CLS Week 9: Kembali Lagi (Return Again)

My watch stopped during my last week in-country with CLS Indonesia, and the quiet but constant reminder that my seconds in Indonesia were quickly counting down ceased.  I had been praying to the universe to slow down, to give me just a little more time in the country I had called home for three years, to have just a few more moments to reconnect.  The universe responded, though perhaps not in the way I might have anticipated.

The last week of CLS was a whirlwind of activity: if I had thought we were on the run for the first seven weeks, I had no idea just how crazy life could get.

Our UAS (ujian akhir semester or final exam) was on the Monday of our last week, and while it certainly had it’s challenging points, I found it to be a an overall positive experience, as I was able to see just how much I learned in a few short weeks: even after three years of informally picking up the language, such an exam would have been absolutely impossible for me before CLS, but after all of the intensive learning we were able to participate in, I found most of it rather clear and simple, and there was certainly a feeling of accomplishment in that.


I actually have a recording of my presentation (without subtitles, sorry!) which you can watch here.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on presentasi akhir (final presentations).  My own was on kain tenun (traditional weaving) from across Indonesia.  This not only gave me a chance to talk about fabric (as someone who crochets when at home in the States and who was probably more excited about batik class than anything other part of CLS, fabrics are kind of my favorite thing), but it also provided me a platform on which to talk about cultures outside of Java.  As CLS Indonesia is in Malang, East Java, much of the cultural learning that we did alongside our language learning focused on Javanese culture.  In many ways I wholeheartedly setuju with this approach, as I do feel it is important to learn about budaya lokal (local culture), wherever one might be, but at the same time I had noticed that many mahasiswa CLS (CLS students) were beginning to conflate Javanese culture with Indonesian culture.  As someone privileged to have not only traveled to many places across the Indonesian archipelago but also spend a year living outside of Java, I felt it was in many ways my tangung jawab (responsibility) to talk about something non-Java related, and so I chose fabrics as a way to do so.  I was terribly nervous for my presentation (as I always am when I have to speak in front of anyone other than my own students), but I managed to get through it without stumbling too much, and even was able to include pantun (a type of short traditional poetry) at the beginning and end of my presentation, something that was well-received by the Indonesians in the crowd.

Alongside of our final presentations, we also had to write a final paper on the same topic.  As my listening and speaking skills were much stronger than my reading and writing skills coming into CLS, I was much more nervous about this esai (essay) than I was the presentation.  But with a lot of hard work and some editing sessions with my guru-guru (teachers), I was able to complete an over 2000-word essay.  Considering I had not written anything longer than an email in Indonesian prior to CLS, and considering I didn’t know a single word in this language four years ago, printing off that essay was one of the best feelings I have had in my academic career.

In addition to my formal CLS Presentation, I also presented on Fulbright opportunities for both my fellow CLS students, as well as the Indonesian staff.  The Fulbright commission in Indonesia usually is able to send someone from the office in order to do so, but this year they were not able to.  As I spent two years teaching with the Fulbright ETA Program and a year working directly with the commission, I felt comfortable delivering this same presentation in their stead.  It was certainly a bit of a surreal moment, as all of my various experiences in Indonesia collided together, but I was very glad to get that information out to as many people as possible.  I have benefited greatly from my time with Fulbright, and I would love for more people to have the same opportunity.


Presenting on Batik.

Thursday was the closing ceremony for CLS, and it was with this that the goodbyes began.  The formal penutupan (closing ceremony) was in the afternoon, and it included performances from all of the kelas elektif (elective classes).  All of our batik pieces were on display, and it was the first time that I got to see the piece that I designed myself: peta dunia (a map of the world).  I was given a batik map of Indonesia my first year in Indonesia, and ever since I have wanted a world map to match, so when we were given the option to create our own piece, I jumped at the chance. included several traditional batik motifs, to represent the many budaya across the globe, as well as the bunga sepatu (hibiscus) motif, which when used in batik is a symbol for peace.  I won’t say that my piece was sempurna (perfect), by any means, but I was still quite bangga (proud) of the way it turned out.

The dance class also performed, which was certainly an adventure.  We were done up in somewhat-traditional dress, complete with costumes and hair and makeup, which was certainly a lot of fun.  I will admit that I was far more gugup (nervous) for this dance performance than I was for any other part of finals week, but it was over in a flash and it was (of course) not the train wreck so many of us were convinced it would be.  Though I don’t know that I will be signing up for any dance classes in the near future, I am glad that I went out of my zona nyaman (comfort zone) to give this a try during my CLS summer.

(I actually acquired a recording of the dance performance, which can be watched here.)

More fun than performing, of course, was getting to see all of the other elective classes perform.  There was gamelan (a traditional instrument found on Java and in Bali), pencat silat (a traditional martial art), dangdut (a type of Javanese pop-esque music), and kuliner (cooking).  Everyone did a wonderful job, and I hope they are all bangga of all the hard work that they put in throughout the summer.

