Zoey is from Rochester, MN and an alumna of the Indonesian 2020 Virtual Summer Intensive program.

The NSLI-Y Virtual Summer Intensive speaks true to its name: two hours of language instruction every weekday on Zoom, cultural classes on Sundays, cultural projects, two calls per week with our peer leaders, and completing the Global Competence Certificate. I looked forward to all of it. In those packed five weeks, I learned more and grew more online than I had imagined possible.

Language classes contained a mix of vocabulary and images, basic grammar structures, speaking with each other and the teacher, games, presentations, cultural tidbits, progress checks, and discussions. They were interactive and rigorous, covering a multitude of topics, like bargaining, food, daily activities, giving directions, transportation, imperatives, and hobbies. We had tests and homework, but they were 100 times more fun than traditional tests and homework at school. Our “tests” were having conversations with our teachers in Indonesian. Homework included mini-projects, like creating a cerita pendek (short story) video, for which I made Keseharian (day in the life) with Toby, my dog. Another mini-project was for us to collaborate outside of class to record a video of us bargaining. The way in which we applied our language skills was impactful in retaining them. Our teachers, Pak Wanto, Ibu Sonia, and Pak Didot, were incredibly patient with us. We shared many laughs, from getting kicked off of Zoom to language mishaps. We had moments of insight into each other’s lives, which contributed meaningfully to our class.

image of indonesian notes

One of our cultural projects was a modified version of membatik, or making batik, a traditional craft of wax-resist dyeing cloth. We were mailed a small box of batik craft supplies (with instructions), including cloth preparation materials, dye, soy wax, and a tjanting (a tool used to “draw” the wax). There are four major components of the process: prepare the cloth, melt and draw the wax onto the cloth, apply the dye, and finally melt the wax off. I will remember my sweaty, persevering attempt to methodically spoon in the hot wax from the pot on my stove into the tjanting, then transport it to the cloth. What eventually resulted was a blobby though still beautiful blue batik cloth, with varying shades of blue due to the amount of wax applied in certain areas. I am in awe at the level of skill, patience, and artistry involved in true artisan batik. Indonesian batik is a cultural treasure, an expression of creativity and spirituality; in 2009, UNESCO inscribed it on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I’m so glad I could appreciate the art of batik at home and frame it as a keepsake of my VSI experience.

Our other cultural project was food! We made bakwan jagung (corn fritters) and tumis buncis wortel (sauteed green beans and carrots). I found that a lot of the ingredients and the methods used in the recipes were similar to the way my family cooks Chinese food, with onions, white pepper, and garlic. I saw a lot of Chinese-Indonesian cuisine throughout the program. For example, when I was calling my peer leader Afina, I could hear a passing motorcycle vendor shouting “bakcang”, which is 粽子 (zongzi), rice dumplings. One time, she was eating pangsit, 饺子 (jiaozi), dumplings. I also heard of bakpao, 包子(baozi) steamed bun, which is popularly filled with coklat (chocolate) or keju (cheese) in Indonesia, combinations I’ve never heard of! It’s so cool to see how Indonesian and Chinese cultures have crossed over in food.

Two Indonesian dishes: Bakwam Jagung and Tumis Buncis

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of VSI was talking with my peer leader, Afina, a junior at the University of Indonesia. She helped me practice and grow my Indonesian language skills and knowledge of the culture and events in Indonesia. Similarly, I shared the culture and events in the U.S., as well as those in China. We talked about things like movies and shows, social media, current trends, current events, student life, and more. Being able to learn from someone close in age to me was significant for me. It felt like we were just having a casual conversation, but it was really insightful.

Towards the end of the program, At America, the U.S. Embassy’s American Center in Indonesia, invited me and several other Indonesian VSI participants to speak at their virtual events. I was a part of Ayo (Let’s go) Study in the U.S. and talked about aspects of my high school experience. I prepared my presentation to be in a mix of both Indonesian and English, which helped to foster the feeling of an exchange between two cultures. It was special to be able to share bits and pieces of American high school with Indonesian students, many of whom hope to study abroad in America, while I myself hope to someday study abroad in Indonesia.

The five weeks I spent this summer on intensive language study and connecting with people from Indonesia have sparked a passion in me to continue on this intercultural journey. I plan to incorporate Indonesian into my high school studies by taking an online Indonesian course as an independent study. I’ve come to better understand that language is a powerful tool for bridging between people and cultures. I will keep in touch with the people I’ve grown to know through VSI. Some day, whether it be through NSLI-Y or not, I hope to travel to Indonesia and create memories and friendships in the country I’ve been learning all about.

Images showcasing the process of membatik, making batik, a traditional Indonesian art, crafted with wax and dyes