Author: Nadya Azzahra
Maryland, February 2007
“Hey, what’s up? I’m Miley Cyrus from Hannah Montana and you’re watching Disney Channel!”
My eyes followed Miley’s wand in drawing the makeshift Disney sign through my old SONY TV screen. She was on screen for just 10 seconds but for some reason, her iconic Disney Channel wand intro captivated me the most. I tried to mimic her prominent Southern accent, and although I sounded nothing like her, I was starting to get the hang of how people talked in this country.
My family just moved to Maryland, USA a couple of months prior and I was already quite immersed in the culture and everything around that. Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, I wasn’t introduced to the English language until I moved to the States. To be frank, I didn’t really remember my life before Maryland. In my brain, my life started when my dad moved me, my mom, and my older sister to a two-story house on Astoria Road in the small town of Kensington.
My first time discovering the English language was through watching TV shows on Disney Channel at the mere age of 3. I wasn’t in school yet and I spent most of my days sitting in front of the TV in our basement rec room. Even though Bahasa Indonesia was (and still is) my native language, it always felt like English was the first language I learned. Shows like Hannah Montana, Suite Life of Zack & Cody, and Wizards of Waverly Place influenced how I talked and achieved this “American” persona (well, at least tried to). I lived in Maryland for about 3 years and throughout my stay, I would only speak in English; at home, at school, at my friend’s house, basically everywhere. I always felt like it was odd to speak Indonesian in America. Even though I had Indonesian friends and acquaintances there, I knew that in order for us foreigners to fit in, we had to speak in English.
I went to school in a very diverse community, my friends were African-Americans, Filipinos, and Mexicans. My kindergarten teacher, Mr. Hornyak was a 6-foot-tall Caucasian man with a bright and endearing personality. I remember him quite vividly. Every Friday, he would read the whole class a chapter from the Magic Tree House book series. His storytelling skills were unbeatable; the way he read the story transported us to the magical world featured in the book. He was obviously a native speaker, but Mr. Hornyak welcomed his students from different places with open arms, including me. He taught me how to read, write, and speak. He was always there to help me when I had difficulties understanding some words in English.
Mr. Hornyak was one of those teachers that you’d want to remember for the rest of your life. It was so hard for me to go back to Indonesia and not have a proper goodbye to Mr. Hornyak and all of my kindergarten friends.
Jakarta, July 2010
I was so used to speaking in English for 3 years straight in America, I even forgot how to speak Indonesian. When my family had to move back home, I struggled in understanding my own native language. Luckily, my family and I still talk in English on a daily basis, but a part of me felt like such a foreigner in my own hometown. I knew that I had an advantage in speaking fluent English at such a young age, but I had to reconnect with my roots sooner or later.
My parents enrolled me in an English-speaking elementary school in Jakarta, knowing fully well that I wouldn’t be able to survive in a regular school where the delivery language is Bahasa Indonesia. My first day of school in Indonesia was honestly met with so much perplexity. I was sitting in class when a classmate came up to me and suddenly asked, “Agama kamu apa?” I sat there looking dumbfounded. I didn’t understand a single word she said. I didn’t know what to answer her because for the longest time, people always talked to me in English. I finally understood what she meant when I came home and asked my mom. Agama meant religion, and although I knew what religion I believed in, it still felt very strange to be asked that question by someone I just met. Religion was something nobody ever talked about in America and it was certainly something so personal that you can’t just go around asking people what God they believed in. For the record, I was only around 7 years old when I got asked my first question in Indonesian, and that question still lingered with me for years. Nonetheless, I survived elementary school barely speaking any fluent Indonesian.