Following the formal penutupan, to which all of the host families were invited and friends could attend (some of my own students even came to watch me perform), there was a second penutupan, set up by the tutors, teachers, and staff of CLS.  There was music, a drama performed by all of the tutors (not to brag, but one of my own tutors was the female lead), and a compilation film of all our adventures together put together by the documentation team that had us all in tears.  We as mahasiswa also had the opportunity to recognize all of the CLS staff and present them with small gifts that we had put together for them. While we might see our tutors and teachers far more often, the fact is that nothing would jadi (happen) if we did not have the help of all of the staff, and it felt good to recognize all of the hard work they do.  Similar to the fourth of July celebration, the night ended in fireworks and dance, and it was a beautiful way to close the program.


Lining up for a race.

We did have one last day in Indonesia before we flew back to the States, and as it happened that was Hari Merdeka (Independence Day).  I spent the morning trying my hand at permainan tujuan (Independence Day Games) alongside some of the other college students who live in my kos (boarding house).  It was a great way to spend some time with my host family before leaving, and it was also just a lot of fun.

I spent the evening hanging out at the building where we study with my tutors and some other folks I’ve gotten close to throughout the program, drinking wedang uwuh (wedang means drink in Javanese, and uwuh means trash; the drink gets its name from the fact that there are so many different spices inside it), which is my favorite wedang, and just chatting.  It was a quiet last night in Indonesia, but I learned during my time with Fulbright that that is my favorite way to end these experiences: surrounded by close friends, partaking in something completely mundane for Indonesia, but which I won’t be able to do once I am back in the States.

Then on Saturday morning we all met at Universitas Negri Malang (Malang Public University) one last time, to board a bus together to go to the airport.  Before we left, all of the teachers, tutors, and staff lined up and we each individually said goodbye to them all.  Even though I have experienced leaving Indonesia before, and I knew this was coming (I actually bought a pack of tissues for the occasion, and went around handing them to everyone who needed them), it was still an emotional roller coaster.

And with that we were gone, and it was on to new/old things.  After a long perjalanan (trip) back to the US and a brief three days at home on the farm, I returned to Stony Brook, Long Island, where I will be finishing up the last year of my Master’s degree in TESOL.  I had a mere week between arriving back in the States and the beginning of the new semester, which was long enough for me to get over jet lag, but not enough time to reflect fully on everything I learned throughout the whirlwind two months that was CLS Indonesia.

This I do know: this will not be the end.  When I left Indonesia in July of 2017, after three years of living and working there, I was worried that it might be a long time before I was able to visit again.  That I was able to return so quickly after leaving gives me confidence that it will not be long before I return again, and I also feel confident that I will be in touch with the lovely folks (both American and Indonesian) that I have met through this program.  CLS is just the newest chapter in my ever-expanding relationship with Indonesia, and I can’t wait to see where the plot goes next.

I have a new battery in my watch, and I am no longer afraid of the tick: it just means I am that much closer to whatever adventure is around the corner.



The woman on the left is the wonderful Bu De.

Person of the Week:  Speaking of behind-the-scenes people that could easily be missed, the person of the week is Ibu De.  She is technically the pembantu (maid) in my kos, but in many ways she feels like my actual host mom.  My host parents frequently work outside of the city, as my host dad works for the Indonesian government and my host mom is a professor and also in charge of developing the new national Indonesian textbooks for middle schools.  So often it is just myself and Bu De in the house.  She sits with me during every meal I eat at home, and is the one who knows the most about my successes and failures within the CLS Program.  She holds a very special place in my heart, and I hope that I will get to see her again.


Word of the Week: This week’s word of the week is pulang (to go home).  The joy of having spent so much time in Indonesia at this point is that I am not sure if my pulang occured at the beginning or at the end of CLS.  The answer is probably both.  And both is beautiful.



CLS Weeks 7 and 8: Trying and Failing and Succeeding and Learning

When I predicted that CLS would continue to be jam-packed with learning, I was not salah (wrong).

5994df73-6a87-4748-ac46-0382a7c19bceThese past two weeks (the last “normal” weeks in the program before we move into our week of finals and closing ceremonies), have positively flown by. Class has really begun to get fun now that we have covered most of the key grammar points, and we even got to dabble in some  poetry this week.  The highlight, though, was a drama we put on as a class and performed for a few of the other classes.  It was ridiculous and insane and even though I hate performing for a crowd it ended up being so much fun because it was done alongside my classmates, who are some of my favorite people in CLS.

IMG_5611I also got to experience a particular kind of sukses (success) this past week as far as my language learning goes: I was published in the local koran (newspaper)!  Our teachers had everyone in my class write short articles on the topic of our choice and submit them to the local newspaper as a way to practice out written language in an authentic way, and I wrote mine on our batik class, since that is always the highlight of my week.  Writing is what makes me most nervous in Indonesian, as I have really never written in Indonesian prior to the CLS Program, so it was really neat to see my own writing in print.

But if getting my article published was a highlight, a lowlight was my Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI).  All CLS participants have to complete an OPI towards the end of their program; it is essentially an interview over the phone testing your spoken proficiency in the target language.  What is cool about the OPI is that we will all receive an official score and certificate because we have participated in this interview.  What is not so cool is that we have to take it very late at night (because the test givers are calling from the U.S.), and as the connection on a call from the U.S. to Indonesia is not the best (making it very hard to understand everything the interviewer is saying).  We also took a pre-OPI exam before beginning with CLS, and I feel very confident that I performed better on this most recent exam than I did my first, so even if I was not being tested under the best of circumstances, I do believe that I will show some signs of improvement from one test to another, and that is enough for me.

