Interview 49: Mutia KUSUMAWATI (Indonesia)

One day, I will return to the classroom and teach again

Name: Mutia Kusumawati
Home Country/Region: Indonesia
Affiliation: PhD Student in the Graduate School of Education (part of the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences since April 2020)
Hobbies: Watching movies and cooking
(Interview Date: April 18, 2022)

Past Voices from Abroad

Please describe your hometown.

I’m from Java Island, Indonesia. Java Island is where Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia is located, and more than half of the country's population is concentrated on that island.
My country is multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious. It’s truly a country of diversity. The same is true of education. In other words, there are Christian and Muslim schools, etc., but most children study together in public schools that are open to all. I’m Muslim, but some of my best friends, who I went to school with from elementary through high school, were Christians and Buddhists. Even when we visited each other's homes, if it was time for prayer, I would say, "It's time for prayer, so I'm going to go pray now," and I would pray. That was just the norm for us.

What language do you speak in Indonesia?

Our official language is Indonesian, but there are many people whose mother tongue isn’t Indonesian, such as Javanese, Sundanese or Madurese. The number of languages spoken in Indonesia is very large, probably more than 300. On Papua Island, for example, the languages spoken from village to village can be completely different.

What were you doing before entering Hiroshima University (HU)?

Before entering HU, I majored in Japanese language education at a university in Indonesia. After graduating, I taught Japanese to Indonesian people at a Japanese language school for about a year.
I first started learning Japanese in high school, and it was through mandatory Japanese classes in the first and second grades that my interest grew. I talked to my Japanese teacher who told me that there were various jobs that could be done using Japanese, which made me think that Japanese would be a good subject to major in college. She was a young teacher who had just graduated from college, and was very kind to me. Her major was also Japanese language education, so I decided to go to the same university as she went to.

When you decided to study abroad, what made you choose HU and not one of the many other options?

When I was in university in Indonesia, I heard many stories about HU, as several of the teachers in my department were HU alumni. I had also heard that HU is one of the best universities in Japan when it comes to the field of Japanese language education. I thought that if I was going to go to graduate school in Japan, I wanted to study Japanese language education in great depth, so I already had the idea in my mind that if I were to study abroad in Japan, I would go to HU.

Do you exchange information with Indonesian friends who are studying at other universities?

Yes. Hearing from my friends who study at other universities made me realize that the curriculum of the Japanese language education major at HU is very extensive. I think it’s very enriching to learn not only about Japanese language education as such, but also about many other things at the same time, such as the language itself, culture, and society. In the case of other universities, I had the impression that the curriculum was a little more limited than that of at HU, such as only teaching Japanese language education. Here at HU, we have professors from a variety of fields, so that broadens my interest in many things, and in turn I feel that it really broadens my horizons.

What specifically do you find interesting?

Our major has "joint seminars" in which teachers and students from various fields participate. It’s very interesting and meaningful to hear about research from various specialties there.

Have you presented your research, too?

Yes, I was really nervous then! If the audience is people from my own seminar group, they understand the basic concepts, so I don't have to explain them at the beginning. However, in joint seminars, there are many participants from other fields, and some of them don’t understand the basic concepts, so I have to explain them first. That’s one of the difficulties.

Speaking of presentations, last year you participated in a speech contest called "The HIRAKU 3MT Competition” *, right?

Yes, I did. It’s an exciting opportunity for doctorate students to effectively explain the vision behind and appeal of their research within a time limit of 3 minutes. I presented my research titled “Intercultural Understanding through Compliments" and was awarded the “People’s Choice” award.

*For details, please refer to the following pages of the "Home for Innovative Researchers and Academic Knowledge Users (HIRAKU)" website:
About HIRAKU 3MT Competition
HIRAKU 3MT Competition 2021 Report

How did you approach the presentation?

The members of the audience were not experts, so I tried to make it easy to understand. I consulted with my supervisor and rewrote the scenario many times. If it’s too detailed, it won’t fit within 3 minutes, and if it’s too short, it won’t convey the significance of the research. The thing I wanted to convey the most was the significance of my research, so I thought seriously about how I could do that. Those who hear about this topic for the first time may wonder, "What's the point of studying compliments?" I really wanted people like that to be able to understand the importance. So, I practiced by recording my speech and reviewing it over and over again. I also made use of slides and gestures.

What do you think of compliments used by Japanese people?

In general, I think Japanese people tend to use compliments more frequently than Indonesian people. Compliments are used in places I would never have thought of. Why do they give compliments in this situation? What meaning or function do these compliments have? I’m now focusing on such questions and comparing them with compliments used in Indonesia.

What kind of compliments do you often hear from Japanese people?

The most typical one is, maybe, “Your Japanese is so good”. Even when I first arrived in Japan, people often complimented my Japanese, which was still poor at the time. Of course, I don't feel bad when people compliment me, but I always wondered, "Why? My Japanese is so bad.”
Other things that I often get complimented on are my appearance, such as my clothes and belongings. It's not that there is nothing like that among Indonesian people, but there is a higher frequency of those kinds of compliments among Japanese people.
In Japan, compliments can serve as a conversation starter, or as a way of livening up a conversation. Complimenting each other about a third party not only enhances the conversation, but also allows them to recognize that they share values and interests, and this happens frequently in Japanese conversations.

