worked on a report on prison safety and human rights in Southeast Asia.

A woman and a child walking down the street

The afternoons I spent researching for hoax news leading up to the presidential/gubernatorial elections. The upcoming elections are big stuff, with around 190 million eligible voters and personality politics dominating the landscape. 

Any chance I had to take an hour long motorcycle ride to interview NGOs, I was on it. You learn very quickly that WhatsApp and twitter are the best way to reach contacts, and to be “rubbery” [flexible] with time. So rubbery that even though you’re late half an hour, everyone else is late another half because of traffic, rain and life.

One of the biggest lessons Indonesia taught me is that plans magically fall into place when they are meant to. Like the weekend trips I was lucky enough to squeeze in. I stayed on an organic farm in Bogor with a bunch of other JPP [Journalism Professional Practium] students and went on foggy hikes that felt like the edge of the world

The next weekend I popped over to The Thousand Islands, an hour or so ferry ride away from Jakarta, to snorkel and later watched the sunrise from the biggest Buddhist temple in Yogyakarta where I tried my hand at bartering with a local in the street store, and smiled when I knew she was ripping me off…picking my battles because she was only ripping me off three dollars.

While I only had two weeks of intensive language training at Atma Jaya University, I’ve managed to maintain full hour conversations, with each party only knowing five words, getting by on hand gestures and laughter.

The friendliness of Indonesians is something I’m constantly grateful for. As part of the programme we were also fortunate enough to interview the co-founder Resa and the children of BGBJ, a school run on the Southeast Asia’s largest landfill. It was one of the most inspiring and humbling days spent playing games with the children and getting to know their story.

This trip has been filled with eye-opening experiences. I’m left immensely inspired by the journalists who mentored and taught us. I’m hoping I can be half as ballsy as them and get arrested eight times (16 is hard number to top in the name of human rights.) And I’m left missing eating sambal on heaped plates of rice at padang restaurants. I’ve definitely left a little bit of my heart in Indoneisa.