Elective classes continued to be challenging and fun.  Things are starting to get more complex in dance class, which is both intimidating and exciting, and in batik I actually got to start designing my own batik piece!

I also got to meet up with a bunch of past students over the course of these past two weeks, which was possibly the highlight of the past two months in Malang.  I met up with some students from SMAN 10 (my Malang school) at the alun-alun (town square), which was not only wonderful because I got to catch up with them and chat about life post graduation, as they both graduated in 2016, but also because the students I met with were actually from two different campuses from that school, and so I was able to introduce them for the first time too.  I was also finally able to meet up with my students from Gorontalo who are going to be starting university in Malang very soon.  I wasn’t able to visit Gorontalo while I in Indonesia this time, something which makes me quite sedih (sad), as Gorontalo is one of my homes in this country, so being able to connect with some folks from Gorontalo, especially from my school, filled my heart in a way that I believe nothing else could.

Two weekends ago we had our final Saturday class excursion, which this time focused on Topeng.  Topeng are traditional masks made only in Malang, and there is even tarian topeng, a traditional dance from Malang which incorporates the masks into the performance.  We learned about the history of topeng, watched a beautiful dance performance, and even got a chance to paint our own topeng.  The mask-making place which we visited was a little outside of the city, tucked back into the trees atop a hill, and spending the morning painting out masks and breathing the cool air was a peaceful and wonderful way to end our class excursions.

0f498bca-2f1d-441a-bfd4-40cc224687b3During our final full weekend in Malang, a group of mahasiswa CLS visited Gunung Bromo (Bromo Mountain), a volcano outside of Malang.  I did not have the chance to visit Bromo while I lived in Malang before, though I did have the opportunity to see a few other mountains, and I have always been told that I missed out, so I was determined to find time to go while I was in Malang again this summer.  Going to Bromo means leaving the city around midnight in order to catch the morning sunrise, and we left the same evening that I took my OPI, so I was worried that I would be too exhausted (both physically and mentally) to really enjoy the trip.  But Bromo was spectacular, and no amount of exhaustion could take away from that.  We watched the sunrise from a mountain nearby called Bukit Cinta (Love Hill), and seeing the sunrays dance across the sea of fog surrounding the crater below us was one of the most magical sights I think I will ever see.  After breakfast on top of Bukit Cintai we were able to go down to Bromo itself and climb up the crater, and I have to say there is nothing quite like standing next to an active volcano.  All in all Bromo was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in Indonesia (and I have had my fair share of those), and I am so grateful that I finally had my chance to go.

Our time with CLS is quickly drawing to a close, and I am already bracing myself for the goodbyes.  But I know that there will be plenty more adventures during our final days, and I can’t wait to see what this next week brings.


Word of the week: This week’s word of the week is luar biasa (extraordinary).  I have uttered this word so many times in the past week, as this experience, for all that it has both ups and downs, has truly been luar biasa.


Persons of the week: As CLS is quickly approaching its end, I am thinking about all the people I will miss when this is all over.  And some of the people I will miss the most will 100% be Kelas Manggis (Mangosteen Class).  I am one of four students in the class, and we have three fabulous teachers who try to help us navigate the twists and turns of a foreign grammar.  I spend a minimum of 20 hours with these folks every week, and I am never bored of them.  They are funny and supportive and clever and kind, and I feel so lucky to be in the same class as them.  (Also, we totally got matching t-shirts.  Do please be jealous.)

CLS Week 5 and 6: Quick Visits, Rice Paddies, and Badminton Games

In these past two weeks, I feel that I have finally begun to adjust to using formal Indonesian, and most of the Indonesian that I used to know before returning to the U.S. seems to have returned.  I still make silly mistakes quite regularly, such as calling the koran (newspaper) a kurban (grave), but as I tend to do the same in my native language, I am not too worried.  Formal Bahasa Indonesia has also started to come more readily to me, and I am not forever dropping all of my imbuhan (affixes), which is certainly encouraging.  I still slip into my informal habits sometimes, especially when I am nervous, but learning does not come right away, and if there is one thing that I learned during my three years living in Indonesia before, it is that I just need to be patient with myself, and all things come with time.  I even managed to survive my mid-term exam without being too gugup (nervous), which was accomplishment enough in my book.

Elective classes continue to be a lot of fun.  Though I am always exhausted for Kelas Menari after our weekend trips, I do appreciate the exercise and the challenge of trying something very new.  I won’t pretend that I don’t on occasion find myself merasakan frustasi  (feeling frustrated), as it is extremely sulit (difficult) to remember all of the positions for the various parts of my body (the only dancing I have really done prior to this is line dancing, for which I only needed to concerned with my feet), but I am always able to convince myself to semangat (keep spirit) and try again.  Batik continues to be my favorite elective, as I find the simple act of applying warm wax or bright colors to fabric to be exactly the kind of relaxing creative-but-repetitive movement that I need by Wednesday.  We added colors to our batik tulis pieces during our second meeting, and then we got to try our hand at batik cap (stamp batik) during our third meeting.  Our hands were stained for a week after making the batik cap, but we had so much fun.


