AIYA Links: 23 January

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Culture, Customs and Traditions- Greetings in Indonesia

One of the most difficult experiences in living in a new country involves learning about the culture, customs and traditions of that country. Indonesia is no exception. In fact, Australians often find it difficult to adapt to Indonesia due to cultural and religious differences. We caught up with Brahm Marjadi and discussed some of the common greetings and celebrations for Indonesians in the hope to discover a little more about how some of these cross-cultural miscommunications may be explained.

Brahm (left) back in 1999 at Great Besakih Temple in Bali. Photo: Oken.

What is an appropriate way to greet someone in Indonesia? ie. handshake, wave, hug etc.

In general, a handshake is the most common way. Most Indonesians would not hug except for family members. A social cheek-to-cheek (“muah-muah”) is popular among women, but never between men and women (except for close family members) or among men.

Some Muslims wouldn’t touch people from the opposite gender except for family members, but we cannot always judge this from outward appearances e.g. how they dress. Neither can we assume this based on areas of origin or local geography; in my trips to Aceh where the Shariah Law is in place I keep finding women in jilbab, old and young alike, who initiate a handshake with me. Similarly I found Acehnese men who initiated handshake with my female Australian co-researcher. When in doubt, let the other party make the first move; if they initiate a handshake then go for it; if they just put their hands together in front of their chest, you should follow suit.

Indonesians may not shake your hand as firmly as many Australians do, but this is not a reflection of lack of confidence or comfort – it’s just the way we do it.

Some Indonesians would take their hand to their chest after a handshake, which reflects the sincerity of the greeting. You may try to do the same.

Younger people and/or students may take your extended hand and touch the back of your hand to their forehead. This is called “salim” and reflects a special respect from the young to the old.

Finally there are some specific traditional greetings that locals would love to teach you, such as the nose-touching greeting in Sumba.

Indonesia is a pretty multicultural country. How do Indonesians accommodate the traditions and holidays of other religions?

In comparison to the Australian calendar, the Indonesian calendar is full of religious holidays of the six major religions (Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhism and Confucianism) that are acknowledged as public holidays. Religious celebrations are reported on mainstream TV channels and printed media, often with a summary of messages from prominent religious (and sometimes political) leaders.

I have witnessed a few occasions when two religious holidays occurred on the same day, and local congregations were able to compromise their practices so as not to clash with each other.

When is it appropriate to attend ceremonies from other religions?

Be it a Christmas liturgy or worshipping in a temple – you should wait until you are invited, and then it is up to how comfortable you are to take part. Beware that certain ceremonies may contain “members only” components (such as receiving the Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass) but in many cases you can sit back for any component you may not be comfortable doing. I once attended a Hindu celebration at the Great Besakih Temple in Bali. Being a non-Hindu, I asked my Hindu friend who took me there which parts of the ceremony I was expected to take part, which parts were “members only”, and what the meaning of each part was, so that I could decide whether it would be appropriate for me (from my own religion’s point of view) to participate. Such open communication made both my friend and I more comfortable with my participation in the ceremony, and we went home with a much better understanding of and respect for each other’s religious practices.

Do these attitudes vary? Why?

What I described above is a practice that was taught to all of my generation in school in the national curriculum of Pancasila (Indonesia’s Five Principles). Basically, we respect each other’s holidays, congratulate/greet each other for the holidays and take part within the boundaries of each other’s religion. However, in the early 1990s I noticed a shift when certain religious leaders proclaimed that their followers must refrain from greeting certain religious holidays because it was decided to be against their religious principles.

While this exhortation is adhered to by some followers, others keep the practice based on their own conscience and keep greeting other religion’s holidays. However, in public fora such as in social media these inter-religion greetings sometimes have to be relegated to personal communication (“japri”) for fear of negative comments from their fellow religious observers.

It is interesting to note that in my travel to remote Indonesian areas and islands people are, as a rule, not fussed about this issue – somebody’s celebration is everybody’s celebration, and any celebration is a good reason to have a party!

To be on the safe side, some people append their religious holiday greetings with “…to those who celebrate it”. While this appendage may make it politically (or religiously) correct, some people would still prefer a generic greeting to all (particularly in broadcast greetings).

What are the most common mistakes/faux-pas/slip ups made by westerners?

I haven’t seen many at all, but the best thing to keep in mind is to ask if you are uncertain, and not to go overboard in order to respect another’s custom. When I was invited to Besakih Temple I was offered to go in full Balinese attire, which I gladly accepted; however it would have been equally acceptable if I just wore smart casual western attire.

