Love Letters to Indonesia: Alam Bahasa

When I first went to Indonesia, I had a horrible time with flights, culminating in me stuck in Jakarta with no flights till the next morning. Luckily, this was all eventually solved and instead of spending the night unhappily in the Jakarta airport, I was able to stay with a Shansi alum who happened to live in Jakarta.

However, it took a while to get to that point. When it looked like I was going to have a problem getting to the Jogja airport at the time I’d originally said, I realized I should have gotten better contact information for whoever was going to be picking me up at the airport. As it was, I only had a couple of email addresses and one phone number for a fellow who was about to leave for home. I sent emails out—one to my senior fellow and one to Alam Bahasa, the language school where I was slated to take classes—and hoped for the best.

In Jakarta I managed to eventually get in touch with my senior fellow who arranged everything for me and it all worked out fine. But what precipitated all this was not my email to my senior fellow but my email to Alam Bahasa. They contacted her and let her know what was going on. Right from the start Alam Bahasa was looking out for me, and that never changed, even after I stopped taking classes and moved to Solo.

There’s a vulnerability in learning a new language, and Alam Bahasa was there to help me through all of it. Normally, students at Alam Bahasa are only there for a few weeks, but Shansi fellows stay for two months and usually take classes even after that, making us the longest-running students. This means that I had the opportunity to get to know my teachers really well, to the point that some of them even became close friends.

When I didn’t understand a cultural difference, someone was happy to explain. When I needed advice on wedding gifts, someone was happy to provide examples. When I had to move to Solo and find somewhere to live, multiple people offered me advice and suggestions. Basically, Alam Bahasa provided a place where I could go and be the clueless foreigner without feeling judged or like less of a person.

Teachers moved in and out of Alam Bahasa, going back to school or moving to other cities, but whenever I went back for a visit there was always someone willing to eat lunch with me, to ask for updates about Solo, and to sit through my belabored explanations in Javanese.