Though the schedule during the week remains packed, I have managed to continue to have some fun during tutorials.  On of the highlight was going to Kampung Warna-Warni (Colorful Village) with my tutors and several other CLS students and their tutors.  This is a kampung that I used to pass quite regularly when I taught in Malang, but at that time it was just an ordinary kampung.  Since then, a university student took on the project of painting some of the houses’ rooftops, and the project was so well received that a company which makes house paint funded an expansion of the project.  Many of the streets have different themes, but they are all colorful and fun, and though I didn’t sit down with any of the residents of Kampung Warna-Warni, from what I have heard from other Malang residents it has benefitted them economically and they are proud that their community has become a local tourist destination.  Kampung-kampung are usually looked down upon by people who live in cities, as they are often alongside the river and the residents are usually much less wealthy than those who live in the surrounding areas, and in my optimism I hope that Kampung Warna-Warni will change some of that.

I also learned during these past few weeks that many of the teachers and staff of CLS main bulu tangkis (play badminton) every Thursday, and I have started joining in.  My first year in Indonesia I also played badminton quite regularly, and it was actually one of the places where I learned the most Indonesian, and so it feels so appropriate that I am now getting back into it as I am part of an Indonesian language-learning program.  The exercise relieves much of the stress that comes with being part of an intensive summer program, and the shouts of “Mantap!” (Awesome!) and “Bagus!” (Great!) that folks so cheerfully shout out as the shuttlecock is smashed back and forth bring forth my most genuine of smiles.

The past two weekends have also been particularly eventful.  The first was our one free weekend, in which we did not have any Saturday excursions.  I took advantage of this free time to go to Jakarta, where I lived and worked from 2016-17, right before I returned to the U.S. for graduate school.  My weekend was a whirlwind of visiting friends whom I have not seen in about a year, and though I might have only been able to see them fleetingly, getting to catch up and speak with them in real time made flying out for a mere weekend 100% worth it.

The second weekend was spent in Blitar as part of our second weekend-long CLS trip.  The ultimate destination was the grave of Soekarno, the first president of Indonesia.  It was an austere place filled to the brim with nationalism, but also strangely peaceful, with the fountains leading to the grave itself and the quiet rows of pictures depicting the various stages of Soekarno’s life.  But as interesting as Soekarno’s grave was, it was the rest of the Blitar trip that I loved.  We bounced around from fisheries to fruit orchards to candi (temples) to coffee plantations, and I felt right at home walking alongside sawah (rice paddies) and kebun jagung (corn fields).  No matter what language you are communicating in, there is an underlying language of farming in which I will always be most fluent, and I relish the chance to wrap my smile around familiar concepts like crop rotation and animal husbandry.

CLS has been a fast-paced adventure, and it shows no signs of slowing down.  In some ways, I have already done more in the first half of this program than I did in a full nine months in Malang as an ETA, and I am fully prepared for the second half of the program to continue along at a break-neck speed.  But even as I am sometimes overwhelmed, I am always learning, and as that is what I wanted out of this program, I am grateful for it all.

Persons of the Week:  Each CLS Indonesia student was assigned a pair of tutors in order to practice Indonesian outside of class and to have help for homework assignments and class projects.  My tutors are Mbak Bela and Mbak Viva, and they are 100% two of my favorite people in this program.  Mbak Bela is studying to be an Indonesian teacher, and Mbak Viva to be an English teacher, and so as three teachers we always have plenty to talk about, but even if we didn’t have that I think we would get along just fine.  They are sabar (patient) when explaining more complex points of Indonesian tata bahasa (grammar), they crack jokes like they were born to do so, and they a simply some of the most santai (relaxed) and lovely people to be around on a regular basis.  It was probably only by chance that we ended up together, but I am so glad that we did.

Word of the Week: This weeks “word” of the week is actually an example of a peribahasa (proverb) in Indonesian, which I learned this week: Tak ada gading yang tak retak (There is no elephant tusk that is not cracked).  It is essentially the Indonesian equivalent of “Nobody’s perfect,” and it is a message that I have really been trying to take to heart in these past two weeks.  I have always been a bit of a perfectionist, but I may have done myself in a little during the first few weeks of this program as I attempted to cover all of my course work, connect with folks I knew before, and also be fully engaged in the social aspects of the CLS program.  But all of that is two much for one person, and I was slowly but surely destroying myself.  I have accepted now that I might not always submit my best work, and might sometimes need to pass up an impromptu excursion with friends for the chance to go home and rest.  I am still engaging, and I am still learning, but I am also learning (slowly) to take care of myself.  It is a process, and I don’t have it down just yet, but hey, tak ada gading yang tak retak, right?


CLS Week 4: Finding the Fun in Language Learning

The first two weeks of classes were a little bit on the sulit (difficult) side for me, but this past week as been so much more enjoyable.  Classes are still a lot of work, and the schedule is a bit harrowing, but since I began feeling better and felt more able to settle into this new routine, I have felt my spirits lift, and this week has floated by with the same happy buoyancy.


Yes, this actually happened.  

Classes have continued to be both challenging and interesting.  We spent a fair amount of time this week on various tata bahasa (grammar) that by this point I sort of know how to use instinctively, because they are necessary in both formal and informal, but never fully understood.  It was fun to have a fuller list of them than just what I knew from my own limited vocabulary, and one of my lovely teachers is going to help me develop an even fuller list of one which piqued my interest because I have a working theory that something quite phonologically interesting is going on with that daftar kata-kata (list of words).  (I can’t tell you how thankful I am that they are so tolerant of my endless questions that are very clearly not motivated by pure language learning, but rather my fascination with all the fun linguistic things that happen in Bahasa Indonesia.)


