Written by Yohannes Bosco Isdaryanto, SVD
Translated by Tami Sulistyo
The SVD Community in Ireland
Prior to going to study in Rome I was given the opportunity to improve my English in Ireland. It was in January 1991. The winter months are indeed downright cold in Ireland, especially for me, who comes from a tropical country. The sweaters that I brought from Indonesia didn’t help me stay warm. The cold penetrates to the bones. Moreover, the weather in Ireland is known to be somewhat odd. Within any single given day, the people said, they could have more than two seasons. Morning may be bright; suddenly it rains, then cloudy, then cold and then can be bright again. That’s what people told me about “typical Irish weather.”
The experience of living in Ireland was indeed sometimes fun, and sometimes also created stress. The first day after my arrival, for example, I had many challenges come at me all at once: having to face the cold air, eating different food than I was accustomed to; being less than fluent in English (until now I am still not fluent), staying awake in the different time zone, and meeting many new people for the first time. This was a lot to take in simultaneously!
I used to wake up in the morning in Indonesia (usually around 04.00 am, because I would be awakened by sound of the morning prayer from nearby mosques). In Ireland people wake up a bit late (in my opinion). Every day in Ireland in the morning I had to wait for about 2-3 hours before the Holy Mass because many of the community members are still asleep. For me it is too late while for others it is too early. So, during the first few days I counted the calendar: how much longer should I stay here, how soon can I go to Rome, etc. That’s the culture shock I experienced.
In Indonesia I can get what I need easily, but in Ireland it was very hard. The exchange rate of the Indonesian Rupiah is low compared to pounds sterling in Ireland. Not to mention that I often experienced misunderstanding due to language and cultural factors At our Community House in Maynooth (about an hour from Dublin), I stayed with international students who were studying at the University of St. Patrick and they were also learning English (ranging from beginners from South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc. up to a professional level who want to study at University).
There were many missionary candidates who were preparing to work in the area of Mission in Africa as well as Asia and Oceania. I met students from various backgrounds: Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa. Their English also had various accents. To understand each other we needed extra energy. My stress level was already complete at that time. Luckily I had my basic motto “reckless with confidence like people from Surabaya and ‘ndablek’ (careless)” so that even though it was difficult and stressful, I kept on going. I remained sure that the storm would surely pass. And it was correct as well, finally came the time to leave Ireland heading to Rome for further study in accordance with the task assigned to me by the Ministry of the Congregation of the SVD.
The SVD Community in Rome
Arriving in Rome in the spring of 1991, I find the atmosphere is indeed different. There are many SVD brothers from Indonesia. They are studying in various Pontifical Universities. There is a feeling of pride, but also misgivings about having to face another challenge. Another problem that arises is that our brothers and sisters in our community do not speak neither English nor Indonesian together, they speak Italian language instead. I am armed with being bold, and I started my Italian language from zero, I don’t know anything. I have to start from scratch.
Starting something from scratch is apparently also not easy. The people of Germany said that “Die Anfang immer ist schwierig” or the beginning or the start is always difficult. The food and the weather was suitable for me at the time. The beginning of spring was beautiful and the air in Rome is not as cool as the air in Ireland. It is also an advantage to have the stomach of a missionarist. It means being able to eat anything and everywhere (aka omnivour … he … he. .. he. ..).
Before school began we were given the opportunity to learn Italian language. I had the opportunity to learn Italian for about 3.5 months in the city of Perugia near Assisi. There is a special University for foreigners who want to learn Italian. Here I met again with various students. I could mention a few: the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, India, China, Korea, Palestine, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Argentina, Paraguay, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Sweden, Lebanon, Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, etc. It was a very truly beautiful experience, but also very challenging because we all learned Italian from scratch, so we are equally ignorant and equally smart as well.
From this experience I can draw one small conclusion to underline that every culture and language has limitations, but also the strengths. Some are fast language learners and some are not as fast. The same process applies to learning new things. Foreign language proficiency is also a matter of talent. My belief about time is that we can never be perfect in foreign language mastery, but it is very important that we can understand each other. The old adage says that if droplets of water that crash into rocks on a regular basis can make a hole in the rock, just think of what a human being can accomplish; they must also be able to do it provided that they studiously learn that language, and are not afraid of using it incorrectly or of making mistakes.
Completing the Italian language learning in Perugia, we returned to Rome to continue the study. I studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Pontificia Università Gregorian University). The University is old, and both the professors and the students are very international. The owner and the management of the University is the Jesuit Congregation. The days, the weeks, the months, and even the first half year really makes me stressed out. To speak in Italian was not very challenging and it didn’t seem to be an issue this time, but to understand the scientific language is really a burden for me.
The learning atmosphere was fun. The Professors were international. The lectures were generally in Italian language as the instructional language. Sometimes there were guest professors with various kinds of languages. It was engouraging, but it also forced me to study really hard. The Professor and international students sometimes caused misinterpretations in communicating. We sometimes don’t understand each other because of different language accents from each of our countries of origin. It feels a little funny when we look back at it again. During my study at the University of Gregoriana, the instructional language was Italian and my paper as well as thesis were in English. For me they are both foreign languages.
I attended college in Rome for three years. On the sidelines, in the summer, I also learned other languages such as German and French. I went to Germany to learn German and to Paris to learn French. My experience in both countries are also very interesting. Everything I did I started from scratch. I do not understand these two languages before I first set foot in these two countries. Armed with my motto and conviction to force myself to be “bold and confident,” I finally and slowly was able understand and also to speak. Learning these two languages I also learned their cultures: etiquette, ethics, how to talk, how to think and the way they eat, etc. Really, it is the experience I can not forget. Thank you for the wonderful experience that has been supplied and enriched my life.
Living in a community of people from at least 22 nations, it is a common thing that we sometimes have misunderstanding due to language, cultural factors, etc. Luckily, we generally have the same hearts, namely the international and plural heart of the SVD missionary with all the consequences. One of our mottos in our community is: “one heart many faces.”
Yohannes Bosco Isdaryanto, SVD lives di Roma, Italia.
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