Posted by: mel | March 8, 2009

Understanding Intercultural Behaviour

let’s communicate | Posted by aerputyh | SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2009

Unlike Singapore, Indonesia is a country with Malay majority, much larger population, yet the government does not put much effort in bridging the differences between the majority and minority groups. Thus, in many intercultural conflict, the minority Chinese group has always been the prey.

Being a Muslim country, government schools in Indonesia mostly consist of Malays and very few Indonesian Chinese students because it is compulsory for all students in government schools to learn Muslim. Thus, Indonesian Chinese parents most likely put their children in either Christian or Buddhist private schools. Therefore, there is limited interaction between the different cultural groups in Indonesia.  

Here is the story about this Indonesian Chinese boy, aged 14, who was put through government school in Fatmawati, Southern Jakarta (Sekolah Dasar Negri XI) . 

It had never been easy for him to get along with others his race, moreover the Indonesian Malays in his new school. He was rejected in most private schools in Jakarta because of his frequent involvements in gang fights. 

On his first day of school, none of his classmates talked to him, not even a single welcoming message. He could not care less. He was a complete loner. The only way to get passed the boredom was to listen in class. Unknowingly, he became more hardworking in his new school and he excelled in most of his subjects. 

There were many incidents when the big bully in school tried to annoy and irritate him but he kept his cool. He had been the target of the top geek in his class, a skinny, four-eyed, curly-haired Malay boy. Many people called this boy Mat. He was an easy target because he had no back-up and he did not have a single friend. Mat was a popular guy in school because besides being a teacher pet, he frequently provided cheats for his classmates. On top of it, he was the son of the district mayor. 

Mat ganged up with the big bully in school to get him kicked out of the school. “I could not stand the pale colour of his skin” , he retorted. To ensure Mat’s plan worked out smoothly, Mat added a few more hundred thousands rupiahs to the initial agreed sum. 

They waited for him outside the gate of their school after the bell rang. They pretended to be friendly. “Something is amiss” , he told himself. They led him to one of their favourite hangouts. The bakso noodle stall (warung) outside the school. They were hiding softball bats, wooden sticks under the seats. Big bully ordered everyone to scram. When the warung was empty, the fight started. Luckily, he always carried this folded knife with him. He had always been a good fighter, he managed to escape unscathed. 

However, the news of this fight had reached the principal’s office. He was called into the office and blamed for causing the fight. Again he was expelled without being given a chance to defend himself. The principal knew clearly Mat was behind all this chaos, however, he did not even mention his name, not even once. He did not want the school to lose strong financial back-up from the Mat’s father, who was a district mayor. Corruptions happened everywhere in Indonesia because poverty was never addressed to its roots. 

As a citizen of Indonesia, I could completely understand why the walls between the Malays and Chinese in Indonesia could not be destroyed. Having lived in Singapore for ten years, I have made quite a number of good Malay friends. But this were impossible if I were still living in Jakarta. Even my parents did not allow me to have any local Indonesians friends in Jakarta. Through Singapore’s education system, I learnt to interact, respect and be more tolerant of each other races. 

I strongly feel that schools are the right places for children of different racial backgrounds to interact and learn about one another. In schools, teachers play important roles as role models to instil this intercultural respect in the heart of the students. 

As the world is becoming more integrated, we have to understand and respect others’ differences if we want to be part of it! Due to competitive advantage, some things can be found in one part of the world while some are only found in certain parts of the world, therefore tradings occur. With tradings, we have to communicate and interact with people from other parts of the world, with different sets of culture and norms. This is where non-verbal communication plays an even more importsant role. I honestly believe universal values such as courtesy, familial ties, religions are embraced world wide. Thus,we should not neglect one just because he/she is not part of the majority group. In fact, if the whole world is homogenous, how uninteresting it would be!

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