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.

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Tempat Paling Indah

I had intended to travel during midterms, to hop on a plane and head off to the far reaches of this amazing archipelago.  I could spend my whole life traveling around Indonesia, and still never see everything there is to see, but I wanted to go and witness at least some small wonder.

But then I stayed at home instead.  I made this decision partially because I have a lot of work to do, what with my WORDS speech competition barely two weeks away, my lessons for the second half of the semester not yet planned, and never-ending laundry to be washed by hand. The thought of traveling started to feel more stressful than exciting, and here in Indonesia I’m starting to learn my limits, to know when I shouldn’t just keep pushing onwards.  But it had also just dawned on me that I had a mere three months left in Malang, and there was so much more I wanted to see, right here in my backyard.  That was probably part of the anxiety that had crept into my enthusiasm.  So I canceled my trip, and decided to stay.

Much of this week has been spent working—catching up on my blog, trying to develop creative projects for the upcoming semester, and generally trying to plan the little time I have left in Indonesia so that I do not waste one precious moment—but, in keeping with this last goal, parts of this week have also been spent exploring some of the sites in and around Malang.

One of those places was Coban Pelangi, a waterfall just east of Malang. I had already seen a few of the waterfalls near Batu, and when my students learned of my love for all things nature, they told me that I needed to go see Coban Pelangi while I was here.  My students’ advice never steers me wrong.  With a week off and some time to spare, I was determined to fit in a trip to the waterfall.

I went with an Indonesian friend, whom I had not yet really had the opportunity to spend quality time with. I already knew he was the perfect example of orang baik hati (a kind person, a good-hearted person… there are a million ways to translate this Indonesian phrase, all of them essentially lovely), and it was wonderful to spend a morning talking to him about his family and his friends, his love of his home city and of photography (which are not necessarily unrelated).

I live for moments like this, the quiet, happy moments of small adventures with people whom I really enjoy.  This is the pleasant side of cultural exchange, the side that offers a reprieve from the tough questions and conversations about education and women’s rights and religion and race that I have almost daily.  I love those tough conversations as well—they are part of the reason I came here, after all—but there are days when my soul needs an escape, when I need a long motorbike ride through the mountains, a short hike through a jungle, and a friend.

Coban Pelangi was gorgeous, even if we were denied the rainbow its name promises.  Coban Pelangi crashes down upon the rocks below from a height of 110 meters (361 feet), into a gorge teeming with lush vegetation.  The mist enveloped us, leaving us sparkling in the ribbons of sunlight that danced through the gorge, inspiring my friend and I to make more than one Twilight joke.

I made the right decision by deciding to stay in Malang for my time off.  Yes, I’m sure I could have seen some beautiful places had I decided to travel, but it could not have compared to what I found here.

Because it’s not the waterfalls, or the mountains, or any of that that makes this tempat paling indah (the most beautiful place).  It’s the people, and the moments I am so lucky to share with them.