Terrific Teachers – Mbak Caroline Hall

Terrific teachers title pic

My journey with Indonesian language education over the last twenty-plus years has been touched by some amazing people whose passion for Indonesian language, culture and travel have really inspired me. Some are current practising teachers, some are not, their life paths are all different but they all have one thing in common and that is; a special love for Indonesia. I’m very grateful that they are willing to share their stories and connections to Indonesia right here on the blog.

Selamat berkenal dengan Mbak Caroline Hall.

I can’t even remember when or where I met Mbak Caroline but it feels as if we’ve always known each other, that’s really saying something! {Another one from the same tribe!} A fun, creative, innovative Indonesian teacher…why wouldn’t we click straight away?! Mbak Caroline joined me on working on developing the Link to Lingkungan Kita– Indonesian Language Resource for the Melbourne Zoo, focusing on the Secondary component of the resource package and developing so many awesome student tasks and we also worked on numerous other projects for the Department of Education and Training, Victoria.

Mbak Caroline has a a flare for innovative technology based student tasks and activities. It’s no wonder her students are so motivated to learn bahasa Indonesia and continue their language studies further. We also share a great passion {or is it obsession!?} for travelling throughout the diverse islands of Indonesia and love to share our travel adventures with one another. Mbak Caroline has also carried off many successful Student Study Tours to Indonesia to share her passion for travel in Indonesia with her students too. Mbak Caroline shared one of her student study tours to Sumatra and Lombok here on the blog, you can read it here.

CH profile pic

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been teaching Indonesian since 2000 (waaah, sudah lama!) and have worked in the Private, Independent and State systems. I’ve taught all-boys, all-girls and co-ed, and right now I’m firmly committed to the State system and am teaching at an all-girls State secondary school. It’s pretty damn awesome!

Why Indonesian? When and what got you started to learn bahasa Indonesia?

‘Why Indonesian?’ is a question I get a lot, particularly from the Italian side of the family! I usually say ‘Why not?!’ Then the older members of my family stare at me blankly and sometimes pass me something written in Japanese to translate…

Like a lot of people, I had ‘taster’ languages in Year 7 – a semester of French and one of Indonesian. My biggest influence to choose Indonesian wasn’t just my inability to spell in French, but the Indonesian teacher. They made it feel achievable and, if not fun, at least it wasn’t awful. I think the right teacher can make or break a language student, it’s definitely a huge influence! The first time I went to Indonesia was to Bali, on a Year 10 school trip – Bali has changed a lot since the 90s.

Next time you’re in Bali, see if you can spot this bayi besar yang kecil – those trees have grown a lot!

Round about near Ubud CH

*Takes pipe out of mouth and gestures expansively* Back in my day you’d get to Tanah Lot down a narrow path down a cliff – you’d risk your life and you’d like it! And if you wanted a knock off Aussie surf t-shirt, you’d go to the Sundee market in Stralia like the rest of us!

Speaking of change, I was really interested in the balance between conservation and restoration at the water palace in Yogya and want to share a photo from 2000 (left) and 2013 (right). You never stop being surprised in Indonesia!

CH Water Palace Collage

Why do you think Indonesian is so important for Australian students to learn?

If we’re looking overseas, a lot of Australians’ hearts are in Europe, but if we’re being smart, our minds should be in Asia. If more Australians spoke Indonesian, maybe I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed seeing how many behave in Bali! But seriously, I think it’s really important that Australians can understand our closest neighbour. How on earth has it come to pass that that there are fewer people learning Indonesian now than in the 70s? I think it’s tragic that we might be facing the extinction of Indonesian in our schools within 10 years and we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen!

If we sat in your Indonesian Language classroom, what are 3 things we would see or do?

You would see a lot of colour (and dank memes) on the walls and you wouldn’t hear silence (I get deeply suspicious when they go quiet…what are they planning?). You would see me displaying an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm for even the driest aspect of grammar, and so as part of that you’d see students having a go, at the best of their abilities (high, low or somewhere in-between). They’re linking their interests to what we’re doing – if they’re making a ‘children’s’ book about activities around the house and they’re big fans of The Vampire Diaries, why wouldn’t you do it on Damon’s daily routine? We all enjoy doing things that we’re interested in, and in Language learning, that’s not different.