Trying my hand at batik.

This week not only did I continue with my menari (dance) elective class, but my batik elective class finally began as well!  I have a mild obsession with the many wonderful kain (fabrics) of Indonesia, as anyone who has seen my wardrobe knows, and batik is definitely one of my favorites.  I have wanted to learn how to make it for years now, and finally, through CLS, I get my chance to try my hand at it!  We spent the first class tracing over a pre-drawn traditional motif with malam (“wax” or “paraffin,” but also the word for night, which I really like), using a canting, a traditional too used for applying the wax to the fabric.  It was certainly challenging; there is actually a tradition of saying that women who make batik make the best istri (wives), because they have to be so sabar (patient).  I had a lot of fun joking about this throughout class, and I was also pleased to see that I was beginning to get the knack of batik by the end of our first session.  We will add color to our fabric next week, and I cannot wait!


Dog cafe!  

Because I was no longer rushing home every day to rest away my illness, I was able to have some fun with my tutor time as well.  We went to several cafes together, including a dog café, which was possibly the most enjoyable place I have ever mengerjakan P.R. (done my H.W.—P.R. is short for pekerjaan rumah, or literally home work).

image_6483441 (2)

Considering I haven’t painted since early high school… I’ll take it!   

We took another class trip this week, this time to Batu, a small neighboring city that is famous for it’s agritourism.  We got to explore kebun jambu (guava orchards), memetik jeruk (pick oranges), and eat raw sayur-sayuran (vegetables), a rare treat in a country where most vegetables are stir fried or boiled.  Following our morning at the orchards and adjacent farm, we visited a local artist whose paintings act as criticism of the interaction between the “modern” era and traditional practices, influence from foreign powers, among other topics.  The paintings were compelling, and I wish more people had a chance to see them.  After touring his studio, the artist, Pak Slamat, provided us with some painting supplies and canvases, and we spent the afternoon working on our own lukisan-lukisan (paintings).  I won’t say that mine was genius, but it was still a really enjoyable afternoon.  After lunch all of the classes visted Coban Rondo, a beautiful waterfall I have actually had the privilege of visiting once before.  One of our assignments over the weekend was to make a vlog about our time in Batu, and you can watch it here.  (It’s all in Bahasa Indonesia, and I did not subtitle it, but I feel like it’s still fun to watch.  Plus you get to meet Mbak Lo, one of the people in my class, and she’s awesome!)

In many ways CLS feels like a language-learning summer camp, complete with games and weekend trips.  It sometimes feels a bit strange to be in Indonesia and not working at an actual job, as that is what I have always done before, but I have decided that maybe my best approach to these next few weeks is to embrace all of this.  Of course, this is not to say that I am not working hard as well (those many hours of P.R. each night are not to be laughed at), but I am overjoyed that learning Indonesian, something that I always had to work into an already packed schedule, is my only real task here, and the various outings and cultural classes are simply wonderful.  I’m channeling my inner Mary Poppins, finding the fun, and loving my time with CLS thus far.


Food of the Week: Rujak.  Rujak is a type of food served with a sauce that is both spicy and sweet (a combination I wish America did more of).  There are many different versions, but my favorite is the fruit version, which we were served while we were in Batu this weekend.  The fresh fruit, the spicy and sweet sauce… it was all perfect.


Word of the Week: Bekas Pacar.  I would promise that not all of my words of the week will be related to dating, but as these seem to always be the most amusing words, I’m going to aim towards not making a pembohong (liar) of myself.  But earlier this week we learned the word bekas, which means “leftovers.”  (If you are wondering why I never learned this in the three years I lived in Indonesia, it is clearly because you have never been fed by an Indonesian mother.)  Our guru-guru (teachers) did not hesitate to inform us that another, less-polite way of referring to your mantan (ex) is bekas pacar, or “boyfriend/girlfriend leftovers.”  We’ve been having fun with this phrase ever since.




Person(s) of the Week:  Murid-muridku.  (My students.)  As I was headed to buy batik with some of my fellow mahasiswa CLS the other day, I heard someone call out “Miss Grace!”  Much to my surprise, I had run into a group of my past students from Gorontalo!  While I anticipate being able to see some of my students from Malang when I have time a bit later, I never imagined I would be able to meet up with my students from Gorontalo, as it is so far away.  But it turns out several of them are kulia (going to university) in Malang.  We have plans to see one another in the next few weeks, and I could not be more excited.


CLS Week 2 and 3: Welcome to CLS’s Newest Attraction: The Roller Coaster  

I love roller coasters.   I love their fast pace, the thrill of not knowing which way my body will be thrown next, and even the way I am entirely unsure as to which way is up at the end of the ride.

But I also like to take a break after a few rides.

Though I know Indonesia is probably one of the most unpredictable places on the planet, every time I visit again I convince myself that this time I’ll have everything in hand and be able to handle whatever it throws at me this round.

I’m always wrong.

