The Art of Conversation

:::Dusting off the blog:::

:::cough, cough:::

Phew… I’m back.

Well, no promises except for the oft repeated early new year’s resolution “I shall update this blog more often”.

Anywaaay… the musings in my head have been swirling around causing a slight headache. It’s good, though, that means I still have the desire to write.

Topic? The art of conversation.

In an era where people mostly do their communication through email, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, texting, and more recently, the addictive Blackberry, having a normal, face-to-face conversation seems so… what, dated?

I mean, sure the hangout places in Jakarta abound, but I noticed more and more people who hang out at places like Citos or Fx crowd around a laptop or hold their phones in their hands. Their talking is most likely to be interrupted by the ping of an text message, or someone buzzing them on messenger.

Which brings me to the question, have we lost the art of conversation? A friend recently confessed to me “I don’t have anything to talk about”.

What’s that? Say again? So, said friend was recently in a situation where she had to entertain a group of people which included someone very close to her. What happened was, during the entire time they were together, there was a lot ‘dead air’ between her and the other person. There were prolonged gaps in the conversation which could not filled. In short she felt like the most uncool, “kurang gaul” person on the face of the earth. Well maybe not the face of the earth (to my friend, if you’re reading, please don’t feel exposed).

Well, this friend is an extreme case. At the other extreme, I have chatterbox friends who can’t seem to stop talking even when I don’t feel like talking to them.

I have been blessed with the gift of having little fear of public speaking. In Indonesia, I’m probably one of those thick-skinned “kulit badak” people who don’t care when they have to stand up in front and blabber about a topic for a period of time (after all, I have to do that with students. Although teacher blabber is now frowned upon since we want the students to be more active, but that’s for another post).

For me, I just try to pluck a topic from things lodged in my brain due to excessive reading.ย  I read almost anything on print, from Alan Greenspan’s biography to supermarket tabloids (they’re like a car accident, you can’t help but stop and watch). I consider myself like a sponge, absorbing anything from the current economic crisis (I look at my Citbank account and wonder what’s going to happen with what’s little I that have), to microbiology (still in awe of those little creatures we call “bugs”) to TV shows (I can talk for hours about Friends, 24), to the weather, to intl celebrities (George Clooney! Brad Pitt! David Duchovny!). I have to admit, Indonesian celebrities just make me scratch my head with their “I want my privacy” crap. They complain, but when the cameras are off, they do something just for the sake on being on camera again. Sheesh, talk about staying past your 15 minutes of fame.

My point is, when trying to maintain conversations, you need to have a handful of topics on hand. When it’s with somebody you know and care about, it should be easier, since you know the person.

What about if you just met the person? You need what’s called icebreakers. Here’s an amusing example I had with someone, during introductions:

Mr. A, reading my namecard: “So…Sitaresmi?”

Me: “Call me Sita”

Mr. A: “Oooh, like the….loyal wife of Rama?”

Me (in aย  fake annoyed tone): “Yessss, the loyal wife of Rama, who set herself on fire when Rama doubted her loyalty…”

B and C (who were listening): “she set herself on fire?????”

And then we went on talking about the legend of Ramayana for about a few minutes, including Mr. A’s story about a current interpretation of Ramayana in which Sita didn’t feel kidnapped by Rahwana, but actually showed interest in Rahwana ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, the above example just shows that it’s important to have topics like culture on hand. I mean, who knew that my name could be an ice breaker???

But, to be fair, the characteristics of a person also determine how the conversation will go. Again, I feel so blessed to have met people from different parts of the world. The way you talk to a Japanese person is different from talking to a German or American. Then there are Indonesians, who still sometimes confuse me eventhough I’m Indonesian myself :-).

So here are my general rules for maintaining the art of conversation:

1. Establish eye contact.

2. Always try to speak clearly with measured tones. Don’t be too loud or too soft.

3. Here are some good icebreakers: the weather (especially useful in 4 season countries), the traffic (useful in SE Asia), local food and culture (can be applied anywhere).

4. I usually stay away from topics like politics (but the American election this year has been enlightening), the economy (unless it deals with shopping :-)), sex (fun topic for some Indonesian men, unfortunately, yuck).

