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As Indonesia looks to become a bigger player on the world stage, Arizona State University is forging ties that recognize the country’s growing importance.
The Critical Languages Institute at ASU has started offering classes in Indonesian through a partnership with the University of Ngurah Rai in Bali, an island province of Indonesia. Eleven students are currently taking an intensive eight-week language course on ASU’s Tempe campus, and they then will travel to Bali for a four-week immersion experience in July.
The new offering fills a need that wasn’t being met, according to Kathleen Evans-Romaine, director of the Critical Languages Institute.
“Indonesia is a huge country with the largest Muslim population in the world, and it’s in a strategically vital location, with a lot of shipping and tourism,” she said.
“Other schools are teaching Korean and Vietnamese, but Indonesian was being neglected.”
The institute specializes in teaching languages for which there is a shortage of proficient speakers. Currently, the institute offers programs in Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian, Croation, Hebrew, Persian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Turkish and Uzbek, plus Indonesian.
The languages are designated as “critical” by various U.S. agencies, who need skilled speakers with a cultural understanding of the countries.
The Critical Language Institute’s programs are tuition-free, paid for with funding from federal agencies, sponsors or donors. Last year, the ROTC Global Officer Project agreed to fund the Indonesian program. Non-ROTC students are eligible to apply for the program as well. All of the institutes’ programs are open to non-ASU students, and many clients are mid-career professionals.
The model of combining on-campus instruction with immersion in the country is ideal, but not all of the institute’s languages are taught that way.
“The flip side to working with critical languages is that very frequently, the reasons they’re critical is that there is unrest or security concerns in the country that speaks them,” Evans-Romaine said.
“One of the downsides is that we lose countries on a fairly regular basis. We still teach Turkish, but we no longer go there.”
Programs in Tajikistan and Ukraine also were ended because of unrest. That’s why Indonesian was a good addition to the institute — travel to Bali is safe for Americans.
Nyoman Riasa is the director of the partnership program for Ngurah Rai University and is a teacher of English and Indonesian there, mostly to Australians. He is at ASU teaching the students Indonesian for eight weeks and then will return to Bali, where he will teach them at Ngurah Rai.
He appreciates the Americans’ learning strategies.
“We spend less time remembering words for them,” he said. “I told them to look on the internet and find the numbers one to 20 in Indonesian. They came in this morning and, no problem, they knew the numbers from one to 20.”
Riasa also is in charge of finding host families for the Americans, which isn’t easy. ASU sets minimum housing requirements, such as indoor plumbing, which rules out a lot of potential host families.
“When I said, ‘These students come from America,’ the families think they’re tourists, and tourists require a long list of things,” Riasa said. “Meals, for example. The families ask, ‘Will they need to eat cheese and butter?’ They think an American coming to Bali won’t eat rice.”
Evans-Romaine said that typically, finding host families gets easier with every passing year of a program, as the communities find that hosting is a rewarding experience.
ASU’s ties to Indonesia extend beyond the language lessons. Earlier this year, Riasa and Ngurah Rai University hosted an ASU faculty member, who became the first American to lecture at several universities in Indonesia while he was there on a Fulbright grant.
Dan Fellner, who worked with Evans-Romaine in acquiring the Fulbright, specializes in inter-cultural communications and talked to Indonesians at six universities about how different cultures can best relate to each other. He also taught them about “crisis communications,” a delicate topic for a country that depends on tourism.
“I talked to engineering faculty about sustainability tourism and water issues. With the political science department, I talked about politics, and with the law faculty, I talked about the First Amendment in the U.S.,” said Fellner, a faculty associate in the Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication unit in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU's Polytechnic campus.
He answered a lot of questions about American politics and “fake news” and spoke about the cultural differences between the two countries. The Balinese love signs and made special banners with the ASU logo everywhere he went.
One big cultural difference is the level of religious devotion in Bali, where most of the population is Hindu.
In fact, the Critical Languages Institute made a special request of the ROTC Global Officers Program to pay for ceremonial clothing for the students as part of the scholarship, because it’s so important.
“They’re incredibly devout,” Fellner said of the Balinese.
“My farewell was a special blessing in the Hindu temple on campus. They taught me how every day, people pay homage in different ways.”
Find out more about the Critical Languages Institute at ASU here.