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.

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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.