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.

A Long, Complicated List of Love: 100 Things I Absolutely Adore and 100 Things that Endlessly Frustrate Me About Indonesia

A wonderful friend of mine, whom I met during my first grant as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Malang and later lived with when I made the move to Jakarta, kept a blog, much like my own, during her time in Indonesia.  She first found herself in the country as a Peace Corps volunteer, and it was then she wrote a post that was essentially a list entitled: “100 Things I Love About Indonesia.”  Later, when she was a Fulbright Student Researcher in Indonesia, she revisited this idea and wrote a similar list, but this time called “100 Things I Find Maddening About Indonesia.”

I loved the idea, and thought it would offer a great way to reflect on my time in Indonesia.  (Yes, this meant I was essentially shamelessly stealing her idea—I promise I got permission!)  I have thought about writing similar posts several times during my own stint in Indonesia, but the timing never seemed quite right, as the list was constantly shifting as my relationship with Indonesia grew and changed.

But now I have returned to the United States for the foreseeable future, and this post will be—if you can believe it—the 100th post I have written about my time in Indonesia[1].  It seemed the time had come.  This wasn’t an easy list to compile, as limiting myself to only 100 things that I love about the amazing country where I have spent the last three years was a nearly impossible task, and needing to be so critical as to come up with 100 (really 99) things that I strongly disliked hurt my heart a little bit.  But it did offer me a chance to revisit so many different aspects of my experience, and I am very glad that I did it.

Just a note before I begin: the nature of this list means that I do generalize quite a bit in this post, and allow myself a bit of hyperbole in some places, something I usually try to avoid in my writing about Indonesia.  Take what I say with a grain of salt, and know that it all ultimately comes from a place of love, as by this point I consider Indonesia home just as much as I do the U.S.  Also, if some of the points in this post seem petty or self-centered, it’s because I allowed myself to be.  Ultimately, this was my experience, and sometimes I am petty and self-centered.  I didn’t want to hide that here.

So, without further ado, here are “100 Things I Absolutely Adore and 100 Things that Endlessly Frustrate Me About Indonesia!”  (To make things a little easier to keep track of, I made the positive points one color and the negative points a different color.  But, if the color doesn’t show up on your device, or if you struggle with colors, just know that the first point is always the positive one, and the second is the not-so-positive.)

1. The way it smells after the rain.  This is a smell I love everywhere, but it is extra special in Indonesia.

1. Flooding.  Wading through two feet of water to get to class.  Almost missing flights because half the roads in your neighborhood can’t be driven on.  Yeah.  Not a fan. 

2. Hospitality.  I was with one of my site mates once, and we had just finished hiking a mountain.  It looked like it was going to rain, and some Ibu-Ibu (Ibu = mother or woman) living in houses near the base of the mountain insisted we come inside and drink tea to wait out the storm.  They were ready to make us stay overnight if they deemed it not safe enough for us.  The thing is, this isn’t out of the ordinary.  This is just how things go in Indonesia.  It is a whole different level of hospitality. 

2. Passive aggressiveness. If an Indonesian takes issue with something, they are unlikely to tell you straight up, but will most likely dance around the problem, insisting nothing is wrong, until you somehow magically figure out what is wrong.  (Or you don’t, and then the problem just continues to build until someone eventually explodes.)  As a blunt American farm girl who was raised to be open about issues so that a solution could be met, I hated dealing with the constant passive aggressiveness present in so many of my professional and personal relationships. 

3. Wedang.  Wedang literally means “drink” in Javanese, and the word applies to a whole array of usually hot, spiced drinks that are simply heaven on earth.  On my last night in Indonesia, I went to my favorite restaurant with a few friends, and ordered four of these drinks. 

3. That Indonesian SMS is impossible to understand.  “Gpp” means “Gapapa,” which is short for “Tidak apa apa.”  “S7” means “setujuh.”  And those are the easy ones. 

4. The many shades of green.  The green in Indonesia is simply blinding.  It defines fresh.  If defines alive.  I can’t describe it. 

4. Air pollution.  Many of the cities in Indonesia have horrible air quality.  I spent a year in Jakarta wearing masks to try to save my lungs.  I still got sick.  Frequently. 



On my first motorbike in Malang, a real game-changer for the second half of my grant.

5. Traveling by motorbike.  There is nothing more liberating that hopping on your sepeda motor (or the back of your friend’s), and knowing that you can go anywhere.  I loved riding slowly.  I loved racing down empty roads.  I loved riding in the rain.  Some days, I even enjoyed the challenge of navigating ­macet (traffic).


5. Pot holes. You may think you know what pot holes are.  Indonesia will show you that you have no idea what a pot hole can be.  Beware the jalan rusak (broken road): it is not for the faint of heart. 

6. Fresh fruit.  Rambutan.  Manggis.  Sirsak.  Nanas.  All available on the side of the road, for you to just pick up on your ride home. 

6. That I couldn’t eat salad.  It usually isn’t safe to eat vegetables without cooking them, which means that all of my vegetables were generally boiled or stir fired (and sometimes just plain fried).  My cravings for salad were uncontrollable sometimes.  I’ll admit that once or twice I took the risk and made a salad anyway.  Somehow, I lived to tell the tale. 

7. Street food.  So greasy.  So bad for you.  So. Bloody. Good.  I’m convinced that because the sellers use the same wok for so long, the spices build and compound, and that’s how you get that distinctive mouth-watering taste that you just can’t recreate in your own kitchen. 

7. The horrible things they sometimes put in street food.  Some sellers will put plastic in their gorengan (fried foods) to make them crispier.  If your soup is a shade of yellow that seems almost chemical, it might actually be chemical.  

8. Local languages.  There are over 300 languages spoken in Indonesia, by some counts.  They are all vastly different from one another.  They are all beautiful.  This is what inspired The Bahasa Project, one of my favorite projects as an ETA. 

8. How unaware Jakarta’s elite is of the rest of the country.  Jakarta runs the country.  And it has no idea what life is like outside of its city’s borders.  Frankly, they don’t understand what life is like in their own city.  I know this is an issue around the world, but it still frustrates me. 



One of my favorite mosques, the floating mosque in Makassar.

9. Call to prayer.  Five times a day there is a call to pause, to reflect, to pray.  Though I am not Muslim, I came to define time by the call to prayer, and to appreciate the reminder to take a moment to stop working and appreciate everything I had going for me.


9. Cat calls.  I hate cat calls no matter where I am, and what language is used to communicate men’s disgusting views towards women.  Indonesia(n) was no exception. 

10. Rice paddies.  Endless rice paddies broken up by the occasional row of palm trees.  Tiered rice paddies that seem more like paintings than fields.  They are all beautiful, and always in that special shade of rice paddy green that sooths the soul. 

10. How hot it always is.  If you are going to spend any significant time in Indonesia, you are just going to have to accept sweaty as a state of being.  And that’s that.



Just one reason to love the ocean.

11. Ocean.  I grew up only infrequently visiting the ocean, and to be honest, it scared me a bit when I first moved to Indonesia.  Though I still have a great respect for the power of the laut, I have also come to love her, from the way she smells to the way it feels to jump off a boat into her depths.