Thank you for the detailed explanation. By the way, your admission was in 2016. Since then, with the outbreak of COVID-19 and other related issues, your life at HU must have changed a lot.

That's right. One of the biggest changes is that we have more opportunities to participate in remote or online events such as webinars. Unlike conventional in-person meetings, remote ones have several disadvantages. For example, there may be communication errors during the meeting, or sometimes several people start speaking at the same time and their voices overlap. But, there are some positive aspects to remote events as well. For example, it eliminates many of the hassles associated with in-person events, such as having to change clothes to go out and take public transportation.
However, when it comes to interaction with people, I sometimes feel a little dissatisfied when working remotely. When you’re in person, you can have fun and go out to dinner afterwards, but when working remotely, you don't get that kind of interaction.

What do you think of the facilities on campus?

I use the library a lot. As a doctoral student, I spend a lot of time working on my dissertation, and I usually do it in the library. Because in my own room, I see the bed and the refrigerator, and it interferes with my concentration. I might think, "I want to lie down for a while," or "Oh, there's something tasty in the fridge!” (laughter) So, I use the library. Besides, halal food* is served in the cafeteria on campus, and ready-made halal curry, etc. are sold at the store. They are quite authentic and very tasty.

*Food that adheres to Islamic law, which is therefore permissible for Muslims to eat.

Speaking of halal, in the year you started studying at HU, 2016, a cross-cultural exchange event titled "Halal Okonomiyaki Tasting Party" was held on campus.

Yes, I remember it. That’s very nostalgic! I attended that event, too. It was shortly after I came to Japan. I had a great time interacting with many people, including Japanese and foreign students.
When it comes to okonomiyaki, pork is the most common ingredient used. However, at that event, halal okonomiyaki cooked with chicken was served. Actually, that wasn’t the first time I had okonomiyaki; I had eaten it before, but in many cases the only meat in the restaurants’ okonomiyaki was pork, so I ordered and ate it without the meat. Sometimes I ate it with additional seafood toppings, but again, the lack of meat made it tasteless to me. So, that was the first time I had okonomiyaki with chicken; it was so tasty!

What kind of extracurricular activities have you been involved in?

Shortly after entering HU, I joined the tea ceremony club, but soon quit because I became too busy with my studies. Then, I worked on various events as a committee member of the Indonesian Students Association in Hiroshima. In addition to my part-time work as a gym cleaner, Indonesian language teacher, interpreter, and translator, I have also been working as a PA* in the International Office of the university since May 2016, which means it has already been 6 years. My work as a PA mainly involves translation and publicity on our website. I learn a lot about Japanese culture, especially about the Japanese way of working and how it differs from Indonesia. This job has been a great learning experience. It has become an integral and important part of my international student life.

*Phoenix Assistant: Students who work part-time at HU.

With the recent and rapid evolution of AI, the accuracy of machine translation has improved dramatically. Inevitably, there are many debates about the significance of learning foreign languages. What’s your opinion on this?

I believe that language isn’t only about sounds and grammar, but also includes a wide variety of knowledge such as pragmatics and sociolinguistics, which is part of my specialty. For example, people change their language depending on who they are talking to. Not only that, how well can a machine actually convey subtle nuances and select the appropriate words for the setting with good timing?
When you go sightseeing, there isn’t usually much need for complicated conversations, so machine translation can be used as necessary. However, for communication involving specialized content or high-level business discussions, it’s not just about the language itself, but rather the connection between people, and the sensations and the warmth that only people possess. In my opinion, this is something that’s still difficult for machines to replicate. Also, isn't it important to learn “how to read the room” and all that?

Is there a concept of "reading the room" in Indonesia as well?

Well, we don't say “read the room” (lit: read the air) as Japanese do (laughs). But I believe the need for such things is universal.
As I mentioned earlier, machines are sometimes useful, but they exist only to help us. Therefore, it’s dangerous to be overconfident in their ability, but I think it’s also wrong to deny their existence altogether. I, too, use a machine translation service when I encounter unknown words, and it’s true that machines make our work easier. However, it’s always human beings who judge whether the answer given by a machine is really appropriate or not. I believe that this will probably never change as long as human society exists.

What are your goals for the future?

After completing my studies at HU, my goal is to return to the field of Japanese language education and teach Japanese to Indonesians and other non-native speakers of Japanese. In order to achieve this goal, I would like to learn and absorb as much as possible here while I can.

Lastly, as someone who has experience in both learning and teaching Japanese, what advice would you give to those who decide to start learning Japanese?

Personally, I think it’s important to first know why you’re learning Japanese. If you keep in mind the reason why you’re learning that language, and focus your efforts on your goal, it will be easier to stay motivated.
Of course, it might be fun to learn Japanese just because you have an interest in Japanese pop culture, for example, but then what lies beyond that, beyond what you have studied? If that remains unclear, you will probably end up stuck somewhere down the road.
If you have a clear idea of what you want to do with the Japanese you acquire, you can continue working toward that goal, even when you're feeling discouraged. I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Photo Gallery

Shimanami Kaido Cycling Trail

The view from my favorite study spot – Central Library

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki – it was delicious

The Tea Ceremony classroom I used to go to

Cherry blossoms on campus

Upon thorough implementation of infection prevention measures, masks are sometimes removed during interviews for the purpose of taking photographs.