Rasa Syukur: The Thanksgiving Post



This week in English Club, my students and I made Thankfulness Turkeys, and the Monthly Project for my English Corner[1] is a Thankfulness Tree.  It’s Thanksgiving in America, and while I tried to share the slightly problematic history with some of my students, this mostly left them rather confused, and what I ended up focusing on most was that while the food is usually awesome on Thanksgiving, it is the time spent with loved ones and the act of reflecting on all we have to be thankful for.

Last year around this time, I composed a list of ten things I was personally thankful for.  This year, I went for twenty (because you can never be too thankful, right?).

1 My Family

When your slightly crazy twenty-something relative runs off to the other side of the world, there are many ways you can react, and not all of them are positive.  My family—especially my immediate family, but also my extended family—has supported me though the highs and lows of being here, and I cannot thank them enough for that.

2 Friendly Stray Cats

After a less-than-successful day of teaching or of cultural exchange, there is nothing more therapeutic than coming home to the Admiral, who unceremoniously hops in my lap and begins his steady, quiet purr.  He does occasionally bring me dead mice while I am working on lessons or studying Bahasa Indonesia, but hey, in cat speak that just means he loves me.

3 The People of My Previous Site

Students, teachers, friends… they all reacted with an excitement I did not deserve when they learned I was actually, truly back in Indonesia.  I am going back to Malang very soon, and I am thrilled to be going back to the place I called home for nine months last year.

4 My Friends from Before Fulbright

I have made a slew of new friends in the past year and a half, from Indonesian and from other places, but I cannot forget the friends from before my stint as an ETA, who have kindly forgiven my inaccessibility and general lack of communication, and continued to love me anyway.

5 Motorbike

My motorbike gives me a freedom of mobility that is key to my independence and mental health while here.  It may not be the most glamorous mode of transportation, but it is everything I need.

6 Access to Clean and Plentiful Water

I wrote a short blog post on the privilege of safe water access last year, and this year I feel very similarly about my water situation.  This year, after a long drought, the privilege of even having water, even if it is not actually safe to drink, was reaffirmed for me when the taps in my friends’ homes would not produce any water, while the personal well next to my house (a distinct privilege here), never seemed to run dry.  As I mentioned in my blog about my house here, even having running water inside the home is a distinct privilege, and one I am continuously thankful for.

7 My Previous Cohort

They know me.  They know the roller coaster ride I am on.  Some of them are here in Indonesia again.  Some of them are back in the States.  Some of them have run off to new adventures in new countries[2].  But wherever they might call home for the moment, they are often my support system before I even know I need one, and I love them more now than ever, if that is even possible.

8 The AMINEF Staff

Last year they were the mysterious program leaders whom I knew smiled a lot and would have my back if I ever needed them.  This year they are more like friends, teasing my about my cat and my horrible spelling, and recommending novels for me to peruse in what spare time I have.  I cannot express how grateful I am to have been able to meet such wonderful people.

9 Internet Cafes and Smart Phones

I never had a smart phone until the very end of my grant last year, and I bought it predominantly because I wanted to me more readily accessible to this year’s ETAs as a returner.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to discover this about HPs (“hand pon,” the Indonesian term for mobile phone) with data access, but it really is a game changer.  I use it for everything from staying in touch with friends, to keeping up on the news, to providing my students with visuals in class.  For more intense internet needs, there is always the local internet café, where the coffee is delicious and the staff is always smiling.  While I am sure I would manage without the internet (how many generations before me did so?), there is no denying that having access to it makes my job much easier, and I am forever grateful for its existence.

10 My Students

I’ve said it time and time again.  My students are the best part of Indonesia.  I am especially thankful to have an English Club this year, providing me with a structured opportunity to work more closely with a few of my students outside of regular class hours.  English Club is what I look forward to most every week: even when it is pouring down rain, I can trust that at least a few students will come, and that warms every corner of my heart.

11 Rain

I have always loved rain.  The way it makes everything look and smell clean and fresh.  When ETAs first arrive in Indonesia, it is dry season, and we often go two months or more without ever seeing rain.  As soon as rainy season arrives, my mental health improves tenfold.  The world, and my perspective, is new.

