The journey of a wife, a mother, and a ‘cultural ambassador’ of Indonesia in the Duke University Community

Listra Lubis.
Listra Lubis.

We celebrate Indonesia Mengglobal’s anniversary every year with a special theme. This year the theme is Embracing Your Roots Beyond Borders. We would like to share an important message with our readers that although we will likely be adapting to new cultures when we live abroad, it does not mean that we need to let go of our original customs and identity. Listra Lubis’s story is an example of that spirit. For the last two years of her stay in Durham, North Carolina, Listra has done various activities to promote Indonesia and its culture to Duke University Community—where her husband, Sulis Gigih Prayogo, studied for his master’s degree.

From delivering several presentations on campus to telling a story about Indonesia at her daughter’s school, Listra shares her gratitude for having a wonderful experience as a “cultural ambassador” for her country through this article.


One of the things I noticed as an Indonesian when I first engaged with my community here in Durham, North Carolina, was that how people rarely know about Indonesia. Our other Southeast Asia neighbors, Thailand or the Philippines were more notable among them. So, I figured, maybe this is a sign, or not (note: this part is totally for a joking purpose).

Before we continue, let me tell you about how I got to live in Durham, in the first place. We moved to Durham because my husband had to do his Master’s program at Duke University. I left my job as a tax official back in Indonesia, and I turned down a promotion to be able to be with my family. We are a family of three; my husband, our 5 years old daughter, and myself.

During my first weeks in Durham, it felt to me that I was all alone. A spouse who did not know what to do in a strange land. Luckily, I found a group of people that have been and will always be an essential part of this journey, Duke International House’s Spouse group. I got involved and met the spouses of international students from all over the world. At first, I thought that we were all very nervous, did not speak English fluently, and were new to all the things around us. But we support each other until today, and I personally thank all the volunteers for arranging such a wonderful group with lots of activities for us to do.

Introducing Indonesia through several presentations

One of Duke International House activities is the English conversation session, which led me to my first presentation about Indonesia. I was nervous and worried. I felt like there are too many things to tell about my country in just an hour session. I tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. Unique characteristics that did not happen anywhere else, such as Jakarta being super quiet during the “Mudik” time or how Jakarta is very congested on a typical day.

The first presentation was a blast and led me to the second presentation asked by the International House to present among the Duke University Employees and Staffs under the event of “Brown Bag lunch.” Which is basically an hour session during lunchtime on Friday. I, of course, said yes to the invitation in no time. This time I also prepared one of the most famous Indonesian street-food; tahu isi. I did not know which took my attention the most, the presentation or the cooking, but both I prepared seriously.

Listra's took a picture at Duke Internasional House Office after delivering her first presentation about Indonesia.
Listra’s took a picture with her husband (on the left side) and friends  after delivering her first presentation about Indonesia at Duke Internasional House Office.

That event then led me to have another invitation from Duke Clinical Research Institution (DCRI). They invited me to deliver a cultural presentation in a session called “Meet your World at Duke”. They were all enthusiasts to hear and talk about Indonesia, especially with burning issues on climate change, child labor, economy, and of course, tourism. A couple of days later, I got a lovely testimonial from the audience. One thing that I noticed is the culture of showing appreciation to everything is very normal. They sent me emails, cards, and a flyer of how they enjoyed the presentation.

My last opportunity to introduce Indonesia happened at my husband’s school, Sanford of Public Policy School. This was my biggest venue of them all. My husband and I were invited to give a session at the “Sanford Meet the World,” an event to introduce people in Sanford School of Public Policy to the diversity of culture around the world. The event was also a blast, not to mention the process behind the scene. Where my husband and I debated a lot about which one to present and which not to. A couple of people’s questions were the things that I put in the presentation but then got deleted. Moral of the story, it is crucial to listen to your spouse sometime. Just kidding. That’s just a new point of view for me that I realized. We may come from the same country, but we still see our nation differently.

Listra delivered presentation about Indonesia and its culture at Sanford School of Public Policy.
Listra delivered a presentation about Indonesia and its culture at Sanford School of Public Policy.

