Most people would agree that university is the place for you to gain many priceless lessons that you would remember your whole life. It is a place of self-discovery and self-development unlike any other. However, many of these learning processes do not occur in class. The English department of Universitas Indonesia is well aware of it, and thus they actively encourage their students to get out of their comfort zone with their English Art Lab.

The English Art Lab is established to make art and education accessible for all, through many exciting programs. Their longest-running program English Without Borders, for instance, aims to provide informal English learning opportunities for underprivileged children and young people all over Jakarta and West Java. With students from both inside and outside the university volunteering as tutors, EAL trains equips them with creative teaching materials and trainings by experienced fellows.

Learning outdoors with the local school scouts! Photo credit: English Art Lab

What is unique about this teaching program is that it is not like your regular English lessons. English Without Borders uses alternative methods, such as storytelling, performing arts, and creative games. The kids are under no pressure to excel in “memorizing” the materials like most school curriculums do –on the contrary, EAL wants them to have fun and express themselves. Being in a harsh environment often means there is little to no opportunity for personal development, and that is what the organization focuses on. In this program, volunteers will get to learn how to develop lesson plans and create fun learning materials with experienced trainers and educators, as well as putting them into practice on the field!

There are so many ways that personal development can be done. EAL’s cofounder and English lecturer Herlin Putri holds a Master’s degree in Theatre in Education, and she puts her skills and knowledge to work to provide said opportunity in many of EAL’s theatre-related programs, namely Theatre for Life. In this experimental program, EAL works with the kids of Ticket To Life, a scouts organization in an underserved area in Depok, West Java. Their collaboration resulted in a performance that combined conventional and legislative theatre that portrays issues of homelessness, bullying, and student riots that these kids experienced in real life. It truly is an insightful exchange of knowledge, where volunteers can provide the chance to express and develop these kids’ confidence while also learning more about the issues that they have faced head-on.

Acting out a scene during exercise. Photo credit: English Art Lab.

Bringing social issues to the table using a dramatic approach proves to be impactful for the young people they have worked with. EAL then held applied theatre workshops in a number of high schools around their campus area. This time, teaming up with a team of psychologists, they are raising young people’s awareness on the dangers of bullying. Through roleplay, participants get to tap into their empathetic side and be in other people’s shoes –be it as a bully, a victim, or a bystander. They also get the chance to have a deeper understanding of their actions through the discussion afterwards. This year, EAL will team up with local high schools for another series of applied theatre workshops –and volunteers will get to contribute to this exciting learning experience and assist in its engaging activities!

Learning can mean fun and games, too! Photo credit: English Art Lab.

EAL also works with international youths who are determined to change the society for the better, and are aware of how important self-development is in order to become an agent of change. These children and young people have very limited opportunity to maximize their own potentials, and the volunteers can contribute to the cause by facilitating in the programs EAL has in store. Along the way, they will get to learn a various set of skills, from English teaching, theatre, arts and craft, to honing your organizational and management skills. More importantly, there will also be an ample opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience with other young people who have lived very different lives. Who knows what kind of stories or life lessons we can gain from them?

Sometimes the best way to learn is not to sit in class and simply take notes. Sometimes we need to seek our own experience in engaging with the people around us. There is so much to learn out there and to know that we are also giving a learning opportunity of its own while doing so is truly a remarkable feeling.