11. Litter.  On the side of the road.  On the beach.  Outside my classrooms.  In the rivers.  Litter is everywhere, and very few people seem truly concerned about its presence.  It’s maddening. 

12. Fishing boats.  They are painted in every color of the rainbow, surprisingly stable, and usually manned by the friendliest Bapak-Bapak (Bapak = father or man) that you’ll meet. 

12. Fish bombing. There are few things sadder than snorkeling through a gorgeous coral reef, only to have the coral suddenly end and give way to barren sand and stone, because someone decided easy fishing was more important than caring for the Earth.  I understand that the issue is more complex than that: that it is terribly difficult for fishermen to eek a living out of the sea, that education is sorely lacking, but nonetheless, it breaks my heart to see such destruction. 

13. My students.  I know I’ve mentioned this before in several blogs, but it is worth mentioning again.  The amazing people that I was privileged to meet were most definitely the best part of my experience in Indonesia.  Of all of those wonderful humans, my students remain my favorite.  Whether making music videos together, watching them perform an original play in English, or just helping them to navigate English verbs, I loved every moment that I spent with them. 


Just a few of my incredible students.

13. That students have to take seventeen classes at the same time.  Students take pretty much all of their classes at once, rather than working on a semester or block schedule.  This means that they only meet for most subjects one to three times a week, making it incredibly difficult for them to actually retain material. 


Some of the fabulous Ibu-Ibu who were a part of my experience.

14. Helpful Ibu-Ibu I cannot count the number of times an Ibu has saved me.  Ibu-Ibu are simply magical in the way they can make the impossible happen, and I feel so thankful to have had some truly mind-boggling women on my team over the years. 

14. Rampant patriarchy.  I am a woman.  I have dealt with the patriarchy my entire life.  But nowhere have I felt more powerless because of my gender than in Indonesia.  I understand that my position was always further complicated by my being not just a woman, but a foreign woman, but observing the treatment of my female colleagues allowed me to see just how much of this was simply based on my gender.  And it drove me insane. 

15. Inspiring teachers.  I have met so many incredible educators during my time in Indonesia.  Some I was lucky enough to co-teach with.  Some I met at ETA trainings, as they were the co-teachers of my peers.  And some teachers weren’t even teaching in my discipline, but they still taught me amazing things about managing classrooms and differentiation.  I am a better teacher today for having had the opportunity to meet them and work with them.  

15. Teacher absenteeism. On the flip side, there are those teachers who rarely even showed up to class.  And because there is not a substitute teacher system in Indonesia (at least not one that resembles what my American friends might be accustomed to), this meant that students were left without any instruction for that period: an hour or two of wasted educational opportunity. 

16. Brightly-colored houses.  Houses in Indonesia come in every color of the rainbow.  I challenge you not to smile walking down the street. 

16. Lack of public spaces.  Few parks, fewer park benches.  Some governors and other town officials are seeking to change this in their cities, so I hold out hope that this will improve. 

17. How everyone is always serving you tea.  It is difficult to enter a home in Indonesia without being served something, and that something is usually teas.  If you’re not a tea fan, this could be a bummer.  I couldn’t get enough of it. 

17. Excessive plastic use.  There is a reason so much of the ubiquitous litter is plastic.

18. Coffee.  For folks who might be wondering Kopi Luwak (made from beans digested and excreted by civets) is actually great.  But so is everyday coffee.  And the instant coffee.  Basically, you can’t go wrong with your coffee here. 

18. Trash fires.  Just stop.  


Making batik in Solo.

19. Batik. Whether traditional patterns or more modern patterns were being used, and whether it was being made into clothing or being made into an art piece, batik always found a way to steal my heart.  And batik was the focus of my favorite museum in Indonesia, the batik museum in Solo. 

19. Harga bule.  (Foreigner price.)  This is the inflated price quoted to foreigners, sometimes double the local price.  My bargaining skills did improve during my time in Indonesia, but I never did feel that I was getting a fair price. 

20. The sinks that are in the middle of restaurants.  Because why should you add to the inevitable line in the ladies’ room if all you want to do is wash the grease from your amazing meal off your hands?  Brilliant.  The same can be said for all the wuduh stations that were set up outside of bathrooms, rather than inside them.  Someone knows how to design. 

20. Using thin tissue as napkins.  They fall apart and make more of a mess than clean anything.  We need a new plan. 

21. Basa-basi.  Most prevalent in Javanese culture, basa-basi in some form seems to exist in every community across the archipelago.  It is usually translated to “chit-chat,” but it is so much more than that.  It is talking about children and weather before a business meeting, yes, but it is also offering your food when really you only have enough for yourself, and would rather not share.  It is a system of politeness that can be difficult to learn the code of (I’m not sure I ever did), but there are parts of it that I came to love.  Basa-basi played a role in why people seemed to stop and actually get to know a person they would be working with, at least on a service level, rather than just talking about the work.  And I loved that. 

21. Basa-basi.  I was raised on American time management, and I was taught that sometimes there is time for chit-chat, and sometimes you need to get down to business and get work done.  There seemed to be no such division in Indonesia, and there were times during the busy planning of an event wherein basa-basi just made me want to scream.  There was also the element of basa-basi which meant that sometimes people would say “Yes” when they meant “No,” or vice versa, and that is not a game I like to play: I was raised in Northeastern rural America, where sometimes honesty is valued even over kindness.  This was probably the one cultural element that drove me the most insane because of how much it clashed with my own culture.  Once, a colleague laughed at me for the umpteenth time, telling me that I was frustrated by the basa-basi only because Americans “did not understand politeness,” and I confess that I snapped back at her: “You call saying what you don’t mean polite.  Where I’m from, we call it lying, and it is the most impolite thing you can do.” 

22. Singkatan.  (Portmanteaus.)  Warung (food stall or shop) and internet become warnet.  Switch out internet for kopi (coffee) and you have warkop.  Indonesia is full of these words, and I loved them. 

22. That there is essentially no special needs education.  I had a few students with various special needs during my time in Indonesia (which was lucky enough, as most children with special needs do not attend school in Indonesia), and I was essentially told not to try to teach them, and to let them just sit in the back of the class.  That was one of those times I did not listen to my co-teachers’ advice. 

23. That it really takes a village to raise a child.  Everyone plays a role in raising the neighborhood kids.  You don’t even have to be related to help out with caretaking.  I loved kids popping in and out of my front yard (even if they sometimes did get into things they shouldn’t have), and loved the idea of there being so few official childcare facilities, because they were made unnecessary by neighborhood culture.  This is not impossible to find in the United States, but it is certainly much less common. 

23. Hierarchy.  Nowhere did the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” ring truer for me than in Indonesia.  I cannot count the number of times I gritted my teeth and endured the company of someone I so very much disliked because I knew that if I did not befriend them, it would be impossible for me to create beneficial programming for my students.  And I mean impossible, not just difficult.  You had to play the game of hierarchy if you wanted anything good for your kids. 

