When I was a student at Saints, my favourite subject was Indonesian. Apart from studying the language, it was the first time I had been exposed to another culture in such depth. I distinctly remember the feeling of being taken to another place, an exotic other world, by my incredibly interesting teachers, Pak Rungkat and then Pak Carter. It was the subject that really captured my heart and mind by showing me how my life could be expanded if I embraced and understood the differences of another people and culture.
My first overseas trip was to Indonesia with Pak Rungkat and the School when I was in Year 9. We travelled the length of Java, visiting a myriad of cultural sites along the way and eating delicious Indonesian food. I will never forget the sounds, smells, sights and tastes of that trip. I was hooked. Later, Pak Carter taught me a lot more about the struggles of certain regions of the Indonesian archipelago. He also challenged me to visit the less tourist-focused areas of Java (which I did during my time at university), so I could get a fuller and more rounded understanding of the country, its people and culture. My love of the subject kindled by the passion of those men ultimately led me to becoming a language teacher and a strident advocate for learning languages at school.
As well as the language we also learned a lot about the culture and history of the archipelago, including Indonesia’s independence from The Netherlands. The Indonesian coat of arms that was born out of that time. It is the image of a Garuda Eagle with the phrase ‘Unity in Diversity’ underneath and I have often reflected on this as an educator. The phrase was deliberate and aspirational and reflected the government’s desire to bring together the many different ethnic groups who lived across the islands under the banner of the Indonesian flag. This aspiration has not been without controversy because over the decades some of the unique characteristics of those groups has been eroded, particularly if they were in any way contrary to the government. Personally, I think Indonesia is a less vibrant place as a result.
For me, St Peter’s College is a vastly more interesting place today than it was when I was a student here because of the diversity of its community. I’ll be blunt – to be different in my day meant that you were bullied and I feel genuine remorse for how some of my peers were treated. Diversity, however, is not without its challenges. There are difficult cultural shifts that need to occur for diversity to move from being tolerated to celebrated. For those of us in the culturally dominant group, this can be confronting because we understandably feel that the notion of who we are is being challenged. Although these feelings are understandable, this is not why we as a school should embrace diversity. There is nothing wrong with how we in the culturally dominant group are, it is just that diversity gives us a much richer world to live in. Just as Indonesian was the catalyst for me in expanding my understanding of who I was, the diversity of cultural backgrounds at St Peter’s College now gives our students and children so many more opportunities for them to expand their understanding of life and self.
Let’s celebrate our diversity and embrace our differences. Ultimately, this will mean that our children are more likely to find a positive vehicle to express their own truth inside and outside the most beautiful walls and fields of Saints.
Pro Deo et Patria.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School