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LECTURER’S PROFILE: ACHMAD MUNJID, Ph.D. (Full Interview)

[Greetings and brief introduction about the Bulletin Board to the interviewee] 

IN: So, the interview will be around English major. The first question is, can you tell us a bit about your education background and life experiences?

AM: I first got in English Literature UGM in the 1990s. At that time, the name of the faculty was “Faculty of Literature”. And due to the fact that I grew up in the village, my intention to get into English Literature was so that I could speak English and become an English teacher. So, that was my early motivation. taking English literature as my major, learning the English language, so that I will be able to get a job as a teacher or teaching as a tutor or in courses.

AM: But after getting into English literature, I learned that not only did we have to learn the English language, but also, just like the name, literature, there were various things. In the beginning, I was asking ‘why study poetry? Why study drama? Why learn novels?’. But I went with the flow. And at the end, I had to read a lot. From that reading, I then knew the importance of literature, the use of studying literature, etc. From then on I became more interested and my dream of getting a job as an English teacher slowly changed. I didn’t only read a lot of literary works, but I also wrote. I wrote short stories, poetries, literary criticisms, etc. From that point onwards, the dream moved and changed. So the dream about quickly getting a job was abandoned. Have you read the chapter that I wrote for a book titled ‘Menjadi Gadjah Mada’? 

IN: Not yet, Pak.

AM: If you want, the chapter that I wrote can be used for reference. I wrote quite detailed there. But the point is, in the past in the Faculty of Literature, there used to be a lot of discussion forums about literature and culture so that students with the various interests could channel their interests by being actively involved in the discussion forums. Those who liked literature would join the literary discussion forums. Those who liked cultural analysis would join the discussion forums which discussed culture. Politics, etc, there were a lot of those small groups. And the discussions were very intensive. There were ones that took place once a week. There were even students who would hang out for hours in the canteen just for those discussions, outside of class, including the lecturers. So there was a community, an environment that supported it, so that students with the passion could broaden their knowledge. There were partners for discussion, mentors. I felt that I learnt a lot from those forums. So that was how I started. I got into English literature, then I read a lot, then my passion changed, I joined discussion forums, I was involved there, including the theaters, etc.

IN: What about your further education, Pak, your master’s and doctoral degree? Can you tell us a bit about that?

AM: I received a Fulbright scholarship for my master’s degree in Religious Studies in America. The Fulbright scholarship is a scholarship given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in America until now. Every year it’s available for anyone. They will be selected and if passes they will be sent to the country. In the past, I took Religious Studies with the scholarship. Why Religious Studies? Because since I was small, my family has been religious. So after graduating from English Literature, I took a master’s degree in CRCS in Studi Agama dan Lintas Budaya in Postgraduate UGM. From then on, I met a few foreign lecturers because the program that I joined in CRCS is pioneered by Temple University. I continued my habit of discussion. So besides the discussion in class, I visited the lecturers’ houses or their offices if I had questions or curiosities. From there, there were a few lecturers who saw potential in me to be sent to America. They then made recommendation letters and I applied using that. I was interviewed and I passed and then I left for America. After arriving, because the previous scholarship was for a master’s degree, I needed another scholarship in order to continue with my study. The lecturers that helped me before helped me again to look for a doctoral scholarship. I got a master’s and doctoral degree at the same university, which is Temple University, before finally graduating and coming back to Indonesia. 

IN: Was [the doctoral degree] in the same major, Religious Studies?

AM: Yes.

IN: I see. Alright, next question, maybe the new students are still asking, what is the difference between the English Literature in UGM and other universities from a lecturer’s point of view?

AM: The ones who can see the differences are the students. For me, though, the differences or similarities aren’t really important. A campus becomes interesting because of its good academic climate for learning. So there are experts that can attract students. For instance, I wanted to get into Temple University because there were experts in that university that relates to my passion. Before that, I got into UGM in literature because there were experts from there that stood out and made influences, like Umar Kayam, Bakdi Soemanto, Professor Faruq, etc. That’s what becomes a magnet, an appeal. However, I don’t really know about other universities. But I think a university should be able to provide an academic climate for better learning in each field practiced by the students. So for me, it was because when I entered English literature there were lecturers with expertise and authority for certain fields. [But] you have to be the one to define the difference between the English literature in UGM and other universities. Maybe on the surface, the English literature in, for example, Sanata Dharma University leans more towards teaching the English language. So, if you want to learn English as a teacher, Sanata Dharma University is the right college to go, because it used to be an institution for teacher’s training and education which aims to produce English teachers. If we are talking about the difference between the universities based on that, then the English Literature here in UGM should be better in its study of literature, or in its theoretical studies both in literature and linguistics since we specialize in pure studies unlike other universities like UNY which [specialization] is applied studies. 

IN: Two more questions, Pak. About the chance of studying abroad and taking a different major for a master’s degree. What do you think about that?

AM: Every field in bachelor’s degree that isn’t applied studies is designed for its graduates to be able to continue to the next level of study. Those who would want to work are actually the ones that have to have other skills. Since the beginning, there is always a fat chance for our English major students to continue their study abroad. Every year, there is always a graduate who gets accepted for a master’s or doctoral degree with various scholarships. This month, your senior that I once supervised, is going to Glasgow, Scotland. He received a scholarship in Children’s Literature. Last year, one student also left for Australia, another student I supervised. He had received a scholarship for Media Studies. There were also a few students every year before that. This year, there are perhaps more than two students leaving to continue with their study. So the point is, if we master the basic skills of English, it is an important asset. For continuing abroad, our capability of English should be great, which means studying in English Literature is a plus. But apart from that, what study do we have a passion for to make our study more specific? For example, children’s literature or cultural study and media. So not only should we be able to speak English well, but we should also have an interest so that after graduating there is a field of academic study to continue in. As long as an English major student is able to master the basics of English added with a certain academic interest, their chance of continuing their study for a master’s degree abroad is great. The key is to study diligently, read a lot, and practice one’s English.

IN: Should the major be in the study of literature or not, Pak?

AM: No, the major should depend on your passion. Just because you are a graduate of the English literature major, it doesn’t mean you should take the exact same major for your further education. It should be your choice, your passion. Just like when I took Religious Studies. People might think it doesn’t make sense, but I grew up in that. So during the study in English Literature, we have a chance to explore our passion so that after we graduate we can take a major relating to that, so we don’t have to start from zero again. On the other hand, if after a few years of studying in English Literature it turns out that your passion is different, then it’s not a problem.

IN: Alright, pak. For the last question, what is your message for the new students?

AM: For all the new students, welcome to the world of college. So, entering college from high school means entering adulthood from being a teenager. Every time a student enters college, they will have more freedom as well as bigger responsibility. Because of that, every student must be able to take advantage of their freedom responsibly by studying more seriously, reading more books, building good relationships with other people and making new friends, so that the time spent (say four years) can be used optimally. Make [yourself] students who have a more open insight, practice their skills, meet new friends and people, [make] their visions for the future more clear, and be sensitive to the problems in the society, and if possible, contribute by finding a solution, etc. College is not the time anymore for students to study by being asked, or demanded. College students are humans with freedom, passion, and responsibility.

The interview was conducted by Bhakti Adzani via WhatsApp call and transcripted by Shafira Ainun D.



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