“Halo, apa kabar?” is how I say “Hello, how are you?” in my native language which is called Bahasa Indonesia. I was born in a small village in the mountainous area where the majority of people speak Bataknese, my mother’s ethnic language that has a strong and different accent than Bahasa Indonesia. I grew up learning three languages. My father’s ethnic language with a smooth accent is called Javanese.
When I was 6 years old, I started attending elementary school. My school sat on a hill above the village and only had 7 rooms with 11 students in my class. English was not taught for 1st-grade students. Because my village is a tourist destination, I became fascinated when I met tourists speaking English.
My father’s job as a policeman caused him to be transferred to a small city with a population of 80,000 people. The majority of those people spoke Bahasa Indonesia with a different accent. I remember meeting people who laughed at me because I had a different accent. I attended an elementary school where the class was five times bigger than in my previous school. There were 49 students in my classroom. I studied English, but I never understood it because the teacher translated every word for us making it harder to learn. My parents did not speak English, thus they could not help me with it.
I spent many days learning English when I was growing up. I memorized the new vocabulary that I wrote on my hand. I watched Western movies until midnight and pretended that I was sleeping on the couch when my mom checked on me. When she went back to bed I would continue watching the movies. I didn’t understand most of the conversation in the movies but I was paying attention to how they pronounced words. Subtitles helped me a lot. I also listened to western music then tried to guess what the lyrics said. I got most of the words wrong. The Irish pop vocal group, Westlife’s songs were my favorites because they were sung slower than the singers we have today.
When an English Tutoring Class opened in the town, I was the first student to sign up. I often only got 30% or 50% of the in the class. The teacher helped me a lot. She patiently taught me by asking me questions in English and having me sing in front of the class. We read English text out loud. A year went by, I competed in English Speech Contests to practice my public speaking and won 1st place three times.
After a year of competing with 9000 students to get one of 85 exchange students’ positions, I received a full scholarship to come to the US. When I arrived six years ago, I was required to take Junior English at Washougal High School. We had a vocabulary test every Monday. On my first test, a nice ‘D’ landed on my paper. That day, I was very embarrassed. I memorized the meaning of the words but that was not enough. Putting the correct words into sentences is another matter and my brain had a hard time understanding that concept. My host family helped me by testing me every weekend because this was my hardest class.
“That’s what happens when too many languages are mixed in your head,” my mind told me. But I am not giving up. At the end of the semester, surprisingly my name was called for getting the highest grade for Junior English Class. I won an English Essay Contest and the prize was a trip to Washington DC. A year later, after returning to Indonesia in 2015, I won another essay contest where the prize was a trip to Thailand. There were 49 college student winners, but I was the only high school student. English was becoming an important part of my life, it opened doors to other opportunities to learn.
I went back to Indonesia in 2015 and after finishing my senior year in high school in 2016, my host family invited me back to the US to attend college. Now, I am here, at PSU, almost finished with my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and planning on getting a graduate degree.
I haven’t been home in almost four years. Time flies when you’re having fun they say. It feels like a dream, getting up in the morning and going to school every day. Looking back, I’m very grateful for the people who have invested their time in teaching me. And now it’s time for me to give back, to at least give what I have into something useful; time. I try to be involved in school by tutoring, organizing events and writing blogs because my main goal in life is to be a useful human being.