5. Be a good listener. This way, you can pick up topics from your conversation partner!

Of course, there is always an “X factor”. With some people, there’s immediate chemistry & you can talk and talk until Starbucks closes, while other people you just think “Ohmigod, I wanna go home” after 5 minutes. Unfortunately, you can’t predict that upfront.

For some, like my friend, having conversationsย  will take more “practice”, need more interactions with people. But I am sure that there is a hidden chatterbox in all of us somewhere.

This post is dedicated to my long time friend who I have known for 30 years. Do not despair or beat up yourself, just be you and let go!

Berbahasa (apapun) dengan baik dan benar 3: Indonesia atau Inggris atau…?

atau an entire different language entirely :-)?

Ugh, keluar lagi deh si penjahat bahasa yang suka campur-campur ini. Saya tergelitik setelah membaca sebuah posting di blog ini . Saya belum kenalan dengan si empunya blog, who is quite prolific and opinionated (and BTW, if you’re reading this, hello…), tapi “tembakan” beliau lumayan kena nih, hehehe.

Iya, saya termasuk golongan yang lumayan lama terekspos Bahasa Inggris di negeri koloni Inggris yaitu Amerika Serikat (nanti kalau dibilang negara asal Bahasa Inggris, nanti saya ditimpuk Ratu Elizabeth, hahaha. Asal jangan balik ke jaman King Henry, nanti saya dipancung kayak Anne Boleyn. Duh, kebanyakan nonton The Tudors nihh…)

Eh sampai mana tadi? Saya hobi ngomong campur-campur. Saya juga memang termasuk yang lantang bilang ke orang “Eh, kalau baca novel, pakai Bahasa aslinya, jangan baca terjemahan…” soalnya, penerjemah kita terkadang belum bisa menangkap ruh si pengarang (mohon maaf kepada profesi penerjemah). Malah, kalau lagi cape, seringkali merepet pakai Bahasa Inggris. Ngga tahu kenapa, setelan otaknya kali. Moga-moga, tidak dianggap sok pamer ya…

Oya. Sebulan terakhir ini, saya kebetulan lagi sering jalan ke daerah, entah karena tugas atau main, jadi sempat lihat dan dengar berapa hal :

1. Pramugari-pramugari muda di LionAir lumayan bagus lho Bahasa Inggrisnya sewaktu menyampaikan safety procedures. Salut! Now, if they could only repair those broken seats…

2. Channel Surfing di hotel: Ketemu sinetron dengan pemain Cinta Laura.Decided that she is indeed, using the accent as a gimmick. Berharap ada orang yang menyadarkan dia bahwa, nobody is going to take her seriously if she talks like that.

3. Tapi, tapi, keponakan saya bilang “I talk like her Tante Sita…” yes dear, but you’re cute and you’re mine! ::wink, wink:: Ngomong-ngomong, Si keponakan ini baru saja selesai Year-6 di negeri Prince William dan akan masuk Year-7. Sudah mulai belajar English Grammar secara serius. Dan sudah mulai lihat, bahwa di Indonesia, penggunaan Bahasa Inggris masih perlu diperbaiki. Saat kita nonton Ramayana Ballet di Jogja dan dia baca sinopsis dalam Bahasa Inggris, dahinya berkerut. Memang, yang nulis sinopsisnya perlu proofreader. Atau perlu kursus lagi sama keponakan saya, hehehe.

Jadi, di HUT RI ke 63 ini marilah kita berbahasa apapun dengan baik dan benar!

Yet Another Blog…

Blog lagi, blog lagi…abis gratis sih ๐Ÿ™‚

Karena saya punya hobi nonton seri TV Amerika, dan banyak seri TV ini dijual (bajakan, tentu), rasanya perlu deh disortir supaya bisa dipisah mana yang oke dan mana yang bisa dilewatkan…

So, mohon jenguk The Depok Couch Potato untuk cerita-cerita tentang TV Amerika. Bilingual (rencananya).

Dan sudah pernahkah menengok The Microbiology Teacher? That’s mine too ๐Ÿ™‚

A Tribute to the Three Musketeers

As time draws to a close of another UNISTAFF programme, I feel the need to say something, mostly because this is the last year for ISOS carrying out UNISTAFF.