Classes started two weeks ago, and they have been a healthy challenge.  Because I am in the second highest level, I am expected to speak formal Indonesian throughout class, and this has proven difficult, as I am still trying to remember the informal Indonesian I once knew.  Though I have made opportunities for myself to practice Indonesian while I was in grad school this past year, but most of those conversations have been about food and, well, mostly food.  I do have the ability to talk about more serious topics using informal Indonesian, but I need to wait for those words to return to me.  I remember more and more setiap hari (each day), but it has taken some time for it to come back.  Objectively I know that I just need to be patient with myself, but with more and more formal Indonesian being expected of me each day, the pressure is real, as are my stress levels.


Guess which one is me?  

I also managed to get sick the first week of classes, and it wasn’t until today that I actually started feeling better (about a week and a half after I first fell ill, for context) which hasn’t made anything easier.  Everyone in my host family was sakit flu (sick with some kind of flu-like illness), and so it was only a matter of time.  If I wasn’t already tired from the long days of classes and other activities (CLS really knows how to create a packed schedule), not sleeping due to an inability to breathe certainly didn’t help the situation.  I took my first weekly test feverish and almost totally out of it and had to leave my second test halfway through because I was feeling too dizzy to concentrate (we have weekly exams every Friday), which did not make the experience all that pleasant, but I dawned my masker (mask) like a true Indonesian and pushed through as best I could.

After the first week of classes there was a weekend trip to the Kebun Teh Wonosari Wonosari Tea Plantations, where we practiced our Indonesian through interviewing pemetik teh (tea pickers) and visiting the pabrik teh (tea factory).  I love tea, and I have loved learning about different kinds of food processing since I spent a year learning about the process of making different dairy products as part of the Junior Dairy Leader Program in high school, so I really enjoyed the trip.  I was still feeling pretty darn weak, so I wasn’t able to join all of the permainan Bahasa (language games) that we played in the afternoon, but I was at least able to watch from the sidelines.  This cohort has a wonderfully fun personality, and it was so much fun to see that in action, even if only from the sidelines.

During our second week of classes our Monday kelas elektif (elective classes) started.  My Monday elective class is tarian (dance), and we are learning a traditional dance from Banyuwangi, a city on the far end of Java, just across the water from Bali.  I was briefly enrolled in ballet when I was in kindergarten but have not really had anything to do with dance since then, so I was a bit nervous about the class.  But our teacher is sangat sabar (very patient), and so much of my nerves have been waved away.  I definitely struggled through the class just because I was feeling quite


Killing ond of the pemainan behasa.  Photo credit to a fellow CLS member, Mas Eden.  

Wednesday our other kelas elektif should have started (I will be taking batik, which I am very excited about, so stay tuned), but as it was the American Independence Day there was a celebration in its place.  We played permainan Bahasa before the celebration began, and this time I was able to participate a little, because I was beginning to get my lungs back.  That evening there were performances by the mahasiswa (students) of CLS as well as their guru-guru (teachers) and tutors.  We each sang one another’s national anthems, several folks sang, danced, or even played the cello, and even I was roped into teaching everyone the Cupid Shuffle.  The night ended with fireworks and a dance party, and it was by far the most memorable July 4th I have ever had.

Just two days after this amazing celebration, however, the entire CLS cohort learned that Pak Widodo, one of the leaders of the program, had passed away.  He was a sweet man, and though I had only had a few conversations with him, I was sad to think of not seeing him at lunch every day, helping students to practice their Indonesian.  Someone close to me also passed away the week before in America, and so another death was difficult news to process.  The entire CLS family went to his home together to visit the family, as is tradition in Java, and this solidarity was somehow quite heartwarming, even though it was still sad.

This Saturday Kelas Manggis (Class Mangosteen, my class), had a fieldtrip alongside Kelas Durian (the class above us) to various religious sites in and near Malang.  Our first stop was Masjid Tiben (Tiben Mosque), a beautiful mosque not far outside of Malang.  It is rumored that this mosque was built in one night because its initial construction happened so fast, but in truth all of its construction is done by the santri pesantren (a pesantren is a type of private Islamic school, and santri is the special name for students who attend such a school).  The mosque is still currently being built, and so the students work on it every morning, and study in the afternoon and evening.  The building is stunning, and I wish we had had more time to explore.

We also visited Kelenteng Eng Ang Kiong (Eng Ang Kiong Temple), a temple within the city limits.  This temple does triple the work of your average temple in Indonesia, as it serves the Confucianist, Tao, and Buddhists populations nearby.  This temple was actually along my route into the city of Malang from where I lived as a first-year ETA, and so I passed by several times and even stopped to look inside once.  But this was the first time I had entered with a guide, and so it was exciting to learn more about this place that was in some ways so familiar.

The highs are high and the lows are low when you’re on the other side of the world.  In the past two weeks, I have found myself hiding in a toilet jongkok (squat toilet) cubicle taking a moment to just cry about how impossible formal affixes are when you can barely focus on sitting at your desk, and I have also smiled my most genuine smiles in the best of moments, both big and small (and in truth, those small moments might just be more powerful than the big; as I was finishing up this blog on the balcony just now, one of the other people who live in my boarding house came home, and I got to sit and chat with her a bit, and it was one of the nicest moments I have had in Malang thus far).

Roller coasters are never a smooth ride.  That’s just not how they work.  But even if I might experience a little bit of whiplash, and sometimes feel a bit queasy after a few rides, this doesn’t deter me from getting back on.  Despite any discomfort I might feel along the way, the ride is worth it.



