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Tamu Kita – Inspiring the Next Generation

Asia Literacy Ambassador Nicholas Metherall shares his recent experience in Eastern lndonesia and looks to encourage further study in the region.

The flames of the wood fire pit lick upward toward the low ceiling in the grass thatch hut, known locally as the Ume Kebubu. My Timorese friends nurture the fire which, in the well-insulated hut, keeps us warm against the cold mountain winds.

They pass me a small bowl of the local specialty dish, jagung bose - boiled corn, nuts and beans cooked with salt and santan. Unlike in Bali and Java, which rely primarily on rice as a staple, Indonesians in West Timor often prefer a corn-­based diet. As we eat together one of my new friends asks the expected question: 'So Nick, what brings you here?' Looking around my surroundings, I chuckle. I also had to ask myself how I had wound up here - in the south central hills of Timor Island? Was I a lost backpacker? A journalist? A cultural-linguistic anthropologist? Not quite. 'I'm just an Australian exchange student and this is my homework'.

My friends look at me with a puzzled expression, a cue for a longer explanation. These days the Australian government is encouraging young Australians to study, work and engage more deeply in Asia, I explain. I was lucky enough to gain a Prime Minister's Australia Asia Endeavour Award to study tropical rural development at Nusa Cendana University in Nusa Tenggara Timur Province.

This was how I ended up here in this grass thatch hut, I told my friends. They responded with another question: 'Why have you come alone? Why aren't there any other Australians or other foreigners at the university here?' It was true. There were no other overseas students here. I suppose one of the main reasons is the decline in focus on Indonesian language. An interesting paradox however is that this collapse of Indonesian language is taking place at a time when there are more opportunities and scholarships than ever before to study and engage in Indonesia.

Currently I am volunteering with the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) as an Asia Literacy Ambassador, visiting schools and encouraging students to develop their Indonesian skills. By visiting schools we hope to inspire, educate and engage the next generation of globally capable, Asia-ready young Australians.

I welcome the opportunity to talk to students about a number of themes including:

  • Disadvantage in rural and developing parts of Indonesia
  • Environmental issues such as adapting to climate change, youth action for conservation, reforestation and education for sustainable development initiatives
  • Cultural aspects of Eastern Indonesia including playing the Sasando - a traditional instrument made from palm leaves

If you would like to book an Asia Literacy Ambassador to visit your school please visit the AEF Speakers Bureau

This article was first published by Suara Vilta.


AEF's Asia Literacy Ambassadors visit schools to speak with students and ignite their interest in studies of Asia. There are around 20 ambassadors in Victoria with Indonesian experience. Some are also able to host workplace visits, making it a great excursion opportunity for regional and rural schools. For more info about the ambassador program, contact project officer Emeline Suteau or visit

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