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].


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.


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.


Welcome to Six Star Bahasa Babbling: Orientation Part One

After almost two full days on planes and in airports, we arrived in Indonesia.  Walking out of the airport, I and  my fellow English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) were greeted by palm trees, humidity, hordes of men eagerly offering their taxi services, and American-Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF) staff bearing gifts of bottled water and donuts.  It was the welcoming of a lifetime.


Our orientation is taking place in Bandung, a city in Western Java about 87 miles south of Jakarta.  We were bussed there from the airport in Jakarta, past tiered rice paddies, mountains, mosques, and gas stations.  The city itself initially seemed to consist mostly of motorcycles, though I am beginning to experience the liveliness beyond the busy streets.


We are staying in the most luxurious hotel I have ever stepped foot in for orientation; the manager informed our group it is a six star hotel, something I was not aware existed until now.   Due to a combination of fighting jet lag and having orientation classes all day, I have had few opportunities to venture past the hotel and attached mall and truly explore the “Paris of Indonesia,” but at least I have a room with a view of the bustling city below.


Orientation itself consists predominately of sessions focusing on teaching, navigating Indonesian culture, and Bahasa Indonesia.  Bahasa is by far my favorite part of each day, in part because my animated classmates are so enjoyable to be around, and because I can see this training being most useful for me, personally.  Having just acquired my New York State 7-12 ELA certification, I do have some experience teaching, and though I know my classes in Malang will be completely different from any classes I have had the opportunity to teach thus far, I have floundered in the classroom before and survived, and so I am confident I can do so again with only a reasonable number of tears shed.  And though the advice from returning ETAs is honest and practical, I know no session will keep me from being hit over the head with culture shock—again and again and again—during my nine months in Indonesia.  I must simply embrace it—and a few more tears—as part of the experience.  I do believe, however, that learning the language will help make everything else about my grant just a little bit easier.

The little Bahasa Indonesia I learned during my lunch breaks over the summer was not sufficient to place me any higher than the lowest level of Indonesian classes, but having even some exposure to the language has at least saved me the frustration of being entirely lost.  The Bahasa instructor for my group is a wonderfully amusing man who goes beyond the text to provide us with regional nuances in Indonesia’s national language and answer our never-ending questions about everything from handshakes to motorcycles.   I hope that by the end of orientation I will have enough rudimentary Indonesian tucked up my sleeve to navigate necessary interactions at my site, but for now I still struggle to order my kopi (coffee) in the afternoon or acquire nasi goreng (fried rice) from a warung (food stall) for dinner.


Perhaps most importantly, orientation has given me the opportunity to get to know my fellow ETAs.  They are from all over the United States, and many have traveled to and lived in more places than I could ever hope to see.  Intelligent and accomplished, I confess I was a bit intimidated by them at first, but they are far too welcoming for me to have remained that way for long.  I don’t know that I have ever before enjoyed the company of such a large group as much as I do this one.  The sound of laughter bubbling over from my fellow ETA’s is becoming just as familiar as the call to prayer from the mosque across the street from our hotel, and just as intertwined with my first impressions of Indonesia.  It sounds a little bit like a new adventure, a little bit like a new place to call home.