UW–Madison celebrates U.S.-Indonesia relations with language contest and visit from dignitaries

Seventy years ago, the U.S. and Indonesia established diplomatic ties, creating what would be a long, fruitful relationship. Students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered to mark that relationship at a day of activities attended by Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Mahendra Siregar and Consul General Rosmalawati Chalid.

During his remarks, Ambassador Siregar discussed the growth of Indonesia and highlighted points of pride such as a strong democracy and emphasis on education. He also outlined historic ties to the U.S. that began on December 28, 1949, when the U.S. supported Indonesia’s independence at the United Nations. He said the year is not just a time to reflect on history, but to look forward to possibilities in the future for the two nations.

Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Mahendra Siregar
Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Mahendra Siregar

“This is a celebration of strong relations between U.S. and Indonesia,” Siregar said. “This is something we are very proud of, and we hope to add new elements so that we have an even stronger relationship going forward.”

While visiting UW–Madison, the ambassador and consul general were presented to this summer’s cohort of Indonesian language learners attending the Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute (SEASSI), an 8-week intensive language training program for undergraduates, graduate students and professionals. The students, who come from universities and organizations across the U.S., introduced themselves to the delegates in Indonesian and discussed their studies.

Later in the day, several SEASSI participants put their language skills to the test by participating in the 2019 Indonesian Speech and Storytelling Competition. The contest, which is held in 21 countries around the globe, is sponsored by the government of Indonesia through the Ministry of Education and Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants are challenged to deliver speeches or tell stories on a particular theme. The theme for 2019 was tolerance.

The prize for winning allows language learners to gain firsthand knowledge of the people, places, and culture in Indonesia. The best speech and best storytelling categories each receive airfare, one-week hotel accommodation, and sightseeing in Jakarta.

Participants must be non-native speakers of Indonesian, be between ages 18–30, have never lived in Indonesia more than 6 months during the past 10 years, and must not have received Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa or KNB fellowship.

In all, four winners were selected by a panel of judges that included the Indonesia Education and Cultural Attaché Popy Rufaidah, as well as four leading Indonesian instructors from U.S. institutions.

Best Speech (Embassy Award): Camille Bismonte, Georgetown University

Best Storytelling (Embassy Award): Francine Barchett, Cornell University

Audience’s Choice Award: Elisebeth Doty, UW–Madison

SEASSI Award, Teachers’ Choice: Anthony Vecchio, St. Vincent College

Elisebeth Doty, a UW–Madison French and religious studies major who received the Audience’s Choice Award, chose to tell the creation story of a lake in Central Java. She said that the story, a favorite in Indonesian folk lore, touched on the tolerance between cultures.

Exploring local Indonesian folklore is especially interesting to Doty. Growing up, she spent almost 10 years living in Borneo with her parents. While she had the opportunity to pick up some of the language, she did not get the chance to delve into local folklore and stories. As a first-year student in SEASSI, Doty is working to polish the language skills she developed years ago, while also learning more about the people and culture of Indonesia.

“I think SEASSI is one of the best, if not the best program for learning Southeast Asian languages,” Doty said. “Their program is proven, given that they have been around since the 80’s. I find that even the atmosphere of the program itself is conducive to learning because there are many activities you take part in outside of the classroom. You are interacting with your classmates in a way that you form bonds that will help you learn the language.”

Editor’s note: Interested in gaining language skills and cultural fluency? Learn more about SEASSI and other Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institutes and start planning your next summer!