I call them The Three Musketeers. I think they also see themselves that way. And looking up the original Three Musketeers story, I think it is appropriate. Although you most likely cannot see them as Athos, Porthos and Aramis but seven years ago, I was a d’Artagnan, leaving home to become a Musketeer at the training ground that is ISOS, University of Kassel, Witzenhausen Germnay, determined to defend the honor of Indonesian Higher Education ๐Ÿ™‚

So who are these three gentlemen who I love to call the Musketeers?

I’ll start with Siawuch Amini. Sia Amini is the passionate researcher. Always has a lot to say, and it often comes out as jumbled words on the board. The images I have of Sia are those of true researcher who is most happy in the field, in the laboratory or in front of his computer, so when he’s the classroom, he sometimes looks out of place, and I also sometimes have a hard time understanding him. But beneath the grumpy exterior, he’s a lovable guy.

Then we have Matthias Wesseler. Matthias is the quintessential teacher. His concept of “educating someone is lighting a candle, not filling a empty glass” is one principle that I hold on to this day. Motivation is the key to unlocking a student’s potential, so that is what I continue to try to do in my students. Soft spoken, quiet, his optimistic look on life is uplifting and infectious.

What can I say about Michael Fremerey? The ideas he throws at someone are so often thought provoking and they incite emotions in you that never come up otherwise. He is the true sparring partner for me, patiently listening to my ideas, arguments, complaints and what not. Our discussions are always lively. Spreading the message of Change and Leadership is his calling, and he truly has contibuted to my personal change.

Together, these three have collectively trained around 400 university staff, young (and not so young) apprentices, ‘d’Artagnan’s who come to seek guidance at UNISTAFF. Most of them have moved on to become very important people at their institutions, agents-of-change who managed to create change on different levels. Some are quiet and never heard from again, but that’s okay, because you can’t expect all of them to grow and develop. What they have done is amazing. I can only hope that after seven years, I am now worthy to be the fourth (or fortieth, or four hundreth) Musketeer and stand beside them.

And so as the 2008 UNISTAFF comes to a close, I (virtually) stand up to honor these three gentlemen who truly embodied the spirit of the Musketeers “All for One, and One for All”.

Can We Really Handle Change?

Change takes place here!

The question has been nagging me since I started working on a proposal with colleagues in Germany this week. It’s been a nostalgic week to say the least, since I’m working in a place where I spent two months in 2001. I’m staying at the same residence, walking the same route, entering the building through the same door, working with the same professors so I am excited and a little sad at the same time.

Well, it has been 7 years.

It is now a time of transition for this group and I’m working with them through this time. The youngest professor will retire next year so a new group will “take over” the program and eveything.

I know, I know. Change is necessary. Change is (can be) good. But I feel I’m not doing a good job in dealing with this change. Knowing that next year, the office will be occupied by a different professor, with different staff has made me walk with lump in my throat that is getting bigger as time goes by.

How sentimental can you get?

Believe me, I can be pretty sentimental. I’m the kind of person who keeps a lot of odd things like ticket stubs, receipts etc etc. Walking around town almost everything is still the same but unfortunately, things will be different next year inside the campus.

I didn’t realize I would have mixed emotions when I arrived last Saturday. I told myself I was going to have fun, enjoy Germany & take this trip as a vacation of sorts. Oh I am enjoying myself, but I didn’t take into account my emotional attachment to this particular group of people.

This really goes against the idea of change. I don’t want things to change at the moment because I feel like I’m losing an anchor, a sounding board, someone who I can rely on…

So again, can we really handle change?

Sure we can, I’m just not doing a good job right now…

Update: I have been assured that the “Three Musketeers” that have taught this course from beginning will most likely still be actively involved in the course for the near future. It’s just “the administrative stuff” that will be organized by another group.

Well, okay, but still, I can’t help feel a bit mellow thinking about 2009…

Berbahasa (apapun) dengan baik dan benar bagian 2: Hujan, Becek, Ojek…

Nggak, nggak, saya nggak akan nyebut-nyebut mbak CL dulu kok ๐Ÿ™‚

Beberapa tahun terakhir, saya selalu dikerjain diminta tolong oleh pihak kemahasiswaan fakultas untuk membantu pemilihan Mahasiswa Berprestasi. Peranan saya, menilai kompetensi Bahasa Inggris para calon mahasiswa berprestasi tersebut. Dua tahun terakhir, penilaian kompetensi Bahasa Inggris diperluas menjadi Lomba Bahasa Inggris dan terbuka bagi seluruh mahasiswa.

