Teaching Indonesian Culture through Art in the Heart of Los Angeles

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The performing art school is located nearby. Approximately 20 minutes walking distance from Mudd Hall, one of the most beautiful buildings at USC.

As a graduate student at the University of Southern California, Firly decided to get involved with USC’s community service program . As a volunteer, she taught Indonesian culture at a performing arts school. Not only was it fun, but it also helped her understand the importance of cross-cultural diversity.

I have so many memories from my time studying at the University of Southern California (USC) and living in Los Angeles, but if I had to pick a highlight, I would say it was the community service I did. I had the opportunity to be an international ambassador as part of USC’s initiative on education that serves the public good. This program offered me cross-cultural diversity advocacy that lies beyond the walls although it is located near my university. The program is offered throughout the year (from Fall semester to Spring semester) and it is one of the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the United States, enabling more than 2,000 students each year to learn about the critical issues facing the communities surrounding USC. The placement varies, some students are placed as mentors, translators, and mini-course instructors among others.

Graffiti at Performing Art School containing a visual message to students: "Readers are Leaders."
Graffiti at Performing Art School containing a visual message to students: “Readers are Leaders.”

As part of the initiative, I was assigned to the Educational Project which focuses on school programs to teach different cultures (thus Indonesian for me) at a performing arts school for K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) during the spring 2019 semester. For six weeks, my team and I shared many aspects of our cultures with students and have contributed to their experiences with cultural diversity. We had the opportunity to construct our own lesson plans for the students. We were required to prepare a soft skills curriculum with a focus on communication skills and cultural methodology. Each week, I had an assignment to focus on my observations and connections between my experiences in the LA community and as a USC student.

Some foreign languages
Some foreign languages in a lesson plan including Indonesian, Chinese, Spanish, German, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.

Prior to teaching in the classroom, in the first week, my team and I had the opportunity to observe the classroom and meet the teacher we would be working with. Fun fact: the teacher that I met had a PhD in Psychology. I started getting more creative with the lesson plans on a weekly basis. Further, mostly I taught them by using artsy skills, for instance coloring, drawing, listening to music, and teaching some foreign languages especially Bahasa Indonesia.

We began to present our first lesson in the second week, and we decided to introduce our countries by using the world map to teach them about world geography. It was an incredibly great experience on my first day of teaching because the students’ response went better than I expected; they could remember the name of countries easily. In the third week, we wanted to bring a different topic so we picked the animal kingdom. Personally, I presented the Orangutan species as these apes are originally found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, Indonesia.

Students at performing art school
With some super awesome and talented kids at school.

In the world of knowledge, education plays an important role. By having a role in the classroom along with my fellow students from other faculties at USC, I engaged with students effectively, reached out to them in ways that were culturally relevant, and examined their cultural assumptions. The lesson plans continued and I got a chance to present about food, flags, and the Ancient Olympic games’ history and its modern development.

As I tried to reinvent the way to see the big picture through the classroom, on my last day of the program, it was great to know that all the students in the classroom recognized Indonesia not only as a country but also as the world’s largest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands.  Sadly, the project has come to an end with two weeks before my final exam period and four weeks before my commencement day.

In front of Doheny Memorial Library
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as International Ambassador.

The most important thing about the program was that it helped me understand the importance of embracing cross-cultural diversity and inclusion by having a chance to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. This teaching experience has lead me to think differently about education, the community, and the value of public service. It has been a tremendously rewarding experience on how to implement effective teaching in a diverse classroom while maintaining cultural integrity. That being said, the best part of all was that I could be part of social growth in the United States.

Regardless, this was one of a few of the roles that dominate my life at USC, I am forever grateful for this opportunity and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the program.