International view from cultural links


STUDENTS at Balcombe Grammar School will gain an international perspective when they host an Australia-Indonesia Muslim exchange program on Wednesday (9 March) and 13 April.

The visit by some of Indonesia’s brightest emerging leaders aims to improve cultural and educational exchanges – and bring on a few selfies – among students in years 7 and 10.

Principal Matthew Dodd is all for forging community collaborations and learning opportunities beyond the school’s grounds.

“We embrace programs like the Muslim exchange program because of the mutual learning that is ignited by face to face, cross-cultural interactions,” he said.

The visit is backed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia-Indonesia Institute, which aims to foster people-to-people links between Indonesia and Australia through two week cultural and intellectual exchanges.

Co-ordinator Brynna Rafferty-Brown has worked with delegates since 2004. “The program selects from a growing number of young leaders involved at grassroots level in the community,” she said.

“For many Indonesian Muslim community leaders, this is their first and sometimes only opportunity to participate in an overseas program.”

As a participant in 2006, she understands the depth of connections the program cultivates.

“A Pakistani friend who joined me on the exchange saw a performance of the Hindu epic Ramayana in Pramabanan, an ancient Hindu temple in Yogyakarta, performed by Muslim dancers,” she said.

“Coming from a place of some tension between Hinduism and Islam, he came away incredibly inspired about the power of communities coming together. He still talks about it today.”

The students have prepared questions for this year’s delegates. Their focus is on learning more about education and culture in Indonesia’s Muslim community, and exploring shared points of connection.

“Exchanging ideas with two or three passionate, smart, well-spoken young Muslim women who happen to wear headscarfs really helps shatter any perceived barriers,” Ms Rafferty-Brown said.

Balcombe’s head of Faith and Wellbeing, Natalie Kurelja, said she welcomed the link with the school’s interfaith studies and experiential learning events.

Reflecting on last year’s visit, she said: “There was a lot of laughter and heaps of selfies. It was just beautiful. It was like we’d all been friends for years.”

First published in the Mornington News – 8 March 2016


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