Just Another Day In Indonesia…

One Year Reflections, Part One [The People]

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This is the big one, the post reflecting on (more than) one year in Indonesia. I arrived last April 4th to a country that was strange and exciting. I remember my big concerns were 1) mosquitoes, 2) hot weather, 3) spicy food, 4) making friends, 5) missing my family and friends (not necessarily in that order). After one year I can say that none of these are a big concern now! It’s certainly hot but I’ve adjusted. I continue to miss my family and friends (more on that later) but I’ve established a sense of home here and I’ve made new friends (volunteers and Indonesians alike!) and I’ve found a new family in my lovely host family and a “keluarga besar” (“big family” – their phrase, but I agree wholeheartedly) in my school community. The months have flown by, despite some days where the hours drag on, and now it’s time to take a step back and reflect.

I’ve been at site for ten (eleven?) months now and I’m busier than ever. My weekly activities include teaching Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On Wednesdays I lesson plan with my three counterparts and occasionally I have MGMPs which is a meeting with all the English teachers to collaborate and share ideas. I was hoping for MGMPs to be a steady weekly activity but second semester in Indonesia is just crazy and there have been so many class cancellations and irregular days that this hasn’t happened. We’ll keep trying. On Fridays I don’t go to school (yay!) but I keep busy with an afternoon les for elementary school kiddos. Wednesdays are my new speaking les for my high schoolers that I mentioned in my previous post. Thursdays are English Club after school. Saturdays I have my own language class with my amazing tutor, Seno, who was quickly become one of my closest friends at site (more on this later). Sundays are free from weekly commitments but I usually find plenty of things to keep me busy – including doing my laundry and cleaning my room. When you add my responsibilities for VAC and planning iGLOW to the list, it’s easy to see how I fill my time. (But keep in mind that most weeks have canceled days so I haven’t had a full week with all these activities in at least a month!)

Most of these activities are enjoyable and energize me, especially when my cps and I teach a good lesson or when I get to do activities with my students. Lesson planning is not so invigorating but it’s really important for sustainability and I’m blessed to have cps who are motivated, hard-working, and patient with me. Currently, my favorite activity is my new speaking les. I really enjoy hearing my students share more of their opinions, ideas, and experiences. I’m also glad to have a chance to gently correct some common mistakes. They’re eager to learn and they’re fun to be around. I always think of them as my adik-adik (little siblings) more than my students. As I spend time with my students (in speaking les, English club, Friday les, and during our random activities like cooking together) and read their English journals I realize that the single most important part of my service has been developing relationships with these students. They are so bright and creative and inquisitive. They trust me too, and they ask for advice on everything. It reminds me of my days of being a PA (resident advisor for you non-SPUers) when I oversaw an all freshman floor and I got all sorts of questions. Besides the obvious English questions, my students ask me for advice on how to grow taller like an American, how to eat a healthy diet, how to study effectively, how to forgive their friends who hurt them, how to make new friends, how to be more independent from their parents (but also respectful), how to mange their time, how to deal with a teacher they dislike, and how to increase their self-confidence…and don’t even get me started on the relationship advice! They aren’t afraid to ask questions about my experience on everything from relationships to drinking alcohol to balancing work and school commitments. Sometimes I don’t know how to answer them. A few weeks ago I got the question, “Miss, what is the opposite of a virgin?” In a culture that is quite conservative and highly religious, I’m amazed and impressed by the openness with which my students approach some of these topics (three cheers for my brave students!). I’m glad that I’m a safe person for my students to talk to, and I don’t take the responsibility lightly. Of course I have to be careful with my responses to make sure they are culturally appropriate and respectful but I think I’ve done ok so far (knock on wood). Overall, I’m just really honored to have my students open up to me and let me into their lives. It’s a gift.

On the home front, I absolutely love my host family. This is the perfect situation for me. Before I moved to site I was really worried that this wouldn’t be a good fit. I wanted a big host family with younger children. Instead my form said there was a host mother and father in their sixties and a son in his thirties. I was afraid I would lonely and maybe my host brother would be a creep. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First of all, my host family has three more adult children, two of whom are married with kids of their own. One, Bu Udin, is pregnant so there will be a new baby in the family in June! I’m excited. Secondly, my host brother is great and not a creep at all. On the contrary, he deserves an award for dropping me off at the train station at 4 AM on countless occasions, picking me up from said train station at 2 AM once, and picking up my friends from the bus/train every time they come to visit. And finally, my house is the neighborhood hub. Many of the neighbors are relatives but even the ones who aren’t come and go freely. The neighborhood kids love hanging out here and most of them come for extra lessons from my host sister Bu Nova, my ibu, or me. I think this situation is unique, even for Indonesia. I’ve visited other volunteers and I’ve been to many houses of Indonesian friends and counterparts and my house is one of the most open and inviting places of all the ones I’ve been to. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love spending time with people at my house. I make a point to talk with my ibu every day, sometimes at dinner, sometimes sitting on the porch in the afternoon, and fill her in on whatever is going on. I think this has really helped my language skills and it makes me feel that much more comfortable here. And there’s something wonderful about just sitting on the porch and chatting. I want this to always be part of my life. I’ve also discovered that my host family knows basically everything so they are excellent resources if I have any questions or need anything. And the icing on the cake is that they are willing to try whatever concoction I whip up in the kitchen, which is more than I can say about most of my other Indonesian acquaintances!

Speaking of language skills, I have a wonderful tutor who I meet with most Saturdays. Seno is a college student in her sixth semester studying English (the same age as my brother). She’s probably more fluent in English than anyone I know here (especially because she is still studying the language daily) and I thought that might be a barrier to me really learning bahasa Indonesia when we met together. Sometimes I do slip into just using English but I think it’s helped a lot to be able to explain things in more than one language. More importantly, Seno has become one of my closest friends. We talk about anything and everything during our meetings. Seno is passionate about many things I’m passionate about, including justice and equality and women’s issues and teaching students well and asking good questions. If I need advice, I ask Seno what she would do. If I need to vent, I tell her what’s going on (and try to explain it in bahasa Indonesia). Seno also helps me with my Friday les and she’s great with kids. She will be an excellent teacher someday. Besides language class, sometimes we just hang out and that’s wonderful. Seno is really my only friend who is close to my age at site and I miss interacting with my peers so my Saturday afternoon class has quickly become one of my favorite times of the week.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. While many relationships have been blossoming, some have been rocky. Without going into too much detail on a public blog, I’ve had more trouble working with older Indonesians, especially the ones who are in positions of power or authority due to age or position. These people are always treated with deference and respect and when I am frustrated with one of their decisions, I’m unsure how to handle this in a culturally respectable manner. My rebellious streak always comes out, the part of me that says “I won’t obey unless I agree and think this rule is reasonable!” When I work hard for something and someone in authority vetoes it I immediately want to fight back. These are the days when I feel most American and most different from people around me. The good news is that I’ve seen growth in these areas. Honestly, I just needed an attitude change plus heaps of patience and kindness.

And then there’s the relationships I’m missing…one year may have flown by but when I think about people from home I definitely feel like it’s been a long time. I miss my family like a constant dull ache. I think of them all the time and I’ve been lucky to be able to use skype, email, and phone calls to stay in touch. But missing birthdays and holidays and spring breaks and plays/recitals and more is still hard. The truth is, I’ve always been close with my family and I never went more than two or three months without seeing them until now. I have some friends who have been constant and steady in communicating with me. They are my supports. But the reality is most people aren’t as good with long-distance communication and everyone is busy, including me. Really crappy internet and a 14 hour time difference doesn’t help. I haven’t talked to most of my friends since January or earlier. I miss them a lot. I even have vivid dreams where we’re hanging out, and, when I wake, I’m always sad to realize it was only a dream. I’m coming home in less than ONE MONTH, and, oddly enough, that’s made me miss people more. Maybe it’s because I can practically count down the days until I see them again. It’s a reality now, not just a long and distant future hope.

When I focus on what I am doing here, I am so content. I’m very glad to be a PCV. Overall, I love life in Indonesia. I’ve developed beautiful relationships with my host family, my coworkers, my students and more…I’m glad I have another year to spend with them. But when I think about home I realize that it is a sacrifice being here. I am giving up time I could spend with people at home. At the end of day, my world has expanded. I’ve set down roots in twojkjnk places. I have a rich life here in Indonesia, though I simultaneously miss my former life in Portland and Seattle. But it’s worth it. I’ve been stretched and changed and I’m looking forward to another year of crazy, new experiences before I head off into the great unknown post-Peace Corps (and that’s a hint, don’t ask me what I’m doing after PC because I have no idea!). Thank you, friends and family, for all your support. I’m able to do what I do because I have people helping me by listening to vent (especially my fellow PCVs), encouraging me, praying for me, and occasionally sending me chocolate. For my fellow ID6s, congratulations on one year! We’re doing it.


Author: Sarah

I'm Sarah and I like many things starting with the letter "S," including (but not limited to) Seattle, springtime, summer, sunshine, swimming, sunrises, surprises, and sociology. For anything else you want to know, you will have to read my blog!

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