By Wang Fang, Wang Fengjuan
The campus of Universitas Al Azhar Indonesia (University of Al Azhar Indonesia, UAI), in southern Jakarta, is blanketed with grass. A dome-shaped mosque is particularly eye-catching against a backdrop of largely white buildings. Most days, students sit on the front steps of the modern teaching building, reading or chatting with a group of friends.
China Report ASEAN visited the institution in December 2018. Fakultas Ilmu Sastra (Faculty of Humanities) of UAI is on the seventh floor of the teaching building. Pusat Bahasa Mandarin (Confucius Institute) of the UAI is tucked at the end of a long corridor on the floor. Its plaque features a red Chinese knot, lantern and couplet—traditional Chinese decorations which make it easy to recognize.
In one classroom, a young woman was instructing students on how to make self-introduction in Chinese. “Now, let’s hear you all introduce yourselves,” she requested.
“My name in Chinese is Gan Yifan, and Agam Rizki Prasatio is my Indonesian name,” said one student haltingly. “I am currently a freshman at UAI.”
With continuous development of friendly relations between China and Indonesia, bilateral exchanges in economics, trade, culture and education have increased. The effective alignment of Belt and Road Initiative with Indonesia’s development strategy, in particular, has caused “Chinese Fever” to rise in the country.
The UAI, established in 2000, was launched by the Yayasan Pesantren Islam Al Azhar Indonesia Foundation. Although the UAI is a new higher education institution, it is already famous for its rigorous education and advanced theory.
China Report ASEAN met Asep Saefuddin Narasumber, president of the UAI, in his office on the second floor of the teaching building. His hair was short and neat, but graying. A friendly smile swept across his bronzed face as he shook hands and said “Hello” in Chinese.
Narasumber is now learning Chinese and proud of the Chinese teaching program at UAI. He stressed that the teaching quality of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature is high, which has attracted more and more Indonesian students to apply. Indonesia’s Department of Religious Affairs is currently in talks with the UAI on subcontracting Chinese language training.
“With the advancement of the Belt and Road Initiative, exchanges between China and Indonesia have expanded and deepened, creating an urgent need for quality intercultural communication professionals,” Narasumber explained.
In 2010, the UAI collaborated with China’s Fujian Normal University (FNU) to establish the first Confucius Institute in Indonesia to further strengthen educational exchange and cooperation between China and Indonesia. “Now cooperation between the UAI and the FNU focuses on international student programs,” illustrated the president of the UAI. “As Sino-Indonesian cooperation in various fields continues to deepen, we will enhance teaching cooperation with Chinese universities in science and technology, economics and trade, law and psychology.”
Xiao Xiangzhong is the Chinese dean of the Confucius Institute of the UAI. “When the Confucius Institute had just been founded, I ventured to Indonesia as a teacher dispatched abroad by the state for public duties for two years,” he revealed. “In 2017, I was called to return to work here as the Chinese dean.” Although his role transformed, Xiao feels that he now shoulders more responsibility to strengthen Sino-Indonesian education cooperation.
In recent years, the UAI has selected well-performing Indonesian students majoring in Chinese Language and Literature to study in China every year and recommended Indonesian scholarship recipients from the Confucius Institute to pursue further studies in China, which has provided overseas education opportunities for Indonesian students to share information on Sino-Indonesian higher education.
Love for Chinese Language
The Confucius Institute of the UAI has actively conducted cultural exchanges such as the interaction with Islam, establishing a platform for friendship between China and Indonesia that has been welcomed by all circles in Indonesia. On a weekly basis, the UAI organizes choir practice for students from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and teaches them Chinese songs.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping made a state visit to Indonesia on October 2, 2013, he talked to Silvia Rahmi, an Indonesian student and a choir member, and encouraged her to study hard. “I didn’t immediately grasp how to learn Chinese when I entered the Department of Chinese Language and Literature,” Rahmi noted. “Gradually, the more Chinese I have learned, the more attractive the language has become.” Encouraged by the Chinese President, she has become even more committed to studying Chinese to serve as a messenger of friendship between the two countries.