24. Student responsibility.  Students independently ran club, organized cleaning schedules for their classrooms, and just generally took on much more responsibility for the day-to-day functions of the school than I generally see in American high schools.  They took pride in their classrooms and in their leadership duties, and I loved the lessons they learned through these roles. 

24. Low graduation rate.  Indonesia consistently ranks very low amongst Southeast Asian countries for graduation rates, percentages of student age children who even attend school.  To be sure, the Indonesian education system has may flaws, but perhaps it’s greatest is the sheer number of students it fails to reach, and to retain. 

25. Snowman whiteboard markers.  They are the perfect size, they write amazingly, and they are refillable.  I 100% should have brought some home with me when I left. 

25. Whiteout.  Students are taught to strive for perfection, and this meant that even their notes had to be perfect.  It was almost impossible for me to convince students to just cross out mistakes and move on, so that time could be used in other ways.

26. Their pride in being Indonesian.  Indonesians across the archipelago generally seem so, so proud to be Indonesian, and it is truly an amazing thing to see.  Despite everything, they love their country with every ounce of their being, and hope feverishly for a bright future. 

26. Nationalism.  Pride in your country can sometimes turn to nationalism, and nationalism is a slippery slope that too often seems to lead to prejudice.  There is no denying that much of the pride I saw in Indonesia was nationalistic, and sometimes it scared me. 

27. Kerawang.  It is rarely anyone’s favorite fabric from across the Indonesian archipelago, but I admired its resilience, and how proud the people of Gorontalo were to wear it, rather than a more popular kain

27. The narrative students are taught about their own country.  Once, I tentatively tried to talk to a group of students about the various genocides that had occurred in Indonesia’s fairly recent history.  None of them had heard of a single one.  Students are spoon-fed a specific narrative about their country, and that is so dangerous.  I know that the United States does much of the same, but that doesn’t make it right.

28. The universal love of singing.  Almost everyone sings, and even if someone doesn’t sing, they love listening to their friends sing.  And a vast majority of Indonesians have amazing voices. 

28. The lack of a reading culture.  Reading is not a common pastime in Indonesia, and as someone who has lived the power of literature, and who goes nowhere without a book, this was terribly sad to me.

29. Cheesy love songs.  Like Ran’s “Dekat di Hati.” I have a weak spot for them anyway.  But there is no denying that Indonesia does them best. 

29. Lack of libraries.  School libraries are often only filled with textbooks, and public libraries are small, or nonexistent. 


Tiny adorable dancers from Bandar Lampung.

30. Dancing (traditional or otherwise).  Whenever my students had a dance competition of any sort, I made sure to go.  The traditional dances were always incredible (and the costumes exquisite), and I am convinced that any of my students could be a member of a K-pop band, with the way they could bust a move. 

30. Poor journalism.  There are some very good journalists in Indonesia.  And then there are so many more terrible ones. 

31. Constant laughter.  And the smiles.  Indonesians seem predisposed to be happy, and I think there are lessons that many of us could take from that.  (I don’t mean to imply that Indonesians don’t feel a full array of emotions as strongly as anyone else, but there is an optimism that seems particularly powerful across Indonesia.)

31. Gossip.  I thought the folks of my home town were bad.  I had no idea. 

32. Having access to mother nature from my classroom.  Feel inclined to have class outside?  It takes all of 20 seconds to get there. 

32. Terrible textbooks.  How students are supposed to learn when their textbooks are incorrect, I have no idea. 

33. Home remedies (that work!).  Have a cough? Try kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), with some lime.  You’ll never buy cough syrup again.

33. The lack of quality medical care.  Hospitals are downright terrifying, if there even is a hospital nearby.  Things are improving, but slowly. 

34. That everyone is an artist.  The worst of my students’ doodles are far superior to anything that I could pull off. 

34. Homophobia.  I once walked past a classroom and heard my students learning anti-LGBT chants as part of their sociology class.  It breaks my heart. 

35. Songket.  I have only one piece made from this Sumatran fabric, but it makes me feel like a queen. 

35. Lack of sex education.  It just isn’t there, and kids are left to glean incorrect information from their friends and the internet.  (Seriously, the things I have heard students say are petrifying.)

36. That family is a priority.  The value placed on family in Indonesia is incredible.  Generations live together, care for one another, and learn from one another.  It is truly a privilege to witness it. 

36. The hatred of dark skin.  Sometimes even teachers teased students for having dark skin.  It’s horrible.  It is partly due to internalized racism (which I will get to later in this list), but some of it was just plain racism. 

37. Cute rubber flats.  Did you know that Crocs can be cute?  And did you know they are the best teaching shoes you will ever find?

37. Tropical diseases.  I could have lived without contracting typhoid, honestly.  More seriously, the number of people lost to these diseases each year is heartbreaking. 

38. Good drivers.  A good driver, be they for car, taxi, or ojek (motorbike taxi), can be a wealth of local information, and be ever so comforting in an unfamiliar city. 

38. Macet. (Traffic.)  Want to go crazy?  Try Southeast Asian traffic.  Money back guarantee. 

39. An abundance of transportation applications.  In a larger city, I can get anywhere via car or ojek with just the push of a few buttons.  Amazing. 

39. Poor infrastructure.   Roads too narrow for the trucks carting goods on them.  Scary bridges.  Slow trains.  It’s doable, it’s true, but it sure ain’t pleasant. 

40. How friendly everyone is.  Indonesians are truly famous for being ramah (friendly), and they absolutely deserve the reputation.  Never have I met a more generally friendly people, and I feel so blessed to have lived in their presence for so long. 

40. That sometimes this friendliness is fake.  It took me a while to be able to tell exactly when Indonesian friendliness was genuine, and when it wasn’t, but I did eventually figure it out.  This is part of the basa-basi element of Indonesian culture, with which I probably have the strongest of love-hate relationships. 


Just one beautiful vista, from Sumba.

41. Beautiful vistas.  Beaches.  Mountains.  Fields.  If you have never in your life felt inclined to stand in awe of the beauty of mother nature, I promise you Indonesia will change that. 

41. The destruction of these beautiful vistas.  Huge swaths of forests are cleared each year for farming and mining.  Pollution has destroyed so many places.  If we want our children to see the same sights we have come to admire, we need to do something, fast. 

42. That people believe in sick days.  When you are sick, you stay home and rest.  You don’t force yourself to go to work.  And guess what?  Then you heal faster.  America, take notes. 

42. Blatant corruption.  I don’t think using both hands would be enough to count how many times I was asked for bribes from government officials. 

43. Animals in the street.  They walk along with the vehicle and foot traffic and no one questions it.  I get especially excited when there is a cow. 

43. Lack of sidewalks.  There is a reason Indonesians don’t walk anywhere. 

44. Colorful curbs.  The curb sides are usually painted in bright colors, and like the colorful houses, this always brought me great joy.

44. Lack of respect for sidewalks that do exist.  You spot a sidewalk.  You pump your fists in the air in triumph.  Then you have to dodge out of the way of the motorbike whose driver has decided this sidewalk is a shortcut for him, not a place for pedestrians.  Triumph, short-lived. 

