Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, Rachma “Mei” Latupono makes the trek to North Campus for her Javanese Gamelan class, where she excitedly tries her hand at playing traditional Indonesian music on the characteristic bronze gongs, mellophones, and drums.
I am astounded by the opportunities I have at this university. Back home, I was so caught up with my job and day-to-day activities that I didn’t have time to think about learning to play a musical instrument. Here, I can take classes in Indonesian orchestra or gamelan! I have never played gamelan in my home country [of Indonesia], but here, I get the chance to learn.
As the 2021-2022 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) for the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia), Mei is enthusiastic about being able to connect with her own heritage far from home and simultaneously share her Javanese culture with others. She hails from Malang, a city in East Java known for its mild climate and historical relics, as well as its proximity to Mount Bromo. Mei majored in Indonesian Language and Education at the State University of Malang, where she tutored international students who were studying Bahasa Indonesia. She completed her teaching practicum in Thailand in 2017 and graduated with her bachelors degree the subsequent year. In 2019, Mei was promoted to an instructor of Indonesian as a Foreign Language (Bahasa Indonesia untuk Penutur Asing, or BIPA) at her alma mater.
Mei’s experience connecting with foreign students in Malang inspired her to apply to become an FLTA. “While teaching in the BIPA program, I met a lot of students from different countries—some of them were Americans who learned Indonesian in my hometown. When their program in Indonesia ended, not only could they speak the language really well, but we could also communicate easily and become good friends. I found this experience rewarding,” she says. To Mei, being a teacher means much more than showing up to class, giving homework, preparing materials, or grading assignments. “It is also about connecting with people and supporting each other.”
While teaching Bahasa Indonesia at U-M, Mei hopes to connect with her American students on a new level: “Now I am teaching in the country where my students in Indonesia come from. Here, I want to refine my professional teaching skills and share my culture with people.” Beyond sharing her own language and culture, Mei is most eager to take advantage of all that Ann Arbor has to offer, especially when it comes to the changing seasons. “I’m looking forward to experiencing winter!” she exclaims. “I come from a tropical country with only two seasons—it’s either dry or rainy. Seeing snow will be a brand new experience for me. I also want to go ice skating. I might be bad at it, but I am willing to learn!”
So far, Mei is most grateful for the kind and welcoming community surrounding her in Michigan, especially her supervisor, Agustini. “She helps me in almost everything and she takes really good care of me, which makes me feel that home is not so far away,” Mei says. Despite the distance and temporary bouts of homesickness, Mei firmly believes that being in a foreign country is a way to “get to know yourself, to learn about yourself.” While she hopes to pursue her master’s degree in sociolinguistics or education in the U.S. Mei is also eager to return to Malang and share her FLTA experience with her peers, colleagues, and future students. “I want to encourage them to join this program too, so they can also benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience.”