In Malaysia and Singapore, it’s customary to host (or take part in) “open house” events on religious holidays, open to anyone. Would this be considered appropriate in Indonesia?

It is certainly appropriate to attend when you are invited. Feel free to ask your host (or Indonesian friends) what people are expected to bring – and what not to bring (e.g. a bottle of wine should never be given to a Muslim family).

Generally speaking you are not expected to host an open house, unless your office or your predecessor (if you hold an esteemed position) has/had that tradition.

What do you think are the most important things for foreigners to understand about the way religious holidays are observed in Indonesia?

Indonesia is a very complex nation, and there are often different levels of observance and different interpretations of the same religion. This is the case with any religion. If you ask someone, their answer depends largely on their own interpretation, and there is always a chance that you will meet somebody of the same religion who may disagree. The good thing about being a foreigner is that Indonesians are extremely tolerant to slip-ups and they know you mean no harm. So just keep asking questions to locals and soon you will figure out the richness of religious practices in Indonesia.

What can we do to better avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings between Australians and Indonesians?

Cross-cultural discussions are a must. Groups like AIYA should regularly discuss cross-cultural issues like this greeting matter and many more. If I am not a Muslim, should I respond to the greeting “Assalamualaikum”? What should I do if offered a delicacy that was meant to show utmost respect but I do not normally eat it? When is it okay to wear open-toe shoes or sandals? When is it appropriate to ask about somebody’s personal life (marital status, spouse, children, religion)? Also bear in mind that different areas in Indonesia might have different customs and expectations.

For those who plan on going to Indonesia for a longer period, particularly with immersion in the broader community (e.g. as community development volunteers), a short course or even a day with somebody with good knowledge of the area is preferable. However, Indonesians are very tolerant and friendly toward visitors (both from overseas and other parts of Indonesia) so you really have nothing to fear! Most slip-ups are easily forgiven with a big smile and a sheepish “I’m sorry”.

AIYA Links, 16 January: cops and robbers


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Jobs and opportunities

  • Want to blog for AIYA? We’re looking for volunteer contributors for both English and Indonesian language content.
  • Applications for the Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship Program, which offers one-year scholarships for foreign students to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia, are now open.

Pembelajaran Mengikuti Program Homestay di Australia

Atas kehendak-Nya lah saya dapat merasakan suasana yang berbeda di benua kangguru. Saya Janu Muhammad, mahasiswa Jurusan Pendidikan Geografi, Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta. Pada tanggal 6-25 November 2014 kemarin saya diberi kesempatan untuk mengikuti kegiatan homestay di Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Saya mewakili Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta bersama 8 delegasi lainnya yang berasal dari berbagai provinsi di Indonesia. Kegiatan homestay ini adalah tahapan akhir dari seleksi Gerakan Mari Berbagi yang sering disebut GMB selama satu tahun yang dimulai sejak bulan September 2013. GMB adalah sebuah NGO yang mempunyai misi menumbuhkan nilai berbagi dan membentuk karakter baik para pemimpin muda untuk masa depan Indonesia.

Janu tinggal di Brisbane selama tiga minggu. Foto: Indah Rastika Sari

Hal berkesan yang membedakan program GMB dengan forum kepemimpinan lainnya adalah ketika mengikuti Youth Adventure, setiap orang diberikan bekal uang Rp 100.000,00 untuk hidup 3 hari 2 malam. Saya mendapat rute dari Jogja-Magelang-Banjarnegara-Jakarta bersama rekan dari Aceh dan Sulawesi. Uang tersebut harus cukup, tidak diperkenankan memakai uang pribadi ataupun menghubungi keluarga. Di Kota Magelang, kami mempunyai misi ibarat tangan di bawah yang cenderung menerima bantuan (seperti pengemis), dan di Banjarnegara kami sebagai seorang pemberi (penderma). Kegiatan ini bertujuan untuk membentuk karakter pemimpin untuk lebih banyak memberi daripada meminta serta menumbuhkan kepedulian sosial terhadap sesama.