Jakarta, March 2017
Flash forward to about 7 years later and I continued middle school in the same English-speaking school. My Indonesian has improved exponentially and I’ve gained confidence in using the language on a daily basis. My English teachers in the 6th to 7th grade were from the Philippines. I remembered Ms. Laurie, a bubbly and cheerful young woman, who introduced me to William Shakespeare’s work. Her assignment for the class was to memorize Sonnet 18 and present it to everyone the following week. It was quite nerve-wracking since I always had difficulties memorizing things, but also memorizing the iambic pentameter was so much more complex than I thought. I learned that in the 16th to 19th century, English was spoken in a completely different way. I was very much intrigued by how people used to communicate with each other with so much elegance. I also learned that William Shakespeare was widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language, which boggled my mind even more.
I memorized the first few lines of Sonnet 18 in the span of 2 days, which sounded like :
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
If I had to be honest with myself, I didn’t really quite understand the meaning behind those few lines. The words felt so foreign to me, albeit being familiar with the English language for all of my life.
After Ms. Laurie gave us the Sonnet 18 assignment, I became curious to find out more about Shakespeare’s work. I watched the 2013 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The romance tragedy devastated me so much. A specific quote spoken by Romeo Montague caught my attention the most;
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night. Oh, she shows the torches how to burn bright!”
Turns out there are plenty of ways people can say “I love you”. There are 171,146 words in the English language and Romeo chose the most exquisite words to express his love and sentiment for Juliet.
Throughout the 8th to 9th grade, my English class was taught by a Canadian man named Mr. Morgan. His class was always filled with surprises, as he wasn’t your typical English teacher. We played games, solved mysteries, watched movies, wrote fictional stories, and ate candies in his class. Mr. Morgan reminded me of Mr. Hornyak, and their resemblance was very uncanny. Mr. Morgan taught me how to debate and write resumés, and I would say that I explored so many different things in English Literature thanks to his classes. Teachers like Mr. Hornyak, Ms. Laurie, and Mr. Morgan opened the door that built my confidence in yielding my fluency in English and allowed me to solidify my opinions on several affairs. I’d always and forever be grateful to have been their students.
Jakarta, October 2020
“Hi, I’m Nadya and I’m a writer from Indonesia! Nice to meet you all!”
Tremor laced my voice as I introduced myself. I honestly don’t know why zoom meetings always make me sick to my stomach. I was in a meeting with my team from an online media organization that I recently joined. It was an Asian magazine that I found through Instagram. I was immediately interested once I saw they were looking for Asian writers for their upcoming issue. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and seek new opportunities. Just a couple of days after I applied, I was emailed by Christina, one of the founders, and received an invitation to their team of 20-something members. Although it was an Asian-focused magazine, I was the only Indonesian there in a sea of Asian-Americans, Canadians, and Indians. The magazine itself was spearheaded by two college students who lived in Seattle and California. Joining this community reminded me so much of my time in America. Even though I still spoke in English with my friends and family on a daily basis, I still missed the feeling of interacting with foreigners and native speakers as they give me so much perspective on different things.
Being the only Indonesian in the organization allowed me to share my heritage with a wider audience. I wrote several pieces in English about Indonesian culture and values. It was nice to have found a place where I can be extra proud of my nationality. I learned that possessing English fluency can take you places and explore new things. There are so many different opportunities in the world and I’m so glad that I joined a welcoming and diverse community outside of my birthplace in the beginning of my junior year in high school.
Jakarta, September 2021
For as long as I can recall, my English fluency has honed my skills in numerous fields and shaped me into the person that I am today. From writing fictional stories, publishing and proofreading articles, composing research papers, participating in debates and speeches, to meeting new people from across the globe. As of 2021, just over a decade after I came back from America, I’ve experienced so many great opportunities as well as memories. I’ve had brilliant English teachers that became prominent figures throughout my school life, but I’d never forget the feeling of first learning the English language and discovering new words just by watching Disney Channel shows at the age of 3.
Learning a brand new language could be as simple as learning how to tie your shoes; you can do it quite literally anywhere and anytime. And with the right amount of determination, it can broaden your horizon and take you places you’ve never imagined.
Saya generasi muda yang peduli literasi! Artikel ini ditulis sebagai bentuk serta EF Literacy Day Competition 2021: https://www.ef.co.id/writing-competition