A Letter from Helga Ndun

Dear PRESTASI,

I am sorry for this late letter; it is kind of uneasy to start the first sentence *justification*, LoL.

When I wrote this, my first semester already finished. Many things have happened over these past 6 months and I am glad that I could go through it and am relieved when I finally looked at my results yesterday.

Anyway, studying here at the University of Arkansas has brought me to many things, and I will share one or two with you. First, adaptation really matters. Coming to this country (which is a completely new environment for me) took me too many new experiences. Let’s start with transportation. I once thought that as this is America, there should be no problem with public transportation. I was wrong. Here in Arkansas, the bus only runs from Monday to Saturday between 6am-10pm. It was a problem when I wanted to go to church or certain places on Sunday, or to university to do some homework. To deal with this, I tried to find an apartment closer to the college within the walking distance, and, importantly, to find friends who have a car *wink* (Indonesia has been a way more comfortable in terms of options of public transportation and operation hours, I think). Also, there will always be a possibility of getting lost somewhere if we do not get used to the route of the bus (sometimes the route changes from the “standard” route to the “reduced” one). Asking the driver, therefore, is significantly helpful or we can simply ask a friend to get the “bus-tour” for being accustomed with the bus and its stops.

Another thing to note is the learning environment. In the classroom, students are encouraged to speak most of the time; I have struggle with this. Since I am not a native speaker, I tend to feel worried about what words I choose for saying what’s on my mind. “Will they understand what I am trying to say?” is what I thought first, which successfully prevents me from speaking. However, as I said earlier, adaptation is crucial. I have tried to listen and speak more and more with native speakers outside of class and practice saying what I think inside of class. Until now, I am still working on my English skills. I’m sure the more I am exposed to English, the better my English will become *finger crossed*

Hmm, what else? Aha, the food. Some will say that it is not an issue, but for me, it is. Feeling somewhat hungry (because I have only had bread for breakfast in the first days) quite distracted me for having a complete concentration throughout the day. Thanks to Asian market! It provides a variety of food which I as an Indonesian feel familiar with (I even found Kopiko and sambal ABC in this store!). So my advice for those who are not a fan of American tastes, start googling Asian markets nearby!

Second, I noticed interesting facts here which probably we can learn from. Disabled people, especially students, are provided with certain facilities that enable them to go around the campus. Each building features a very friendly design for people with wheel chair. It is, for example, equipped with lift. What’s more, the university pays attention even to a simple thing like a water fountain, they build a taller one for a normal person and a shorter one for the disabled person. I also still remember how amazed I was when I saw a bus extend a ramp so that the disabled person can get on. What I mean is here, when they say that disabled people can reach higher education, they are serious about that. Having facilities settled for this type of students sends the message that the disabled are allowed to have the same opportunity to pursue their education; more than that, they do not have to solely rely on others, they can be independent. Oh, I almost forget to tell you that for autistic students, the university also provides personal tutors to help them to catch up with the subjects. That is great, isn’t it?

I also noted the harmony of social relationship here regardless what religion or nationality you hold. When the Muslim students hosted a blood donation program, other students coming from different religions and countries participated. Another bit of evidence comes when international Christian students hosted a Christmas event. I saw not only Christians there, but also a bunch of friends coming to celebrate the day with us in a joyous and entertaining atmosphere. This led me to think that we are capable of creating harmony if we are willing to because no matter what the differences exist between us, “deep inside of us, we are not that different at all” *sing You’ll be in my heart-Phil Collins*

Next, for the library and its service, I have to say that it is incredible. Since we have papers that have to do with searching through lots of journals, articles, and books, the library does lend a hand. Interestingly, if we cannot find what we are looking for in the university library, we simply request it to interlibrary loan and in one day (the fastest time) we can download the file from our email. This interlibrary loan means the library will search the file requested in other libraries beyond the boundaries (I begin hyperbolic here, hehehe). One day, for example, I found my file was sent from the library at the University of Michigan (if I’m not mistaken).

Anyway, studying here is not always about classes and the library. We can expand our life experience, make more friends and build network through programs offered by the university or local organization. Recently, with people from several countries, I joined in a bible study from which I got several close friends. I also involved in International cultural time and proud of being a representative for Indonesia in several events. I have to say that introducing Congklak to foreigners was really exciting. One time, together with other international students, we cooked our national food and beverage to serve the veterans and seniors here (some of them liked the taste of bubur kacang ijo *smile*). Oh, I wish I had a picture portraying the faces of elementary school students when they do “balap karung” and “paku dalam botol”, you’ll start laughing just as what we did here.

To balance my routine as a student, I will say that it is worth to have fun, do things I want to do, and take a chance to be an adventurer in this land of opportunity. The mission of learning how to ride a horse, doing kayaking, and being a solo traveler already accomplished last semester. Now, I am looking forward to many more exciting things coming on the way.

For now, this is all I can write to you. Tomorrow is the first day of the new semester, I hope you still pray for me and my other PRESTASI-scholars friends to be successful here until we finish our study and come back to Indonesia (^_^)/

Best Wishes for You,

Warm regards from Arkansas (which is now really chilly outside)

Ega