by Abby Yao
Selamat datang to Indonesia! And what a welcome we received. On the first weekend of November, three Filipina Erasmus Mundus alumnae–Jill (EMLE 2006-07), Vilma (MSPME 2006-08) and I (CoMundus 2006-08)–were in Jakarta to attend the European Higher Education Fair (EHEF) at Balai Kartini in the city’s business district. We joined EM alumni from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to help promote and spread awareness about the Erasmus Mundus scholarships.
Like EHEF Manila held at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel early this year, EHEF Jakarta had booths of exhibiting universities from all over Europe to provide information about their course offerings. The European Union booth, the fair’s largest, had information materials about the EU for the EHEF visitors to take home. The EM alumni were at the booth to answer questions from prospective applicants. In addition, there were Erasmus Mundus talks by Mr. Koen Nomden of the EC in the seminar rooms. The two original talks were suffocatingly packed. When Hungary backed out of their session slot, EM stepped in and still had a capacity crowd.
On Day One, we put on our EHEF shirts and EM Alumni Association (EMA) pins. My spiel began with this: “If you have any questions about the Erasmus Mundus scholarships, I would be happy to answer them.” And the questions just kept coming. (Maybe I was smiling too much.)
We stayed at the booth from 10am until nearly 3pm, after which we left for a city tour arranged by the local coordinators who were also EM alumni. We braved Jakarta traffic and headed by bus to Museum Bank Mandiri, passing by MONAS (National Monument) and the Istana Merdeka, their version of the White House. After the bank tour, we went around the old part of the city on bikes.
By nightfall, we were on our way to Lara Djonggrang restaurant, perhaps the most beautiful restaurant I had ever seen. After tasting the local specialties, it was time for business. Jennifer from the EMA Steering Committee brought up the plan to form the Southeast Asian chapter and key issues were brought up for discussion.
Day Two was another full day. Jill, Vilma and I were early at the venue, so we helped out in unpacking the booklets and brochures, and spreading them out on stands and tables. We were often mistaken for Indonesians, more so because we wore batik shirts. I had to tell people approaching me that I can only speak to them in Bahasa Inggris. By 5pm, the crowds were thinning out and we could finally take it easy. All the non-Indonesian alumni (except us Pinays) left early that afternoon to catch their flights, so we went to Plaza Semanggi with the Indonesian alumni for dinner. The three of us stayed for two more days of sightseeing and shopping in the capital.
Being at EHEF was an exhilarating experience for me. The turnout was incredible. From an expected 4,000 attendees, the visitor count reached 15,000 for the weekend–a smashing success on all counts. You could really feel the number of people because the booth ran out of materials though there were stacks of them everywhere at opening time. I am also sure that I spoke to at least a hundred students and parents over the course of the fair.
Discussing with the Pinays, we thought of how to promote EM in the Philippines and about the lessons we picked up from the organization of the event. There is much left to do in terms of awareness and information, especially outside Metro Manila. Our hope is to make Erasmus Mundus one of the most sought-after postgraduate scholarships for Filipinos. But for now, the immediate task is to persuade alumni to register at the EMA site and become official members of the alumni association.
Working as a team with fellow alumni was fun. Although I had never met the other alumni before (and I only met Jill and Vilma at EHEF Manila after our programs), our studies in Europe certainly brought us together. Being from different courses was even an advantage because we could refer queries for particular programs to fellow alumni.
To the EMA, the EC delegation and the alumni who volunteered their time and effort to bring us all together in Jakarta, terima kasih! We look forward to the launch of the Southeast Asian chapter next year and working with you in events like this in the future. Sama-sama, anything is possible.
[More Jakarta posts on my blog over the next two weeks.]