Ika Apriani Fata is no stranger to living away from home. When she was a young girl, Fata left her hometown of Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to study at a boarding school 11 hours away. Since then, she has lived in Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. But for the last six months, she has lived the farthest she’s ever been from home: Oberlin.
Fata is in Oberlin as a visiting scholar with Oberlin Shansi, a nonprofit organization that promotes understanding and communication between Oberlin and Asia through educational and social programs, educational and cultural exchanges, and community projects. Oberlin Shansi partners with Oberlin College and universities in China, Japan, India, and Indonesia, including Syiah Kuala University (or Unsyiah), which is where Fata works as a lecturer, teaching English linguistics and English education to students who will become English teachers at the elementary and secondary level.
During her time in Oberlin, Fata was enrolled in three courses (Gender and Language with Visiting Assistant Professor Perry Sherose, English for Speakers of Other Languages Level 3 with Instructor Amy Moniot, and Language Pedagogy: The Theory & Practice of Teaching and Learning Languages with Instructor Kim Faber). She also assisted Associate Professor Jennifer Fraser in teaching Saman, a traditional form of Acehnese dance. During her stay, she traveled to several U.S. destinations and experienced her first Thanksgiving.
As her time in Oberlin comes to an end, Fata shared her experience as a Shansi visiting scholar and what it’s been like to live in Oberlin, a destination more than 9,000 miles from home.
How did you learn about the Oberlin Shansi program? Oberlin is partners with Unsyiah and the University of Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. The first fellow to Aceh, Sarah Newman, came to Unsyiah in 2007. When Sarah was in Aceh, I was a graduate student. I didn’t meet her in Aceh, but I read her report [about Oberlin Shansi] with the documents Pak Syamsul, Shansi coordinator at Unsyiah, gives to potential applicants. After reading Sarah’s report, I was interested in joining the Oberlin Shansi program.
Do you know Sarah Newman now? Of course! I hung out with her and her parents in Gavin’s+ house the week before Thanksgiving. When I met her in Oberlin for the first time, I was excited.
Speaking of Thanksgiving, was this your first? Yes, it was my first Thanksgiving. My housemate Zhang Jie++ and I had a big potluck dinner with turkey, dumplings, and cakes in Shansi house.
You’ve lived in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore. Why do you like to travel and live in so many different places? I learned it from my family. My parents also like to travel a lot. It started from elementary school up to the high school … I went to a boarding school far away from my home. It takes 11 hours driving. I could only go home twice a year. So after that I never lived at home. I lived far away. I love the diversity of the communities, interacting and engaging with different people. It’s a really fascinating experience.
What were you doing as a visiting scholar? I attend three classes here, and those classes are related to my program back home, so everything I study here, I can convey it and spread it to my students at Unsyiah in Aceh. And then I also did research … especially related to language studies and the English teaching program.
This program is different and challenging because it’s not a program where you are going to do a certain project or [solve a] problem about Aceh. It accommodates your intentions or interests.
What would you say has been your favorite thing about living here? It’s hard to say because I love everything here. [I’ve enjoyed] studying the interaction between people; engaging with students; making discussion groups; hanging out in the café or the restaurant; having small groups in Oberlin Shansi [house] to talk about Indonesian music or traditional music from Aceh; going shopping. Everything has just been fascinating to me.
Have you had any involvement with Oberlin Conservatory while you’ve been here? Yes, I had a chance to do a presentation in the classroom of Jennifer Fraser about music of Indonesia and also to translate Acehnese lyrics of a Rateb Meuseukat dance to English. During the presentation, we talked about other types of music in Indonesia like dangdut and pop. Actually, there was a professor from the University of Pittsburgh studying dangdut music who came to Indonesia for two years, and I showed them that presentation.
You’ve visited many different places while you were here. Can you discuss a few of your trips? Oberlin Shansi provided me travel expense and allowance to visit Washington D.C.; New York; Hammond, Indiana; Chicago; and Ann Arbor, Michigan. I love all of those places. I only lived in a hotel once when traveling. Most of the time, I stayed with one family I just knew from Oberlin College. I kept contact with them for less than two weeks and they asked, ‘Why don’t you live with us and spend your time here?’ I never imagined I could live with so many people and interact and engage with them.
How will you describe Oberlin to friends and family when you return home? I will tell them Oberlin is a charming, warm, and fascinating living place and work environment.
What will you do after you leave Oberlin? I need to first of all … be a teacher as I usually am. And then also to publish and talk about the research I’ve done here. Part of my duties back home will also be to share about the Oberlin Shansi program at my university.
In your bio on the Oberlin Shansi website, it says you might be going to Turkey. Is that correct? Oh yes. I was invited to be a visiting professor. There I will teach under the language and linguistics program. It will be quite challenging to have another project next year, but I believe what I got in Oberlin Shansi will serve me well.
Are you excited to go home to Aceh? Yes, my family is there. But at the same time, I’ll also be sad to leave Oberlin and all of my friends. Being the scholar, being the partner, being the friend of Oberlin Shansi and Oberlin College has truly been appealing, challenging, and fascinating. It has been like a family here, so I will be sad as well.
+Gavin Tritt is Executive Director of Oberlin Shansi. ++Zhang Jie is an Oberlin Shansi Visiting Instructor in Chinese for the Department of East Asian Studies from Beijing Normal University (BNU).
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