12 My Sitemates

These are the folks who see me at my best and my worst, and seem to put up with me nonetheless.  I can’t thank them enough for being such a key part of my experience here.  We didn’t choose one another, but I can’t imagine being here with anyone else, and I love them from the bottom of my heart.

13 My Education

So much of this experience would be exceedingly more difficult if I did not have the background I do in the classroom, and I am thankful every day for my years of teacher training.  I also believe the ideas of my various educators over the years, regarding critical thinking and social justice, have strongly influenced my approach to my grant.  I don’t know that I always live up to the person they prepared me to be, but I strive to, and I thank them for helping to instill that desires to do so.

14 The Opportunity to Teach

This is tied in with number ten, but I still think it deserves its own place.  I’m continually asked why I put as much work as I do into my lessons and the activities I do with my students outside of class, and the only way I can think to respond is that it’s the least I can to, in return for the opportunity I have to work with the next generation.  There is a powerful potential in young people that is almost palatable when you walk into a room full of them.  As a teacher, I have the opportunity to spend more time with these young people far more than most adults do, even sometimes their parents.  As a teacher I also have the opportunity to help them to become all they can be, while simultaneously they unknowingly shape me into a better version of myself.  Teaching is a humbling and rewarding profession, and I am forever grateful that I am able to be a part of it.

15 My Current Cohort

I am quite fond of this year’s cohort as a whole.  They are certainly different in many ways from last year’s cohort, and have shaped my experience here in more ways than I think they know.  I should thank them more often for that.

16 The Days When I Feel Healthy

This time last year, I was relatively healthy.  I had certainly had my issues with adjusting to the food and the weather, but I was still healthy more than half of the time.  This year, I am still fighting a lowered immune system from my bout with typhoid, so my body is not delicious[3] more often than I would like.  But there are days when I am absolutely fine, and can eat and do whatever I want without needing to worry.  And that is a reminder of what a privilege health is; objectively I’ve always known that not having any kind chronic illness is a huge privilege, but this experience only makes me more aware of that.  Even if I am not always well, there are days when I am.  And though typhoid does tend to linger, it does eventually go away, and then I will exist as though I never had a tropical disease.  And for that, I am very grateful.

17 The Teachers of MAN Model

I spend quite a bit of time in dewan guru (the teachers room), and the teachers there, be they the English Teachers I work with or other teachers, have helped me through a number of the minor issues that invariably arise when you live in a foreign culture, and they never fail to make me smile and laugh.  They are a huge part of my family here, and I cannot thank them enough for welcoming me with open arms.

18 Fresh Vegetables

I happen to live in between two pasar (markets), and this means that I am able to fill my refrigerator and my dinner plate with plenty of leafy greens and fresh onions and tomatoes.  My day is always better with some green, and I regularly thank my lucky stars (to use the idiom from this week’s English Corner) for having such easy access to veggies.

19 Neighbors

Whether they are the ibus who scold me when I walk home in the rain or the tiny children that follow me on my way to drop off my laundry, my neighbors regularly make my day brighter than it would otherwise be.  Working my way into the community has been a slow process, but one worth having.

20 The Opportunities that Somehow Keep Coming My Way

Not a day goes by when I am not baffled by the mere fact that I am here.  Somehow I was deemed worthy to be part of a prestigious program that would send me to a place so few Americans ever have the opportunity to see.  And then somehow I was invited to come back for a second grant, to continue to learn and to grow.  Not every day is easy, but I am still the luckiest girl in the world, and I cannot express just how thankful I am.


[1] An English Corner is a vague concept that essentially means a learning space for folks who want to learn more about the English Language.  Some people have a room, some a corner in the library… I have an awesome papan tulis (white board) in the main courtyard area, where I am able to create daily, weekly, and monthly activities for students to engage in.

[2] One of my favorite ETAs from last year’s cohort is currently a Peace Corps volunteer in China, and she continues to blog about here experience in Asia here.

[3] In Bahasa Indonesia, if you want to say, “I am not feeling well,” you say “Badan saya tidak enak.”  Enak can mean “nice/pleasant,” so what you are saying is “My body is not nice,” but the more common use of enak is to mean “delicious,” so this phrase causes endless amusement for both native and non-native speakers of Indonesian.

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