45. “Santai aja.”  (“Just relax.”)  Indonesians are generally extremely chill people.  Which can make them great in a crisis.  I might be freaking out, but they are calmly taking it all in, and moving forward, slowly but surely.  They are also incredibly understanding of traffic causing delays in meetings, or poor internet postponing projects. 

45. Jam karet.  (Rubber Time.)  Time is flexible in Indonesia, which means that events, big and small, rarely occur when they are said to.  Have a plan with a friend?  They might pick you up two hours after they said they would.  Or two hours before.  You never know. 

46. Bak mandi.  (The tubs you put your water in for showering.)  I fell in love with bucket showers.  When I moved to Jakarta and no longer had a bak mandi, I was so sad. 

46. Imigrasi.  (Immigration.)  I have been asked for bribes.  I have been given the wrong Visa.  I have been yelled at by immigration officers.  At this point, I hear the words kantor imigrasi (immigration office), and I visibly become tense and afraid. 

47. Toilet jongkok.  (Squatting toilet.)  I never lived with one in my house, and they did take me a moment to figure out, I’ll admit.  But once I did, I really came to find them more comfortable than toilet duduk (sitting toilets). 

47. The singular long fingernail that so many men grow.  Gross.  Just gross. 

48. The plethora of cultures.  Travel just two hours away from where you are, and it is likely that the people there might speak a different dialect, or possibly a different language altogether.  They will probably have different customs, and different traditional dress.  I was always learning about new cultures in Indonesia, and I had barely scratched the surface by the time I left. 

48. Lack of understanding of other cultures.  Far too many Indonesians only understand their own specific culture, and this leads to misunderstandings that can sometimes lead to truly horrible conflicts. 

49. The mortar and pestle for making sambal in every household.  I have yet to acquire one, but I need one. 

49. The rarity of ovens.  I love baking, and while I did have a toaster oven two out of my three years in Indonesia, nothing beats the real thing. 

50. Cooking in a wok.  It’s so much fun, and so sensible too.  I just recently bought my first wok, and I am so excited to start using it regularly. 

50. Cigarette smoke.  People smoke everywhere, even in restaurants, and so you are constantly breathing in cigarette smoke.  My lungs hated it. 

51. Krupuk (of the garlic variety).  Krupuk is a kind of cracker served with many dishes.  It adds a great crunch to your food, and the garlic-flavored one is really tasty. 

51. Krupuk (of the shrimp variety).  That shrimp-flavored krupuk, on the other hand… keep it away from me. 

52. Everyone is so tech savvy.  Which is especially great for folks like, me, who suffer from what Indonesians call gap tech. 

52. Everyone is always on their cell phones.  This is an issue in the States as well, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s worse in Indonesia, I feel. 

53. Good tailors.  My wardrobe is now full of amazing clothes made exactly to my measurements, due to the talents of some truly incredible men and women. 

53. Tailors that don’t realize I have boobs.  But not all tailors are created equal, and I have sadly lost some beautiful fabrics because they have made my dress for a woman half the size I am in the upper region (even after taking my measurements: I don’t get it).  

54. Jamu.  Traditional medicine that comes in all different flavors for all different purposes.  The jahe (ginger) kind is especially yummy. 

54. Unrefrigerated milk in cartons.  Having been raised on a dairy farm, I don’t like store-bought milk to begin with.  But the stuff in cartons… especially nasty. 

55. Badminton.  I have always loved badminton, and used to look forward to its unit in gym class every year.  Badminton is much more popular in Asia than it is in the U.S., and I thoroughly enjoyed playing it much more frequently during my time there. 

55. That girls so often cannot play sports.  I played futsal (indoor soccer) once with some of my male students, and afterwards a group of senior teachers pulled me to the side to inform me that it wasn’t decent for me, as a woman, to be doing so.  Every atom of my being rejected this statement, but I knew I had to play part of the game if I wanted to be able to accomplish certain goals for my students.  So, I kept my skirt on and my sneakers off for the rest of my time as an ETA. 

56. Enthusiastic tour guides.  If you every have the opportunity to be led around a cultural site or museum by a free guide who is there from a local university to practice their English (or other language), do it.  And insist upon paying them something at the end: they’re worth it. 

56. Underdeveloped museums.  So many of the museums in Indonesia are the same: filled with fascinating artifacts, but labeled poorly and barely protected.  I hope that as Indonesia develops it invests more into its museums, for the sake of the education of the next generation. 

57. Komodo Dragons.  They’re real, and they are terrible and wonderful and I cannot believe I got to see them up close.  (But not too close.)

57. Mosquitos.  The only good thing about mosquitos is that they inspired this quote, which I find quite amusing and accurate: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”  (Anita Roddick)

58. Tropical fish.   They come in more colors than I knew existed on the planet, and seeking them out helped me to get over my fear of the ocean. 

58. Cockroaches.  I know they have the ability to survive the apocalypse, and that’s cool and all, but they need to stay out of my kitchen. 


A baby orangutan, from my visit to Borneo.

59. Orangutans.  Watching an orangutan swing through the trees with complete grace is one of the most amazing sites you will ever see in your life. 

59. Rats.  Disease-ridden and the size of cats (I’m not exaggerating), I like to keep these at a distance, even if I am also secretly impressed by them. 

60. “Tidak apa-apa.  Literally “No what-what,” this is the Indonesian equivalent of “Don’t worry about it,” or “No problem.”  Not only is it a fun phrase to say, really striving to use it in the same way that Indonesians do has taught me how to not sweat the small stuff, something I think will serve me well going further. 

60. “Tidak apa-apa.”  But when someone says “Tidak apa apa” about something I feel is an injustice, which they sometimes do, it grates on me like nothing else does. 

61. Eating with your hands. It really does make your food taste better, I swear. 

61. Drinking hot tea out of glass cups without handles.  I very much prefer a good mug.  Then I don’t burn my fingers. 

62. The national anthem.  The national anthem, “Indonesia Raya,” is just so… joyful.  I challenge you not to sing along. 

62. Javanese superiority.  I sometimes joke that the Javanese are the white people of Indonesia.  It’s not that simple, of course—because, if we’re honest, white people are still the white people of Indonesia—but the idea that the Javanese are somehow superior to the other cultures across Indonesia is strong among the Javanese, and has been internalized by many outside of Java as well. 

63. A crew of little kids following people down the street.  Their smiles and laughers are addicting, and even in the laughter is at my expense, and even if stopping to answer their incessant questions slows down my journey, I will never turn them away.  And though I do get quite a bit of attention because I am foreign, anyone carrying anything through the neighborhood is sure to be followed and peppered with questions in the same way. 

63. That people so rarely wear helmets.  Entire families will be crammed onto a motorbike, and not a one will be wearing a helmet.  It makes be terribly nervous, considering how unsafe Indonesian roads are. 

64. Laundry fresh from the cleaners.  It comes folded and pressed (eliminating the need to iron), and it smells amazing. 

64. Harassment.  This bothered me so much that I wrote an entire blog about it. 

65. Hand-washing my undergarments.  It might sound crazy, but I found this terribly therapeutic.  Even if I felt I wasn’t doing anything else right at the time, this was something I could do, and this small triumph each week is sometimes what got me through. 

