Aotearoa’s Lombok learning link © Duncan Graham 2009
Lombok folk probably know more about New Zealand than most Indonesians, particularly those who still think the South Pacific islands (also known in Maori as Aotearoa) are an offshore colony of Australia.
This knowledge has nothing to do with the efforts of paid NZ government agents promoting their little country of just over four million people. It does have everything to do with Istiqlal, (“my name’s easy to remember – just think of the big mosque in Jakarta”), the principal of a big government vocational college in Mataram.
“Everyone knows about Australia because Lombok, like Bali, is an Australian holiday spot, but NZ is a bit of an unknown. Kiwis tend to get a bit cranky when Indonesians confuse them with Australians,” said Istiqlal, demonstrating his comprehensive grip on the vernacular, perceptiveness and past tertiary studies in Darwin.
“I thought it was about time we helped build our relationships with NZ by sending them some of our students to improve their cultural understanding and experience of the world outside Lombok. There were a few difficulties, but I like a challenge.”
His wish was granted. The difficulties included no easy access to NZ. Australia is less than a couple of flying hours away at its closest point and just a meal and an in-flight movie between Bali and Perth.
Garuda no longer serves NZ and the cheaper fares require travellers to first fly north to Brunei, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. They then have to hang around the sensory deprivation units known as airport terminals waiting for connecting flights. This makes the journey southeast unnecessarily long and exhausting.
The other hurdles were the cash and education imbalances. Despite having free food and lodging the cost of sending an exchange student to NZ for a fortnight was around Rp 25 million (US $2,000) – a heavy burden for some Indonesians.
Then came the language problem. Many Australian schools teach Indonesian, but that’s not the case in NZ where European languages and Maori still dominate the curriculum, with Chinese and Japanese plodding along behind.
Nonetheless, in late March 18 teenagers from various Lombok schools found themselves in the capital Wellington, shivering in a sparkling autumn day that most Kiwis considered brilliant and balmy. In August a similar number of NZ students will be in Lombok facing heavy humidity and a diet dominated by rice.
Since Istiqlal took over SMK Negeri 4 (State vocational college) in May 2008 the rule on campus has been that the 850 students, the majority girls, must master English. To underline the message he insisted that anyone meeting him on the school grounds had to open the discussion in English.
“This had the effect of many people trying to avoid me,” he noted wryly. “But we produce graduates in tourism and they must be able to use the world language. That’s not so easy because till now we haven’t been able to employ native speakers – though that may change.
“My goal is to make our college number one in training for the hospitality industry with international standards. I don’t just want our alumni to be content with basic jobs; I expect them to become hotel managers and even owners of hotels in Indonesia and overseas.”
Bill Russell, the chairman of NZ company Education Network Indonesia, which brokered the exchange program, confirmed that Istiqlal’s college was exceptionally well equipped with modern teaching facilities.
“Some Westerners go to Indonesia and say: ‘We’re all right, you’re all wrong’,” commented Bill Russell. “They need their bums kicked. There are so many talented students who could hold their own anywhere. I always feel humble in Indonesia.”
Proving his point was Lombok lad Muhammad Haikal, 16, who gave a humorous off-the-cuff speech in laid-back English at a formal Indonesian Embassy function in Wellington. This was after spending sleepless hours squashed in an Airbus jumping time zones.
He didn’t even have time to change out of his sweat-soaked crumpled clothes, which would have fazed most public speakers because the VIP audience was in suits, crisp uniforms and pressed batik.
Istiqlal, 41, is no stranger to NZ. He was with a group of principals who flew south in 2008 on a study tour. For the energetic teacher who uses the Internet day and night like an international futures trader, this was no junket. He was one of the few that did any follow up work once he was back in the archipelago.
He promptly reported to the Education Department with ideas on how the trip could be used as a feeder into an educational highway, not a one-way street, - the fate of many study tours.
Astonished bureaucrats in Jakarta told him he was the only participant to come back with anything in writing and invited him to address principals from around the country on his plans.
He told them that in Wellington he’d met the Indonesian Ambassador to NZ, Amris Hassan who matched the Lombok teacher’s enthusiasm by endorsing a student exchange program.
The Ambassador took him to a Malaysian restaurant because there’s no Indonesian eatery in Wellington and said: “Since I took up this post two year ago I’ve been wondering why so many Malaysians come to NZ to study and so few Indonesians, and what to do about the problem.”
Amris Hassan introduced Istiqlal to Bill Russell and the ENI. This is a consortium of NZ secondary and tertiary institutions now recruiting Indonesian students. (See sidebar)
“Coping with the weather is going to be their biggest problem, followed by comprehension,” said Istiqlal as the Lombok students, many wearing headscarves, stole glances at their short-skirted Amazon hosts, wondering how they would fit in to the casual sport-mad lifestyle of NZ.
“We gave them cross-cultural courses before they left Lombok and of course they’ve seen many bule (foreign) tourists in Lombok, so the way they behave and dress shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
“Religion isn’t a concern. Parents know that their children will be staying with Christian families, with some studying at Catholic schools. Our cultures, foods and lifestyles are quite different, but the schools and host families are most concerned with the care of their visitors.
“This is a pilot project. I love NZ and want others to enjoy this country. The education here is world class, the people are friendly and everything is clean. It’s not just a land of sheep and dairy cows. I’m working very hard for NZ and wish we could get more government help.”
Handshaking opens doors © Duncan Graham 2009
Jane Holloway finds the heavy international promotion of New Zealand as a clean, green under-populated outdoor adventure land full of knockout scenery a bit of a handicap.
When trying to persuade Indonesian teenagers that they should enhance their education in NZ, preferably at St Catherine’s College in Wellington where she’s the principal, she also stressed that the country does have shopping malls, cosmopolitan cities, cellphones, and lots of urban attractions.
“Wellington is a compact, safe, cultural city, easy to explore with a good social life,” she said. “That’s a real strength.”
To convince the students’ parents that they should send their offspring to a land far away she mentions money. A short-term education program (usually of around 12 weeks) costs about $NZ 6,000 (US $3,500 – Rp 40 million) less than in Australia.
“NZ dropped out of the Indonesian education market during the Asian economic crisis 11 years ago,” Mrs Holloway said. “Australia stayed on – so that’s made our task so much more difficult. It’s a bit like re-inventing the wheel.”
St Catherine’s College is one of several high schools and universities that have joined Education Network Indonesia to sell the benefits of Kiwi education. They are getting there, though slowly. Four years ago 194 Indonesians got long-term student visas – last year the number jumped to 249.
ENI chairman Bill Russell said education and accommodation in NZ was much cheaper than Australia though the education quality was equal or better. To get a three year university qualification would cost around $NZ 100,000 (US$ 59,000 – Rp 670 million) including full board and lodging.
“This is about ten per cent less than Australia without considering exchange rates,” he said, before dashing off to handle another study tour.
“A lot on people don’t understand the downstream benefits of overseas student programs. Apart from improving international relationships and generating goodwill the students spend their money in their host country.
“ Now education is being decentralized in Indonesia progressive teachers and officials are realising they can improve their education overseas.
“We’ve signed memoranda of understandings with four provincial governors and are putting together upskilling courses in English and maths in NZ for Indonesian teachers. NZ is a world leader in all aspects of tourism and that’s a real attraction to overseas students.
“District by district we’re building a rapport between Indonesia and Kiwis. We’re getting a tremendous response by making personal contacts. Building relationships is critical in Indonesia. Handshaking really does open doors.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post Monday 27 April 2009)