Choking on Smoke, While the Western World Fears Smoked Bacon

I recently had the chance to talk with a friend from home, and amidst all of our general catch up talk and laughter, we also ended up talking about our varied frustrations regarding the dangers of bacon and the dangers of smog.

The two are related, believe it or not.  Recently, various social media platforms I use, as well as various newspapers I follow, blew up with the news that WHO had declared bacon just as dangerous as cigarettes.  And to be honest, seeing how pervasive this news was, I found myself a little angry.  Now, while I’ m sure this news will have effects on the agricultural industry around the world and will create great controversy among dietitians for some time, none of this is why I was upset by the article (though, as a farm-girl, I do care about how media coverage affects agriculture, as well as well-thought advancements in health).  I was angry because while I saw numerous articles about smoked bacon in various newspapers, what I wasn’t seeing was articles about the smoke that almost completely obscures Indonesia when viewed from space.

This smoke comes from the burning of forests in order to “improve” the soil for paper pulp and palm oil production.  This practice, combined with the fact that the rains have come late this year, means that the fires have been even more damaging than in previous years, even though they are generally pretty awful every year.

Meanwhile, the Facebook feeds of my fellow ETAs in Indonesia, past and present, fill with articles about the haze in various parts of Indonesia, from the Mogabay article that talks about officials in Palangkaraya wearing face masks inside parliament, to the Jakarta Globe article that calls the fire crisis the biggest environmental crime of the 21st century. There is the BBC article about potential child evacuation, and the Jakarta Post’s article which calls this an humanitarian crisis.

For us, here and now, it is personal.  Two of our fellow ETAs have been evacuated more than once from their site (and have maintained blogs about their experiences, here and here), due to the smog being so hazardous.  This means they have been significantly delayed in being able to immerse fully and connect with the communities in which they are supposed to be engaging.  (And they are the lucky ones, by comparison–many residents do not have the means to leave these smog-filled cities.  It is only because we are fortunate enough to be part of a program with people whose job it is to consider our well-being that we are able to leave places deemed too dangerous to live in…everyone just has to try to keep on living.)  Other ETAs live in cities not filled with enough smog for them to be evacuated, but their lives are still defined by its presence.  Their friends, their coworkers, their students, are living in a place that is choking… pictures of smoke from space cannot speak as loudly as the distinct relationship this smog has to people’s everyday lives.

In some ways, it is a weird, twisted privilege that we are living here at this time of crisis.  If we did not live here, and did not have the connection to this place that we do, I wonder if we would have any idea this was happening.  We would probably be just as clueless as many of our fellow American’s back home.  Because so often, this part of the world simply does not make the news in Western countries.

I do not blame my friends or family members back home for not knowing the details of what is going on here.  If I did not live here, I would be guilty of just as much ignorance.  My news feeds are filled daily with articles about the U.S. presidential race (which really isn’t even yet underway), but nothing regarding the fires that are burning beautiful, necessary jungles to the ground.  And even as I try to expand the news coverage I receive, and I begin to learn more about issues and triumphs in Asia and South America, Africa, the second largest continent in both area and population, remains a blank space in my understanding of the world.

My friend tries to comfort my inane Western guilt: “If we tried to keep up on the news in all parts of the world, it would be a full time job.  That’s why we have the media: it’s their full-time job.” It’s a systematic issue, I know, and one I have no power, or qualifications, to change.

But I cannot help but fume–sometimes silently, sometimes quite vocally–when the world gets up in arms about bacon, while meanwhile… Indonesia is burning.

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School Days: MAN Model, Gorontalo

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The front gate of my school… do I work in a castle?

I know it has been iterated time and time again in various blog posts, but for me, the best part of Indonesia is the young people I have the privilege to work with.  This may be why one of the happiest places for me, despite all of the frustrations that invariably come with it, is always my school.

This year, I am an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at MAN Model Gorontalo.  MAN stands for Madrassah Aliyah Negri, which means my school this year is a religious institution, in contrast to the SMA I taught at last year.  And unlike SMAN 10 Malang, MAN Model Gorontalo has only one campus, and since I live just around the corner, I am able to walk to school rather easily, passing through the gates as the students hurry to morning prayer (no more six am commute by motorbike…there are some days I miss it, but most days I don’t).

