News / Asia

In Indonesia, American Teachers Bridge Cultural Divide

Travis Bluemling in the classroom with his students
Travis Bluemling in the classroom with his students


When President Barack Obama visits Indonesia this month (November 9-10), he is expected to recognize the work of Peace Corps volunteers as a model for cultural and educational exchanges between the United States and the largest Muslim majority country. So far, the program has been successful in helping dispel stereotypes about Islam and the West.

What Nisha Skariah, a recent university graduate from the U.S. state of Texas, lacks in experience, she makes up for with enthusiasm.

"I am hoping within these two years I can just get them more excited about learning in general, maybe not just English but to pursue their education a little bit more actively," she explains.

Skariah is six months into her two-year Peace Corps commitment to work as a teacher in a rural area of eastern Java. Peace Corps is a U.S. government assistance program that places teachers and development workers in developing countries.  

Skariah and 17 others are the first Peace Corps volunteers working in Indonesia in 45 years. Jakarta expelled the Peace Corps in 1965, in part because of anti-American protests from the Indonesian Communist Party and false rumors that volunteers were working for the CIA.


Today some anti-American sentiment still exists in Indonesia. It is driven in part by Islamic groups critical of U.S. foreign policy in Israel and the war in Iraq.

But with the election of President Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child, and a new U.S. emphasis on engagement with Asia, economic and political ties are growing between two of the largest democracies in the world.

President Obama's visit to Indonesia will highlight a number of areas where the two countries are working together, especially on security and economic issues. But Anies Basewedan, the president of Paramadina University in Jakarta, says education is the best investment the U.S. can make in Indonesia.

"If the U.S. is interested in making sure Indonesia is a successful democracy, put priority on education. Support Indonesia on ensuring access to education and to quality education is there," Basewedan said.

Positive thinking

While it is too early to evaluate the Peace Corps's impact, Skariah's teaching partner, Ayu Lestari Puspita Dewi, says her energy and motivation has already made a difference.

"She really helps me in the classroom because she brings lots of new ideas about teaching methods and new things just like, how to be more creative in the classroom and how to be more on time,"  Dewi said.

The Peace Corps experience in Indonesia is also about increasing understanding between the Islamic world and America. The volunteers live with families, and try to become part of the community where they live.  

Travis Bluemling says playing sports like volleyball has helped him feel accepted. Before coming to Indonesia, Bluemling says he was concerned, that as an American, he might not be welcomed in a Muslim community.

"However, I could not have been more wrong," Bluemling said. "They have allowed me to enter their house. I join them in their Muslim meetings. I joined them with fasting and I even entered the mosque."  

Changing minds

Some school officials say the American volunteers are more tolerant and cooperative than they anticipated. But Bluemling's teaching partner Hadi Purwanto says there has also been criticism that he is trying to implement change too quickly.

He says they had teachers complaining about that but they try to look at the bright side, because with Travis here they can learn from his discipline.

Bluemling says he too has much to learn about Indonesian life and language but as he becomes more involved in the community, the cultural differences become less important.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs