Aurelia Vanderwilde is an alumna of the 2018 Indonesian Summer program in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Two years ago, I studied abroad for six weeks on the NSLI-Y Indonesian summer program and this experience changed the trajectory of my life. I had always known that I wanted to study abroad, I took Chinese classes when I was younger and then participated in a Startalk summer program, which is where I learned about NSLI-Y. I first applied to NSLI-Y as a high school freshman but, was unfortunately not selected.
The next year I applied again for Indonesian. It was the first year that NSLI-Y was offering Indonesian as a language and I was ecstatic. I wanted to learn Indonesian because my grandpa was born in Indonesia, and I hoped to learn more about my heritage. While it was my connection to my grandpa that first drew me to Indonesia, the more that I learned about the culture, the more I wanted to learn the Indonesian language. Indonesian fascinates me for so many reasons. The language itself is interesting from a linguistic perspective because it was created to unite the country when it was seeking independence from the Dutch. It is a combination of Dutch, Indonesian, Arabic, Hindi, and local languages such as Malay and Javanese. Learning Indonesian has made it easier for me to learn other languages, as I have some background and can identify cognates. Indonesia’s diverse culture also fascinated me. I wanted to learn from a society that has so many different religions and ethnic groups, all living peacefully together.
I was accepted to the first NSLI-Y cohort to Indonesia and my experience was life-changing. I felt more in love with Indonesia the longer I was there, I learned so much about the culture, and my Indonesian improved so much. I gained a new perspective on the world and met people who I am still in touch with today, such as my NSLI-Y host family, teachers, and the other members of my cohort. When I returned to the U.S., I was satisfied with the amount of Indonesian that I had learned while on the NSLI-Y program. However, I wanted to continue to study and knew I still had so much to learn about Indonesia. After leaving Indonesia, I vowed to return and decided to apply for the YES Abroad program.
In March of 2019, I was accepted to YES Abroad with a placement in Indonesia and began my year abroad that July. I spent my senior year in Malang, Indonesia. The language skills that I had gained on NSLI-Y helped so much. Over the course of the year abroad, my Indonesian continued to improve. Upon arrival, we had an Indonesian language camp. Due to the fact that I had previous experience, thanks to NSLI-Y, I was given private lessons at the same school where I had taken classes while on the NSLI-Y program. It was so fun to have a chance to reconnect with my NSLI-Y teachers. The prior year I had maintained my Indonesian by staying in touch with my host family and listening to the news in Indonesian, so I was able to learn new concepts from the beginning of the program.
I arrived in my host community of Malang, a city of 3 million located in East Java near the mountains. Malang is most well known for being close to Mount Bromo, an active volcano. Malang is also known for its cooler climate, and home to many college students who study at the many universities there, including the University of Brawijaya and Universitas Negri Malang where the Critical Language Scholarship program is hosted. I continued to study Indonesian through weekly private lessons that were provided by the YES Abroad program. I interacted in Indonesian every day both at home with my host family and at school with my classmates and teachers. When I arrived in Malang, I was thankful for my language skills because it made it much easier to navigate day to day life. English is not widely spoken so to be able to communicate with my classmates, teachers, and neighbors from the start in a language that they were comfortable in allowed me to integrate into my host community easier. Thanks to my wonderful teacher and community, my Indonesian continued to improve, and by the end of the exchange, I was able to discuss a wide range of topics ranging from the electoral college to TV shows.
My experience in Indonesia with YES Abroad was amazing, and the prior language and cultural knowledge that I gained on NSLI-Y helped dramatically with the transition. Being able to communicate with my Malang host-family and community from day one in Indonesian, the language that they felt most comfortable with, allowed me to make strong connections that I maintain to this day. I am so thankful to NSLI-Y and everyone that I have met through the alumni community.
Since returning home, I have continued to stay in touch with an organization that I worked with in Malang. Even though I am home, I am continuing to teach virtual English classes to students that I volunteered with at my host-site. I plan to continue using Indonesian as I stay in touch with my host-families from both NSLI-Y and YES Abroad. I plan to take a gap year this year before continuing my education at Agnes Scott College, where I plan to continue using Indonesian. In the future, I hope to work in Indonesia.