Realians' Experience: Marie's 10 Years Journey to Love Indonesian Language
Wow, it was 25 years ago this year, an energetic 26-year-old Canadian left for Indonesia to do volunteer work with an environmental NGO. My job was to teach at an outdoor school in the rainforest of East Java, so Bahasa Indonesia was what I needed to learn, and fast.
I remember touching the runway in a flood-filled Jakarta, not knowing one word. It was exciting and at the same time scary. It was 1993 and nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.Realia's teaching methodology – 'applied in situ training'
Right away I flew to Yogyakarta and went to Realia Language School, set in what felt like the suburbs of a vibrant and culture-rich city. I remember studying 5 days a week, at least 5 hours a day (plus homework later), one-on-one with a teacher, for at least 4 months.
My teachers (all university students at the time – I still remember their names Mbak Endang, Mas Dhori and Mas Heri), were patient, knowledgeable and most importantly understanding. Especially, since at the beginning, unknown to me, I experienced culture shock.
At times, I tried too hard, was not pleased with my progress. I had to take a step away and allow assimilation, "think time", for what I learned to sink in. I appreciated that fact that the astute teachers often got me out to do various social events to help me through this process.
I believe a key to the Realia's success was their understanding of how to deal with newbie's like me, trying to cope with such a drastically different culture than my own. As an educator myself now, I realize how critical this safe environment was for me to learn. Without it, I would have shut down and learned very little.
I learned vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure basics vis-a-vie the 5 W's – who, what, where, when, why. If I was learning numbers or food names, I went out shopping, with directions. I walked the streets with my teacher.
Learning in situ was accomplished by seeing, doing and appreciating the culture. Communicating orally as much as possible in-class, wherever … on the streets of Jalan Malioboro, climbing up Gunung Merapi, on the back of a motorcycle. It was always a priority. Upon reflection, I always found Indonesians so open and friendly to any conversation I attempted. Right or wrong, we laughed together or, in some cases, was thrust into karaoke challenges à la Denpasar Moon
(popular at the time), so my oral language skills grew in confidence.When I got to my posting In East Java
During my posting in a small village in Trawas - Mojokerto, as an environmental educator, my language skills were honed, as well as my knowledge of the rainforest. With the language structure I learned at Realia, plus the local vocab with some integrated Javanese, I was able to start by team teaching with co-workers and epically, after around six months, I was teaching independently as we climbed volcanoes and learned about the ecosystem around us.
My Indonesian students, no matter the age, were understanding if I didn't know a word – they would help me out. I would write it down on my new vocab list. My favourite word was the multiple syllable word - biodiversity- ke-a-nek-a-rag-a-man ha-ya-ti – it took me a long time to pronounce that – funny what you remember.
The day when I stopped converting words from English to Indonesian in my head, and just spoke automatically was an impressive milestone for me, about a year into my life in Indonesia. Writing and reading Indonesian didn't come so easy. I still struggled, but reading and writing were not critical to my job since oral language mastery was what I needed as I went up and down volcanoes on hikes with my students.Today
25 years later, I pretty much remember the majority of what I learned over 10 years living in Java and Bali. It’s like an automatic switch that I can turn on and off.
My Bahasa Indonesian is STILL better than my French. I can read Facebook posts and headlines online and talk with my Malay colleagues at work.
Reflecting back on my time at Realia, the teachers prepared me not only for the language skills I needed to perform in the workplace but helped me cope with the realities of living in Indonesia – from the megacity of Jakarta to a remote mountain village of East Java. I treasure these formative days, months and years, never to be forgotten, etched in my mind forever.Marie Green, Canada.
CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas)