CHL Student Buzz: Meet Susanna Rossi…

12th August 2021

Student, Tetum Language Program

Susanna Rossi wears many hats, having dabbled with lots of different subjects and skills, from interior design, photography and fine art to development communication, volunteer work and now Tetum, a language that has given her not only a fun learning experience but a unique connection with the people of Timor-Leste.

"If you live in Timor and don’t yet speak Tetum or if you’re planning to go to Timor even for a short period of time, learning the language completely changes your experience for the better, and shows a level of respect towards the Timorese that is always appreciated."

1. Tell us a bit about yourself—what you do currently and what you studied.

I’ve studied a few different things—interior design, development studies, and fine art. I’m currently in the process of completing a Masters in Communication for Development online through Malmö University in Sweden. I’ve been working in disability for the last few years and it has become a focus in my studies as well, particularly ableism—discrimination or prejudice towards people with a disability. I find most people haven’t heard of the term, so we still have a lot to learn.

2. What drew you to Tetum?

I spent two years in Timor-Leste, doing photography work, volunteering, and teaching photography. I took a few lessons but mostly learnt the language thanks to the patience of friends and colleagues, and wanted to consolidate what I had learnt and advance my level as much as possible while still being in Australia. I was also starting a remote volunteering assignment through the Australian Volunteers program, (my in-country assignment was suspended due to the pandemic), so wanted to shake the dust off and brush up on what I’d previously learnt!

3. What were your top 3 favourite things about your language program?

Our teacher, Adelaide Lopes, was wonderful, always ready with a smile and great stories. My two fellow classmates were both people I knew from my time in Timor, which made it more fun. And the online system was great to be able to revise the material between classes.

4. Can you name 3 reasons for people to study Tetum

If you live in Timor and don’t yet speak Tetum, or if you’re planning to go to Timor even for a short period of time, learning the language completely changes your experience for the better, and shows a level of respect towards the Timorese that is always appreciated. Also if you have an interest in languages, it’s a really interesting one with influences from Portuguese and Bahasa Indonesia, and relatively easy to learn. If you have a Latin-based language you’ll be at an advantage!

5. How does it help /has it helped you in your profession or in life?

When travel is feasible again, it’ll be of great value in a job or volunteer placement in Timor, meantime it helps me keep in touch with friends.

6. Can you share one fascinating/fun fact about Tetum/something you find particularly incredible about the language?

I love that it’s so simple, and that one word can mean many things depending on the context. Learning Tetum also teaches you some Portuguese and some Bahasa Indonesia. Not to mention the incredible amount of other languages in Timor which all sound vastly different to Tetum!

7. What are your future plans with respect to Tetum or any other language?

I hope to maintain my Tetum in order to be able to work or volunteer in Timor again, or work in Australia in collaboration with Timor-based organisations. I’d love to learn Bahasa at some point too, to help me with communication in other countries in the region.

8. Anything else you’d like to share? An interesting anecdote about your study of the language perhaps?

Always ask a trusted person to correct you when you make a mistake. Manas means ‘hot’ in Tetum. For my first few months I kept saying Hau manas, thinking it meant “I’m hot” (temperature wise)…only to find out later that the correct phrasing is Hau senti manas or ‘I feel hot’ and that it otherwise meant ‘I’m horny’! People had been too polite or embarrassed to correct me!

Do you see yourself where Susanna is today? If you’ve been thinking about learning Tetum, what are you waiting for? Enquire now!

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Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster