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The Diversity of Indonesia
By Nicole P., YES Abroad 2019-2020, Indonesia
“Excuse me”, I murmured in a local language to the small crowd of people surrounding the train station exit doors. On the way out, my host mom says to me, “those people probably didn’t understand. You just spoke Sundanese, and here in Jakarta, most people speak Javanese or Bahasa Indonesia.” I was shocked! Jakarta is only 95 miles from my host city, where the majority of people speak the Sundanese language. How could a city so near to mine have a different first language? I found that absolutely astounding.
Indonesia is a vast and expansive country, made up of over 17,500 islands. I knew before embarking on my exchange that Indonesia has hundreds of different ethnic groups, languages, and dialects spoken, but I didn’t expect to find and experience this amount of diversity within one island, let alone in a city only two hours away! As I mentioned, the local language of my host city is Sundanese, with unique cultural elements evident in the food, entertainment, music, art, family roles, customs and traditions. A pride in Sundanese culture has shaped the city, which can be easily seen in everyday life. Traffic signs, advertisements, and the names of restaurants and streets around town can be seen written in the traditional alphabet called Aksara Sunda. When walking around town or attending an event, it’s typical to see people dressed in traditional clothing and to hear tunes played on traditional instruments.
I’ve learned an incredible amount about Sundanese culture. After becoming aware of the range of diversity in Indonesia, I feel more inspired to share, teach, and pass on the knowledge I’ve been taught about the culture of my host community, just one of many rich cultures here. This sharing also gives me the opportunity to learn, and listen to the perspectives of others.
I’m always trying to find new opportunities to learn more about other cultures in Indonesia. Whether it be attending a wedding in a different town, learning vocabulary in a different local language, or asking my friends who live on a different island to share something about their culture with me, I always strive to gain new, diverse experiences. I’ve learned not to be shy and to ask questions, and I’ve noticed that many people have appreciated my curiosity to learn about their heritage and to hear their stories. There is so much to learn about Indonesian culture, and I’m eager to continue learning about it!