Letter to the editor

An old joke goes that Americans have three neighbors: Canadians, Mexicans and fish. When thinking about why Americans are notoriously lethargic towards learning foreign languages, I wonder if this might have something to do with it.

That being said, I believe it is imperative that USC begin offering an Indonesian language program to its students. Doing so will provide our student body with a language skill that will uniquely benefit them in the global marketplace commercially, diplomatically and culturally.

Why would students want to engage with Indonesia? From a commercial perspective, it is the place to be. The largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world — nearly a quarter of a billion people live there. The economy is growing at roughly 6 percent per year. Standard Chartered Bank forecasts that Indonesia could become one of the world’s top ten economies by 2020 and top six by 2030. From a business viewpoint, Indonesia is rapidly gaining economic prominence.

So, the country is big. And still, why should USC offer the language to its students? We need to do so to solidify our place as the dominant university in the United States’ pivot to the Pacific. Columbia, Cornell and Yale have already joined forces to offer Indonesian lessons via two-way video conferencing. If we do not initiate a program of our own, we risk getting left behind.

The benefits for Indonesian speakers are not just limited to the private sector. Diplomatic opportunities also abound. The U.S. federal government lists Indonesian as a critical language, one with a large professional demand and a limited supply. Because Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, there is considerable government interest in maintaining strong relations with the Indonesian people. Breaking the language barrier is the first step toward this goal.

Moreover, there is already an enormous USC presence in Indonesia. The groundwork has been laid for non-Indonesian Trojans to enter the country. The alumni club there is one of the most active in the world — as is the USC Association of Indonesian Students on campus.

Pragmatically minded students should, view Indonesian lessons as a low-risk, high-reward investment — especially compared to the much more arduous Chinese language. The U.S. Foreign Service Institute ranks Indonesian as three times easier for English speakers than Mandarin.

Culturally, students of Indonesian will benefit from access to a region otherwise little known in the U.S. Compared to the U.S., Indonesia is an entirely new world — 3,000 kilometers of islands stretching across the equator. Whether doing business in Jakarta or relaxing on the beach in Bali, Indonesia has strong appeal.

Language ability would make working there very feasible, not to mention being an attractive trait for those aspiring to work in neighboring Singapore.

Providing Indonesian lessons will give USC students the competitive advantage they need in Southeast Asia. With a robust East Asian languages program already in place, providing a Southeast Asian language is a sure-shot investment in the student body’s global capabilities. From a diplomatic, business and cultural standpoint, Indonesian is the strategic next move for USC’s international focus. Move over China: There’s a new player in town.

Matthew Prusak

Junior, international relations (global business) and philosophy, politics and law.


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