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Balinese Educator Connects Through  Dance

  • Siti Nurjanah

Immigrants coming to the United States are not expected to abandon their native cultural heritage. On the contrary, the traditions they bring with them can enrich the American communities of which they become a part. Meet a university administrator from Boston who exposes Americans to the intricacies of Balinese dance.

Ketty Munaf Rosenfeld, or Kathy, as many people call her, teaches Balinese dance to students who join an Indonesian music and dance group called 'Gamelan Galaktika' at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of Boston's many universities. She has been teaching dance for a number of years now -- for fun, as a hobby. Her real job is Assistant Director for International Programs Career Service at Boston's Northeastern University, where she counsels international students who want to find jobs in America, and American students who wish to work abroad.

Ketty Munaf arrived in Washington D.C. from Indonesia in 1980 as a student. She comes from a well-to-do family of five children. Her father was a military officer and a hero of the independence movement of 1945. After high school, Ms. Munaf decided to study law at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta -- as she says, to be able to make a difference in the life of her country. During the authoritarian regime of President Suharto, Ms. Munaf, like many of her colleagues, was active in student protests against the government. She says her father was worried that her activism would cause her to jettison her education and face an uncertain future.

"My father was worried about me,” she says, “because he thought I probably would end up in jail. So he decided that maybe I should pursue my education abroad."

Ms. Munaf's plan on coming to America was to finish college and earn a degree in education. She enrolled at American University in Washington and graduated in 1983. Eventually she earned a Master's degree in education from Boston University. She remembers her early years in the United States as being especially difficult. She suffered from loneliness and from culture shock. To earn extra money to pay for her tuition, she had to work menial jobs, including babysitting in American families and waitressing in the school cafeteria.

"When I was an international student you're not allowed to work outside campus, because you do not have the work authorization,” she says. “So my hardest job was working at the cafeteria on campus, because I needed extra money. It was very humiliating for me. Sometimes I cried. I never worked when I was in Indonesia, never. And to work in a cafeteria I felt like I was the lowest of the low. It was the hardest experience, but let me just tell you that it was an eye opener for me."

Ketty Munaf says she also had a hard time adjusting to the difference in social mores between Indonesia and America, particularly in the relations between young men and women.

"The friendship and the social life were just brutal in the beginning,” she says. “Most American boys, especially in college at the time, I thought were rude, they were cheap, they did not have respect for women, so it was very confusing for me."

In time, however, Ketty Munaf met and married an American, John Rosenfeld - a television cameraman by profession.

"When I first came here, my challenge was not only understanding the language, but also adapting to the culture. Then the second challenge is deciding to get married and stay in this country. Because I am the oldest in the family, I have a duty to my parents to go back and take care of them."

The Rosenfelds have three children, the oldest a cadet at the prestigious U.S. military academy at West Point. Although she decided to stay in the United States and raise her children here, Ketty Munaf Rosenfeld maintains close contacts with her family back in Indonesia.

"I'm very fortunate in that I have a wonderful husband, who understands that my family and my culture and my country where I come from are a very important part of my life," she says. "So he made every effort to learn the language. He's patient with my family - you know, when they come and visit they never stay for one or two weeks, they always stay for five months. My husband realized that when he married me he married the whole family and the family-family friends."

More than twenty years have passed since Ketty Munaf first came to America. Now in her early forties, she is active in community affairs in the Boston area. Recently she participated in a Boston marathon that raised funds to fight breast cancer. But she says she derives great personal satisfaction from being a volunteer Balinese dance teacher.

“Because I'm from Indonesia I always want to connect with Indonesia, and this is a great way for me to make that connection. At the same time it's a great way to introduce Indonesia to the community, it's a great beginning to open up a discussion starting with the dance and music and all the way to the human connection and culture and other things,” says Ketty Munaf Rosendale, American college administrator and Balinese dance teacher.
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