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Meja Bahasa Indonesia celebrates Indonesian culture on UNC's campus

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Baiquni is a graduate student in history who participates at the Indonesia Table. Photo courtesy of Suci Farahdilla.

Meja Bahasa Indonesia, or the Indonesian Table, provides UNC students with an opportunity to explore Indonesian culture, language, history — and tasty treats.

Every other Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., students gather on the FedEx Global Education Center fourth floor patio to practice the language with native speakers.

Kevin Fogg, associate director of the Carolina Asia Center, organizes each event in the series. He books the space, gets the word out and creates learning materials. Fogg said he has also committed to providing an Indonesian sweet at each event.

At the most recent event, Fogg served Astor, an Indonesian chocolate wafer stick.

“That snack actually reminds me a lot of my childhood back in Indonesia,” said Baiquni, a graduate student in history who participates at the table.

Baiquni said he wanted to get involved with the series because it was a way he could help bring Indonesia into the broader UNC context. 

“For me, it’s a way to get to know other students who share similar interests and, also at the same time, for me to understand their perspective on cultural differences,” Baiquni said. 

The series gives students an opportunity to study a Southeast Asian language, and Indonesian is often easy to learn, Fogg said.

“You only need to be able to read English to show up for this because Indonesian uses the same alphabet that we do,” he said. 

Fogg said he is grateful for the support of the Indonesian students at UNC that come to the table to be conversation partners with attendees who are at different levels of language learning.

Gisella Lie, a graduate student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is Indonesian. She said the events for the table are informal, and her favorite parts are connecting with attendees through conversation and expanding her own knowledge.

“I’m fluent in Indonesian, obviously,” Lie said. “But I never learned the theory behind that. So it’s really interesting to have the theoretical aspects of the language being pointed out.”

She said she values that others can come to the table and learn more about Indonesia.

“Anyone who’s interested in history, culture and language in general, I really welcome," Lie said.

Fogg said he thinks of the table as part of a broader effort to revamp and revitalize Southeast Asian studies at UNC, and that similar language tables might be offered in the future, such as one for the South Asian language Tamil. 

“I love creating a place where the Indonesian students can come out and show off their enthusiasm for their language and enthusiasm for their culture,” Fogg said. “That’s a place that we don’t have readily available at UNC, especially for the Southeast Asian community.”

He said he also sees the table as an opportunity for Indonesian to be incorporated in UNC’s language learning curriculum. 

“If there are enough students who come out, then we can request to bring in an Indonesian language teacher from Indonesia,” Fogg said. “We can try and get course codes up in the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, but we need to demonstrate student demand for that first.”

Junior William Burnham, who attended the Indonesian table, said he got involved with the series due to his fascination with the language and history of Indonesia. Burnham said the fluent speakers help him learn new grammar and vocabulary. 

“But a big part of it too is just cultural exchange, like just sitting and talking,” Burnham said.

He said he did not start learning Indonesian until this semester, and that he is happy with the progress he has made with the language in the past three months. 

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“I just want to emphasize that you don’t have to have any experience,” Burnham said. “You don’t have to know anything about Indonesia in general.”

Burnham said his goal is to be able to eventually conduct an entire conversation in Indonesian. 

“And I think it would be really, really cool if this could be something we could expand,” Burnham said. “Although I love the intimate setting, I think it would be awesome to be able to expand the presence of Indonesian culture on the campus in general. I definitely encourage anyone who even has a little bit of interest in Southeast Asia or in Indonesia to come out and give it a try.”

@madikirk31 |