It’s been three years now since I first learned that I had been privileged with the chance to teach English abroad as a Fulbright ETA. Through a surprising series of doors of opportunity that somehow opened for me, I am still here. I still wonder at how lucky I am, to have been able to live in Southeast Asia for so long.
Living abroad does have its challenges, and one which has only become harder to deal with the longer I am gone is trying to share my experiences with folks at home. I did blog fairly regularly when I was an ETA, and as someone who loves snapping photos of everything I tend to share visuals of my adventures across all sorts of social media platforms. But my stumbling sentences and blurry selfies can’t really capture all that life in Indonesia has been for me, but it is hard to really share it in all of its intricacies unless someone can actually come and visit me. And when you live on the other side of the world from family and friends, it’s not an easy task for people to plan that kind of a trip.
So I was bouncing-off-the-wall excited when I learned that one my roommates from college and closest friends needed to spend a few months in South Korea, and was able to swing a week to come down and visit me. I had a blast figuring out where it would be best to take Andrea (I wasn’t about to have her spend that week in Jakarta), eventually deciding, based on her time frame and the time of year, that Yogyakarta was our best option. (Though I would have loved to have taken her to Malang or to Gorontalo, one of the places I had actually lived as an ETA, both were a little too far given the short time she would be here.)
I had visited Yogya once before, as a first-year ETA, but very, very fleetingly. Still, as I had visited while one of my close friends from my first ETA cohort was teaching there, there was something familiar about Yogya, and it held so many significant and lovely memories that I still felt as though I was showing her a little piece of home. We stopped by my favorite places again, and saw a few my ETA friend had loved but I had not had time to see. We met up with a Fulbright researcher who had just started her grant, and well as the two ETAs currently teaching in Magelang (a town next-door to Yogya), giving Andrea some idea about the folks I have been working alongside in my program over the past few years. We were also able to meet up for supper with my Guru Bahasa Indonesia from my first orientation and her family, giving Andrea a taste of the incomparable Indonesian hospitality I have been blessed to experience over the past two.
We took selfies with Indonesian tourists. We rode motorcycles taxies through the crowded streets of Jakarta. We ate at warungs. We rode the train from Jakarta to Yogya through towering mountains, rolling hills, and rice paddies that seemed to have no end. We bartered at markets. We stood in awe of temples and mosques and rice paddies. We got a little bit ill when we ate too much spicy food, but kept trying different dishes anyway. We went to bed exhausted by the heat, but woke up ready for more incredible adventures.
I might not have been able to take Andrea to either of my previous homes in Indonesia, and we might have only spent one day in the city where I now live, but I was able to take her to a place that was familiar nonetheless. I might not have been able to bring her to one of my classrooms, but I was able to bring her to the sorts of markets and food stalls that I might have frequented at either site when I wasn’t on my school’s campus working with my kiddos. I was able to give her a taste of what Indonesia feels like: the constant barrage of different noises and smells that once overwhelmed me, but now provides the comfort of home.
I was so happy to have the opportunity to act as Andrea’s tour guide while she was in Indonesia, and so grateful that she took the time to come to see me. She was the perfect travel companion every step of the way.
So, if anyone else from home is headed my way and needs a tour guide, hit me up. This experience is far richer if shared.