Setiap tahun, pasti muncul bakat-bakat terpendam, hidden jewels, mahasiswa-mahasiswa yang memiliki kompetensi Bahasa Inggris yang di atas rata-rata. Hal yang lebih menggembirakan lagi adalah bahwa peminat lomba setiap tahun meningkat. Makin banyak mahasiswa FMIPA yang bilingual. Tahun ini peserta dari Dept Biologi yang lolos ke final ada 5 orang (dari 12 orang finalis). Sungguh, sebagai seorang dosen, hati saya berbunga-bunga, cieeeee. Belum lagi mahasiswa-mahasiswa yang belajar menulis Bahasa Inggris lewat blognya. Sangat membanggakan!

Sayangnya rasa berbunga-bunga itu sedikit dirusak dengan kehadiran celebrity muda yang meskipun cantik, tapi penguasaan bahasanya, ampun-ampunan deh. Generasi muda celebrity Indonesia saat ini memang kental dengan International flavor. Coba saja lihat nama-nama ini: Marsha Timothy, Richard Kevin, Andrew White, Ben Joshua, dll, dll.

And then we have, just like Snow White, the fairest of them all: Cinta Laura.

Anak ini, konon besar di LN, mengikuti tugas sang ayah sehingga dia lebih menguasai Bahasa Inggris ketimbang Bahasa Indonesia. Analoginya mungkin Ida Iasha (remember her, generation 80s?). Jadinya, kalau sedang berbahasa Indonesia, logat baratnya sangat kental.

And wouldn’t you know, Indonesian people just looove her accent. The “hujan-becek-ngga ada ojek” thing became a big hit. People (read: tabloids) make her say those words during interviews, eeeww.

The first time I heard her speak, I thought it was cute. She reminded me of my niece living in the UK. But after a hundred times it became annoying. I cringe every time I hear her speak. Look, she is not the only bilingual person in this huge metropolitan. All of my bilingual friends can manage two different languages without the heavy English accent. *I* managed to maintain my bilingual capabilities. So why can’t she do it?

My theory is now the accent is her gimmick/thing. She gets endorsement and advertising deals based on speaking English-accented-Indonesian so she’s got to keep up the act of talking like that, eventhough it makes her sound like a cartoon. What makes me more worried is that more and more Indonesian kids will sound like her. Is that what we want?

So kids, if you’re reading this, please, please, don’t use Cinta Laura’s language skills as a model. You can be bilingual without the accent!

Change of Scenery

I just realized that the theme of my blog is exactly the same as an Indonesian celebrity who I particularly don’t really like right now. Sooo, time for change of scenery!

What is this world coming to?

While browsing the net for weather news, I came across this piece on detik and found myself stunned. Then it had a related news link that covered this, which even made me more speechless and disgusted at the same time.

What made me even more angry was the fact that the parties involved were not really stupid people. One is village head (Kepala Desa) and the other was a university student. Yikes!!!

Excuse me while I go and throw up my dinner. My stomach cannot take this. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Berbahasa (apapun) dengan baik dan benar

Akhir-akhir ini, di milis keluarga besar Biologi UI berkembang suatu diskusi yang seru tentang penggunaan bahasa untuk komunikasi dalam milis. Ceritanya bermula dari seorang anggota yang menulis dengan Bahasa Inggris campur Bahasa Indonesia dan kemudian dikritik oleh anggota-anggota lain karena bahasa yang digunakan tidak komunikatif dan sulit dimengerti. Dari situ, diskusi berkembang menjadi sebuah diskusi tentang penggunaan bahasa.

Anak-anak Biologi, berdiskusi tentang bahasa? Ibu BSO would be so proud of her students.

Seperti yang terlihat dalam posting ini, saya termasuk “penjahat bahasa”, artinya sering menggunakan campuran Bahasa Indonesia dan Bahasa Inggris dalam komunikasi, baik lisan maupun tulisan. Kebetulan, kompetensi saya dalam kedua bahasa tersebut lebih kurang setara. Tidak tahu persis, karena untuk Bahasa Indonesia tidak pernah ada tes kompetensi berbahasa (walau sekitar dua puluh tahun yang lalu, Bahasa Indonesia saya dapat A dari Ibu BSO, does that count?).