65. Victim blaming.  This is probably part harassment and part patriarchy, but I felt it deserved its own spot.  The victim blaming was so strong it almost had me convinced sometimes that it was all my fault that I was harassed to the extent that I was, even though I knew better. 

66. Putri malu.  (Shy princess.)  This plant’s leaves droop when touched, which is so much fun to watch.  I kept my eye peeled for it every time I went walking. 

66. Lack of soft grass.  A different climate and terrain means different flora, and I missed having hills with soft grass to roll down. 

67. Garuda.  The best airline in Indonesia, and arguably the world.  Any time I got to fly on a Garuda plane, it was a real treat. 

67. Scary budget airlines.  I saw my life flash before my eyes several times during landings.

68. Tropical birds.  I hate seeing them caged, but when they are flitting about in the wild where they belong, they are the loveliest of sights. 

68. The focus on appearances.  Your weight, your hair, your skin color, your acne… everything will be scrutinized, all the time.  I started wearing makeup consistently for the first time in Indonesia, because I was tired of having the same conversations about my acne (which, by the way, doesn’t improve when people touch it all the time, the way people in Indonesia always insist upon doing) and my unpainted lips every. single. day. 

69. Animals in your classroom.  Cats and butterflies and everything between.  It was always an adventure. 

69. Poor internet.  I am very thankful to have spent my time abroad during an era that had any access to internet, but there is no denying that the lack of reliable internet was a constant source of professional and personal stress. 

70. Fresh coconut.  There is nothing more rejuvenating than drinking water from a fresh coconut and scooping out its flesh after a day at the beach or on a mountain. 

70. Inability to queue.  It is push-your-way-to-the-front-or-die in Indonesia. 

71. Student creativity.  I loved giving my students project in Indonesia, because I knew that, no matter how high I let myself set my standards, they would blow me away with their creativity. 

71. Terrible English curriculum.  Like most curricula, the Indonesian English curriculum is usually far above where the students are, and leaves little room for flexibility so that the teacher can meet the students’ real needs. 

72. The wealth of adorable notebooks.  I don’t think I saw a monochrome notebook the entire time I was Indonesia.  I was especially fond of those with batik patterns, or with cartoon characters giving words of encouragement. 

72. Bathroom shoes.  I know they serve a purpose, but the stack of flip flops that always seemed to get in the way of the door drove me mad. 

73. Print and copy shops.  The folks there are usually some of the friendliest people in town, and if you need anything for your classroom, from colored paper to ink for your Snowman markers, they probably have it.

73. Inaccessibility of clean water.  This is another issue that I wrote an entire blog about, and while it is improving, it isn’t where in needs to be at all. 

74. “Semangat!”  Meaning something along the lines of “Keep spirit!” this encouraging word is my favorite word that I have ever learned in any language.  I have yet to come across anything that quite comes close to the same spirit of semangat, and it is one of those words I teach my American friends so that I don’t have to give up my ability to use it. 

74. “Habiskan!”  This means something along the lines of “Finish it,” or “Empty it,” and it is said when someone wants you to empty your plate.  I have been forced to eat far more than is comfortable many times in Indonesia (because to do otherwise would be impolite), and now the word “Habiskan” produces a visceral, negative reaction. 

75. Souped-up bentors (becak motor, or motorcycle-run rickshaws).  They play the same song at full blast for months on end, are lit up like a house party, and have the most ridiculous paint jobs.  If I had to rely on them for transportation I would probably hate them, but passing them on my motorbike, I found them amusing. 

75. Mud everywhere after the rain.  It gets on everything. 

76. Tulus.  Tulus is a pop/jazz singer, and he is probably my favorite artist of all time.  I was even lucky enough to see him in concert once, which was amazing.  My favorite song of his is “Manusia Kuat,” because I am a sucker for inspirational songs.

76. Modern dangdut This is a type of music fairly unique to Indonesia, and I’ll leave you to look it up for yourself.  The older stuff actually isn’t half bad.  But listen to the song “Sakitnya Tuh Disini.”  And know that I have heard this song thousands of times, usually really loudly, during my time in Indonesia. 


Making ikat.

77. Ikat.  The weaving most commonly found in N.T.T., this is probably my favorite fabric in all of Indonesia.   And yes, I am obsessed with pretty much all of the fabrics from Indonesia.

77. No understanding of a personal bubble.  My personal bubble isn’t even that large, and mine was popped within moments of landing in Indonesia, and really never had a chance to recover. 

78. Gamelon.  A traditional Javanese instrument usually played to accompany shadow puppetry or traditional theatre, my students at my first school used to practice right after school, and the clanging but somehow beautiful sounds would echo through the teacher’s room while I was planning the next week’s lessons or grading students’ projects.  You can actually watch listen to my students perform Gamelon as part of a larger performance here

78. That people only learn about their own religion.  I’ve actually written about this before, but for a country where religion has such a strong presence, and where at least a student’s own religion becomes a part of their curriculum even in public schools, I was always shocked at how little people knew of other religions.

79. Angklun.  This is an instrument from west Java, and while it is not to everyone’s taste, I always found it really enjoyable to listen to, and was really excited every year when at least one student at the WORDS Competition would play the angklun as part of their talent. 

79. Public toilets.  There are signs telling you not to stand on the sitting toilets.  With pictures.  People clearly don’t read them. 


Getting to meet with some of my first students again.

80. How excited people get to see you again.  The enthusiasm Indonesians have for meeting acquaintances a second time is absolutely heartwarming, and a practice I have come to adopt myself and fully plan on maintaining while back in the States. 

80. How far Indonesia is from the U.S.  I was definitely homesick a few times while in Indonesia, and I love that I am back in the U.S. now.  But at the same time, I absolutely love the country and all the people I met there (because, if we are honest, the number one thing I love about Indonesia are the friends I made there, but it seemed almost petty to put them on a list, as they are a part of all of my positive experiences in the country), and I wish that I could have both Indonesia and America in my life all the time.  This might be possible if Indonesia were in another part of the world, but the fact is that it is on the opposite side of the globe from the U.S., and that makes have the best of both of these homes a bit tricky. 

81. Giant spoons.  There is something just so satisfying about shoveling huge quantities of delicious food into mouth. 

81. Lack of knives.  Sometimes, I just want to be able to cut my food.  But knives are usually nowhere to be found at the local warung (food stall). 

82. Tinituan. (Also called Bubur Manado, or Manadonese porridge.)  This is hands down my favorite Indonesian food.  It is a kind of pumpkin stew-esque dish, and it is what heaven tastes like. 

82. Poor cheese selection.  I grew up on a dairy farm.  I have an appreciation for keju.  But, sadly, there is usually a small selection in Indonesia.

83. Classroom decorating competitions.  These happened multiple times a year at each of my schools, and I loved that this gave my students an opportunity to demonstrate their collaborative creativity, and I loved that the decorations would stay up for months afterwards, adding color and fun to the classrooms. 

83. Limited global understanding.  I had students who couldn’t find their own country on the map, and students who thought that the United States was the same as the Americas, and therefore covered what was actually two continents and thirty-five counties.  When I got an American-style classroom at my second school, the first thing I put up was a world map. 

