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"Step Ahead, Beyond Access!", Access Microscholarship Program in Banda Aceh

The muffled sounds of their enthusiastic scribbling were contrasted by the booming questions coming over the PA system.

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Ryan Shuterland 

Ryan Sutherland

This article is written by an American living in Banda Aceh. He is currently studying Bahasa Indonesia at Unsyiah. We are going to publish the article in two versions, either English and bahasa.

SERAMBINEWS.COM - Colorful balloons and streamers lined the walls. Beneath the harsh fluorescent lights, a sea of students clad in matching hijab and crisp new batiks were lost in concentration.

The muffled sounds of their enthusiastic scribbling were contrasted by the booming questions coming over the PA system. Where did Jackie go last night? What did Dan look like? What was Theresa’s favorite food? In this auditorium in Universitas Ar-Raniry in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, these students were taking their final English examination as part of the English Access Microscholarship Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Today was their graduation day. As the last students finished their examinations, friends and family began to trickle into the room. Some students hugged each other. Others were crying. A large banner with the slogan “Step Ahead, Beyond Access!” hung at the front of the auditorium. A projector beamed photographs up on the wall: a camping trip, a food drive, a dance performance.

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foto (IST)

Since 2004, the Access Microscholarship program has provided access to English education to more that 95,000 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in over 85 countries worldwide. But more than merely helping underprivileged students gain a better understanding of the English language, this program serves to enhance their leadership abilities, teach valuable public speaking and professional skills, and expose them to American culture and values.

“We really value this program,” said Juha Petri Salim, a representative of the U.S. Consulate in Medan who attended the ceremony. “It has strengthened the partnerships between participating countries and the United States government. Students will be able to use the skills they’ve gained in the Access program to benefit themselves, their families, and their countries.”

This had certainly been no easy feat. Many of the students enrolled in the Access Aceh program worked long hours to support their families in addition to their educational responsibilities. Others were from distant villages and spent hours in public transportation just to attend weekly Access classes. All of them were eager to learn. 

“By being able to communicate in English, these students have opened the door to future international opportunities, specifically in the United States. They indirectly have become ambassadors of the U.S. government,” said Dr. T. Zulfikar, the Director of the English Department at Universitas Ar-Raniry.

Students were recruited based on their expressed interest in learning English and economic marginality. Those who desired to pursue a teaching career in English were given preference. “When we recruit students for this program, we do not factor in their English abilities. A lot of the students start with very little English. Over the course of the program, their biggest improvements are in their speaking skills, confidence, and cultural awareness,” said Santi Budi Lestari, an academic coordinator with the Access Microscholarship Program.

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