For the past nine years, Corban University has partnered with the government of Papua, Indonesia, to provide a Christ-centered university education to students from Papua. This easternmost island of Indonesia is rich with natural resources but struggles with high unemployment and unstable healthcare and education systems. By sending bright, dedicated students to select universities in America, the government hopes to bring back graduates with the tools, knowledge, and character to help build a stronger future for Papua.

If you were to ask Janet how she ended up moving from the easternmost island of Indonesia to a small private Christian college on the West Coast, she would say, “In a long, long, stressful way!”

Janet was in her second year of high school in Jayapura when she was told she might qualify for a government-sponsored scholarship to study in the United States. “I didn’t expect it,” she says. “I wasn’t that student who has really good grades.”

She spent a day taking exams: math, science, a writing test—“with my limited English!” Janet grimaces.

As it turned out, taking exams was the easy part. The hard part was waiting for the results and the government’s decision. A month went by. Then another. Finally, after six months, Janet learned that she’d passed.

But her journey to the States was far from over. First, she had to travel to Makassar, another city in Indonesia, to study English for a year. Then another exam, and eight more months of waiting.

“They didn’t tell us anything. I was desperate.” Janet remembers becoming physically sick from the stress of not knowing what would happen.

“When I was about to give up, the government contacted us.” She was told she’d gotten the scholarship.

Two long, stressful years after first learning about Corban, Janet finally arrived on campus, ready to grow in her faith, improve her English, and study health science.

She’d first become interested in health science in a high school biology class. It wasn’t the material itself that caught her attention—it was the way her teacher taught it.

“She was so—how do you say it?—firm. No one could bribe her. You get what you get.” Janet explained that this wasn’t the case with every teacher. “In my school, it was really easy to get a good grade from the teachers just by giving them money.” But not the biology teacher. Janet respected her for it, and she found herself enjoying the subject matter as well. “I liked science because of her.”

Janet knew her professors probably wouldn’t take bribes in college, but she worried they would give her a free pass for being an international student. She didn’t want her grades to be cushioned out of pity or because she was “still learning.” But she was pleasantly surprised to find that her professors at Corban expected the same quality of work from her as from any other student. She felt the challenge, but she also felt empowered.

Studying in a foreign language in a foreign country is one of the most difficult things Janet has ever done. Even when she knew the content, the language barrier sometimes got in the way. She remembers getting marked down on an exam because of her spelling: “I was trying to write the right answer, but I spelled it wrong.”

Certain English sounds were difficult to distinguish, and Janet remembers mixing up her v’s and f’s. One time, she remembers, “I wanted to say ‘a few things,’ and I said ‘a view things.’” And she still isn’t confident that she’s spelling or pronouncing the word “anaesthetize” correctly. (Then again, are any of us confident in that regard?)

Over the past three years, Janet has learned how to be resourceful and has adopted a handful of tools to navigate academic life: the writing lab, Google translate, and, of course, the spelling and grammar checkers on her computer. “When it’s red or blue, I’m like, okay, what did I do wrong?”

While taking classes in English is one thing, making friends and socializing in English is another. “Like the jokes,” Janet says. “Sometimes I don’t get the jokes.” But the hardest thing, she shares, is that she doesn’t know how to be angry in English.

“I can be mad, really mad, in Bahasa—I can express it—but I can’t in English.” So instead, she often chooses to be silent or brush off annoyances. Janet laughs and says, “These three years, I haven’t been mad or said anything bad to Americans!”

Although it’s frustrating not to be able to express her feelings in the way she wants, at the same time, Janet says, “It teaches me to be humble and more patient. It gives me time to think about it before I say it.”

The past three years have offered opportunities for growth in other areas as well. When she was first offered a job with Corban’s dining services, Janet was surprised. “They trust me to do things?”

She started out washing dishes but was soon given additional responsibility. Once again, she was surprised that they’d thought of her. “When my boss Jason asked me to lead as manager, I said, ‘I don’t have good English! I can’t talk with the student workers.’” But Jason assured her it would be good practice.

“Yes, it is,” she says a bit wryly. But she recognizes the value in being given a reason to talk to people. “I like when I’m forced to do it. If I try by myself, I can’t do it.” Janet shares that soon she’ll be working in the campus coffee shop as well.

While a job helped give her confidence on campus, a mission trip helped Janet step out of her comfort zone off campus. This past spring break, she went on her very first mission trip, which focused on service projects and street evangelism in the Salem area. “I was so afraid, but I pushed myself.”

She remembers meeting a man who was homeless. At first she wasn’t sure what to say, but eventually she just listened. She listened to his story about losing his wife and becoming estranged from his three daughters. “You could see his expression,” she says, and she realized how difficult his life had been. Her English didn’t have to be perfect for her to extend the gift of listening.

As Janet talks about the people she met during the mission trip, from her professor’s children to an 80-year-old woman volunteering at the foodbank, it becomes evident how much she cares about helping people. It becomes evident why she ventured 6,000 miles from home to go to school, and why she’s committed to making the 6,000-mile return trip when she graduates.

After she earns her graduate degree in Public Health, Janet plans to return to Papua and find a way to help her people. She explains that although the government is sponsoring her education, she isn’t actually required to return. However, she reflects, “We’re using our people’s money, the money that’s supposed to help with development.” She wants to make sure her country’s investment in her education is a good one.

“That’s kind of a burden,” she admits, “but it’s a good motivation to keep going with your studies—when people are depending on you for the future.”


Written by Amelia Kaspari, Staff Writer