Because this is my second year teaching in an Indonesian high school, there are certain elements that I hardly notice until someone points them out to me, because I’ve already become accustomed to them.  However, there are also parts of MAN Model that are very different from SMAN 10: some of these differences stem from the fact that MAN Model is a Madrassah; some originate in the unique nature of SMAN 10 having two campuses, while MAN Model has only one campus, which is much more common; others are simply present because all schools are different from one another.

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The courtyard where most of the Kelas 1 (Grade 10) classrooms are. My kiddos are always milling about between classes here.

One of the most surprising parts of the Indonesian school system for many Americans is the sheer number of classes students take.  While in America students might take six or seven subjects (give or take) at one time, Indonesian students take anywhere from fourteen to nineteen (according to the students I’ve talked to about this).  This is because while American students might take Earth Science their freshman year, Biology their sophomore year, Chemistry their junior year, and Physics their senior year[1], a student in the Science track of an Indonesian high school (students in other tracks don’t take nearly as many science courses) will take all of those classes at once, and throughout the entirety of their three years of high school (high school is grades 10-12 in Indonesia).  Each subject is then allotted a certain number of hours, depending on which track students are in, and the insane schedule students have every week, Monday through Saturday (no two-day weekend here), is created out of that.

It’s a lot to keep track of, on the students part, and it also makes it difficult for teachers to maintain continuity in their lessons.  For example, most of my students have English just once a week, for two 40 minute periods (the Language track has English twice a week, but they are the exception to this).  To anyone who has ever tried to learn or teach a foreign language, how rarely we are able to meet our students is shocking.  And if classes are canceled—due to a holiday, an event on campus, or a teacher meeting—it can often be two or even three weeks between meetings with a particular class.

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Students working on the name tags which will help me learn all of their names. (Nine classes isn’t nineteen, but it’s still a lot of students.)

I was not excessively surprised by this schedule this year (my students this year do take a few more classes than my students last year, because it is a Madrassah and so all students have required Muslim Studies and Arabic classes), but I won’t deny that sometimes I still find the schedule a bit frustrating as a teacher[2].   I take comfort in the fact that many of my Indonesian co-teachers feel the same way, and that we can commiserate together.

The presence of tracks is also quite different from the average American high school.  While some schools in America are tracked, those tracks are most often based on general academic “ability.” Here in Indonesia, they are based on students’ academic interests (at least in theory).  The main tracks are Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Language, and, if it is a religious institution, Religion.  Last year, my school only had Science and Social tracks, because with two campuses the population on each campus was not big enough to have more than just the two tracks.  This year, my school has all four tracks, and I teach a mix of all of them[3].

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The sign outside of the tenth grade Language 2 class. Every classroom has a sign outside of it’s door.

Though the tracks are supposed to be based on interest, there are invariably opinions about which students are brighter.  Science students are almost universally thought to be the smartest students in a school: I have talked to students who have told me that they actually have more of an interest in social sciences or language than natural sciences, but their parents pressure them to enroll in the Science track instead, because they believe this will help them to be more successful in the future; at MAN Model, there is even a Science Excellent class, which is above even Science 1, while there is no “Excellent” class for any other track.

Within each track, classes again are divided, this time by ability (I have been told students take a test to determine which class they are in, but I do not know exactly what is assessed).  Consequently, within, say, the Religion track, students from Religion 1 are thought to be better students than Religion 2, who are in their own turn thought to be better than Religion 3.

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The various courts for physical education and afternoon sports, with more classrooms in the background. (MAN Model is one of the biggest schools I’ve ever been to Indonesia–there are three different places for classrooms, and there is another set of classrooms being built currently.)

Not all teachers conform to this idea.  I am not alone in thinking that all students have a diverse set of abilities which allow them to be successful in different areas.  But issues of efficacy are rampant in each of the schools in which I have worked in Indonesia.  Students from outside of the Science track are always telling me they are not as smart as the Science students, and teachers regularly echo this same sentiment (indeed, it may be that the students are merely echoing the teachers).  As someone who is wholeheartedly a supporter of heterogeneous grouping in classrooms for most situations, I have to admit I’m not a fan of this distinct division of classes, but then, I was never a fan of tracking in America, or the way American teachers always talked about “Honors” students.

On the flip side, there is a positive to classes being divided (though perhaps it would be better if they were not divided by “ability”?).  Because each class spends so much of their day, six days a week, together (in Indonesia, teachers go to the students, rather than the students coming to the teacher), each class becomes like a family.  In America, each class also has a distinct feel and personality, but I believe the class personality is even more distinct in Indonesia, simply because students spend so much time together.  Every time I walk into a classroom, either to teach a lesson or to just hang out during the breaks, I am walking into a family.

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Dewan Guru, or the Teachers’ Room.

And while the students each have their own room, the teachers have “Dewan Guru.”  Last year, with two campuses and multiple teachers rooms, I never got to experience the daunting and fascinating “teachers’ room,” because there were usually only six or seven teachers in the rooms my desks were in at SMAN 10.  MAN Model only has two teachers’ rooms, and I am in the main room, my desk nestled in amongst almost thirty other desks.  This is where teachers plan lessons, grade papers, chat and complain about their days, nap, share food and occasionally even sell clothing.

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Me and the ladies. Three of my teachers are Ibu-ibu. The one in grey is also my neighbor, and has the most adorable daughters.

The teachers’ room is where I meet with my co-teachers to plan our lessons.  I have four co-teachers this year, compared to the two I had last year, three ladies and one gentleman.  It is sometimes a challenge to coordinate time to meet with all of them and plan lessons for the upcoming weeks, but thus far we have managed.  Each of my teachers has a different personality, both within and without the classroom, but I am learning so much from teaching with them, and loving the laughter that comes from seeing them outside of class.

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Sometimes I make my teachers participate in class projects along with myself and the students. This is the one male teacher I work with. He is also my counterpart.

The teachers’ room is also where I am continuously reminded that I am in a distinctly Muslim institution.  When I first came to MAN Model, I was initially asked by many of the teachers (not my co-teachers, but others) if I would wear the jilbab (hijab).  Last year, this was never asked of me, because there were already plenty of Christian teachers at the school, as well as Muslim teachers who chose not to wear the jilbab.  But at MAN Model, I am the only female teacher whose hair is uncovered[4].  And when the call to prayer sounds, I am often alone in the teachers’ room alone, unless there is a female teacher who cannot enter the mosque at that time.  Because Indonesia is a Muslim majority country, this was sometimes even the case last year, so it isn’t all that different, but this is my first time being the only non-Muslim at an educational institution.  I’m excited to reflect more on this as the year progresses.

No matter where I am at the school—in the classroom, in the teachers room, posted up on some steps with students after school—there is no denying that I have found a place of happiness in MAN Model.  I may live off campus this year, but my school is still my home.

[1] This is just an example.  As I am always explaining to teachers and students here, all American schools are unique places, and because there is more flexibility in what classes a student might choose to take in America, there are also a slew of different ways a school experience could play out in one school.

[2] I don’t know that the American system is perfect (how many American students forget most of what they learned in Earth Science or World History by the time they graduate, because it was so long ago?), but nor do I feel the Indonesian system is the answer either.

[3] This year, I am only teaching nine classes, in contrast to the nineteen I taught last year.  This has made me significantly less stressed this year: I don’t have as demanding a schedule, and I am actually able to get to know all of my students this year.

[4] Somewhat funny story: some of the teachers at my school were actually somewhat offended that I did not want to wear the jilbab at first.  This did not actually stem from any desire to pressure a non-Muslim to conform to Muslin standards, but from my thick eyebrows and dark hair: to them, I looked to be of Arab or Pakistani descent (a mistake made more often than one might think), and so they assumed I was also Muslim.  Once I explained that I was not Muslim, no one was bothered.  (This does make me wonder what the experience of a Muslim who might choose to not wear the jilbab might be at a Madrassah, however.)

From Across the Archipelago

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I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to explore Indonesia and share my experience with this blog. But even as I am continuing to expand my understanding of this amazing and multifaceted country, I can by no means give a complete picture. There are many others from this year’s cohort who are also blogging about their experience here, and I feel this is a great place to start exploring.  Below are links to their various blogs.  (Also, check out Indoensiaful, the online publication any and all ETAs from Indonesia can contribute to.)

Sulawesi

Kelsey, Gorontalo

Shalina, Manado

Sam, Manado

Kalimantan

Jared, Pontianak

Mackenzie, Palankaraya 

Carlie, Palankaraya

Sumatra 

Ramon, Bandar Lampung

Rebecca, Bandar Lampung

Caitlin, Pangkalpinang

Kelly, Pangkalpinang

Java

Camille, Malang

Bryan, Wonosari

Julia, Yogyakarta

Kendra, Yogyakarta

Savannah, Magelang

Maria, Semarang 

A Day of Sharing: Idul Adha

Having been exposed to my first Idul Adha experience last year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity of a second year to learn more about the specific traditions surrounding this celebration in Indonesia.

