Jason Hibono will visit his extended family in Indonesia for the first time in 20 years using funding from a national scholarship.
Hibono, a third-year psychobiology student, is one of two UCLA recipients of a grant from the Fulbright-Hays Program, which was founded in 1961 by the U.S. Department of Education to expose students to non-Western-European cultures. He received the award after taking Indonesian classes in college.
The program awards merit-based grants to U.S. K-14 pre-teachers, teachers and administrators, pre-doctoral students and postdoctoral faculty to travel abroad and learn about foreign nations.
Part of the Fulbright-Hays is an eight-week language-intensive summer program in a variety of different countries. The program’s primary goal is to internationalize American education by improving American international and foreign language expertise, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website. The UCLA recipients will join 10 other students on a program in Salatiga, Indonesia.
The program pays for transportation, Indonesian language and culture courses, as well as housing for scholarship recipients.
“I’ve never had the chance to visit my family,” Hibono said. “This will be an opportunity for me to go and rekindle that relationship.”
While being of Indonesian heritage is not a requirement for the scholarship program, the parents of both Amanda Norman, a second-year communication student who was also awarded the scholarship, and Hibono are Indonesian and they both have extended family in Indonesia.
However, it was not until college that either of them were able to formally study the Indonesian language.
“I’m really glad I started learning Indonesian in college,” Hibono said. “Just speaking English in an Indonesian household made it tough to relate to the people around me.”
Norman said she also experienced a language difference with her parents growing up.
“My parents speak Indonesian but I never really picked it up – I would (speak) English back to them,” she said.
Hibono said he did not think he would have the opportunity to travel to Indonesia because of the cost.
“For years, my parents have wanted me to go to Indonesia,” Hibono said. “I grew up low-income in San Bernardino – I never thought I’d be able to travel like this at this point in my life.”
Norman said she thinks the trip will be a good way for her to reconnect with her heritage and her extended family.
“I just thought it would be fun, and a good way to connect back to the culture,” Norman said. “All my family is there, pretty much – they already know that I’m coming and they’ve all made plans to visit me.”
Although Norman has visited Indonesia multiple times before, she said she will use this opportunity to document her trip to Indonesia.
“I plan on taking lots of pictures and maybe writing it in a blog,” Norman said. “I don’t know what to expect – it’s kind of scary but kind of exciting.”
Juliana Wijaya, a lecturer in the Asian languages and cultures department at UCLA, encouraged Norman and Hibono to apply for the scholarship.
Wijaya said the program is broken up into multiple training sessions in order to prepare participants for life in Indonesia, including one week of culture training and one week of volunteering in Bali, Indonesia.
“Indonesia is different from other countries like Singapore, in which you can find a lot of people who speak English,” Wijaya said.
Wijaya added the program is designed to help students become fluent in the Indonesian language by the end of the course.
“They have four-hour language training (sessions) in the morning, then an hour lunch break and an additional hour of language in the afternoon,” Wijaya said. “It’s a big commitment.”
Wijaya added students will learn about Indonesian culture by taking one extracurricular per week. Extracurricular activities include martial arts, a traditional cooking class, Indonesian music, a dance class and learning how to make batik, a traditional form of Indonesian clothing.
Hibono said the program will be a humbling experience because he will have to overcome cultural differences and a language barrier. He added he is excited for the program and that the trip will have a large impact on his time at UCLA.
“This is something I feel will be a pivotal point in my UCLA experience,” Hibono said. “I am extremely grateful, surprised and looking forward to this opportunity.”