84. Food served on banana leaves.  It’s beautiful, and eco-friendly, and I miss it. 

84. Plastic chairs.  I was always terrified that I would break one of these.  (Funnily enough, the only chair I actually broke while in Indonesia was a wooden one, and at a fancier restaurant.)

85. Yellow rice.  It’s served for breakfast on Sulawesi, but on special occasions on Java, but it is always great.  (Side note: props to Indonesia and my friends there for turning me into a full-fledged foodie, something I certainly wasn’t before.) 

85. Plastic water cups.  Mama Earth says stop.  As do I. 


From Museum Wayang.

86. Wayang Kulit.  (Shadow Puppets.)  Though I really wanted to, I never got to see a professional wayang kulit performance while I was in Indonesia.  But I saw students perform it several times, and also visited the wayang museum as part of my museum tour of Jakarta

86. The butt cup.  This plagued so many female ETAs.  You stand in line for a photo, and suddenly the woman next to you is just causally cupping your butt.  Some ETAs came to find this comforting.  I could never get into it. 

87. Stray cats.  Some were terrified of humans, but some were personable, almost as if they were the pet of the entire neighborhood.  I even adopted a few while I was in Gorontalo. 

87. Too many social media options.  “Miss, do you have Line?”  “Miss, do you have Path?”  “Miss, do you have BBM?”  “No, I have Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Email.  That’s enough, thank you.” 

88. Hardy native plants.  So many of the houses had plants outside of them, including my own in Gorontalo, and as they were usually native plants, they were so easy to take care of, which I loved. 

88. The Ibu crawl.  This is the name several ETAs gave to the slow walk that Ibu-Ibu are famous for.  In reality, it is actually more sensible than walking quickly, because of how hot it is.  But I grew up following men with longer legs than my little girl self, and am known for walking quickly in the States; I could never slow down enough for the Ibu crawl. 

89. Karaoke nights.  I’ll admit, I hated karaoke when I first got to Indonesia.  But the fun everyone else is having is contagious, and it became one of my favorite things. 

89. Whitening products.  The obsession with pale skin means that there is no lack of whitening products (it can actually be a challenge to find a lotion that is not whitening), and so going shopping for any kind of skin or hair-care product was always really upsetting. 

90. Fresh spices.  Giant sticks of cinnamon.  Nutmeg that actually looks like a nut.  There is a reason they were called the “Spice Islands” during the colonial era. 

90. Internalized racism.  Having your students continuously call themselves ugly because they are not as light as you, or being told to stay out of the sun, not for your health, but because “you will turn black!” is something you have to constantly battle if you are a light-skinned ETA.  So much of this stems from colonialism, and part of it is caused by the media… the reasons for it existing are complicated, but no matter the reasons, it is just so sad.  I wish my students would recognize just how beautiful they really are. 


A sunset at Pantai Merah in East Java.

91. Sunsets (and sunrises!) on the water.  They are just magical. 

91. Bule privilege.  Partly due to the color of my skin, and partly due to Indonesia’s complicated relationship with foreigners, I was often treated as an honored guest when there was really no reason for me to be, or allowed certain privileged that Indonesians were not.  I’ll admit that I would sometimes use this if I could do so to the advantage of my students or my friends (sometimes I could connect to people simply because I was a foreigner, and that person might be perfect of a program with my students or for a friend who was in the same field), but I tried as hard as I could not to benefit from it myself.  But I inevitably did. 


Sunset over Danau Toba.

92. Sunsets (and sunrises!) anywhere.  So magical. 

92. Treatment of foreigners of color.  I send readers again to this article as well as this one.  I cannot actually speak to experiencing this, but I witnessed it, and I want desperately for it to change. 

93. Being called sister.  So many of my friends called me this, and it really made me feel like we were family, and in many ways, we were. 

93. Being called “Mister.”  I. am. not. a. boy.

94. Being called “Miss.”  I always wanted some kind of short name for my students to call me, and so when most of my students called me “Miss,” I was oh so very pleased. 

94. That I will always be foreign.  It doesn’t matter how long I live in Indonesia.  I will always be an outsider, and never really truly fit in.  I am sure this is how many immigrants and people of color feel in America as well.  World, we need to do something about this. 

95. Cheese and chocolate.   Brownies often come with shredded cheese sprinkled on top.  I know it sounds gross.  I was weirdly into it. 

95. How much fried food I am expected to consume.  It is often delicious, yes.  But I usually feel terrible later. 

96. Es. Es is a sort of dessert-drink, always with ice and sweet syrup, and sometimes with fresh fruit and/or these little jelly things.  This was another thing I hated when I first came to Indonesia, but by the end I loved it.  (Some people told me that meant I had spent too much time in Indonesia, but I am convinced there is no such thing.) 

96. Bintang.  This is Indonesia’s main beer.  Some foreigners love it.  I am convinced it is poison. 

97. Neighborly neighbors.  I grew up in small farming communities, and I thought I had encountered the epitome of neighborly.  I was wrong. 

97. The constant requests for photos.  There were days when I felt more like an exhibit than a human.   I always tried to be patient, to smile and to take the chance to potentially engage people in conversation.  But sometimes I would growl at people to leave me alone.

98. Ibu-Ibu angkat.  (This would roughly translate to adoptive mothers.)  The way people bring you into their families is truly wonderful.  I will forever be grateful for all of the Ibu Angkat I have across the archipelago. 

98. Menus that are only written in English.  Having the English can be nice, but where is the Indonesian?  We’re in Indonesia, damnit! 

99. That I did not live in Indonesia forever.  There were days when the only thing that kept me going was knowing that my time in Indonesia had an end date, and that I would eventually escape. 

99. That I did not live in Indonesia forever.  There was always something new to learn, somewhere new to visit, someone amazing to meet and befriend.  I was in Indonesia for three years, something very few Americans have the opportunity to do, but even then, I barely scratched the surface.  I don’t regret deciding to return to the States after my third year, but there is no denying that I would love more time in Indonesia, and hope that I can return for another stint someday. 

100. How much I have grew in my time there.  I have changed since going to Indonesia, in small ways and big ways, but I am convinced only in positive ways.  (I hope I am right!)  Indonesia wasn’t always kind about how it made me grow (I might have made that my 100th negative point, except in the end I know there is more to love about Indonesia than to be frustrated by, and I wanted my list to represent that), but grow I did, and I am ever so grateful for all that I have learned and experienced. 

It is impossible to sum up how I feel in Indonesia in a list, even one as long as this.  It takes up a huge portion of my heart, and sometimes that portion is warm and fuzzy, and sometimes it hurts.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
[1] This doesn’t count any blogs I wrote about other countries that I have been fortunate enough to visit during my time in Indonesia.

Returning to Something New

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The reading room where I fully plan to spend a lot of my time.

I am writing this from a table outside my university’s library, after spending the morning in one of the beautiful reading rooms inside the library.  I was thrilled to have an academic work space available to me, but eventually I had to leave, because even my warmest flannel wasn’t able to keep me from freezing in the AC: three years in a tropical country really changes your tolerance for cold.