Program homestay diikuti oleh 9 delegasi ke Australia dan 6 delegasi ke Jepang, yang semuanya adalah pemuda terpilih dan di atas rata-rata yang telah mampu membuat sebuah perubahan untuk lingkungan di sekitarnya. Tujuan dari homestay ini sendiri adalah untuk mengenal lingkungan baru, belajar memahami toleransi, merasakan cross cultural understanding di Australia maupun Jepang, memperkenalkan GMB sebagai representasi gerakan pemuda di Indonesia, serta menambah jaringan internasional di luar negeri. Saya tinggal di 22 Elgata Street, The Gap, Queensland bersama keluarga Gwenda Spencer, seorang aktivis sosial masyarakat. Saya pun melakukan berbagai aktivitas seperti mengajar Bahasa Indonesia di Ferny Grove State High School, mengeksplorasi berbagai tempat di Brisbane seperti : South Bank, Holland Park Mosque, State Library of Queensland, Brisbane River, Byron Bay di New South Wales dan berbagai tempat menarik lainnya.

Kota Brisbane sungguh indah dan menjadi kenangan yang tidak akan terlupakan. Saya melihat kondisi kota Brisbane yang teratur dari segi transportasinya, kebersihan lingkungannya, tata ruang kota yang rapi, masyarakatnya yang open minded dan friendly. Saya pun menyempatkan diri untuk mengunjungi University of Queensland serta bertemu dengan Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia di Australia. Kami berdiskusi dan mengadakan BBQ di Parkland, South Bank dan mendengar sapaan saudara Ahmad Almaududy Amri, ketua PPI Australia (PPIA) sekaligus Presidium PPI Dunia. Para pengurus PPIA ini sekaligus mengadakan evaluasi terkait keikutsertaan dalam kegiatan G20 Summit pada tanggal 15-17 November 2014 yang turut hadir presiden Joko Widodo bersama para pemimpin negara lainnya.

Bagi saya, perjalanan kedua ke luar negeri setelah tahun 2013 ke Belanda memberikan banyak pembelajaran yang dapat membentuk karakter diri. Saya merasakan budaya baru ketika tinggal bersama host family, mulai dari pola makan, kehidupan sosial, sampai dengan pentingnya pendidikan di negara maju seperti Australia. Budaya westernisasi yang kental mengharuskan saya untuk beradaptasi dengan budaya timur yang saya bawa, tentunya dengan memilah mana yang perlu diambil atau tidak. Gaya hidup di Australia, mulai dari konsumsi makanan, kehidupan sehari-hari di tempat umum, maupun cara orang Australia beraktivitas memberikan efek baru bahwa saya perlu mengambil pelajaran baik tentang disiplin waktu, etos kerja, toleransi, dan menerima keberagaman budaya.

Masyarakat di Brisbane yang mau menerima penduduk baru baik dari Asia, Amerika, Eropa, maupun Afrika menjadikan kota ini sebagai kota multicultural, seperti kota saya Yogyakarta. Dari toleransi agama, saya belajar makna menghargai perbedaan. Saya pun bertanya dalam hati, “Bukankah di Indonesia justru lebih multikultural ya? Mengapa masih sering terjadi konflik?” Saya pun teringat ketika bertemu Pak Ali di masjid Brisbane, WNI yang sudah 40 tahun hidup di Brisbane. Ketika saya bertanya, “Apa membuat Bapak betah untuk tinggal di sini ?” Beliau menjawab, “Saya merasa nyaman mas di sini, jiwa dan hati saya tenang ketika beribadah, berbeda ketika saya di Indonesia.” Beliau mengungkapkan ketenangan batin yang didapatkan selama tinggal di Brisbane, tidak khawatir akan kriminalitas ataupun gangguan lainnya. Beliau mencontohkan, ketika parkir mobil di depan rumah pun sama sekali tidak khawatir akan adanya pencurian. “Asal kita berbuat baik dan taat aturan, pasti tidak akan ada orang yang mengganggu kita mas,” imbuh beliau.

Sepulang dari program homestay ini, saya ingin membagikan pengalaman yang didapat kepada keluarga, rekan-rekan di kampus maupun masyarakat yang akan saya temui agar sedikit pengalaman ini akan bermanfaat. Ada pelajaran berharga ketika di Australia kami harus menjadi duta Indonesia, mengenalkan segala potensi dan budayanya. Saya pun berharap agar para pemuda lainnya siap menjadi bagian dari peserta homestay selanjutnya dengan turut bergabung di kegiatan GMB 2015. Terimakasih atas segala doa dan dukungan semua pihak. Salam berbagi!

