I like to think of myself as a learner. There are so many things I have yet to learn. General knowledge to others is sometimes completely new to me. Imagine growing up in a small village in Indonesia with no books, no libraries, and no electricity. I learnt how to read, write, and count but never saw a “fraction” till I was 13 years old – as a first year in junior high school. 

I grew up speaking three languages, Makassar (Mum’s language), Bugis (Dad’s language), and Bahasa Indonesia (the national language). As a child, Dad would sometimes laugh at me for mixing up my words. The lack of formal Makassar and Bugis lessons at school fortunately did not hinder me from improving my incoherent speaking skills. I can proudly now say that I am proficient in all three languages. 

I come from humble beginnings. My family was what one would consider both economically and demographically disadvantaged. We didn’t have a steady water supply, and tap water and water tanks were foreign concepts. Every weekend, my siblings and I would walk 3-4 km to a neighbouring village’s well with the week’s dirty laundry wrapped in a sarong (Indonesian cloak). We would hand wash our clothes and wait for them to dry before heading back home in the afternoon. Every night, we would wake up to scavenge for water. The limited number of freshwater wells in our village meant that we had to collect water past midnight, when less people – competition – were around. Bad drainage and living across a river meant that we experienced flash flooding every rainy season. 

My father was a primary school teacher with a very low salary. Meanwhile Mum was a full-time housewife (she didn’t even finish primary school). I have four brothers and four sisters. We lived in a place that one could barely call a house – plywood walls on earthen floors and a tin roof. I shared a double bed with four of my siblings. In the mornings, I often found myself on the floor (never my siblings, always me) with my hair covered in sand. Nevertheless, I never complained. I would immediately get up and skip down to the river to clean my hair. 

In my mind, I was never all that disadvantaged. I grew up in an environment full of happiness. I would swim in the river with my friends, never worrying about what lurked in the dirty waters. At the age of 12, I graduated from two schools simultaneously, my morning public school and my afternoon religious school (madrasah). I had plenty of exercise as a child. In addition to swimming every morning and afternoon, I had to walk 12 km to get to my high school. I didn’t have a water bottle, lunch box, or any pocket money. While it meant I had no food at school, it also meant that I didn’t eat unhealthy street food. I didn’t have any textbooks but I learnt what I could from what my teachers said. 

Albeit having been faced with many disadvantages, I believe that I have been blessed with just as many advantages in life. I grew up in a happy, humble, honest, and poor yet resilient family. I was extremely lucky to have received scholarships to fund my bachelor, masters, and doctoral degree. I encountered many challenges and made plenty of mistakes throughout my degree, but I also managed to overcome them. I see the titles that I have received (S.Pd., M.Pd., Ph.D), not as trophies for my educational achievements, but instead as evidence of being a true learner. Reflecting back on my learning journey, I believe that being a true learner means to not be afraid to face new challenges, make mi