Nah kan, mulai campur-campur lagi. Beberapa anggota milis mengatakan bahwa sebaiknya dalam satu buah posting, penggunaan bahasa konsisten, artinya kalau sudah mulai pakai Bahasa Indonesia, ya sampai selesai pakai Bahasa Indonesia. Kalau pakai Bahasa Inggris, ya sampai selesai pakai Bahasa Inggris. Kalau di awal pakai Bahasa Jerman, harus ada Bahasa Indonesia, karena persentase anggota yang mengerti Bahasa Jerman hanya sedikit :-D. Lalu kemudian ada pendapat lain yang mengatakan bahwa penggunaan bahasa campur-campur sebaiknya tetap dipertahankan, karena kapan lagi kita akan berlatih Bahasa Inggris?

Sebagai orang yang pernah mengajar Bahasa Inggris, saya sangat setuju dengan usul kedua. Kalau melihat arsip-arsip dari blog saya, pasti akan ketemu posting tentang pentingnya berbahasa Inggris. Sebagai pembimbing skripsi, saya sangat setuju dengan usul pertama. Lho, jadinya kita harus bagaimana?

Menurut saya, semua tergantung tujuan kita menulis. Berdasarkan pengalaman, menulis posting sebuah milis atau blog bahasa bisa lebih informal daripada bahasa dalam menulis skripsi atau artikel ilmiah. Tapi sebetulnya, menulis di milis atau blog pun perlu penggunaan bahasa yang baik dan benar karena apapun tujuannya, kita ingin agar pembaca mengerti dengan apa yang kita tulis. Dan kita juga ingin agar orang terus membaca tulisan kita kan? Cobalah melihat blog yang pengunjungnya banyak, misal blog iman brotoseno atau blog si penulis jomblo adhitya mulya. Kedua blog tersebut memiliki gaya berbeda tapi tetap komunikatif dan enak dibaca. Kalau mau meniru, ya tiru lah yang baik seperti itu. Mau blog yang lebih dekat ke warga biologi? Coba baca blog noonathome alumni Biologi.

Saya sendiri punya lebih dari satu blog karena ingin terus mempertahankan kemampuan bilingual saya. Tapi, saya mohon maaf kalau misalnya penggunaan dua bahasa ternyata mengurangi kenyamanan membaca.

Selamat menulis!

On this day… (December 14th)

A baby girl was born to young couple. Dad is a university teacher/lecturer, Mom is a housewife/stay-at-home-mom…

The baby grew up in Jakarta and Los Angeles. Her childhood was filled with love and happiness (eventhough she lived in a not-so-good neighborhood in LA). She played with Barbie, dollhouses, and loved her Charlotte’s Web book so much it became tattered and torn. She also obsessed over Donny Osmond (Hey, what girl didn’t obsess over Donny??)

Growing up, she also had dreams of becoming a psychologist, and a doctor (Saving people’s lives is so cool, doncha think?). Life as a teenager was spent at an all girl catholic school, complete with nuns and all :-). Still labeled a bookworm, a lot of Enid Blyton, but also some Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon became her reading.

Then Fate brought her to the wonderful world of microbiology and education. It was her “Plan B” but what a journey it has been! A lot of peaks and valleys along the way but never a dull moment whenever you’re with students ๐Ÿ™‚

She was blessed with the chance to live in different countries, from America to Japan to Germany, and met a lot of people that would shape her personality and give her the oppportunity to ride trains in London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Berlin. Along the way, she developed an obsession with Figure Skating, German Bread, Pasta, and Takoyaki ๐Ÿ™‚ Her spiritual journey has brought her to the Holy Land of Mecca not once, not twice, but three times, a fact that continues to amaze her and count her blessings.

Her friends are truly a treasure she cherishes the most after her family. The friends go beyond borders, a real global community.

Finally, her family. The young lecturer Dad is now a retired professor Dad, still teaching, still leading the way for the younger generation. The stay at home Mom is still home, her body somewhat broken but not her spirit, her two brothers, now with their own families, giving her the “Fantastic Four” that is her two nieces and nephews. They are her most valuable possessions.

Now, 41 years later, she looks back and says… “What a wonderful life I have had, and hope to continue having. Thank You Allah for all the You have given and may the rest of the journey will be as fulfilling and exciting!”

(with apologies for a truly selfish, egotistical, and narcissistic posting)