Janu mengikuti program Gerakan Mari Berbagi. Foto: Janu Muhammad


AIYA Links, 9 January: Happy New Year

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Sponsored content from Scope Global

Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID), an Australian Government initiative, provides fully-funded volunteering opportunities for skilled Australians to developing countries across Asia, the Pacific and Africa.

This month, there are over 20 fantastic AVID assignments open for application across a wide range of sectors in Indonesia, perfect for those in the early stages of their career.

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Jobs & opportunities

  • AIYA is seeking volunteer blog contributors to write for us in both Bahasa Indonesia and English. See the AIYA Job Board for more.
  • The 2015 round of the Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa Scholarship Program, offering one-year scholarships for foreign students to study the language, arts and culture of Indonesia, is now open. Check out the details at the AIYA Job Board.

Inside AIYEP: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers

The Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program, widely known as AIYEP, is a dual government initiative between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, the Australia Indonesia Institute and the Indonesian Department of Youth and Sport (Kemenpora). In its 32nd year, it is the longest running and foremost exchange program serving the bilateral relationship. The program brings together 18 Indonesian and 18 Australian participants, 9 males and 9 females from each country. Amongst its aims are fostering people-to-people ties, building a lasting legacy and developing an integrated history for Australia and Indonesia.

AIYEP group
The current group of AIYEP participants. Photo: Kirrilly McKenzie

The initial phases involve flying the Indonesian participants to an Australian state where they partake in work experience placements and live with host families. This year’s group spent October in Perth, followed by a month in the rural locale of Margaret River. There was an exciting mix of work placements in prominent companies and agencies across the media, law, government, hospitality and teaching. One day a week was also spent putting on the group’s cultural performance piece, which comprises dances and songs from across the archipelago.

Last Monday, the Australian participants met for the first time in Perth for an opening orientation. We were briefed on the many facets of AIYEP and complexities we might encounter during our time in Indonesia. A big part of the orientation was bonding as a group and making sure we were on the same page about our projects, despite the different levels of interaction we have each had with Indonesia. The week was jammed packed; electing coordinators, creating a cultural performance routine illustrating Australian culture, and finally meeting our Indonesian counterparts on Thursday.

Cultural Performance

The first task our group prepared to tackle was creating a cultural performance that reflects Australian culture. We were faced with the difficulty of defining ‘what is Australian culture.’ The piece we created, whilst not elaborating on every aspect, draws upon our long history of indigenous cultures and modern multicultural society with the influence of international music and drama.

Our first test was a performance at the Indonesian Consulate in Perth. We began with a chorus of Australian participants singing Inanay Gupuana of the Torres Strait Island people. The song then led into a medley of popular Australian and Indonesian songs, with a small band of guitars, a violin and shakers leading the enthusiastic chorus. The chorus then reconfigured into rows for the Australian and Indonesian participants to perform the Saman dance. Saman is a complicated, extremely cool looking dance from Aceh. We spent a few hours learning the moves before putting the performance together. The final piece featured a pastiche of Indonesian dances performed by the Indonesian participants.

Information Sessions

The week also consisted of a number of talks including DFAT, AIYA WA, AIBC Young Professionals and the Consulate. We had an opportunity to ask a number of questions to people who hold various positions within the Australia-Indonesian relationship. A particular interest-point was how young Australians will be able to use their Indonesian language skills to continue advancing the relationship; a point that met varied responses from young people, government and the business side.


On our last day in Perth, we were paired up with counterparts from the Indonesian group, who we will live with for the remainder of AIYEP. Our group leaders revealed our counterparts by hiding two halves of a playing card around the room for us to find and match together. We were lucky enough to get Venna who is from Yogyakarta and Chris from Sumatera Utara. We were all wished happy marriages because we will be living in the same bed for the next two months in both the village phase and the city phase.

Village Phase

We have just finished our in-country orientations in Jakarta and Banjarmasin and are about to embark on a month’s stay in Mattone village, South Kalimantan. We will live with our counterparts in a host family and carry out a number of Community Development projects relating to education, sports, health, waste management, local business and tourism. Our hope is that we can integrate into the community and do our best to meet the needs of the village.

City Phase

The city phase will commence in January and finish off the program. Every Australian participant will be assigned a work experience placement to complete with one of the Indonesian participants. At this stage, we will return to Banjarmasin to live with a host family in the city.