A whole delicious wheelbarrow of unprocessed tea leaves.

Food of the Week: Teh Hitam.  Menurutku (in my opinion) the teh (tea) in Indonesia is paling enak (the most delicious).  I both drank and ate a fair amount while CLS visited the Kebun Teh Wonosari this past weekend, and it both soothed my sore throat and fed my soul.


Word of the Week: Bercinta.  This is not a word I will likely need any time soon, but it comes with a funny story.  We were learning about the prefix Ber- at one point in class, and one of the uses of this prefix is to express the idea of feeling an emotion (so bersedih means to feel sad). Cinta is the Indonesian word for love, and so I asked if bercinta was an option.  All the teachers immediately tertawa (laughed), and so I knew right away that I had said something a little off.  Ternyata (turns out), bercinta does not mean to feel love, but rather to make love.  It’s a good thing I made this mistake in class and not out on the streets of Malang!


Person(s) of the Week:  There have been a couple of mahasiswa CLS who have also fallen victim to various illnesses in first two weeks of class, but folks are doing the best they can to fight off their colds, stomach issues, and other illnesses and have been still coming to class and CLS activities when I think many other people would have given in and stayed in bed.  I know may of them probably don’t feel this way (it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re feeling ill anywhere, but I think that it’s especially hard in a place so different from the States, like Indonesia), but they are all rock stars, and we are all routing for a quick recovery.


CLS Week 1: (Re)Orienting Myself, (Re)Discovering Balance

The past week has been an absolute blur of activity.  I arrived in D.C. for pre-departure orientation just a week ago, where I met the cohort of wonderful American university students I will be sharing this CLS experience with.  Some have been to Indonesia before, while others have never stepped foot in the country before this program.  All are brilliant, positive people who I am excited to get to know better.

After a very long perjalanan (trip) to the other side of the world, we finally arrived in Malang, where we will stay for the next two months.  After resting in a hotel for a night, we were loaded onto a bus and taken to Universities Negri Malang (UM), where there was a beautiful opening ceremony (welcoming dances will never get old, and I had forgotten how much I loved MCs in Indonesia).  That day we took our placement tests (we will learn which classes we will be in on Monday), met our language partners (each CLS participant is assigned two native speakers with whom they can practice outside of class), and were then sent off to our host families.  I was quite pusing (dizzy) by the end of it all, but my senyum (smile) never left my face.


Some of my cohort members overlooking the city of Malang.

As all of this happened on Friday, we were then free for the weekend.  My time was divided amongst CLS participants, my two lovely tutors, my new host family, and some friends whom I met while I was an ETA in Malang.  And thus, this new adventure began.  Through it all, it is the idea of balance that has stuck with me most of all.


Living in Indonesia has always been a balancing act for me.  Trying to balance the needs of hundreds of students while also my own need to engage with my community outside of school was always difficult for me as an ETA.  Trying to balance time spent in the moment with new people, while also reserving time for friends and family in the U.S. and other places was always tricky as I moved to different areas of the archipelago over the course of the past few years.  Harder still was adjusting to continually shifting newness with the flexibility and adaptability encouraged of those who go abroad, while also staying steadfast in whoever it was that I believed I was as a person.

Coming back to my first home in Indonesia, where so much began for me, has led me to reflect yet again on the balancing I have attempted in the past, and also made me think carefully about what is to come.  This summer will require a new kind of balance, but one which is not dissimilar from the balancing act I have already become accustomed to.

I will, firstly, need to balance all of my various tugas (tasks) set by my program and myself.  I will be studying Indonesian intensively, taking two extracurricular culture classes (we will decide on our topics during this first week of classes), trying to maintain this blog, and somehow also reading two books and a few articles to prepare for my upcoming semester at Stony Brook.  But that’s the easy part.

IMG_3900 (1)

Meeting up with friends and taking bad selfies… yup, I am back in Malang.  

I will also need to find a way to balance the various lives I have had and will create here in Malang.  There is a whole cohort to get to know, as well as all of the tutors, and my host keluarga (family) of course.  But I also have many teman (friends) from my time as an ETA whom I would like to reconnect with while I am here. Trying to balance time with everyone, while still leaving enough time for sufficient studying… is a challenge I am not sure I will immediately conquer, but one I feel so blessed to have been handed.


I head forth tomorrow with a backpack full of language-learning tools, a smile on my face, and my hands stretched out to each side, hands and heart open to whatever comes my way.  One foot, then the other.  Let the balancing begin.


Food of the Week: Bubur Ayam.  This is a rice pudding covered in chicken and broth, which you can flavor to your own taste using kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and sambal (basically crushed chillis, which you put on basically everything here), and served with krupuk (a sort of cracker).  Bubur and I had a bit of a rough start.  I was first introduced to it when I was sick with typhoid my first year as an ETA, and so I hated it for the longest of time.  But eventually I stopped associating it with illness, and learned that it is enak sekali (very delicious).  While at Car Free Day (also known by it’s initialism CFD, during which one of the main roads in Malang is shut down so that people can jalan-jalan or exercise), I had some with my tutors, and it was wonderful.


Word of the Week: As classes have not started yet, I will return again to a word I already know: semangat.  This is absolutely my favorite word in Indonesian, and it means something along the lines of “Keep spirit!” or “Fighting!” as you might hear from Korean speakers.  As I go into this first week of classes, and am very unsure as to how I will balance everything, semangat will be the mantra I hold near and dear.




