Who doesn’t wish they were 5-years-old again when everything came so easily?! By living in Indonesia, I’m reminded everyday that learning is a never-ending process.
“Soak everything up like a sponge, sweetie! Once you’re my age, learning won’t be so easy anymore.”
Every old person teaches a version of “How to Prevent Young People from Messing Up in Life,” and I’m still considered a student of the course. Unbeknownst to the elderly generation, however, I’m afraid my sponge days are long past. My proof? Learning a new language is like understanding the opposite sex. It can be mastered, but only with lots of patience and persistence.
Thankfully, living in Indonesia means that I can improve my language and cultural skills not only in the classroom but everywhere in between. Let’s take a look at my favorite learning sites:
University life sounds boring but it’s not. From 8 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, I attend Malang State University to speak Bahasa Indonesia. If I speak English subconsciously (“like” happens to be among Francine’s greatest hits), my punishment comes in the form of making extra sentences.
Compared to many languages, Indonesian is not immensely difficult, probably because the alphabet is the same as English and verbs rarely need conjugation. However, pronunciation is a whole different game. I have to roll my “r”s and remember not to aspirate (or voice) “t” “p,” or “k.”
Classroom culture here is relatively laid back, with my teachers connecting well with us due to their close ages, 3 ten-minute breaks occurring before lunch, and field trips and interviews happening every couple days. As for our learning format, we dig into grammar and culture while copying new vocabulary from the whiteboard. Topping off our language experience is good ol’ Susan (the catering company), who nourishes us with snacks and lunch. Due to the delicious and diverse nature of her treats, she’s made many students fear returning to the states a few sizes larger.
So far, my Indonesian studies are 5 out of 8 weeks complete, with each week getting harder. Besides quizzes every Friday and a midterm exam, I’ve got a final project. For the project, I’ll be focusing on cats’ tails by interviewing 20 Indonesians and 20 Americans and taking pictures of 50 cats to determine their tail size and type. More on that in future blogs!
Places to Eat
Every culture has something to teach from its food, and since I’m a particularly adventurous eater, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on Indonesian cuisine. My conclusion? I’m floored that there’s not more Indonesian restaurants in the US. The dishes here are rave-worthy, but then again, perhaps Americans can’t handle the zest!
I’m a little sick of having rice and kerupuk (Indonesian cracker) every meal, but other than that I like the spices, variations of nasi goreng (fried rice), and the use of salak (snake fruit) and quail eggs. I also enjoy checking out the fast food scene, with the mission of determining the place that serves the best fried chicken. KFC outdoes McDonald’s, but I have yet to try Miami Fried Chicken (MFC), Texas Fried Chicken (TFC), and California Fried Chicken (CFC). It cracks me up that these Indonesian fast food chains have American names but don’t even exist in the US!
Sites and Attractions
Food says a lot about a country’s culture, but exploring new areas can provide a wealth of information as well. This past weekend my friends and I traveled to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. One of our first stops was the House of Sampuerna cigarette factory, where we learned that while men typically smoke the cigarettes, the women are the ones making them! Hmm…
Later on, my friends and I visited the Chinese section of Surabaya, where we devoted a good 20 minutes to gawk at an ornate mosque reminiscent of a Confucian temple. Lucky us, the president of that mosque’s board of directors invited us for dinner! That evening we met him for Chinese hotpot, which included the most scrumptious salmon, veggies, and seafood ever prepared in a dish!
Our adventure was topped off by a spontaneous trip to Madura, a still developing island connected to Surabaya by a 5-kilometer-long bridge. Since minimal public transportation goes there, we booked a Grab (Indonesian version of Uber) from Surabaya. Between observing the new buildings erected beside farm fields, stopping at a duck restaurant, and satisfying my new durian obsession, it almost felt like we were in another country. Sidenote: while the Grab to Madura was expensive for Indonesian standards, our 3-hour trip only cost $15!
So there you have it! Although I still envy children’s ability to soak up information, I have the world at my doorstep. And as long as you and I apply ourselves by exploring, asking questions, and not fearing mistakes, who knows what age cap our learning must have!
Some pictures from the last 2 weeks: