From Toko Lestari to the classics in Cambridge
TEMPO.CO, The Hague – “Saya mengerti Bahasa Indonesia, dan bisa bicara juga, tapi tidak sempurna. Anniko Firman, 17, modestly said in almost unaccented Indonesian that although she speaks and understands Indonesian, it is not perfect. In addition to being fluent in Indonesian, Anniko – born and raised in The Hague to Indonesian parents Johannes and Erny Firman – learned seven languages in high school: Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Chinese and Dutch. With Latin, it was love at first sight for Anniko. Over the past three years, she has gone to great lengths to gain acceptance into the University of Cambridge in the UK, which is home to one of the best classical literature departments in the world.
Anniko’s life, only child, changed forever last year: Erny succumbed to Covid-19 in November 2020, just before his 54th birthdaye birthday. “Mom suffered from rheumatism, so she was taking heavy medication for it. But other than that, she was fine and still working hard. Anniko’s voice, generally happy and confident, was muffled when she spoke of her late mother. “We absolutely didn’t see it coming. It went so fast. “
To make matters worse, Erny was also at the heart of Toko Lestari, a small Indonesian takeout restaurant founded and run by the Firman couple for 25 years. “She is the one who suggested the recipes and cooks. “More than just a source of income, Toko Lestari was also part of the life of the family. “We have had so many repeat customers who have known me since I was little.” Johannes sold Toko Lestari shortly after his wife’s death.
The other big hurdle came from the UK: When Brexit became official last year, Cambridge’s annual tuition fees for European Union students went from € 10,000 to € 40,000. “And that excludes living expenses of around € 10,000 a year,” said Anniko, whose hopes of going to Cambridge faded late last year.
Latin and Greek are taught in the gymnasium: schools where only the top 7% of the best Dutch secondary school pupils can enter. Annika graduated this spring from Sorghvliet Gymnasium in The Hague, where Princess Amalia – the future Queen of the Netherlands – was her classmate and friend. “I loved Latin from the start. It’s such an elegant language, ”Anniko said. She feels lucky that her Latin teacher quickly spotted her genius. In his second year (out of six years), his teacher gave him a final exam to take. “I marked a ‘9’ on it.”
Academically, Anniko is indeed a rare talent. While most gymnasium students take between eight and ten subjects, she took 14. “I actually took 16, but I ended up dropping two,” she laughed. She finished with the almost unreachable final notes of eight ‘9’ and six ’10’. However, school isn’t the only thing she’s good at: she swam in national competitions and did classical ballet until the age of 14, when she broke her leg in a car accident. “Looking back, it might have been a blessing in disguise, as I had more time to focus on my studies.”
She didn’t let the painful loss of her mother stop her from pursuing her dream. “This is what mom would have wanted me to do.” Barely a month after Erny’s death, Anniko had her Cambridge entrance interview, which she passed with flying colors. And then there was the crucial point of financing his studies. “Fortunately, I have an aunt in the United States who agreed to give me a loan for tuition. But then there’s the issue of my living expenses for three years. She knew her family wouldn’t be able to afford the € 30,000 she needed for her living expenses in Cambridge over the next three years.
Then came the idea of setting up a crowdfunding effort through the GoFundMe site to help cover her living expenses. “When I started it on July 22, I thought I would be lucky to have a few thousand.” This time, the stars were on the side of Anniko: in five days, she had already received € 8,000. Then, on July 28, her story was published in the national daily Algemeen Dagblad, and donations skyrocketed. “The € 30,000 was reached in less than ten days. I could not believe it !
Anniko is grateful for the talents she was born with and the tireless support of her parents in all of her activities. “But one thing is certain: I have worked very hard for all of my achievements. Nothing came as a given. Since graduating in May, Anniko – unlike many of her fellow graduates who spend their summers on vacation – has held multiple jobs. She will continue to do so until she leaves for Cambridge in September, where she will likely be the first female student of Indonesian descent to enter Cambridge’s Department of Classical Studies. Cambridge admissions and data services office confirmed Tempo on August 9 that “there were no nominations or acceptances to the classics for the candidates from Indonesia”. At the age of 17, Anniko has yet another trait that sets her apart from most of her peers: foresight and determination. When asked what she planned to do in the future, she replied, “After doing Latin, I plan to do law. My dream is to work for one of the big law firms in London. Certainly not inaccessible, given its track record.