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

Multimedia

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.

Skepticism

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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid