Ramil Mercado is an alumnus of the 2020 CLS Indonesian virtual institute hosted by Universitas Negeri Malang in Malang, Indonesia. He’s a recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in political science and Asian studies and minored in Southeast Asian studies.
Getting to Know Ramil
I come from a multicultural and multilingual family. My father is Latino with roots from Puerto Rico and Mexico, and my mother is from the Philippines. Because of this, I grew up in a household where English, Tagalog, and Spanish were heard under the same roof. Additionally, I am a “military brat,” as my father served in the Marine Corps for 30 years. Although I call Oceanside, California my home as I spent the vast majority of my life there, I was fortunate to also live in Florida and Illinois for various periods and as such, was able to interact with so many different communities from around the US and the world.
My upbringing undoubtedly defined who I am, as it made me curious about the world and the people around me. My hobbies reflect that curiosity, the most notable being language learning. I am proficient in four (English, Tagalog, Spanish, and Indonesian), and I have studied seven others to various degrees (Mandarin, French, Italian, Catalan, Japanese, Arabic, and Turkish). I have also been fortunate to be a guest in over 50 countries in my lifetime, often solo, in order to learn as much as I can from interacting with and befriending people from the place that I am visiting.
I was curious to learn Indonesian to compare it with Tagalog, which is in the same language family. I started learning the language the semester before I studied abroad in Singapore, as I planned to visit Indonesia while there. Furthermore, knowing that the language was similar to Malay, I planned to use my language skills in Malaysia and Brunei.
Studying in Southeast Asia, my passion for the language and region grew tremendously. I learned so much about the history, the politics and the people who live in the countries listed above, in addition to those of Timor-Leste. I made connections with people and was able to read historical documents and accounts that I would not have been able to do without the language. My semester abroad inspired me to dedicate my focus and research on the Malay Archipelago and further the connections I established there.
Indonesian, in many ways, reflects the history of the land that it comes from. It has elements of Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, and many others combining in a single Austronesian language that is used across one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia and the world. Because of this, my favorite word is “dunia,” which means “world.” This word reflects the many worlds that the Indonesian language holds, as it comes from Arabic, a language originating far from the Malay Archipelago that has profoundly influenced Indonesian. Learning Indonesian is an experience of a lifetime, and so I wholeheartedly recommend this language to anyone who wants to access the past, present, and future of the Malay Archipelago alongside more than 200 million speakers in the region today.
I intend to go to graduate school to obtain an MA in International Affairs in order to further my studies in Insular Southeast Asia, specifically in Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Timor-Leste. While in graduate school, I will use Indonesian to communicate with peers across the Malay Archipelago. I want research in and about this region of the world, and knowing Indonesian will allow me to access documents, institutions, and most importantly, people who speak the language. Professionally, I intend to work in diplomacy and become a Foreign Service Officer for the US Department of State, using my language skills to serve in Southeast Asia.
I volunteered to be the Master of Ceremonies for the closing ceremony of CLS Indonesian, where I spoke completely in Indonesian for the entire event. This was significant to me because it reflected how much I grew in seven weeks, not only linguistically, but also personally. In the beginning of the program, I struggled to make a sentence, and was not confident with speaking. I even wondered whether I was in the right class.
Through countless hours of patience, encouragement, and dedication from my teachers, language partners, and classmates, I was able to find the strength to do something far outside of my comfort zone. I had never been an MC in English, let alone another language! This newfound confidence is something that I will carry with me throughout all of my endeavors in the future. Being an MC and expressing my gratitude for my teachers, my language partner, my cohort, and the staff at Universitas Negeri Malang in Indonesian was the proverbial cherry on top of my amazing journey with CLS, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity of a lifetime.
A Word to Future Scholars
No matter if the program is in person or virtual, the language gains you make alongside the bonds you create with your classmates, teachers, and language partners in this short amount of time are amazing. Furthermore, while you learn so much of the language in an intensive manner, you also learn so much about yourself. In my experience, being in this setting allowed me to channel strengths that I never accessed before.
May 10, 2021