Journal of a National Museum Guide

This article was first published in the NOW Jakarta Magazine – July Edition (PDF edition).

The Museum is many times perceived as an intellectual place with a fountain of knowledge. Generally, many of us may have spent our childhood going to the Museum either during school trips or with our parents. In the National Museum in Jakarta almost every other day you will see many school children of all ages coming to explore it. The children can be as young as 4 years old. A trip to the museum is meant to take you back in time and learn about the history, culture, and heritage of the country. As someone who never visited the Museum when I was small, I have only quite recently experienced the wonders of the Museum ever since I became an Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS) Museum Guide Volunteer at the Museum (Museum Nasional)

@simranvues_Museum Nasional Map area
Map area

Our National Museum in Jakarta is very different and not as well-developed as Museums abroad like the ones you may have seen in London or the Louvre in Paris. But, there is just something unique about our Museum that lets visitors indulge by spending hours exploring it. It is more commonly known to locals as Museum Gajah has 3 buildings (the 3rd building is still being constructed). The reason why we call it Museum Gajah (Elephant Museum) is because the Bronze Elephant in front of the Museum was donated to us by the King of Siam (now Thailand) during his visit to the Museum in 1871. Thus, this became an icon and is known as Museum Gajah. 

After becoming a member of the Indonesian Heritage Society, I explored all the various activities the society had to offer. It didn’t dawn on me that I would enroll or join the Museum Training Course as initially, it felt daunting and too much work. A good friend of mine (Ivanna S. Mendels) who was also a member, joined the course and told me it is very rewarding. The mentors at the time (Jane Kent and Jennifer Coye) were also very encouraging and told me to join the course as they felt I would be a good fit. After some thought and reflection, I decided to become a guide due to my love for my country and to share my knowledge and passion with visitors. And thus, my adventurous journey began. 

@simranvues_Museum Nasional Stones -Building B-2nd Flr
Building B- 2nd Floor

How was the process?

Upon enrolling for the course, we are then interviewed by the mentors for them to get to know us better. The interview is also to see how deep our interest and commitment is to the course and as a guide. Once we are accepted we then have to commit to the course for 3 months intensively. We have to complete all the assignments and be attentive to what is being taught to us. During the course, we get to meet and share with like-minded friends. They share their insight as they also come from various diverse backgrounds. I am and will always be deeply grateful to the Indonesian Heritage Society (IHS) for giving me this valuable opportunity. 

There is much to learn about Indonesia and as a Museum Guide, I have felt closer to my country throughout this experience. Whilst doing the course, it literally felt like I was going to back to school but the difference was, I had common friends to share stories and information with. The Indonesian Heritage Society prepares us really well during the course with great mentors to guide you through the process. The course is conducted every year in September to encourage more guides to help in the Museum. 

IHS Nicolle Karesova Guiding
IHS Nicolle Karesova Guiding

What did I gain from the course?

The course not only gave me the knowledge but also presentation skills, confidence to speak, and creativity in sharing stories about various artifacts. The storytelling skill grows as we also learn from our friends during the course. Some local friends also have interesting stories behind some of the artifacts relating to their ancestors. The idea of giving one to one in a half-hour tour of 12-15 artifacts is a challenge. We are taught how to be innovative when selecting and sharing about them. In a way, it is like storytelling, sharing stories from your knowledge and perspective about Indonesia.

How has the experience been so far?

It has been fulfilling and as my friend earlier mentioned truly rewarding. We feel a sense of pleasure and joy when we take visitors around the Museum, exchanging information and seeing their happy faces at the end of the tour. At times, they ask questions and also share their knowledge about various objects which adds up to our insights. It is quite interesting that visitors from all over the world may at times know more about our history and culture than us, locals. I find it amazing to hear their stories and their deep interest in Indonesia. Every visitor that has come to the museum have been awed by our rich country. We also encourage visitors to leave us reviews on Tripadvisor which then helps to boost the guides confidence and growth.

@simranvues_Museum Nasional Dancers
Dancers dancing on Saturday – Building B

The Chairman of the IHS Museum Section (Anya Robertson) always tries to make us feel bonded together as Museum Guides. We also have meetings to discuss future plans, projects and be more involved in the Museum Section. One of the recent projects was the opportunity to mentor the local guides at the National Museum and teach them English. It was a two months activity where we encouraged the local Museum guides to speak about artifacts in English. This was a thrilling experience as not only did we teach them but we also learned from them. They chose artifacts that we may not have chosen for our tours. It was a very generous exchange between both teams and helped all of us grow together. At the end of the session, we noticed they also improved and their confidence to guide in English also increased. 

IHS Farewell Guides with Chairman
IHS Farewell with Guides

As May is the end of our season, we also bid farewell to some of our enthusiastic guides who have been very committed and worked hard for the society. Our Chairman organized a nice potluck for us to bid farewell and bond with one another. As a guide, you also naturally become a part of the group and create meaningful friendships. I would definitely support and promote the course to anyone who wants to become a guide and be part of our active group. There is much to gain from it. We always need more enthusiastic guides to guide at the Museum. 

@simranvues_Museum Nasional Courtyard Building A
Courtyard area – Building A

If you haven’t already visited the National Museum, it is a must to come and see the rich artifacts in it. Visiting the Museum Nasional is a fun and rewarding experience, learning more about the people, and the country we live in. The Museum’s collection and it’s breadth and wealth of history reflect the motto of our nation “Unity in Diversity”. You will be impressed with the number of collections the Museum has and if you are lucky you will have a free guided tour to enhance your curiosity. 

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