Memories are Inspirations (3): College Life

By Yohanes Berchmans Rosaryanto, OSC

“Memories are Inspirations-2” (MAI-2) consists of two parts. What I am going to write now is the second part: stories from my time in universities. In the first part, I wrote about my experiences from the time when I was in Kindergarten until my high school years. A friend once asked me, “What’s the difference between school and university?” To that, he, himself, answered, “School is for children of Kindergarten until high school. After high school, we go to the university which is no longer a school. At school, lessons start at seven while in university lessons don’t start at specific hours.”

Parahyangan University

After high school, I continued my study in Bandung, a city 450 kilometres away from my hometown, Klaten. This city is interesting. Many people want to visit or even live in this city. That was how I felt the first time I set foot in Bandung in 1989. There are many reasons why people want to be in this city. 

Bandung is the capital city of West Java, Indonesia. The inhabitants are Sundanese. The Sundanese culture is not so different from my own culture, Javanese. Nevertheless, there were always misunderstandings in terms of language as well as conducts. The same word can have completely different meanings in our different cultures. The word ‘atos’ means already in Sundanese, while in Javanese the same word means hard. Then there is another word, ‘gedang’. In Sundanese the word ‘gedang’ means papaya while in Javanese ‘gedang’ refers to banana. I was fortunate enough because I had realized that before so I never really experienced any fatal misunderstandings.  

Bandung, located on a highland, is known as Parahyangan, which means ‘the place of gods.’ Since Dutch colonialism, this city has been known as a place for relaxing due to her cool weather and fresh air. Bandung then developed into a fashion city and the Dutch named her “Parijs van Java,’ the Paris of Java. Some people call Bandung the flower city due to the flowers growing well here as well as in her surrounding areas. It is no wonder that Bandung becomes the coveted place to live in. Now that the pollution level in the city is getting higher and traffic is getting more congested, people might think differently about the city. Bandung, how fast you’ve changed!

I studied philosophy in one of the universities in Bandung; in Parahyangan Catholic University (UNPAR), to be more precise. To study philosophy, I had to read extensively. I was grateful for the reading habit that I established in high school. Otherwise, I would have had a lot of difficulties in my study. Besides reading skills, I also had to improve my language skill, both oral and written. These, too, I formed in high school. 

The study habit in university was completely different from my previous educational experiences (what my friend called ‘school years’). My study habit was put to the test since there was nobody to control me. I was to decide how and when to study, as well as deciding how long I had to spend studying each time. This was new to me. I started to develop learning methods I found helpful: thinking of questions instead of making statements. I realized that I did not have a strong memory. In the end, I found questioning to be interesting. This method might be suitable for the major I was taking. 

In the course of my study, I started to develop an eye problem. I began to feel reluctant to read. Keeping my eyes closed and sleeping became my preferred choice rather than perusing books and lecture notes, especially at night. I tried to criticize myself by saying that I was lazy. But the truth was I could not read as much and as intense as I used to do. This led me to find a study partner. The friend that I asked to be my study partner was smart and he liked reading. He had a very strong memory. During exam periods, I invited him to meet and I would fire him with questions from the lectures. I would formulate questions based on the lecture notes that I could not read entirely as if I were the lecturer. He would answer based on the knowledge that he got from books he had read and from the lecture notes. His answers were getting more concise as my questions got even more piercing. This method helped us both. I learned by listening to his answers and he learned from my questions. What was fascinating was the fact that some of questions sometimes appeared in the exams. Wasn’t that something?!

Just before graduation, I started wearing glasses to help my eyesight and I’ve worn them ever since. Philosophy is not a very popular subject in Indonesia. Not only is it complicated with thoughts which are, more often than not, mystifying, graduates from this major seem to have a less shining career opportunities compared to those from technical and financial majors. The lecturers are at times eccentric, too. I had one lecture who would always wear his thick glasses on the tip of his nose. His books came in layers (??). His glasses were used only for reading so when looking at his students, he would look pass the frame of his glasses with a frown upon his face. There was another who would always come to class with an ashtray. He smoked tingwe: linting dhewe (he manually rolled his cigarettes). The incessant thick smoke coming out of his mouth depicted his super busy minds. Imagine! Not one person could smoke in class and this only happened in our campus. Astounding! 

Some students seemed to follow the lead. Philosophy might lead students to have freedom of thoughts that they would express through freedom of conducts. Sometimes they went a little too far with the freedom and their actions became out of place and inappropriate. No matter what, those were what happened and they carved great memories in my head. Once there was a student who would always come late. The lecturer then asked, “Why are you late?” And he answered, “Because you started earlier than me coming here, Sir!” Upon hearing that, the whole class was nervous, anticipating the lecturer’s wrath. Surprisingly, he laughed and said, “Good answer! You may find your seat!” Fiuuhhh… we were relieved. At another time, a student submitted his exam paper with unintelligible handwriting. When the lecturer gave the papers back, he asked, “Whose writing is this? It’s illegible! Please rewrite so I can check it…” The student then spent the whole session rewriting his exam very carefully. At the end of class, he proudly presented the paper to the lecturer, saying, “It’s good now, Sir. Clear.” The lecturer took the paper and, smiling, he said, “Thank you. You got a C.” He said that without even looking at the content of the paper. Can you imagine how he felt? Well, he shouldn’t have written in such terrible handwriting. (Pssstt… secret be told, he is now holding a position as a secretary. Lucky he can use the computer!) 