To follow this years AIYEPer’s go to:


Twitter: @aiyeptcn

Instagram: aiyep2014

For more information about the program visit:

AIYA Blog Contributors

To all AIYA members and friends,

The Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) is currently looking for new contributors for the AIYA blog. If you are passionate about the Australia-Indonesia relationship and have something that you would like to write and share now is your chance. We are looking for contributors writing in English, but also strongly encourage new contributors writing in Indonesian.

Some of the topics our contributors have written about previously include:

  • Education
  • Politics
  • Science
  • Sport
  • Art
  • Culture
  • Business
  • Media

If you or a friend are interested in writing for the blog please feel free to contact Tim Flicker at Even if you are not sure if the article is suitable for the blog please don’t be shy!

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Kontributor Blog AIYA

Kepada semua anggota dan teman AIYA,

Asosiasi Pemuda Australia-Indonesia (AIYA) sedang mencari kontributor baru untuk blog AIYA. Jika kamu berminat dan tertarik dengan hubungan Australia-Indonesia, inilah kesempatan kamu. Kami mencari kontributor artikel bahasa Inggris, tetapi kontributor baru yang dapat menulis dalam bahasa Indonesia juga diterima dengan senang hati.

Artikel-artikel kami sebelumnya meliputi berbagai topik, termasuk:

  • Pendidikan
  • Politik
  • Ilmu Pengetahuan
  • Olahraga
  • Kesenian
  • Kebudayaan
  • Bisnis
  • Media

Jika kamu atau teman kamu ingin menulis artikel untuk blog AIYA, silakan menghubungi Tim Flicker di Bahkan jika kamu tidak yakin apakah artikelmu sesuai dengan blog kami, jangan malu-malu untuk tetap mengirimkannya, ya!

Kami tunggu tanggapanmu!

AIYA Links: Selamat Natal

AIYA Xmas Card

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Selamat Jalan, Pak Dubes

  • AIYA would like to extend our thanks and good wishes to Ambassador Greg Moriarty, who’ll soon wrap up his time representing Australia in Jakarta. He’s been a great supporter of building links between Indonesian and Australian youth—and we hope his successor continues the great tradition of Twitter diplomacy over at @DubesAustralia!

Events and opportunities

Australia, Our Second Home

Home is just not a place where you happen to be born, it is the place where you become yourself. -Pico Iyer

Some countries will always hold special places in our hearts with life changing experiences and unforgettable memories. Clarissa Tanurahardja spoke to Mikael Mirdad and Max Machribie about Australia as their second home.          

Mikael at an art studio. Photo: Mikael Mirdad

What’s your most unforgettable experience when you lived or studied in Australia?

Mikael: I think it’s hard to say the most unforgettable experience since there are so many wonderful experiences I had whilst in Australia. But perhaps, I can say that meeting new people from all around the world and becoming good friends with them up until now is a good experience.

Max: My unforgettable experience is when I watched AFL for the first time.  I remember we were seated between the St. Kilda fans and Sydney Swans fans. It was an exciting experience to see all the audience cheering for their team. The atmosphere in the stadium felt so different to anything I had previously experienced.

Does Australia feel like a second home for you? If yes, why?

Mikael: Yes, it does. The fact that I lived there for 5 years kinda made it my home without me realising it. I still have a lot of friends and family there. I know the country really well. It just feels familiar every time I go there.

Max: Yes, I feel Melbourne is my second home. The Aussies are very friendly. I love living in Melbourne. Melbourne is a nice city, which offers you everything from entertainment such as Melbourne Central, Bourke Street, and South Yarra to sceneic views such as Docklands and Southbank. I also love the public transport in Melbourne. It is very efficient and you can go anywhere you want.

What advice would you give for other friends who will live or travel to Australia?

Mikael: I always have this regret that I did not travel across Australia while I was living there. So my advice for you who are studying or living there, make the most of your time and start travelling. Australia is so much more than just Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane. To make the most of Australia go beyond the major cities and really explore all the country has to offer.

Max: My advice to anyone who wants to travel to Australia, you have to visit Mornington Peninsula 1 hour from Melbourne. They have the best strawberry farms in Australia and also different wineries that you can try. You also need to try Menya Restaurant in Melbourne Central, they served the best Gyutandon (beef tongue) in the world!

Max Machribie
Max and his grandfather. Photo: Max Machribie

Mikael Mirdad is a passionate restaurateur who once lived in Australia and now manages his own business back in Indonesia.

Max Machribie studied chemical engineering at Monash University. He is currently working at an international leading chemical company in Indonesia.