By Lucy Asquith
Consecutive Australian governments have encouraged the teaching, enrolment and learning of Asian languages.
With a growing international economy, and being our closest neighbours, a strong relationship between Australia and Asia is important.
Learning an Asian language also provides opportunities for students to travel, meet new people and access jobs of the future.
Goulburn Valley Grammar School offers a fantastic Indonesian program from Years 5 to 12, encouraging students to participate in an annual exchange to Indonesia, and offering students an advantageous and remarkable experience.
In January this year, three fellow students, our teacher and I were fortunate to embark on the exchange program to Krista Mitra, one of GVGS’s sister schools in Jawa, Indonesia.
After reading countless passages, and seeing many photos of Indonesia, we were soon immersed in the deep culture that cannot be grasped from a textbook.
However, four years of studying Indonesian could not have prepared us for the journey.
To help us understand the culture and deepen our Indonesian language skills, we spent the first five days attending school and living with our host families in Semarang.
It is safe to say that the experience was significantly different from your typical Australian lifestyle.
We were expected to eat with our hands, eat unusual foods, communicate with our non-English-speaking host parents and wash with a bucket and water.
During school, we were encouraged to participate in classes, help students with their English and, in return, receive help with our Indonesian, when it became apparent that we knew nowhere near as much as we thought.
In contrast, we discovered that the Indonesian students were multilingual, some learning up to four languages.
But we embraced living like Indonesian students and now better understand their day-to-day routines.
Throughout the second part of the journey, we visited Yogyakarta — often referred to as the cultural capital of Indonesia.
Here, we visited the places that we had learned so much about: Prambanan and Borobudur temples, Jalan Malioboro, the Sultan’s Palace and markets. All of these were unforgettable. We caught becaks (a cycle rickshaw), ate frog soup, and learned how to cross the road in never-ending traffic.
I think we gained invaluable understanding of Indonesian pronunciation and culture. I would strongly recommend any students studying a language, or even just those interested, to participate in a student exchange to an Asian country, and to fully embrace the opportunity. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Lucy Asquith is in Year 11 at Goulburn Valley Grammar School.