Thursday, November 5, 2020

A History of Indonesian Instruction at BYU

In 2001 after a 20 year hiatus, foreign LDS Missionaries were once again granted visas to serve in Indonesia. The first foreign missionaries were from Canada, Germany and Australia. After a few years, missionaries from the United Sates were also called to serve in Indonesia. Some of these missionaries were BYU students. When they returned from their missions, they were anxious to take the BYU Indonesian Language exam that would give them 16 hours of Indonesian credit (pass/fail). Richard Bindrup, one of those students, heard that if returned missionaries could take a FLANG 330 course then they could get graded credit for the 16 credits.  To have that course taught, he would need to find an instructor and have 15 students indicate a desire to take the class. He had met me while in the MTC where I occasionally volunteered so he knew that there was at least one professor at BYU who spoke Indonesian. He came to my office one day to see if I would be willing to teach the class. I was hesitant given BYU’s pressure on publishing and our dean’s discouragement for teaching evening classes. I contacted a few local Indonesians to see if they would be interested to teach the class by none were. I agreed to teach the class and Richard found enough interested students to warrant having the class added to the schedule for the next year. The very helpful and supportive BYU Center for Language Studies coordinated and oversaw the course.

I am a geography professor (I started teaching a Southeast Asia geography class in 2006—one of the first SE Asia classes to be offered at BYU) and so teaching a language class was a new and challenging experience. I learned Indonesian in the Provo Language Training Mission (fall 1975) with the first group of missionaries called to the newly organized Indonesia Jakarta Mission—which had split off from the Singapore mission. When I returned from my mission I continued my studies at Utah State University. While there I journeyed to BYU one Saturday to take the Indonesian language exam. I had the credits transferred to my USU transcript. Then while a graduate student at BYU I took a one time offered Indonesian class (like FLANG 330) from graduate student Gunawan Tjokrokusumo. Upon graduation from BYU with a MA in International Relations (and two years of Arabic study) I got a job working for the National Security Agency as an Indonesian Linguist. After two years, I then went on to the University of Chicago to get a PhD in Geography.

In anticipation of teaching the class, I took time during a summer 2007 research trip to Indonesia to gather reading materials for the class. In Jakarta I met at a book store with Hanna Shihab, who had recently graduated from BYU, to get her suggestions on what books would be good to read. She helped me pick out a folk tale (Malin Kundang), a high school History of Indonesia text, and a novel (Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Sekali Peristiwa di Banten Selatan) to use in the class. I then added a grammar text and an essay.

FLANG 330 (Indonesian language and culture) was taught for the first time during winter semester 2008. Nineteen students enrolled and one BYU staff member (Ralph Zobell) who had served a mission in Indonesia audited the class. This was the largest class I ever taught. There were several years’ worth of returned missionaries anxious to get language credit. One of the students in the class had just returned from serving in the Singapore mission—which included Malaysia. At the time, this mission had no language training, but many missionaries were learning Malay during their two years in country. When they returned to BYU there was no Malay exam so they took the Indonesian class and exam. It was a more difficult experience for these students. Eventually Malay was taught at the MTC and the returned missionaries who had some initial MTC training ended up doing better in the class. After a few years of Malay speakers taking the Indonesian class, a Malay teacher was recruited to teach a separate Malay Class.

I taught FLANG 330 five times over six years: winter 2008 (19 students); winter 2009 (5 students); fall 2010 (13 students); fall 2011 (12 students) and winter 2013 (9 students). Teaching duties also included grading their language exams so they could get the 16 hours of credit.

In 2011 the BYU Asian Studies program granted its first FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) fellowship for the study of Indonesian. After the fellowships were granted, it was realized that two language courses in Indonesian were required. I was approached to see if I could find an instructor (that failed) and if not if I could teach the class (I would). Getting ready to teach this class (FLANG 340 Indonesian literature) had a steeper learning curve for me. I had never taken a foreign language literature course. I met with two Japanese literature instructors (Van Gessel and Scott Miller) for advice. I then had to select reading materials. I chose the first two books of Pramoedya’s Buru Quartet (Bumi Manusia and Anak Semua Bangsa), which were a challenge for me to read and understand) and a contemporary novel--Laskar Pelangi. BYU student Tia Subiantoro helped as my TA. Ten students enrolled in the winter 2011 course. The next year I arranged to have another Indonesian student (Sara Lee) teach the FLANG 340 class. I was her supervisor.

Teaching these evening Indonesian courses in addition to my 2-3 geography courses each semester was very time consuming. I was once told by my department chair that he and the dean viewed my teaching of these courses as a “negative” for my annual review because they were not department related and they were a distraction from research. I, however, viewed these courses first, as an aid to my research since one class assignment required the writing of mission stories for my research on the history of the LDS Church in Indonesia and second, as university service to the 60 plus students who needed to take these classes for language credit for FLAS requirements. Additionally, the classes were a place where I recruited research assistants to help with my book. I found it interesting one year to see several of my students quoted in the University President’s annual report to donors. These students were thanking donors who made possible the hiring of people to teach the many Center for Language Study languages that were not taught in the language departments at BYU. My impression was that BYU was very proud to note that it taught over 50 languages, but seldom noted that most of these instructors were low paid adjuncts or professors like me who got no recognition or commendation for helping BYU teach so many unusual languages.

Because of the time commitment and lack of support from my department and college, I set out to find someone else to teaching the course. Luckily Wendy Mulia, who had been approached and offered the job earlier, was now an empty-nester and had the time to take over teaching the class. I passed on all of my materials to her. She continues to use many of the readings I selected, but she also has added many new and improved things to the class. Sara White, who took both my 330 and 340 classes and was a FLAS recipient, was recruited to teach Indonesian 101 and 102 classes at BYU. Some of her students then used their Indonesian for tsunami research in Indonesia directed by Ron Harris in geology. I was recruited to join the project because of my Indonesian skills.

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