Idul Adha, often called Eid al-Adha outside of Indonesia, reflects the story of Ibrahim and Ishmael.  Similar to the way Ibrahim sacrificed a ram after an angel told him he did not actually need to sacrifice his son, Muslims around the world sacrifice cattle, goats, and sheep, and share the meat from these animals with family, friends, neighbors, and the poor.

Last year, after being forgotten about in all of the excitement (understandably), I never saw the actual sacrifices done at my school.  This year, however, I was part of most of the day’s celebrations.  I was picked up early in the morning by my kepala sekola (headmaster), and taken to his family’s Idul Adha[1].

The day starts with prayer: the streets are filled throughout the morning with people going to and from the local mosques, and parts of some streets are even closed.  Because I was going to my headmaster’s mother’s house, I observed most of this from the windows of his car.  Watching Ibu-Ibu and Bapak-Bapak walk home in their prayer clothes is one of my favorite sights here: it reminds me of the chatting that happens after Sunday mass lets out in my hometown, and while I am not religious, I admire the community that comes out of religion.

One everyone returns home from prayer, the sacrifices begin.  One bull was already sacrificed by the time we arrived (only males can be sacrificed for Idul Adha), and I was ushered to the front of the crowd surrounding the area where the sacrifices were taking place (there are times when being an honored guest can get you into slightly awkward situations), a spot it seemed many others were vying for.

My kepala sekolah’s family sacrificed three bulls, two of which were slaughtered by my kepala sekolah himself.  His wife, who babbled away throughout the entire ceremony, providing me with wonderful insights into all I was seeing without me even having to ask, told me the person with the highest position was the one who ought to potong (cut) the animals, and in this case it was him.  Prior to cutting the animals throat above a hole dug into the ground to catch the blood, he read off seven names, his voice drawing out each name so that it sounded almost like the praying I hear during sholat at school.  (A cow is enough to cover seven people, while a sheep or goat is enough for one.  When I asked, it seemed people only needed to be covered by an animal once they reached a certain age, but it was unclear to me what age that was.)

Following the slaughter, the carcass was skinned, and the meat was divided into even portions.  Last year, I was able to help with this portion of Idul Adha at my school, but because I was in more of a desa (village) setting, the day’s events followed a more traditional route, and it was only the men who surrounded the piles of fresh beef.  I sat with the women during this time, chatting and smiling for a million selfies.

Following this, however, the meat was brought to the kitchen, and it was the women’s turn to take over.  At first, I was told to sit and watch from the corner (again, being in a unique position as a guest is sometimes challenging to navigate), but eventually dived in anyway, and was soon skewering meat onto tiny wooden sticks, to be grilled into sate later.

Eventually, after eating more than our fill and talking for hours, we worked our way back into the city, stopping as we went to drop meat off at various homes and organizations (I believe this was the portion designated for the poor). The children fell asleep,

I can’t fully express how thankful I am to have been so welcomed, for the second year in a row, into this Muslim celebration.  Coming from a country where many Muslim students still have to miss school to participate in this important holiday (though the recent change in New York City gives me hope that this might change), the beauty of this day and how it plays out here is certainly not lost on me.  Like so many holidays, both religious and secular, this holiday brings families and whole communities together, for a day of sharing food, laughter, tradition, and love.

[1] To be honest, I actually didn’t know I was going to an Idul Adha sacrifice when I was picked up.  I had been told I was going to a school celebration on Saturday (which I ended up coming very late to, due to car-pool confusion, so I’m actually quite glad I had an unexpected day of Idul Adha), but all my kepala sekolah told me about Thursday was that he wanted to introduce me to his family.  But, as it usually goes in Indonesia, I was surprised (pleasantly so) when we got to our destination.  The only bummer was that I only had my phone, and not my actual camera, with me for the event.

Stray Cats and Abandoned Plants: To Make a House a Home

houseWhile last year I lived in an apartment in my school’s asrama (dorm), this year I am living in a rumah (house) in the neighborhood behind my school.  Not only is this my first time living in an actual house outside of my parents’ home (I was always an apartment girl in college); it is also my first time living well and truly alone.

My house seems pretty typical for my neighborhood, with a front gate
(which my neighbors are always reminding me to lock, even though there is nothing outside of my house worth stealing), and a tiny porch stoop where I’ve set up some plastic chairs to sit on in the evenings while I read and wave hello to the people in my community. IMG_1345
Inside, there is a front room for entertaining visitors, a room which might be for eating in (it currently houses a table, a broken chair, the water cooler and the refrigerator), a bedroom with its own bathroom, and a weird extra room which I think my school intended me to use as an office (there is a desk in it).  The dapur (kitchen) is in a large, semi-outdoors room in the very back of the house, where every night I menumis (stir fry) the sayur (vegetables) I buy at the local pasar (market), hang my laundry to dry after handwashing it in a giant plastic tub, and battle the kecoa (cockroaches) and tikus (mice) which are determined to become my housemates. IMG_1326

Prior to my moving in, my school furnished my house with everything I needed (and a decorative tree in the front room to boot) and painted some of the walls a particularly warm shade of burnt orange (the interior walls are the same color as the exterior of the house, something I am learning is actually quite common here in Gorontalo), so I was certainly not moving in to a bare and boring house.  Since then, I have also found small ways to make the house more my own.  I’ve hung peta (maps) in the front room, and pieces of batik-patterned wrapping paper in the dining room (ish) part of the house.

plantsBut while maps and batik add color to the walls, it is the living creatures who have come to share my house that makes it most homey.  Tossed on top of a pile of bricks along the side of my house, I found two spiky, presumably dead plants.  I’ve always loved having plants around, so even though they looked like a lost cause, I set them up by my front porch and started watering them every day and using the tea leaves from my morning cup of caffeine as fertilizer.  Lo and behold, little bits of green appeared.  One of the plants still needs some tender loving care, but the other has responded well to the extra attention, and adds a little greenery to the dry-season dust that is outside my house.

IMG_1352I have also managed to somehow adopt a cat.  Last year, I was known for loving kucing far more than was considered normal, but this year it seems I have taken it to the next level.  There is a particularly friendly and surprisingly clean stray who started coming around in the evenings, asking if he might share my supper (everyone was always bringing me two much food anyway, so I really didn’t mind).  At some point, tossing bits of ikan (fish) and tahu (tofu) his way turned into my buying canned cat food for him (it’s insanely cheap here, which is how I justify this to myself), and now he is as much a part of my front porch as my plants (my doormat has been officially commandeered as his bed).  He is missing part of one ear, and has a scar down the length of one leg, which the more romantic part of me has determined is very like an old naval ship captain, and thus I have named him Admiral James Anthony.  In contrast to his very pretentious Western name, I generally talk to him in very informal Indonesian: Admiral is the first living creature to get the rundown of my day.  He is also often the last living creature I see at night, as he curls up purring in my lap while I journal, work on lessons, and (less often than I should) write blog posts.  I still send him outside at the end of the night (I will only be here for nine months, and I don’t want him to forget he is a street cat and not do well when I leave), but I do let him into the front room, and he loves to sprawl across the cool tile during the heat of the day.  Whenever students ask me if I am afraid to live alone, I tell them I don’t: I live with a really great friend with whiskers.

IMG_1335Living in a more traditional Gorontalo house does present a few new daily dilemmas, to which I’m learning to adapt and embrace as part of my new life here.   Because houses here are fairly open (there are holes cut into the walls near the ceilings to help ventilate the house—completely necessary, considering how hot it is), critters can easily crawl on in, and dust is always blowing into my house, (especially because it is dry season now, and has not rained for months).  Sweeping and mopping is all part of a daily routine here.  Generally, it doesn’t bother me all that much, although I must say, having to rinse my bathroom of the coat of dust that has settled on it throughout the day (like my kitchen, my bathroom is strangely open to the elements) before I can shower is not my favorite thing in the world[1].  Due to daily mati lampu (blackouts), I have to make sure I keep a bucket of water in my kitchen to use to wash my dishes (no electricity means no water), and hand-washing my clothes is one of those chores that requires a decent soundtrack (though when it is all hanging to dry it makes my back room look something like a pasar, which I’m rather fond of). IMG_1337

Much of this (hand-washing clothes, fighting with insects, planning around mati lampu) is already familiar to me, since I did the same thing last year.  Having a house just means that I contend with all of this in a much larger space.  And all of this is not to say that having a house in Indonesia is so much harder than having one in Central New York.  It’s just different[2].  I might be battling excess dust and cockroaches, but I certainly won’t have to shovel snow to get out of my house come November.  No complaints there.

