Fulbright Scholarship - Alexander Lopez-Perez

Alexander Lopez-Perez

While many of you know I am currently a Fulbright grantee, I am sure that I've forgotten to inform a number of my mentors. I wanted to share this update with all of you whom I miss and value, for there have been many moments in my time here so far that I’ve thought about you, or a lesson or experience we’ve had. Truly, I am  reminded of how appreciative I am of my education on campus, the longer I've been away from it. 

I am currently an English Teaching Assistant at an Islamic Senior High School named Madrassa Allah Negeri (MAN2) in the city that stands on-top a high hill (literal translation), Bukittinggi. I live in a rather beautiful house on-campus that is a little too nice for my conscious, (it was renovated purely for my arrival). The students and staff here have known me weeks before I got off the plane in West Sumatra, as many of them have followed me and reached out to me on just about every social media platform I use (Indonesian, young and old, are some of the savviest social media users in the world; so I’ve heard.

In the past two months, I’ve spent time in Jakarta, Bogor, Sentul (Java), and Padang, Bukittingi, and Payakumbuh (Sumatera), and I have to say I’ve never experienced such brilliant hues of green and blues that accompany the archipelago dwellers, (I live in an area surrounded by mountains, valleys, and innumerable waterfalls). While I haven’t hiked or traveled as much as I’d like (my headmaster views me like son and—like any parent worried about the safety of their youngest— I have somewhat of a curfew; which I don’t mind following), I have seen some of the most beautiful waterfalls and panoramas of the night sky. I only wish I had boughten a better camera.

Rather than teaching, the first few weeks were filled with the more ambassadorial role of the ETA. I have been invited to meet officials I may never truly understand the level of their authority here and have received what at times feels like unwarranted praise and celebration, despite the fact that I had done so far nothing. (I’ve never seen so many students scream excitement at a sentence they don’t quite understand). Nonetheless, a mixture of ambition, desire for self-actualization, and a tinge of guilt, has inspired me to work and feel like I will truly earn the unique experiences I am benefiting from here (of which I will forever be grateful for).

For one thing, I am now the new Editor for the official American-Indonesian Blog Indonesiaful (under the alias cooldogwalker96). Please visit the page to read up on what my colleagues are up to on this side of the world. Secondly, I am keeping up with my own blog at medium.com, where I share the more personal journey I am experiencing during grant (please feel free to read my content there as well)!

 As for teaching, the opportunity to teach English-language learners under such unique contexts has been the most priceless gift I’m thankful for. Thanks to the connections and resources imparted to me by Fulbright, I have been working with regional English offices and embassies to provide the students and teachers resources and equipment that I hope will be utilized long after I leave. The students here are very disciplined in almost all that they do. Some take 18 classes a week, and everyone goes to school on Saturday. Most come from villages that surround the outskirts of the city, so many board in either the few dormitory buildings available on campus, or live in boarding houses somewhere in Bukittinggi. They all seem very mindful of what a high-quality education can mean for their families.

One of my biggest goal here is to make sure the work and impact here is sustainable, and that they are not dependent on me being here. In one example, I am working with my counterpart here to teach English to the faculty and staff, no matter the position they hold on-campus (it’s been a joy teaching the security officer’s eldest son during the weekends), since it’s has proven to open greater work opportunities for some of the alumni I’ve met. (Sidenote) Please check out the following blog posts about teaching English abroad. Experience by an ETA in JavaMy first post about my own experience on the subject. In addition, I have an office on campus called the English Clinic, which is meant to be a place for students to remedy their English language skills but is quickly becoming more of something like a counseling office for the students here. At such an age, its no wonder students are interested in speaking to someone closer to their age. Sometimes, there are so many questions, and not enough adults to help them discover the answers for themselves.

As for my home in Bukittinggi, I have opened it up to all students and teacher. I invite students and teachers to have lunch once a week at my home, where we often chit chat and talk about life in the U.S. and Indonesia. I have found that food has been one of the most central concerns I’m noticing in my area.

What at first started as an idea for a food-pantry soon turned to a project I’ve been working on for weeks now, The Breakfast House at MAN2. At the time of writing this email, the Breakfast House has 60 student volunteers who rotate the responsibility of waking-up and assisting in my home to provide breakfast for just about 120 students, everyday at 6:30am. Cautious in ensuring that I am sticking to my goals, I have trained student volunteers to give presentations about health, service, and community to the larger community, and have brainstormed ways in which anyone could support the cause. While I am not writing this email to ask you for involvement, I am not discouraging it. Should you have more question, please feel free to email me for more information! Frankly, I have never been as impressed by a group of students as I have been with the student volunteers here. The level of commitment the community members have shown in supporting this initiative has been inspiring.

 I will be organizing the first monthly student-run speaker series in the community in October- with the first set of five students I have been assisting in developing their presentations (think ignite-talks). I am also currently planning a 12-hour Hackathon for the students with help from a University in West Sumatra’s capital city, Padang, in December- and am in the works of organizing pen-pals for the students.

-All of this, truthfully, is possible because of the admiration I have for the teachers, mentors, and friends I’ve kept in contact or have worked with when I began hoping for a better life. From the moment when kind adults other than my parents have told me that I too will one day go to college, to the projects, courses, and organizations I’ve learned from—under professors and mentors who have shown me what a love for learning and action looks like—to the friends I’ve spent years learning together with, I can never express how much I really appreciate knowing and having worked with you.

Thank you, and I hope to continue to keep in touch with you!

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