Indonesian Studies Newsletter Issue 64

Kelas 3B, Pusat Bahasa Jan. 2012

Norman dari Hobart dengan Phil dari Uni Sunshine Coast

Katie dari Tassie dan "Young Ron" dari Sydney


Anak-anak Lombok

Time to bridge cultural divides Lombok program student January 2012


Mercury newspaper, pages 23-24, 15 February 2012

KEVIN Rudd visited some enthusiastic Australian students at a university in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta recently (The Australian, January 18) to talk about a vital relationship. It wasn't his relationship with boss Julia Gillard, but the more important one to many people - between Australia and its vast and populous neighbour to the north.
By all accounts, the Foreign Minister received a warm welcome at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta (January 9).
He encouraged the students in their Indonesian studies and offered some interesting insights into the importance of the Australia-Indonesia relationship and what it could teach the world. When accounts of Mr Rudd's visit to Jakarta circulated among Australian students studying at another Indonesian university a distance away on the beautiful island of Lombok, their response was equally positive.
The 50 or so Australians, including six Tasmanian students from Launceston and Hobart, at the University of Mataram (UNRAM) were told that the Foreign Minister had called for a "new cadre" of Indonesia experts in Australia. "Great news," said an Australian university lecturer in Mataram. `But let's make Kevin follow up on his words."
Enthusiasm over Mr Rudd's reiterated support for Indonesian studies was tempered by the memory of the former prime minister promising to make Australia the most Asia-literate nation in the Western world by 2020.
However, the clock has been ticking on Mr Rudd's promise, and according to many Asian language experts, there has been little progress towards his ambitious goal.
In fact, there has been an alarming decline in the number of Australian schoolchildren studying Asian languages, at a time when the Asian century is upon us.
Mr Rudd had dropped in on Australian students studying in Jakarta and called for more "Australian Indonesianists".
He confessed: "My generation has been lazy on Indonesia. Your generation has no alternative but to be energetic on Indonesia. And the world's your oyster."
"I think there is something special which we as Australians and Indonesians can say to the world together. And that is, despite this massive diversity and difference between us, that we actually can say to the rest of the world that we can make it work."
The Australian students and their Indonesian teachers in Lombok were indeed making a statement about the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Last month, the students were studying Bahasa Indonesia at UNRAM in order to develop a deeper understanding of Indonesia, to improve career opportunities, to build friendships and to show that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, can work.
UNRAM has hosted the In-Country Indonesian Language program since 1998, in cooperation with a consortium of universities including the University of Tasmania, Charles Darwin University, the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of New England.
Students study Bahasa Indonesia at the university's language centre for three or six-week semesters at various levels, gaining credits towards their degrees or diplomas. There are courses for beginners and advanced students. In-country study is also available to people not studying at university.
The program is intensive and sometimes challenging. The Indonesian lecturers are highly competent and understanding and learning takes place inside and outside the classroom, often with residents on the bustling, broad, tree-lined streets of Mataram.
"Culture shock is good for you," suggested one Australian lecturer.
The four-hour classes begin at 8.30am every weekday except Friday (8am start) and include lectures, tutorials, development of conversational skills, out-of-class assignments such as interviews and excursions to villages. As many Australians know, Lombok has its temptations, including superb surfing spots and magnificent locations such as the Gili Islands. But students (generally) keep them at bay, at least until the weekend.
The rewards of in-country study are enormous. Experts agree that there is no substitute for total "immersion" in a culture in order to learn a language.
The Tasmanian students were full of praise for their Lombok language experience.
Mr Rudd's call for a new cadre of Indonesia experts may be belated in light of his earlier emphasis on Asia literacy, but there is no denying its importance and the need for government action to increase the number of students studying Asian languages.
Indonesia is forecast to be one of the world's top 10 economies by 2050, with a population of 350 to 380 million. Opportunities for closer economic and trade ties with our great Asian neighbour are enormous.
But experts say there is also a pressing need for Australians to understand Indonesia's rapid rise through channels such as in-country study at institutions like UNRAM, where communication skills are learned - and strong friendships forged.

NOTE: Norman Andrews is studying Indonesian at the University of Tasmania. He took part in UTAS's In- Country language program at the University of Mataram, Lombok, in January this year.

This article was published in the Mercury newspaper, pages 23-24 on 15 February 2012. Reproduced here with permission of author. See scan of original as published.

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