Breaking language barriers in Indonesia

For Lieutenant Commander Mark Graichan, the masters degree he completed through Indonesia’s Navy command and staff college has been as much about network building and being a “face” of Australia as achieving academically.

After 11 months speaking and writing multiple Indonesian essays and a thesis, Lieutenant Commander Graichen graduated from the college with a Masters Degree in Maritime Operations in Jakarta on November 13.

When originally selected for the 2018 staff course, he also applied for the assistant defence attaché position at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

Lieutenant Commander Graichen counted himself lucky enough to get the attaché position first, followed by the course.

When it was delayed a year by the pandemic, he used the time to consolidate his language skills.

He found working in international engagement and diplomacy in the two postings interesting.

“Before, it was steaming around in a patrol boat and thinking we’re the tip of the spear and making all the difference,” Lieutenant Commander Graichen said.

“But, when you see the whole Australian government machine at work, you realise Defence is only a tiny sliver of it.”

Before studying the language in 2017, he was commanding a patrol boat based in Darwin that would often encounter Indonesian fireman along the shared maritime border.

He noticed when no one on board was fluent in Indonesian, misunderstandings were common.

“It just doesn’t work, but I’ve seen it work when we had a linguist on board and it’s amazing,” he said.

“The tension is suddenly gone. You can communicate, compare each other’s boats, or simply talk for the sake of it.”

Instead, sailors with some language training could more easily interact with the fishermen on a range of topics.

“This is the kind of information you can get if you’ve got the language skills – when you don’t, you get less interaction,” Lieutenant Commander Graichen said.

As a vehicle for communication, he believed it would benefit the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for more sailors to have knowledge of the native tongues of Australia’s nearest neighbours.

He will be the RAN instructor at the same Navy command and staff college from January for two years.

Afterwards, Lieutenant Commander Graichen will return to Navy international engagement, working in the South-East Asia region.





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