I’m back in the United States, even back in New York State, and this time I’m staying.  I have no immediate plans to run off to Indonesia again, the way I have had for the past three years.  It’s a strange feeling, I must admit.  Indonesia has become such a huge part of my life: not knowing when I will visit again (because I am certain I will do so someday) feels almost wrong in a way, to not have a return date.

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Being surrounded by literature wherever I go (this is a brewery in Colorado Springs!) has been one of my favorite parts of coming home: Indonesia does not have a very strong reading culture, and I missed living in a place where carrying a book everywhere is considered normal.

This is not to say that I am not happy to be back in the U.S.  I am thrilled to be home for an extended period of time.  I still get excited every time I see a water fountain, and I have a new appreciation for the efficiency valued by most Americans.  I walk into stores that already have their Autumn decorations on display, and while everyone around me grumbles that it is too early to be thinking about Halloween, I have to resist the urge to dance for joy: I am a girl who loves the changing of seasons, and I have been limited to two for the past three years.  I entertain fantasies of subsisting entirely on pumpkin-flavored drinks and candy corn, and I am already looking forward to Thanksgiving turkey.

Of course, I do miss Indonesia from time to time, and readjusting to life back in the U.S. hasn’t been completely smooth.  I sometimes forget how to say certain phrases in English, or use Indonesian words without realizing what I am doing, confusing everyone around me[1]; I am so far behind on American slang that often when others speak, I am the one lost.  Already, I find myself craving the friendliness that permeates so much of Indonesian culture, continually finding Americans almost rude in comparison.  And as excited as I am for good New York pizza and my mom’s pie, I would do ghastly things for some fresh sambal or krupuk.

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One of the parks in Stony Brook.  After a year in Jakarta, I am thankful to be living in a place that has so many natural spaces.

Years ago, now, towards the end of my first ETA grant, I wrote a piece that touched, in part, on my mixed feelings of having to leave my site.  Someone quoted a part of this back at me a few weeks before I left Indonesia, and it has stuck with me as I have tried to adjust back to life Stateside: “…since I cannot be in two places at once, I now no longer have the privilege of ever living in a place where I am not missing someone.”  This has proven to be the hardest part of being home thus far.  True, I have already gotten to visit with beloved friends that I haven’t seen in person in years.  I have friends and family members who plan on getting married in the next year, and this time I will actually be able to attend, and celebrate alongside them, instead of just look at the photos later.  This is amazing.  But all the wonderful friends I have made in the past three years are on the other side of the world, and now it is their turn to only interact with me via Skype calls and WA messages.

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Wearing new batik to an old friend’s wedding: this is my new normal.

Living in Indonesia was not always easy.  Coming back to the United States and preparing to start grad school has sometimes been hard.  They’re different, but one is not preferable to the other.  I just exchanged one challenge for another.

I will find ways to blend my two homes, and keep them together in my heart.  I will learn which chilis are the best for making sambal, and make my own.  I will teach those close to me my favorite phrases in Indonesian, so that Bahasa Campur becomes somewhat more acceptable.  I will shamelessly wear batik at least a few times a week.  I will learn to no longer be surprised by the elements of American culture that I missed for three years, but I will also, I hope, never come to take them for granted.  I will find a way to fit all my friends, from whatever country, into my life no matter how busy my schedule gets.

If there is anything that I learned while working with the ETA Program in Indonesia, it is that everything is a process, and that process never ends.  I may have left Indonesia, but that doesn’t mean that I am finished with my experience there: it will continue to shape my experience here in America, and as I continue to learn and grown, my own understanding of my time there will change as well.

I’m excited to see where the journey takes me.

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Spot the Indonesian influences… 

For those curious about the details of what I am doing next, I am pursuing my master’s in Applied Linguistics (with a TESOL focus) at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.  I’ll be here for the next two years, studying and exploring the local area and New York City (a mere hour and a half train ride from me!) when I am not drowning in all of the reading and writing everyone has been warning me about.  It’s sure to be very different from what I have been doing for the past two years, but I am excited for the challenge and the chance to learn more about education and language.

I have not yet actually decided whether I will continue to blog throughout my time here, but I would like to.  I have come to love the platform, and goodness knows I will in for some adventures that may be worth writing about.  However, I don’t know if I will have the time or energy to blog, in addition to all the writing I will need to do for grad school, and, so, I make no promises.

[1] I find this especially hard, for some reason, when ordering food.  I think a lot of this stems from the fact that I rarely ate out prior to living in Indonesia, because it is so much costlier to eat out in America.  I learned how to skim a menu and ask questions of a waiter in Indonesian, not English, and now I have to re-learn these skills in what I assumed would be a familiar context.

Giving Up on Clarity: Revisiting My Religion Post

Towards the end of my first grant as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), I wrote a short blog post outlining what I felt I had learned about religion in Indonesia during my short time there.  Because I realized how much I still had to learn, I promised to revisit the post during my second grant.

I never did.


Mesjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.

This is not to say that I haven’t written about religion at all during the past two years.  As I mentioned in my first religion post, religion plays a role in seemingly everything here, much as it does throughout the world, and due to religiosity being perhaps stronger in Indonesia than it is in the United States (at least from my perspective), it was inevitable that religion, while perhaps not the main topic of my posts, played a significant role almost everything I wrote.  I was placed at an Islamic School during my second year as an ETA, which gave me ample opportunity to learn about the religion that a majority of Indonesian’s practice.  Recently, I remained in Indonesia after my grant almost solely to experience Ramadan in Indonesia, and of course wrote about my experience.  Visiting places like Toraja, I was able to learn more about how Christianity had adapted to Indonesian Culture (or how Indonesian Culture has adapted to Christianity, depending on how you look at it).  But at no point during past two years have I written a post explicitly on the topic of religion.

One of the reasons I avoid an overt religion post was because I didn’t feel qualified to say all that much on the subject.  This is part of what held me back my first year as an ETA, and why it was one of the last posts I wrote that year.  But religion seems to become a heavier topic with the passing of time, and I simply didn’t feel up to the task of addressing it, instead sharing articles and posts written by folks much smarter than I am.

This isn’t to say that I kept entirely silent on the issues surrounding religion and the roles it plays, or people believe that it plays, in politics and events around the globe.  I wrote my own piece against the Islamophobia I was seeing all over my news feeds and social media after the attacks in Paris in 2015, and during the summer between my second grant as an ETA and my time as the ETA Coordinator, I attended a local spoken word event to revisit the same topic.  Through conversations with relatives on Facebook and strangers in grocery lines, whether visiting the U.S. or still in Indonesia, I sought to do my part to combat the accepted ignorance that so many Americans have regarding Muslims.  The more I spoke, the more questions I asked, the deeper I realized this ignorance ran, and I confess I have felt wholly under-prepared for most the conversations I have had.