Bahasa Indonesia in a Sunday Service at Duke University Chapel

Our family engaged with the Duke University Chapel in all our religious aspects. We went to Sunday service there, where our daughter also attended her Sunday school in Duke Chapel. Moreover, I was a member of the Duke Chapel Choir. Duke Chapel choir is one of the Nation’s largest and most active university choirs. Apparently, one of the pastors at Duke Chapel has Indonesian roots in her heritage. She was the Reverend Breanna Van Velzen, whose mother was born in Kutabumi, Lampung, Sumatera. Her mom lived there for a couple of years before they moved to the United States.

One of the most exciting experiences in the Duke Chapel was when Breana brought up the idea of doing an Indonesian-themed Sunday service to the board of Duke Chapel. This idea was granted by the board, and they conducted a Sunday service, which partially delivered in Bahasa Indonesia. The service was held on September 22nd, 2019. This might be the first time for the congregation to listen to a scripture reading in Bahasa Indonesia and to pray in Doa Bapa Kami and to listen to a song titled “Terima Kasih Tuhanku,” a famous Indonesian Christian hymn written by Jerry Tarigan Silangit. The song itself was sung by the Duke Chapel Choir. It was not hard to teach my friends in the choir to pronounce the lyrics. Because according to them, it sounded like Latin and Spanish words. The video of the Hymn can be opened here (

Listra was a member of Duke Chapel Choir (photo by Duke Chapel Choir).
Listra was a member of Duke Chapel Choir (photo by Duke Chapel Choir).

It’s a class about Indonesia!

My daughter attended her kindergarten in Durham. A couple of months ago, before this whole Covid-19 situation affected our life, I had a chance to go to my daughter’s class to do a story-telling session. I decided to tell them about Indonesia. I told them that Indonesia is a country located in the equator. Therefore, we only have two seasons all year long; rainy season and dry season where the days are mostly hot and warm. And I remember one of the kids reacted, “Wait, so you only have summer all year long and lots of beaches? It’s not fair. I wanna move there.” Yes, we have a beautiful nature that indeed will make everyone jealous. This one moment also reminds me that I have been taking Indonesia’s stunning landscape for granted all these years. Something that I really need to work with when I got back home.

Before our departure, I made a list of things that I would love to do in Durham. One of them is taking any kind of course at Duke University. Who knew, turned out, I ended up giving a class about Indonesia. It is OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Duke, who allowed me to introduce Indonesia to the member. I was introduced to the OLLI by the Duke International House. My first teaching term was in Spring 2019 around March-April 2019. I had 6 attendees at the time. It was a 6 weeks class with the curriculum of all aspects of Indonesia; history, people and land, economy, tourism and festival, and language. Although we did not have time to learn about the language that much, at least my attendees were able to say some simple sentences. That I hope will be useful if they ever made travel to Indonesia, or perhaps if they met an Indonesia people.

The second teaching term happened in the Winter of 2020, which was on January-February 2020. This time, I got 9 attendees in total, yay! Progress. There were two of them who lived in Indonesia a couple of years ago. So, we had a real testimony about the situation around the year he lived there. And how he also missed Nasi Goreng so much. Another attendee is a scientist at Duke who plans to go to Kalimantan this year to study the insect. She was there in my class to prepared and got to know more about Indonesia. This term, I made a couple of Indonesian comfort food such as nasi goreng, sate ayam, lumpia, and kue pukis for them the taste. I was glad they liked it.

Listra taught a course about Indonesia at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Duke University for two semesters.
Listra taught a course about Indonesia at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Duke University for two semesters.

At last, I just want to let all of the readers know that living abroad is not that hard. It was challenging, but if we open to new things and be flexible, we will do just fine. Be true to yourself and culture, then it willl come out naturally in your daily life. All the positive vibes of being an Indonesian will just be with you all the way. We are grateful for this journey and can not wait to eat rujak cingur Cak Majid when we return to Indonesia.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here