Scholarship sends ILR student to study Indonesian language

J. Lowell Jackson

ILR School student J. Lowell Jackson ’17 will study Bahasa Indonesian for three months this summer through the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program, an overseas language and cultural immersion program.

Jackson said he became interested in Indonesia after taking two Southeast Asia history courses with Eric Tagliacozzo, professor of history.

“These courses piqued my interest in Indonesia’s labor history and the historical underpinnings of Indonesia’s economic growth,” Jackson said.

“My main academic trajectory centers on Southeast Asian labor relations, as well as labor migration and trafficking in the region. I decided to study Bahasa Indonesian so that I could do research in-country and engage with workers firsthand.”

Jackson said Richard Fincher ’73 of the ILR School’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution also has been instrumental in developing his interest in Southeast Asian labor relations.

For two semesters, Jackson has studied Indonesian in the Department of Asian Studies with senior lecturer Jolanda Pandin, and practices what he considers his advanced beginner skills at Ngobi Yuk – the Cornell Indonesian Association’s weekly Indonesian conversation hour.

Born in the Philippines, Jackson moved to the United States when he was six and speaks Tagalog at home.

“Since Indonesian and Tagalog are both part of the Austronesian language group, I see many similarities between the two languages,” he said.

“In Indonesian, there are neither tenses nor genders, and it is written in Latin script. Hence, one can pick it up quickly. However, understanding the grammatical patterns and formal structures is more difficult.”

He continued: “I also sometimes have difficulty taking vocabulary and grammar that I can easily write and then integrating it into my speech in a fluent manner. Another problem I encounter is thinking about language study through a ‘translation’ lens – that is, thinking in English and then translating to Indonesian, rather than developing a new mindset independent of English,” he said.

The goal of the Critical Language Scholarship Program, according to the State Department, is to increase the number of Americans studying and mastering Indonesian, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

Mary Catt, MPS '14, is assistant director of communications at the ILR School.

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Joe Schwartz