The Australia Indonesia Awards celebrate the contributions of those who provide inspiration and enhance understanding between Australians and Indonesians. AIYA is chronicling the achievements of these Career Champions in a series of interviews with this year’s finalists and winners. Ochie Chandra DeMeulenaere, a finalist in the tourism/travel category, is this week’s interviewee.

Tell us a little about your career.

I was born and raised in Padang, West Sumatra. I studied English Literature at Andalas University, Padang. At that time, my dream was to work equally to men. My professor, Ibu Diah, taught me lots about feminism and women’s empowerment. I left my hometown after I graduated and started to work in advertising companies in Jakarta.

After a few years of working to deadlines, I applied to become a lecturer at the Bina Nusantara University (BINUS), to teach advertising and English. This was my chance to learn about writing for curriculum, syllabus and teaching plans. I learned about organizing classes and and learned what was effective.

After six years living in Jakarta, I left for Bali and started working at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2010. The next year, my husband Stephen and I founded Cinta Bahasa, an Indonesian language school. Stephen taught me lots about business and my experience working at advertising agencies and university helped a lot in preparing learning materials for the school and organizing almost 200 hundred volunteers for the UWRF.

What brought you to connect with Australia?

We had Australian Studies and Australian events in my university, but that was all. After I moved to Bali, I met more Australians who visited or lived in Bali. They loved Indonesia and they wanted to learn more about Indonesia. They helped me to understand Australia better. Most of our students in the first year Cinta Bahasa was opened were Australians. Some of them started learning from zero and some of them already spoke some Indonesian!

Tell us about your current occupation.

I’m the Co-Founder of Cinta Bahasa Indonesian Language School and from 2010, the Volunteer Coordinator at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and the Ubud Food Festival.

How did you find your current job?

I created my current job. When I first moved to Bali, I was expecting a more integrated community of expats and Indonesians like I have seen in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung. My husband and I realized that expats needed a place where they can learn Indonesian language and to communicate and interact better with the locals. We started with just one teacher in an occasionally-rented room in a local college to test our teaching methodologies and our unusual concept of a formal school starting by teaching informal language, and grew from there.

I think we’re successful because most people learn Indonesian language with the goal that they will need to be able to use it. It wasn’t too hard for us to come up with the name for our school, Cinta Bahasa, because we knew that a method that taught people to love (cinta) speaking Indonesian language first was the right method.

We were afraid that institutions would avoid learning with us because they probably only want to be able to speak formal Indonesian with each other, but we were wrong, they also want to be able to speak to people’s hearts and not just their minds, and so we’ve had clients like the US Army and Marines Indonesian language specialists, Australian Consulate in Bali and many other government, embassy and corporate clients.

What do you enjoy the most about working in relation to Indonesia?

When I visited Australia, I was moved by students and teachers who were learning Indonesian at their school or taking private tuition. Some of them speak some Indonesian and have visited Indonesia at least once. When Cinta Bahasa opened in Ubud, we received many Australian students and some of them have become my good friends. They are kind and generous people, they’ve showed me how important Indonesian culture and language are to them. I really like that Australians, like my Canadian husband, are very practical-minded, down-to-earth and ready to lend a hand and cooperate.

What are your thoughts on the future of the Australian-Indonesian relationship in the field of tourism/travel?

The Indonesian government is trying to attract more and more Australian tourists every year. Many Indonesians are also traveling to Australia just to visit or to study to expand their experience and perception, and improve their skills. There are more and more friendships built between Australians and Indonesian both in here and in Australia. To support this grassroots effort, the Australian Government should make it easier and cheaper for Indonesians to get a visa to enter Australia.

Also, I think Indonesia, or Bali in particular, needs to educate people who work in the tourism sector to make sure that tourists respect the local culture and people, in how they dress in public and their behaviour. Indonesians also need more training on how to deliver a high-quality experience.

What advice would you offer to youth interested in tourism/travel?

For Australians I would recommend they make the effort to learn the language and culture and adjust themselves to living as Indonesians do. Make friends with locals because this is very valuable. Learn to ride a motorcycle in Australia and get licenced before you come to Indonesia. If you ever need to drive or ride on the back of a motorbike, be sure you wear helmet at all times.

For Indonesians I would recommend they also make the effort to learn English and educate and adjust themselves to living as Australians do. I think it’s important to experience living as other people do, rather than to make judgments about it. A lot of Indonesians think that every thing in Australia is expensive, but actually if you pay attention, you will find many ways to reduce the cost of living to the point that it can be affordable for young Indonesians to visit Australia.

What does the future hold?

I’m in this for the long-term, and I will keep trying different things until I’ve found a formula for success. I have visited different parts of Australia and I’m looking for more opportunities to visit the parts I haven’t been to yet, such as Melbourne and Brisbane to meet with students and teachers at schools and universities there. It’s not only about business, I also want to see the area and make friends, so we make time to meet with clubs and catch up with acquaintances and friends.

We would like to thank both Ochie and the President of the Australia Indonesia Association of NSW, Eric de Haas. You can find Ochie ([email protected]) on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.