At the same time, Indonesian students have also engaged in the “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition in Indonesia as well as various intercultural exchange activities. Monalisa Yan, an outgoing fourth-year student at the UAI who participated in the “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students in 2017, has been learning Chinese for four years. She told China Report ASEAN in fluent Chinese that she had volunteered to work on on-site coordination and conference services for the “Chinese Bridge” competition in 2018.
“I hope to participate in the 2019 ‘Chinese Bridge’ competition, which will be my last chance before I graduate from the college,” Yan exclaimed. “For me, it’s a great challenge.” She recounted preparing for the 2017 “Chinese Bridge”: “Then, I didn’t understand why my instructor incessantly made me repeat everything over and over. But when I witnessed how well my competitors performed, I realized that I still have a lot to learn.”
Monalisa Yan originally hoped to study medicine, but her family supports her becoming a Chinese teacher, which is a promising occupation in Indonesia. Yan eventually chose to study Chinese after pondering the situation for a while. “When I had just started learning Chinese, it was very difficult for me,” she admitted. “When learning on a daily basis became habit, I found myself gradually falling in love with Chinese and becoming fascinated by Chinese culture.” Yan hopes for the opportunity to study even further in China.
Better Job Prospects
In recent years, the increasingly frequent economic and trade exchanges between China and Indonesia have motivated more and more Indonesians to learn Chinese. For Indonesians, interest in Chinese culture is probably outweighed by the prospect of landing a decent job.
“China’s economic development has made a huge impact on Indonesia,” asserted Narasumber. “Students studying Chinese at the UAI are finding better job prospects.” In recent years, the number of students choosing to learn Chinese has surged. In 2018, the UAI’s Department of Chinese Language and Literature enrolled 30 students, higher than previous years. Students majoring in Chinese language often find great employment opportunities after graduation. Some choose to become Chinese teachers, while others go to work for Chinese companies.
Asih Lestari works as a translator for a Chinese-funded company in Jakarta. She said that employees at Chinese companies are well paid, usually at least 30 percent higher than the average earnings at similar local companies. In her eyes, Chinese technicians work meticulously and have rich experience, which they are happy to share with Indonesian colleagues. She gets along well with all of her Chinese colleagues.
Asih Lestari is obsessed with Chinese culture and lived in China for a year to study, which enabled her to experience the country in person. She said that due to her influence, many of her relatives and friends have started learning Chinese with hopes of landing a job with a Chinese company.
Data shows that in 2017, China’s total investment in Indonesia reached US$5.48 billion. Approximately 1,000 Chinese companies are now investing in Indonesia in the fields of mining, hydroelectricity and agriculture, creating many jobs in Indonesia.
Popularization of the HSK
The Chinese language is gaining more and more attention in Indonesia, as evidenced by applications to sit for Chinese language tests. Since the UAI began organizing the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) in 2012, it has attracted students from all over Indonesia to take it.
“UAI is the first school in Indonesia to offer online HSK testing,” revealed Xiao Xiangzhong. “Each scheduled test, some 20 students take it on computers.” At first, the UAI offered the HSK once a month, but now the test is available twice a month. Applications to take the HSK have also increased yearly, and the pass rate is quite high. According to incomplete statistics, about 7 million people are now learning Chinese in Indonesia, mainly in Jakarta and East Java.
Furthermore, the departments of Chinese language and literature in Indonesia’s higher education institutions are attaching greater importance to Chinese teaching. Chinese has become the most popular foreign language after English in Indonesia. According to International Daily News, by July 2018, a total of 26 higher education institutions in Indonesia had organized Chinese departments to offer courses such as Chinese language, Chinese literature, Chinese education and sinology.
To meet wide-ranging learning needs, every year the Confucius Institute of the UAI provides nearly 20 different Chinese language programs such as cultural workshops, one-on-one instruction, Chinese credit courses and Chinese art. The university also offers a wide variety of Chinese training classes such as business Chinese, HSK preparation and interest-oriented classes targeting Chinese teachers at schools in Indonesia, related government officials, international airport employees and the general public.