What has been your toughest obstacle in Languages education? How did you get past it?

I never get complacent about the position of Languages in the curriculum. We’ve seen the focus, value and funding from the 90s fade away, and we always have to fight the ‘Why can’t everyone speak English’ mentality. Languages aren’t easy to learn, but what *is* easy is to say ‘Meh, it’s hard, why should I work hard in Indonesian when I could do an easier subject?!’

Constantly working to keep the kids engaged and the curriculum viable helps to stave off problems before they get started. A few years ago I was lucky enough to get in on a project with Melbourne Zoo, Mbak Julie and a bunch of fabulous Indonesian teachers. We need more funding to be able to do more projects like that, so that more students can reap the benefits from the wealth of experience and enthusiasm out there.

What is your biggest achievement in life so far?

I think that getting kids to Indonesia is really important – it’s great to see them have that ‘What the hell, people actually *speak* this language that I am learning at school’ moment. My school has a sister school in Lombok (shout out to SMANSA, Mataram!) that we visit every two years. As well as home-stay and going to school in Lombok, we do a road trip in another part of Indonesia. So far we’ve done trips to Lombok/Bali, Lombok/Java, and Lombok/Sumatra.

When you’re three quarters through the trip in the middle of Sumatra, you’re running on minimal sleep, a rat has eaten your Beng Beng stash and you never get a moment alone (seriously, a kid would keep trying to talk through the walls while I was showering or – worse – trying to have a quiet moment in the kamar kecil), a huge achievement is being positive and seeing the experience through the eyes of a first-time visitor to Indonesia. It’s all totally worth it!

Hanging out at SMANSA, Mataram, Lombok

What’s your favourite place in Indonesia? Why?

Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra is one of my favourite places to visit. Being able to see orang-utans chilling and doing their thing, where they want, when they want is incredible. Being chased through the jungle by a cranky orang-utan (her name is Mina – turns out she’s infamous, for real, Google her!) has got to be a highlight. Mind you, when I took students there last year I was really, really relieved that my students didn’t get the same experience! We’d done a huge amount of fund-raising to support the orang-utans and I’d hate for them to get into a punch-on with an obstreperous orang-utan, I’m pretty sure that would send the wrong message.

mina stalks

What’s your favourite Indonesian dish? And restaurant? {in Indonesia or in Australia}

Tom and Michelle’s Warung Bali (in Geelong West) does the best kare ayam. However, the #1 dish that I’ll eat around all of Indonesia is sate. Sate ayam, sate sapi, sate kambing, with saus kacang, without, some weird offal sate in Lombok – I never, ever get tired of chasing the ultimate sate. I get teased for pretending to look at a menu – as if I’m going to choose something else! Well…sometimes I do, because it’s always good to challenge yourself!

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If you were an Indonesian animal, what would you be? Why?

I’m a huge fan of the Slow Loris. I’m little, fluffy and manage to be both poisonous *and* venomous, just like those little beggars. Thankfully no one has tried to chop my fangs off and I have escaped being sold on the black market (so far).

If you could wag school {or work} for a day, what would be on your list to do?

I would turn that day into at least three months and get on a plane. My to-do list of places to go around the world keeps getting bigger the more places I go, rather than smaller. I’m chipping away at Indonesia’s islands one by one…and that’s just the beginning. One day I (and my stuffed moose mascot) will get everywhere!

Not getting chased by a lazy dragon
Not getting chased by a lazy dragon
Moose at Borobudur Temple, Central Java
Moose at Borobudur Temple, Central Java

Thanks so much for sharing Mbak Caroline!


  1. Jill Kube says

    Oh wow. Inspirational! Thank you mbak Caroline dan Julie. Oh yes, the contrast between early trips to Indonesia and now. So true. And taking school trips further than Bali – that’s my next goal. We can be so isolated as language teachers; thanks for helping to counteract that in such a positive way.

    • indospired says

      Thanks so much for your positive feedback Bu Jill. So nice that you stopped by my blog and that you are enjoying the Interview Series. I thought it was a good way to highlight our wonderful Indonesian teachers out there. Indo teachers work so hard and often have it quite tough and I think it’s so inspirational that they still manage to do a great job and their love for Indonesian Language learning never fails! It’s time we celebrated Indonesian teachers! 🙂

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