Two Fulbright alumni… taking on CLS.   

Person(s) of the Week:  Shout out to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) alumni who were unexpectedly a part of this past week.  I was able to meet up with an ETA friend from my very first year in Indonesia (which, if anyone can believe it, began almost four years ago) who now lives in D.C., and it was wonderful to catch up, and also to reminisce about our own first time heading to Indonesia, after my spending all day with many people about to do the same.  I also learned, just a week before the program started, that one of the ETAs from my second year would actually be in the program with me, which was really exciting to find out: it’s been lovely to catch up with her, and I can’t wait to share this new experience together.



CLS Week 0: Re-Defining Home

Okay, I need to finish the slide I have about your getting the CLS scholarship, Grace.  Where is home for you?” 

“Jen, that is a loaded question.” 

This conversation was had with the Stony Brook external fellowships advisor (a.k.a. the lady who knows everything about scholarships and is also a hilarious human… seriously, she rocks), but it is one I have had more frequently than I care to actually keep track of.  It’s one of the first questions you ask someone when you meet for the first time: “Where are you from?”  Which has always seemed to mean, “Where is home?” For many of the folks that I’ve met, it’s a defining feature of who they are.

I have lived in fourteen different cities/towns/whatevers (municipalities? maybe?) throughout my life, and in three different countries.  I have lived in apartments in major metropolitan cities, and on farms where you could holler to your hearts content and the neighbors would probably never hear you.  I speak a version of English that is some kind of weird mix of Central New York and various parts of Rural Pennsylvania, and sometimes even that jumble of words fails and I can only express ideas in my second language.  I can drive a tractor, and a motorbike, but undergrounds are still probably my favorite form of transportation.

So where is home?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.  They say home is where the heart is, but my heart remains in so many little places around this great world I’ve been lucky enough to travel in: in the hot, sticky classrooms where I taught in Indonesia; on the top of the hill that overlooks my family’s farm in Central New York; in room 15 of the National Gallery in London; on the balcony of the apartment where I lived for both my junior and senior years at Ithaca, in the shade of the walnut tree on the farm my family rented in Southeast Pennsylvania; among the trees on the probably-not-an-actual-trail that I found behind my apartment in Stony Brook.  They’ve all shaped who I am, and they all feel a whole lot like what I expect home is supposed to mean.

There is a fabulous TedTalk by Taiye Selasi (who, by the way, is an amazing novelist whom I 100% recommend) called “Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, Ask Where I’m a Local,” and what she has to say resonates with me on many levels, especially towards the end of her speech, when she says:

The myth of national identity and the vocabulary of coming from confuses us into placing ourselves into mutually exclusive categories. In fact, all of us are multi — multi-local, multi-layered. To begin our conversations with an acknowledgement of this complexity brings us closer together, I think, not further apart.

Though I may not be “originally” from, well, pretty much anywhere, I have managed to become some kind of local in a whole lot of places.  And I’ve decided to take that one step further, and just go ahead and call all those places home.

In the past few weeks, this has meant that I have had a fair number of consecutive homecomings.  I returned from a wedding in Virginia, walked into the crowded apartment I share with five other girls in Stony Brook, put down my bags, and gave a sigh of relief.  Home.

Less then a week later I boarded a train out of New York City to head back into Central New York.  As the scenery changed and the fields started to look awfully familiar, I set down my crocheting and just smiled out the window.  Home. 

I just finished packing my bags for a third time in just as many weeks, this time in preparation for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in Indonesia, a two-month program I will be participating in this summer.  And with this packing comes another homecoming, as CLS Indonesia is located in Malang, the same city I taught in during my first year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.  Home.

Yes, I will be going for a different purpose (I will be studying Indonesian instead of teaching English), and with a different group of people (it was just my site mates and I when I first when to Malang—this time, I’ll have a whole cohort with me), and I won’t be in exactly the same place (I lived on one of my school’s campus’s before, which was actually just outside of Malang, and this time I’ll be living basically in the heart of the city).  And yet, there is something about this trip that feels like going home.

And so here I go… until I eventually return to my other homes again.


Food of the Week:  If there is one thing everyone I know who returns to Indonesia gets really excited about, it’s getting to eat Indonesian food again.  I don’t feel I did a good enough job highlighting the amazing foods of Indonesia when I was with Fulbright, and so I’m going to do so here each week while I’m in CLS.

For now, though, I’m going to give a shout-out to farm-fresh milk.  And farm-fresh eggs.  And farm-fresh, well, pretty much farm-fresh anything.  I was food spoiled growing up, y’all.


Word of the Week:  Since I am going to be in Indonesia on a language-learning program, I thought it would be neat to share at least one favorite word each week.  Since the program hasn’t started yet, we’ll go back to one of my favorite words that I learned during my first year as an ETA: betah, which means to feel at home.


Person(s) of the Week: As cool as food and words are (especially words), I’ve always found it’s the people that make any experience what it is, so be prepared for some heart-eye-emoji goodness in this section here.  This week, my people of the week are all the folks I got to catch up with during my ever so brief visit home.  I love y’all.  And for those I didn’t get to see this time around: I’ll catch ya later.  The homecomings never stop.