Australia had long posed unanswered questions in my mind. I wondered why Australia had become such a developed country with such a strong economy and technical sophistication? Why had the country attracted so many students from all over the world, despite the fact that the Land Down Under was so geographically isolated? And why had Indonesia, its closest neighbour, not seen the same development? I believed that there must have been a ‘special’ aspect of Australia that allowed it to develop and become the country that it is today.


Beni making new friends at Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Photo: Muhammad Beni Saputra

Fortunately in 2013, I was given the opportunity to uncover these answers for myself through the Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP). My exploration of Australia began when I was an intern at the Education Centre of Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. At the centre, I had the chance to engage in the educational activities at the zoo. The centre was regularly visited by a variety of students from primary school to university. Students were educated on different subjects, including nature conservation and animal life. What really captivated me during my time in Australia was learning about the Australian education system and the way that teachers educate their students.

I saw how teachers always gave compliments when their students were diligent. They praised their students with phrases like ‘Excellent’, ‘Fantastic’, ‘Great work’ and ‘Well done.’ Therefore, these words became a part of their everyday life. The students who came to the centre were always well behaved. They would line up without pushing one another, were quiet without being asked and didn’t need instruction from their teachers. When the class started they would pay full attention and actively asked questions. They raised their hands, often competing to be chosen and were confident when expressing their opinions.


A presentation for school students on a visit to the Zoo. Photo: Muhammad Beni Saputra

I noticed on a visit to a local kindergarten in Mosman, a town north of Taronga Zoo, that the case of kindergarten students was no different than those of primary school students. I was accompanied to the kindergarten by Ryan, a staff member of the Zoo, and Cal, a well-known Indigenous member of the local area. During our visit we brought animals including a snake and a baby crocodile to show the children. We also brought Aboriginal musical instruments like a didgeridoo and clapsticks. Ryan told various stories to the children about animals, and Cal entertained the students with songs.

When we started the class, the students all sat down respectfully in lines. I even witnessed a student trying to tidy up the sitting arrangement to make each line straight. The children during the class were also just as confident and excited to express their opinion in the same way as the students in elementary school I had witnessed previously.

AIYEP allowed me to uncover answers to some of my pondering questions. It is clear to me now that education and character building for children from an early age plays a significant role in shaping Australia as it is today. The country’s unique development considering its geographical location is a great example for countries including Indonesia.


Happy faces all round for Beni and the Taronga Zoo. Photo: Muhammad Beni Saputra

I highly recommend AIYEP to everyone, not only for how exciting and rewarding the program is but also as a wonderful way of understanding the cultural development of other countries.

This article is one of a series of reflections from alumni of Australia-Indonesia student exchange programs. Read the experiences of other AIYEP participants here. The editors of the AIYA Blog would also like to thank Samantha Howard for her assistance in commissioning and editing these articles. You can find her solo and collaborative blog and journal writing here and here.