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

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid