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Danielle Bero ’07 discusses her Fulbright experience in Indonesia

Danielle Bero ’07 graduated in May with an A.B. degree with an individualized, interdisciplinary major in creative media and social justice. A Posse Scholar, she was the 2007 recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded to the senior who “most closely represents the Lafayette ideal.” Bero is spending the 2007-08 academic year in Indonesia through a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

I received an e-mail from Fulbright notifying me of my acceptance into the English Teaching Assistantship program in Indonesia while I was playing the new Nintendo Wii at my friends’ house. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly deferred my Teach for America acceptance and prepared to tell my friends and family. After a grueling application and the complete denial of possibility, I hadn’t even prepared myself to leave the U.S., especially New York City, and my family for 10 months.

Seven months later I was hugging my parents goodbye and boarding a two-day flight to a country I knew next to nothing about: Indonesia. I was sent there to do something simple enough, teach English to high school students and improve Indonesian/American relations and perceptions. And after giving birth to W.O.R.D.S. (Lafayette’s creative arts group) with several students, and working with the Easton youth, I had lots of ideas and creative programs to implement.

There were 32 recent graduates boarding similar flights throughout the U.S. ready to do the same thing. A few of them were easy to spot on the flight – young, alone, with a Nalgene bottle and a face full of tears. We met up in Singapore and were instantly overwhelmed. We flew to Indonesia together and had a two-week intensive training in Bandung, where we had teacher training (because none of us were formal teachers) and language introductions (because none of us spoke the language).

Then after the two weeks, we were sent to our respective sites scattered across five separate islands. Some in Pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools), some in Mohammedia (Islamic based schools), and SMA’s (public schools). I was placed in SMAN 3, North Sumatera, Medan. I was placed the farthest away from the rest of the English Teaching Assistants (ETA) and was the closest to Singapore and Banda Aceh (the area devastated by the tsunami).

Because of the conservative nature of the country, I teach in long sleeves and long pants, and in the 90 degree heat, it gets hot. I had all these great ideas for creative arts programs but as soon as I stepped foot in the classroom, I knew I had to take my time. Many of the students knew about as much English as I did Bahasa Indonesia. So I started with introductions and showed them pictures of places in the U.S., my family, friends etc., off of my laptop. I talked about my interests and got them to tell me about theirs. They begged me to rap for them and that’s when I won them over.

They opened up to me and in broken English asked me millions of questions, from wrestling, to Britney Spears, to George Bush and even about Muslims in America. I was invited to Pekaer, an Islamic convention for students during the holiday of Ramadhan, where the students sleep over at the school and have lectures and discussions.

Given 90 minutes to speak on any topic relating to Muslims, I made a PowerPoint on Malcolm X and read some poetry about Malcolm. During the questions portion they asked me about 9/11, about the Muslim presence in America, and about Palestine and Iraq. I tried to be as honest as I could but not at the expense of my own country.

They taught me about the three f’s that came from America to Indonesia and the reasons why they had negative feelings toward the United States. The three f’s were: 1. food (McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut) 2. fun (night clubs and bars) and 3. fashion (the provocative clothing). We had a long conversation about the culture of the United States and at the end they decided that not everything from the U.S. was awful and they left the session a bit more open minded.

I quickly laid down the basics with my students and got into the more creative aspects, critical thinking, and group work activities. I soon had them writing love poems using rhymes and metaphor, scary stories in honor of Halloween, and creating skits.

During the holiday season of Ramadhan, I was able to travel to visit a lot of the other ETA’s sites, small islands, and even got my certification as an open water scuba diver off the coast of Manado, Sulawesi. I attended a writing festival in Bali and won the poetry open mic competition.

A few of the other ETAs had a similar interest in drumming up the students’ creative spirits and we are in the process of starting an international W.O.R.D.S program in which students from all 32 schools participate in a creative writing competition funded by Non-Governmental Organizations, the American Indonesia Exchange Foundation (AMINEF), and corporations to supply transportation and scholarship money to winners.

In order to keep Lafayette involved and benefit my students in terms of English and American relations, I am trying to start a PenPals program with my students and interested members of the Lafayette community.

Nearly half way through the program, I can already say this experience has allowed me to grow up. I have become more patient. I have made friends with people I never would have been able to otherwise and above all I have solidified my desire to teach. I have felt the most intense homesickness and felt the most liberated. Being able to travel so much through Lafayette opportunities has certainly equipped me with the strength and knowledge to absorb into the culture. The Fulbright scholarship has reinstated my love for my country, which had been severely suffering over the past years.

After a homesick moment, one of my students, a 16-year-old devout Muslim, wrote me a poem titled “Ukhti” (means sister in Arabic) that sealed the purpose of this program for me

“Even though we can’t made you always felt comfort like your family had done
Even though we couldn’t spoke English well and always made you felt hard to understand
Even though we had the different God
Even though we had the different country
Even though we had the different culture
Even though we had many the different things
But we will try to do the best for you
Try to make you always keep smiling
Try to make you always feel comfort
And try to become your best friend

The time will be come, when I, widya, and Kharisma just can see you for the last time

The time will be come, when just farewell that we can say
The time will be come, when just the memory we had
The time will be come, when just the photo we can see
The time will be come, when possible we cant meet again till the end of life”
–Maulida Hadry Sa’adillah

While at Lafayette, Bero traveled to Namibia and South Africa for a summer, where she mentored and taught children in an informal settlement. She also spent three weeks in Guatemala through one of Lafayette’s distinctive interim-abroad courses.

Bero was program coordinator for the Landis Community Outreach Center’s Kids in the Community (KIC) program. In addition to KIC, she was involved with Landis’s Teen Moms program, Teens in the Community at Easton’s new teen center, and served as an assistant director for Pre-Orientation Service Program.

She was co-founder of Writing Organization Reaching Dynamic Students (W.O.R.D.S.) and was a member of Questioning Established Sexual Taboos, Students for Social Justice, Africans Creating African Consciousness and Interest Abroad, and Association for Black Collegians.

  • Three Seniors and an Alumna Receive Fulbright Grants
  • Danielle Bero ’07 Wins George Wharton Pepper Prize
  • Danielle Bero ’07 Lives and Learns in Namibia
  • Landis Community Outreach Center
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