ACT students at the AIYA ACT Indonesia day with Suara Indonesia.

Learning Indonesian in school was an opportunity that neither myself nor my family knew would open doors. I began my Indonesian studies with no knowledge of the country, not even where it was situated. But, I could see from my teachers that there was something special that I was engaging with. The stories I heard in the classroom captured my imagination and sense of adventure. I have never looked back, taking every opportunity that flew my way.

It was my studies at The Australian National University, where I studied Asia-Pacific Security, that made it explicitly clear that the only avenue to truly promoting a strong bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia is through an early and high-quality Indonesian education. And so inspired by those teachers who opened my world, I became a teacher.

Teaching Indonesian is not always easy. The subject is often not taken particularly seriously by students, parents, the school or other teachers. But, there are so many benefits that outweigh the negative. Teaching Indonesian means that I get to speak and challenge my Indonesian language skills every day. Students ask for some strange translations, so I am always expanding my vocabulary.

Students also want to learn Indonesian. Indonesian education is quite gloomy at the moment. But, in my experience students want to learn Indonesian. Indonesia is a fun, exciting place and there is a high prospect that students will actually get a chance to apply their Indonesian language skills whether that be through travel, study or work.

There are a wealth of opportunities available to students which also help inspire students like Indonesian Idol singer Michael J who tours Australia annually, NAILA and the ReelOzInd.

Students excited about seeing Michael J live at Melrose High School.

Recent research revealed that Indonesian was learnt by a small number of affluent students. In my experience, these are students whose families have had a positive and impactful experience with Indonesia or whose family understand the economic and employment benefits of learning the language of our closest neighbour.

But, Indonesian of all languages should be studied by all. All students should have an opportunity to experience a high-quality Indonesian language program. Indonesia is a country who accepts and welcomes people of all types. It is a country where you can easily find your niche, whether that be surfing, Volkswagen’s, art, history or politics. And whilst it’s history and politics can at times be controversial, what country isn’t?

In the Australian Curriculum’s current state, Indonesia is offered little place across the curriculum, with the exception that Asia is a cross-curricular priority. Most teachers also feel little confidence to include Indonesia as examples or case studies, preferring to include a European/Western-centric example. That means that it is down to Indonesian language classes to expose students to the possibilities, to promote and develop the future generation of Indonesia-literate Australians.

Students receiving their awards at the National Australia Indonesia Language Awards for the outstanding speeches in Indonesian.

So we want and need you! We need you with your passion and expertise. We need your experiences and your stories. Without high-quality Indonesian language teachers, we have no future. Communication will dwindle to the few. Cultural misunderstanding will increase. Policies which promote bilateral relations will not pass. Negative news stories on either side of the divide will dominate the press.

If you want a job that promotes the Australia-Indonesia relationship and where you get to speak Indonesian every day, become an Indonesian teacher. I can’t say that it will be easy but, it will also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Kirrilly McKenzie who is now an Indonesian language teacher was previously AIYA ACT chapter president. If you have similar personal experience you would like to share we us, feel free to drop us an email at [email protected] and thank you Kirrilly for sharing with us!