I arrived in Switzerland on Friday, 11 2015 at 14:20 Geneva time, then continued to Versoix, where I would live for approximately three months. It was difficult to find a place to live in the country, which is known for its high cost of living. Versoix is located not far from the center of Geneva; the trip only took about twelve minutes by train. I was fortunate because my apartment was only 700 meters from the train station, and thus it only took a minute to walk there. Everything I found there was new and amazing. On the first day I walked around the small town of Versoix, which is located at the edge of Lake Léman. I can even enjoy a stunning view of the lake from my apartment balcony. The sight of the lake, which reaches from Geneva to Montreux and the European mountains, welcomed me every day as I took the train to campus.
I was able to become part of the Graduate Institute Geneva, or in French the Institut de hautes études internationals et du développement (IHEID), because of a grant from the Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, for my thesis studies. As a late-semester student writing my thesis, I was extremely fortunate to receive this opportunity to conduct research in Geneva. Because of the good relations between these two institutions, I was able to become an exchange student during the autumn semester; I did not only conduct research, but also attended classes with the other students of the Graduate Institute. I was proud to be the first and only student from Indonesia to partake in this program.
Orientation for new exchange students was held on Monday, 14 September 2015. During this activity, we were given access to facilities that would ease the learning process while we were at IHEID, including a multi-functional student card, thumb drive, password, and user name to access the IT and email networks that students required to receive information and to ease communication with the lecturers. Afterwards, Concepta Canal, who was in charge of the exchange program at IHEID, and Dr. Laurent Neury, who was in charge of academic affairs, instructed us in the learning processes at the institute. Afterwards, orientation continued with a presentation regarding the institute, which included a lecture by the Director of IHEID and other academic staff. At the end of the orientation session, students were asked to participate in activities which introduced the different departments and programs of the IHEID, in accordance with their own specialties. I selected the Anthropology and Sociology program, because there I could attend classes which would give me information (both theoretical and analytical) useful for my thesis. Furthermore, specialists in gender studies (the central topic of my research) were also employed by this program, and as such I could receive advice from these lecturers and discuss my thesis with them. Through these programs, I met Françoise Grange and Christine Verschuur.
The first week was one of adaptation for me. Adapting to the weather, the transport, my fellow students from all corners of the globe, and the campus environment. I took two classes during this program: Social and Cultural Theory I and “Inégalités de genre, développement et théories féministes postcoloniales”. The first class was in English, whereas the second was conducted in French. This was a considerable challenge, as I was asked to understand and communicate in both languages at the same time. The first week of classes was filled with introductions, explanations of course rules, division of material for presentations, and reading assignments.
As a foreign student in Geneva, it was not enough for me to have a visa. I also needed a residence permit from the Office cantonal de la population et des migrations, a sort of civil registration office. In between classes and studying, I went to this office, equipped with a letter from the Graduate Institute, to apply for a student residence permit. I had to pay 237 CHF to apply for this residence permit. All students, be they from the exchange program or another program, were required to have such a permit. We were greatly aided in administrative issues by the Graduate Institute.
I spent almost all of my free time at the library because the atmosphere on campus was very conducive for studying. Once in a while, though, I would take the time to enjoy the view before returning to my apartment, as Geneva is not a large city. Aside from attending academic activities and working on my research, as a student of the institute I participated in various activities organized by the student body. One of them was Asian Night, which was held by the association of Asian students. Though it was a welcome party for Asian students, it was also attended by numerous Europeans and Americans. For this event, Hani, an Indonesian student of the IHEID’s Master of Development Studies program, borrowed some traditional Indonesian clothes from the Indonesian Embassy in Switzerland. Many foreign students were interested in the clothing and tried it on.
I did not participate in many research activities in the first weeks of the program because I was still adapting to this new place. Almost every day I received new information through my student email account, and I had to filter it and determine what was important for me and what could be safely ignored. Being part of the campus meant that I had to be more active in seeking knowledge, study more, not be afraid of asking questions, and use the available facilities so that I would not fall behind the other students. Furthermore, I had to make the best use of this opportunity, as I knew it would not come again.
I never imagined that I would receive a research grant from the Faculty of Cultural Sciences and become an exchange student at one of the most prestigious campuses in Geneva. Especially since, during my first week, I was visited by my thesis advisor, Bu Wening Udasmoro. She happened to be in Geneva for a presentation and to have recommended that I come here for my research. I am very grateful that she shared so much information about life in Geneva with me, because she had previously completed her masters’ studies in this city. It was a source of pride for me to follow my advisor’s steps and studying here, in the world’s safest and most peace-loving nation.
As I entered the second week of classes, I was kept busy with reading assignments. It was not a new experience for me to receive such assignments, but it felt different since I had to read English and French sources. This meant that I had to set aside more time for these assignments than I had when I was in Indonesia. I also tried to find additional information in Indonesian so that I could better understand the material. Like the Faculty of Cultural Sciences, the Graduate Institute often held seminars to discuss contemporary issues in various fields of discipline. I was able to attend the Gender Seminar Series, held monthly by the Gender Studies program, with the theme “Beyond the Normative: Can Women’s Inclusion Really Make for Better Peace Processes?” which was presented by Thania Paffenholz of the Graduate Institute’s Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). I was not able to follow much of the discussion, but I did understand that the research conducted by Thania and her team in several Middle Eastern nations indicated that women had a significant, flexible, and fluid role in the power process. Organized women’s groups could have highly positive effects on negotiations. This discussion was very interesting, and piqued my passion for further study.
The week was closed with a group photo of the exchange program students, who were all the first representatives of universities which had partnered with the IHEID. Here I learned that I was not alone: Nourhan and Amal, students of the American University in Cairo, Mariasole of Bocconi University, Milan, and me, Novi, from Universitas Gadjah Mada.