In turn, I have spent an inordinate amount of time explaining and apologizing for American Islamophobia to Indonesians.  As a second-year ETA, I tutored several students through the application process for the YES Program, a scholarship that allows students to spend their last year of high school in the U.S., and following President Trump’s success in the Republican Primary, several of my students were pulled out by their parents, and not allowed to take the test.  A few of my students were still allowed to join, though I had to speak one-on-one with some of their parents, cautiously explaining that, though their fears were not unfounded, not all American’s shared such limited views.  One of my students actually qualified for the scholarship, a fabulous young lady I felt honored to teach and who would have graces any American classroom.  However, the final time her parents had to give permission for her to join the program came right after the U.S. election, and decided against allowing her to go.  They worried that in a country where the president had campaigned on the promise of a Muslim Ban, their daughter might not be safe.  I cannot say that I blame them.  A few months after this decision was made, I got to see this student in person, and it took all my self-control not to tear up as I apologized to her for what my country had done.  “It’s okay, Miss,” she told me, “It was a good experience, and I pray that I will have new opportunities to go abroad.”

But even as the facade of true religious freedom and celebration of diversity the U.S. started to crack, so too did it begin to fracture in Indonesia.  With a national motto of “Unity in Diversity,” Indonesia has long claimed to be a country of religious freedom, and has often been touted as such by many westerners as well.  I admit, I have always struggled to accept this idea, when people are limited to only six officially recognized religions in Indonesia[1], but if I questioned it before, there is no denying that I shake my head when people still try to claim this to be true after living in Jakarta through the many protests and the Ahok trials, and the anti-Christian and anti-Chinese-Indonesian sentiment that found a voice in the mayhem (in the same way that it is always difficult to decide if a person’s prejudice is based on someone’s religion or their race, people who were openly prejudice in front of me regarding Ahok couldn’t seem to separate his religion with his ethnicity)[2].  For a long time, I kept quite even during conversations regarding this issue for a long time.  Part of my silence was caused by my recognition that I am no expert on Indonesian politics, and part by my own guilt after the U.S. Presidential election: how could I speak out against what I was seeing in Indonesia, a country where I was a guest, after my native country had just committed what, in many ways, felt like a personal betrayal.  But though I was never able to write any sort of long-form blog that I felt satisfied with (I tried, I really did), I did eventually start speaking my mind on the matter, because prejudice is prejudice, and no teacher worth their chops can stay silent in the face of it.


There is a Catholic Cathedral which was very intentionally build right across from Mesjid Istiqlal.  Indonesia, like the United States, is not without it’s attempts at pluralism.  But like The U.S., it doesn’t always succeed.

And though so much of my relationship with religion in Indonesia was as a learner, there are many times when I become the teacher.  Just as I have striven to educate Americans about the religions that they know so little about, I have had to correct Indonesians about their misconceptions regarding other religions, especially those that do not belong to the six religions recognized by the Indonesian government.  I had students and friends tell me that atheists worshiped the devil, and I had to explain that atheists, by definition, don’t in fact believe in the devil at all.  Anti-Semitism runs rampant in many places in Indonesia[3], and I was continually surprised at how uninformed people were regarding this religion.  Though Indonesian does have a word for atheist, aties, I had several friends instead use the word yahudi, which means Jewish.  When I questioned this usage, they happily told me that people of the Jewish religion do not believe in God.  Surprised by this, especially coming from Muslim friends who practice the religion from which the concept of People of the Book came from[4], I explained that people who practice Judaism do, in fact, believe in God, and in fact both the Christian and Muslim religions would not exist if not for the development of Judaism.  As someone with Jewish relatives, this was never a fun conversation, but it was a conversation that needed to be had, and the teacher in me didn’t allow myself to turn away.

How, amidst all of this, could I write a post describing what I had learned about the practices of different religions around Indonesia?  How could I, who myself could not pinpoint exactly where religion and ethnicity and nationality and age—etc., etc., etc.—began and ended and intertwined, say anything about the effect different religions have had on a country where I had lived for a mere three years?  How could I claim, in a world where followers of every religion seemed to forget how to be kind the moment they were in the majority, claim that the more I learned of any religion, the more I came to love it?

Because despite the horrors that end up in the news, the more I learn about religions around the world—through reading books, visiting places of worship, and talking to people—the more I come to love the effect that religion can have on people: both individuals and whole civilizations.  Whether it was speaking to my students or fellow teachers, for every comment or view that shocked me, there was one that warmed my heart, and made me feel so fortunate to be a part of this diverse—religiously and otherwise—human race.  And for every headline I saw that showed an American misusing religion to discriminate against a fellow American, I saw beautiful examples of how religion was motivating Americans to fight prejudice, both hidden in the news and in the work done by my fellow ETAs.  The more I sought understanding of religion, the more confused I became by the contrast of the horrors and the wonders that religion can inspire, but ultimately the wonder of the love somehow inherent to it all seemed to be somehow stronger.

Some might say I was predisposed to feel this way: I have long been an atheist whose favorite book is Life of Pi, a book in which main character loves God so much that he comes to practice three different religions.  Though I first read this book in high school, I revisited it each year while living in Indonesia, and it always seemed to have something to offer me along my journey of striving to understand the complexity of the religions around me.  For even as my time trying to puzzle out religion in Indonesia over the past three years has made me question everything I thought I knew about religion in Indonesia and America, it has also made me question, on several occasions, my own relationship with religion.  And while I have even fewer answers to those questions than I do to the questions about religion in Indonesia, I have come to recognize that if there is one thing of which I am certain: I seek out love wherever I go, and I always find it.  If I am to be accused of a predilection towards something, a tendency to love is one of which I will not be ashamed.

In short, I have learned so much, and nothing, since my last post on religion.  But I have learned that, despite this complete lack of clarity, I still love the subject, and I am not done exploring it yet.

[1] These six religions are: Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confusianism.  There are those who practice other religions, but officially they must select one of these six religions (many who still practice more traditional religions are often registered as Hindus, for example).

[2] I do want to point out that there were many groups disappointed in the way that Ahok handled some of the programs he implemented.  Most notably, the eviction of many people who lived in some of Jakarta’s “illegal settlements,” in an effort to widen the rivers and prevent flooding (something that does need to be done, as flooding is a huge issue in Indonesia’s capital), did not sit well with many citizens.  Nonetheless, for every legitimate complaint about Ahok that I heard, I heard a purely racist or anti-Christian comment as well.  In many ways, it echoed my experience with the U.S. election: for every person who had well-thought concerns about the prospect of Hilary Clinton, there was another who felt it was okay to make a p#$$y joke.  I also need to point out that the blasphemy law that Ahok was taken to trial because of is a legitimate law in Indonesia.  Disagree with its existence if you will (I know that I do), but don’t confuse what might be unjust with what might be illegal.   (Unfortunately, unjust law still prevails in all corners of the globe.)

[3] A lot of this actually has a lot to do with the conflict between Israel and Palestine.  It is often difficult for Indonesians to separate the actions of the Israeli government from Judaism as a whole, in the same way that so many Americans cannot separate the actions of oppressive governments in the Middle East from Islam.

[4] People of the Book are those of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths, who all believe in the same God and share some of the same stories.  This concept was actually developed by Sufi Muslims.  If you’re interested in more of these fascinating connections between the monotheistic religions, I highly recommend Karen Armstrong’s History of God.