IMG_1355Living in my first house on my own is not always the easiest (I’m very behind on the weeding that needs to be done in front of my house, and I have yet to master the entertaining-by-candlelight that happens during mati lampu), and there is no denying I sometimes miss the constant company I used to live with (either in the form of roommates or my students last year), but I would not trade the experience for the world.  I love the independence it gives me, and the feeling that I am truly an adult member of a community.

Every afternoon I walk though my gate, wave to my neighbors, unlock my front door, and murmur to Admiral, who by this point is already wrapped around my legs, “I’m home.”

[1] I’m also strangely puzzled by my toilet, which is a Western-style toilet, but does not flush.  I have to scoop water into it in order to do so… making it a sort of Western/squat toilet hybrid which I’m not entirely sure is better than a squat toilet. It’s certainly unique, however, and I’m kind of into it because of that.

[2] It is worth noting that while my living situation this year is fairly Indonesian, it is not the living situation of every Indonesian in my neighborhood.  While the other teachers and the police families who live in my neighborhood all seem to have indoor plumbing and air conditioners in the bedrooms, there is a well behind my house that seems to be shared by a few of the families in my area; someone is always washing dishes or laundry there, in the company of ayam (chickens) scratching at the dry ground, not fifty feet from the neighborhood trash pile.  Meanwhile, I have a beautiful house to myself, complete with a pseudo-Western toilet.  The division is very noticeable; this is something I will continue to reflect on throughout my year here.

Keluarga Kita: Reflections on Orientation in Bandung

After spending one week at our respective sites, all of us ETAs returned to West Java for two weeks of orientation in Bandung.  Whether exciting or frustrating, or somewhere in-between, we were all bursting with stories from the places which would become our homes for the duration of our grants.

Last year, orientation occurred right after our arrival in Indonesia, before we had had a chance to visit our sites.  I must day I strongly prefer going to site first.  Last year, we were unable to ask site-specific questions of the AMINEF staff members, the research coordinator, and the returners, because we still hadn’t the foggiest idea what we were getting ourselves into.  And as much as we enjoyed getting to know one another, we were also incredibly impatient to get to our sites, which made two weeks in a luxury hotel in the company of thirty-four varied and fascinating individuals a bit less glorious than it might otherwise have been.

This year, after a week of trying to communicate without having yet received Bahasa Indonesia lessons, of trying to figure out just how to use a squat toilet, of realizing that the mosquitos are real in Indonesia… I think everyone was very ready for two weeks of hot showers, a salad bar, and a pool.  This year’s cohort also has the advantage of having had a Pre-Departure Orientation in D.C., which means this is not their first time meeting one another.  Already, they seem considerably closer than our cohort was: they weren’t coming to spend two weeks with a bunch of random Americans, but rather with people whose company they already enjoyed[1].

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This year’s crew with the U.S. Ambassador. Thanks AMINEF for the photo!

For those of us returning with the Indonesia ETA program, orientation was also quite different in that we were not merely participants this year, but were rather running sessions of our own.  I won’t pretend this didn’t make me a little nervous at times (since when am I any kind of authority on how to be a good ally or how to contend with harassment in a foreign country? I’m still figuring all of that out for myself), but in the end all the returner-led sessions seemed to go rather well.

And of course, even as we were leading sessions in order to help the new ETAs, we learned so much from orientation as well, mostly from our fellow ETAs.  One of the beauties of the Fulbright program is that it brings together people from a variety of backgrounds[2], all with a different toolkit with which to explore and understand our experience here.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to learn from and grow with all of the wonderful people who make up the ETA family this year.

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Special shout out to the Sulawesi Crew. Thanks again, AMINEF, for the photo.

It also doesn’t hurt that everyone in the cohort is just so darn lovely.  Whether we were studying Bahasa, practicing our teaching, or just chilling by the pool, I was always immersed in wonderful conversations with fabulous company.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

[1] If it sounds like I’m a bit jealous of this year’s cohort in this respect… to be honest, I kind of am.  But at the same time, I would not have traded my first cohort for the world, and my only regret is having not been able to get to know them better prior to arriving in Indonesia.

[2] This is not to say that the Fulbright Program does not need to work on the diversity of its program, especially in regards to race and SES, as this is an issue which Fulbright acknowledged at our PDO (they didn’t really offer up a concrete plan to combat this, but at least they have noticed, and will hopefully respond to it).  However, there is no denying the variety of disciplines and experiences our cohort comes from, nonetheless.