True taste of Indonesia

ROSEMARY Smith's fascination with Indonesian culture first began as a teenager but it wasn't until her early 50s that she got the chance to experience the country first hand.

Mrs Smith, the Jerrabomberra Public School Indonesian language teacher, was a recipient of the 2013 Endeavour Language Teacher Fellowship at the end of last year.

As part of the Fellowship she travelled to Indonesia this February for an intensive three-week study program.

An up close and personal view of the country will help Mrs Smith in her job where she educates about 500 students about Indonesian language and culture each week. 

"Originally I did Indonesian in high school, I was always interested in Indonesia seeing it's our second closest neighbour and studying something totally different was something that appealed," she said.

"There were only six of us [studying Indonesia] and that was considered a big year. It wasn't seen as a popular topic or elective."

Indonesian language teachers, particularly primary school ones, are few and far between.Mrs Smith, who was teaching kindergarten at the time, was encouraged by the school's outgoing language teacher to take over the post.

The Queanbeyan resident was one of the 31 teachers who travelled to Denpasar for the study program which included attending four hours of intensive language lessons each day and a cultural activity in the afternoon.

They also went on field trips each Saturday. The cultural excursions included interviewing a native speaker at a youth centre, pottery, cooking and batik lessons, visiting rice fields, a traditional shadow puppet performance and attending a village festival for the Goddess of Learning.

Mrs Smith said one of the highlights of her trip was staying with a local host family and immersing herself in the local culture and everyday lives of Indonesian people.

"We got to see how real people go about real life in Indonesia," she said. 

"Just everyday people going about their daily lives."

Something that will be with me for a long time is that Balinese people have their own beliefs. They're mindful of the influence of the Javanese and the Balinese don't want to lose their identity and culture.

"I hope they succeed, the Balinese lifestyle and religion is beautiful and I hate to think of imposing anything that isn't traditional."

She described Indonesian people as being "very practical, matter-of-fact people".

"One day we went to temple and once they had completed doing their blessings and offerings, they went home. There wasn't any hanging about afterwards," she said. 

"They came, did what they needed to and went home. I think we can learn a lot from the simple attitude of 'this what you do and when you've finished, on to do something else'.

"Mrs Smith said the trip has enriched the way she can teach the Indonesian language and culture to the students. She created a wiki page to be used in class and has 6000 photos to share with students.

"Now I can actually say 'look, I saw this and this is how they do it'," she said. 

"I can give the children a broader and well-balanced view ... of the way things really are and not just what is reported on the news. That will help the children have a better cultural understanding and empathy.

"My aim with the students is if they go into high school and choose to do a language then I've succeeded and if that language is Indonesian, even better," she said. 

"Language is so valuable, to learn any language is a good thing to me."

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