Foreign Students Communication Problem

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During my master study at FISIP Universitas Airlangga from 2013 to 2015, I had a fellow foreign student came from Madagascar. I often noticed his difficulties to communicate orally with Indonesian students. Especially if the student being talked to was using Javanese.

The problem of that fellow student inspired me to do some research about it. I focused my research on how the foreign students adapt in their way of communicating with Indonesian lecturers and students. Furthermore, Unair medium of instruction in lectures was Bahasa Indonesia.

The problem was getting more complex if the foreign students were from countries which do not use English as their national language. Whereas to study at Unair, they had to take the international test which was in English. The logic was like this, to speak Bahasa Indonesia, they have to translate their mother language to English, then they translated to Indonesia. So complex, right?

Up till 2014, there were 122 students recorded as foreign active students at various faculties of Unair. From 2011 to 2014 there were 51 students of regular undergraduate (S1) program from Malaysia at Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Dental Medicine, and Faculty of Pharmacy. From the Nation of Brunei were 19 students and 1 student from Germany on Short Course AMERTA program.

There were 10 students from China, Australia, Kamboja and Polandia on Dharmasiswa Program to learn the culture and Bahasa Indonesia for a year. While the rest were from post graduate programs S2 and S3, Exchange Student program and Training program about 26 students which were through Developing Countries Partnership (KNB) program from Africa, Central Asia, Sout-East Asia and papua New Guinea.

There were 15 students from Exchange Student Program, Training program and Regular Postgraduate program from Timor Leste, Africa, Palestine and Kyrgistan. There was one more student from Thailand on BIPA program.

The existence of foreign students not only made the university compete on national level but also on the international level. Their existence also completes the cultural diversity. We can say that Unair was a replica of Indonesia which the students came from Sabang to Merauke plus other countries.

Because of cultural diversity, foreign students indirectly had to adapt. Self adjustment should be done so they could interact and communicate well within their academic environment. Interaction and communication would provide information needed in new environments.

The socio-cultural background differences from their countries would be their challenges. They were expected to communicate in order to adapt in new environments. Communication strategy implemented by foreign students related to cultures they bring here verbally or non verbally.

Language Problems

To adapt in new academic environments, the usage of Bahasa Indonesia in academic activities was the main problem for foreign students. Foreign students who have been here before or been here for the first time had the same difficulties to master Bahasa Indonesia.

Foreign students tried their best to communicate verbally to avoid miscommunication. They mixed it with non verbal communication such as sign language, face expression and persuasive techniques.

Persuasive technique in communication was done to invite and persuade gently so the Indonesian student can understand the message. Foreign students also used connotative language in order to avoid conflict and also miscommunication or other negative effects which can disrupt the learning process.

Their welcome attitude, unselfish and sportsmanship to cultural differences helped foreign students to adapt at Unair. Motivation, perception, socio-cultural experience and socio-environmental situation were factors affecting foreign students’ personal style to communicate.

Comprehensive multi-cultural preparation

Based on the arguments and observation elaborated above, Unair needs to start comprehensive multicultural education. Foreign students should not only receive Bahasa Indonesia training because their interaction was not only about language but also about social and cultural difference.

Social and cultural life to be introduced were characteristic of Indonesian and the people of Surabaya, the culture of university and each faculty. So they will be encouraged to respect, love and have sense of belonging at Unair. So, they will not be foreign students who expect more attention and privilege.

Regarding language training, it needs more practices on using Bahasa Indonesia and gives more details on terms often used in Surabaya. Of course, not all foreign students have same motivation and experience in Indonesia. For students who have been in Indonesia before, should be well adjusted in their study now. But for students who have been in Indonesia for the first time, they need more training and extra guidance.

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Yanuarita Kusuma

Yanuarita Kusuma

Alumnus S2 Media dan Komunikasi Universitas Airlangga