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Balinese Dancer in Boston - 2003-07-07

English Feature #7-37619 Broadcast 7 July 2003

Meet a university administrator from Boston who also teaches Balinese dance.

"Are you ready? Alright. We can start Dance Stepanyim Brahma. Take the step: Left and right, left and right. We're going to warm up now. Sway your hips. Make sure you hold your bouquet right in front of your chest. Pick up your elbow. Give a smile. Left and right. Left and right...Good!"

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 Galak Tika" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been teaching dance for several years now, for fun, as a hobby. Her real job is that of Assistant Director for the Career Service of the Office of International Programs at Northeastern University in Boston, counseling international students at her university 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, like many of her colleagues, she was active in student protests against the government. Ms Munaf 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 because he thought I probably would end up in jail. So he decided that maybe I should pursue my education abroad."

Ketty Munaf’s ambition 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. Ms Munaf says that her early years in the United States were not at all easy. 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 being a waitress 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. So my hardest job was working in the cafeteria on campus, because I needed extra money. It was very humiliating. I never worked when I was in Indonesia, never. And to work in a cafeteria I felt like I was the lowest of the lower class. 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. Most American boys, especially in college at that time of my life, 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. So he made every effort to learn the language… He’s patient with my family – you know, when they come and visit they never really 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 20 years have passed since Ketty Munaf first came to America. Now in her early 40s, 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.”

(Balinese Music)

We are grateful to Siti Nurjanah and Zulkarnain Tajibnapis of Voice of America's Indonesian Service who provided this story to New American Voices.