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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More