YES Programs



Learning Curve as an Exchange Student

Azka Bastaman

Photo of Azka Bastaman by Ben Goff, Gaston Gazette

This article was originally published in The Gaston Gazette
by Amanda Memrick, Gaston Gazette
Azka Bastaman’s first trip away from home brought her nearly 10,000 miles to a different continent and culture when she left Indonesia for America.
The 17-year-old exchange student has been in the U.S. since August. She’s staying with a host family in Gastonia and is enrolled at Hunter Huss High as a senior.
“My father was an exchange student, too, from the same organization,” Bastaman said. “From him, I heard his story, and I wanted to try.”
The Youth Exchange and Study Program provides scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to a year in the U.S. The State Department administers exchange programs. Bastaman came here as a part of the Program of Academic Exchange consortium.
Indonesia has 242 million people, according to the CIA’s World Factbook online, making it the world’s most populous Muslim country. Of those, 86.1 percent are Muslim, 5.7 percent are Protestant, 3 percent are Roman Catholic and 1.8 percent are Hindu, according to a 2000 census.
The biggest difference between here and there is Indonesia’s large Muslim community, of which Bastaman is a part.
“I never met anybody that discriminated (against) me because I was Muslim,” Bastaman said.
Back home, Bastaman would celebrate Ramadan with her family. This year, she celebrated Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar where Muslims fast from sun up to sundown to strengthen their faith, by herself. It started in August and continued into September.
“The days are longer so I [had] to fast longer than in Indonesia,” Bastaman said. “The sun sets at 8 o’clock (during Ramadan). In Indonesia, it sets at 6.”
People celebrate Christmas in Indonesia, but preparing for it comes sooner here, Bastaman said, with Christmas displays cropping up during Thanksgiving.
Not like the movies
Coming to America wasn’t what Bastaman expected.
“I just saw America from movies,” Bastaman said. “Not all of America is full of people. I was surprised America’s green.”
Bastaman has been able to do some traveling to see different parts of the country. She’s been to Myrtle Beach, S.C., Rochester, N.Y., Niagara Falls, Charleston, S.C., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., as well as Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.
“I love North Carolina,” she said. “North Carolina is beautiful, and the weather is not too hot or too cold.”
Bastaman is used to the tropical climate of the southeastern Asian country. Indonesia is an archipelago — a chain of islands — between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands. Her family lives in Tangerang, a city about 12.4 miles from the capital city of Jakarta.
“This is my first time to see snow,” Bastaman said.
School days
To get more familiar with Hunter Huss, Bastaman attended the freshman orientation. It was intimidating to be at a new school at first, she said.
“Yeah, a little bit because everything is new, and I’m alone,” Bastaman said. “In my country, we show friendliness by waving hands and here you show friendliness by hugging. A simple thing, but yeah, it’s hard to adjust.”
Teachers, staff and students have helped her feel welcome in a school system different from her own. In Indonesia, schools offer the basics — math, sciences, social studies — but not additional courses like band or art. Students begin learning English in elementary school.
School days are shorter here. School begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Students get a break on Sunday, but still go to school on Saturday. In Indonesia, teachers move from room to room. Students stay put in the same room.
“It was a lot of people, and I had to move,” Bastaman said of changing classes. “You can’t stop in the hall.”
Bastaman has enjoyed taking chorus and even performed in some choral festivals. She’s also joined the Renaissance Club and Interact Club, she said. So far she’s earned straight A’s in pre-calculus, sociology, science and chorus.
‘I learned about myself’
Bastaman uses technology to talk to her family, but avoids staying in constant contact. Her father Aam is a lecturer at a college. Her mother Yola teaches high school. Her younger brother Naufal started his first year in middle school.
“I don’t want to talk to my family too much,” Bastaman said. “I don’t want to get homesick.”
Her host family, David and Lynn Dawson, are kind, Bastaman said. Lynn is from the Philippines so Bastaman’s fear about missing rice was unfounded. She’s had fun playing with their children, 9-month-old Ashley and 2½-year-old Amy.
“I didn’t know much about Indonesia prior to her coming,” David Dawson said. “We’ve learned a lot. I think she’s learning, also.”
Bastaman fields lots of questions from those curious about her home country ranging from the presence of McDonald’s to where Indonesia is located.
“Mostly Americans don’t know where Indonesia is,” Bastaman said. “Some people know Indonesia from the tsunami.”
A tsunami spawned by an earthquake swept across Indonesia on Dec. 26, 2004. Another deadly tsunami hit the country this October.
More than 300 languages are spoken in the culturally rich country, she said.
“I can’t say Indonesians are tall or have long hair or a sharp nose,” Bastaman said. “We don’t have a signature characteristic.”
When Bastaman goes back to Indonesia, she’ll have to finish one more year of school to graduate. But she’ll look back on her time here with fondness, and hopes that people here learned as much as she did.
“I just wish I can be a good representative as a Muslim, and I can introduce my country,” Bastaman said. “And maybe some of my friends will want to be an exchange student, too, and I can be a better person when I come back.
“But I didn’t just learn about America,” Bastaman said. “I learned about myself.”
You can reach Amanda Memrick at 704-869-1839.
Copyright © 2011 Freedom Communications Inc.