Fri, 05 Sep 2003

Views on Indonesia from leaders of tomorrow

Dewi Anggraeni, Contributor, Melbourne, Australia

"When I visited Indonesia, I was surprised at the gentleness and friendliness of the people. They were so different to the angry faces I'd seen on television," wrote a Year 10 student studying Indonesian.

Another revealed, "I think my teacher was a spy when he was in Indonesia. I'm learning Indonesian, so I can be a spy too."

The jury of an essay-writing competition in the Indonesian language found themselves looking into a window otherwise not accessible to them. Did these young people open up because they knew those who read their essays would not know them? Or were there some budding writers of thrillers among them?

This was the first competition of its kind, organized by the Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Societies (MIALS) of the University of Melbourne, assisted by the Victorian School of Languages (VSL), and promoted by the Victorian Indonesian Language Teachers Association (VILTA).

Arief Budiman, the Chair Professor of the Indonesian Program in MIALS, confesses that the competition was a means of reinfusing the excitement of studying Indonesian in Australian secondary schools. With government funding shrinking each year, aggravated further by the extended economic and perceived security crises in Indonesia, the number of students taking up Indonesian in secondary schools has inevitably gone down.

"The young people of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. If they start developing friendships with their Indonesian counterparts and understand Indonesia and its people better, it will reflect well on the policy they develop later in life," said Arief.

And, more immediate, when secondary school students study Indonesian, they are more likely to choose a university course which has something to do with Indonesia, such as Indonesian politics, business law in Indonesia, Indonesian music, Indonesian literature, and many, many other fields that will help strengthen the ties between the two countries, especially when many of them will also teach Indonesian.

Nani Hardjo, one of the tutors in the Indonesian Program, who is also in charge of its events, came up with the idea of the competition, and went to liaise with Lily Djajamihardja of the Indonesian section of VSL. Lily then activated her network in VILTA, which placed the announcement in its newsletter.

"One thing we have learned for our next competition is," said Nani, "we need to advertise it earlier and more widely. The teachers had less than two months to get their students organized, so it was a rush. Even so, we still received 49 entries from 13 schools throughout the state of Victoria."

The competition consisted of three categories: for year 10, year 11 and year 12. The topic was, How I became acquainted with Indonesia. The entries were judged by the flow of the language, the attractiveness of the content and grammatical correctness.

Lauren Usher, 16, of MacRobertson Girls' High School, the first-prize winner of Year 11 category, compared how Indonesia was perceived by Australians, before and after the Bali bombing in October last year. And she added that her own perception had not changed.

"I still see a beautiful country and a nice people. And I am not scared of going back there, as often as I can afford to," said Lauren to The Jakarta Post. When she had to choose a language in Year 9, she chose Indonesian and she does not regret it. She hopes to become a teacher or translator, and to live and work for some time in Indonesia.

Each of the seven jury members read seven of the 49 entries and marked them from 50 percent to 95 percent. They then passed on the marked essays to the two senior tutors at VSL, Lily Djajamihardja and Rufin Kedang.

Leila Budiman, a jury member, recalls some interesting aspects of the entries she read.

One of them wrote of being struck by the extent of poverty when visiting Indonesia, while another told of feeling overwhelmed by the crowds everywhere she went. Leila also remembers an entrant described being impressed by the natural beauty of Indonesia. "Bali, Yogya and Borobudur came up a lot in the essays," recounted Leila.

Year 10 or year 11 students are not necessarily familiar with any social situation outside Australia. They are bound to have strong impressions when they visit Indonesia for the first time. Entrants who had never been to Indonesia wrote that they were infected by their teachers' enthusiasm in the country and its people. One young entrant was even planning a fair way into the future, to have his honeymoon in Indonesia.

On Friday Aug. 22, nine especially happy young Australians received a certificate and a cash award each. The first-prize winner in each category received AU$200, the second $150 and the third $100. The other 40 each received a certificate as well as encouragement from Indonesian Vice-Consul for Education Wahyu Hersetiati.

"Don't regard this as a failure: Take it as success delayed," said Wahyu at the award-giving night at the Asia Center of the University of Melbourne.