Chris Hall is a project manager at UniBRIDGE, a new project designed to connect young Australian and Indonesians to each other through online cultural and language exchange.

We talked to Chris about his own background with Indonesia and how UniBRIDGE works.

Tell us a little about yourself. When did you first visit Indonesia?

I live in Sydney and I have a broad interest in learning languages as well as teaching languages. The Indonesian language is the third language, other than English, that I have put effort into learning. My language adventure started a few years after I finished high school and I went to France on a Working Holiday visa. A few years later, my wife and I were studying Japanese in Japan.

In 2012 I enrolled in a Diploma of Languages at Charles Darwin University (CDU) and began studying as an external student. I decided to learn Indonesian as it may one day prove useful to be an Australian who knows the national language of one of its biggest neighbours. I was also motivated by the relative lack of people learning Indonesian compared to languages like French, Japanese or Mandarin. I imagined that perhaps my Indonesian language skills would one day be in demand. At the end of 2013 I finished my Diploma of Languages at CDU and a Master’s of International Relations at UNSW.

What is UniBRIDGE, and who can take part? When did it get started?

UniBRIDGE is a project that links Australian Universities to Indonesian Universities. A number of online platforms are used to connect Indonesian learners in Australia to English learners in Indonesia. Participants create and maintain an online language journal on the UniBRIDGE wikispace and are able to comment on or correct language on other people’s journals.

Most importantly, UniBRIDGE successfully uses video conferencing software to allow participants to speak to each other in real-time. This means that participants are able to use and practice their spoken language, with a native speaker, irrespective of their physical location. With UniBRIDGE, there is no need to board a plane in order to converse with native speakers in spontaneous conversations.

UniBRIDGE allows Indonesian and Australian participants to make lasting friendships and In-country experiences have been extremely enhanced because of this. In-country study trips are greatly enriched by UniBRIDGE because students visit people and become enmeshed in a local community network from the beginning. This is opposed to merely going to a place and speaking primarily to teachers, taxi drivers or hotel staff.

UniBRIDGE serves both as a supplement and /or alternative to In-country language study. In 2012, Dr Richard Curtis, who was at the time the Lecturer of Indonesian at CDU, launched the UniBRIDE Pilot Program with initial support from The Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII) and Asia Education Foundation (AEF). The Pilot Program joined students from CDU, such as myself, and students from Universitas Nusa Cendana (UNDANA) in Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). The pilot was a successful proof of concept and since then program has expanded.

Who is involved with UniBRIDGE? Who can get involved?

In 2014, Dr Curtis moved to the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) and, in addition to USC, UniBRIDGE partners currently include CDU, Murdoch University and AIYA in Australia, as well as UNDANA and Universitas Kristen Artha Wacana (UKAW) in Indonesia.

As of 2014 AIYA members are able to take part in UniBRIDGE at anytime. You can join by filling out the form on the UniBRIDGE website.