Ateneo de Manila

I continued my study in Ateneo de Manila, Republic of the Philippines.  This gave me a new experience in my educational journey. Besides the new culture that I had to learn, I had to use English in my daily life. Despite my stay in the Philippines, my English is still imperfect even until now. In Manila, people do not exactly speak English. They have developed their own language: Taglish – Tagalog English, a mixed of the national language in the Philippines and English. This added to my already tough adaptation process in my new place. Then there was also the problem of food… We can compromise with the head, but tummy finds it hard to understand! I already missed the well-cooked rice during the first few weeks of my stay. It took me months to finally be able to adjust to the food there. Pork in any styles was the easiest dish to get: longanisa, tapa, chicheron, crispy pata, and lechon. Vegetables were not very popular and many of which were always mixed with pork. I did like some dish, though. Among the many were kare-kare, laing, sinigang, and kangkung. The way pinoy/pinay (the term for the Filipinos) cooked milkfish was also very typical. I really loved it. On hot days, drinking halo-halo was certainly refreshing. What was rather scary was balut. The Americans called it ‘aborted duck’ or ‘fertilized duck egg.’ It was a dish of duck egg that was brooded for 16-18 days. Before the egg developed completely to become a duckling, the brooding process was interrupted and the egg was cooked. A lot of foreigners did not dare eat this dish or felt disgusted only by looking at it. One balut had a very high protein. I consumed this dish at least once a month. It seemed to boost my motivation in my study. Hahaha… 

I majored in counseling psychology in Ateneo and this was a completely new field for me. The prerequisite of this major was for me to sit in an undergraduate class as an adaptation period to my graduate program. I was then had to be in the same class as 16-17 year olds. It was rather awkward for me to be in the same class as them.. they were still young and cute! I thought I was the oldest in class but it turned out there was a 59-year-old lady in our class. I was stunned by her enthusiastic and she said, “Learning knows no age.” I felt motivated hearing that. We were in the same class for one year. 

My philosophical background helped a lot in my study. Not always, though. I was really at a loss when learning about statistics. I had never realized that learning psychology entailed learning statistics. I was fortunate to know some friends who could and were willing to help me. I could do my statistics assignments with great motivations. When conducting experiments and preparing for my paper, I could do all the process in regard to statistics all by myself. I could not help feeling proud of myself. It was appropriate, I guess.. haha… Most of my friends hired statistic experts in making the final conclusion of their experiments. I didn’t!

 Ateneo is a university that belongs to Jesuit, a Catholic order of religious men, whose missions strongly influence the foundation on which the university is established. I can sense that in the area of humanities. Our classroom sessions are really interconnected with social activities around us. Every other week, I got an opportunity to visit one of the prisons in Muntinlupa, an area on the outskirt of Manila. These biweekly visits lasted for six months. Along with a friend, I tried to put into practice what we had learned to help those who were depressed. It was so hard to imagine being imprisoned. I might have been depressed just like them. When interacting with them, I had to free myself from of any criminal attributes they were associated with. Tough, touching! Just imagine, every time they introduced themselves, they would automatically state their ‘sins’ that had brought them there. That might be the standard procedure in accordance to the norms. “I’m Alfredo. I’m sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for murder.” “I am getting out in three years. I’m here for theft and rape. My name is Abo.” That was how they introduced themselves. The crimes they had committed and their sentence were ingrained in their identity. 

In the Philippines, sports win the people’s heart. This is also the case in Ateneo. Our sport facilities are complete. Inter-university competitions become a popular annual event, especially basketball. Ateneo basketball team is known as Blue Eagle. Apart from that, there are other popular sports in campus. That is because the university supports this area really well. Too bad badminton, the sport that I could play, was not popular. It was only welcomed in Metro Manila just before I graduated. They converted a lot of old warehouses into badminton fields. Ateneo had a taste of the new craze and we got ourselves badminton fields. In one occasion, some university alumni held a badminton match between alumni and students. I signed up for the match and I paired up with a Pinoy, an alumnus. I was not a great badminton player but I was quite used to playing. They thought that I was good, though. Hahaha… how could that come about? I couldn’t make good hits but I could trick my opponents well. And that helped me and Pak Boy to get second place. Not bad at all! 

The Philippines was my second country. I learned a lot about life from this country, both from my campus life as well as from life among the people. Later I learned that what I had experienced in Jose Rizal’s home country supports me in my vocation. It was great to have friends in another country. They would always make time to meet me every time I paid a visit to Manila ever since I left the country in 2003. Thank God… I hope one day I can share more stories of my time in the Philippines.  

 Yohanes Berchmans Rosaryanto, OSC is from Klaten, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia, and is now living in Rome, Italy.

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