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Daily Routines Across Cultures

Ava teaching by a projector in the front of class in Indonesia

By Ava S., YES Abroad 2022-2023, Indonesia

An exchange year should benefit three parties: your host country, your home country, and yourself. I have easily fulfilled the last one, as I have grown and learned so much from my time in Indonesia. I am still working on the other two. I constantly ask myself, how can I create an accurate picture of the U.S. when my home country is so diverse? Are there things about the U.S. that I should keep to myself? I have grappled with these questions throughout my exchange year, and when I got the opportunity to share my experience as an American and teach at a local elementary school, I decided to find the answers.

Ava’s students sitting at desks, smiling at the camera, and holding up their work
Ava’s students in class

An Italian exchange student and I were invited to share our respective cultures and languages with fourth graders at a public elementary school in the northern part of my host city, Surabaya, Indonesia. I have presented at various Indonesian schools this year, but for this volunteer opportunity we had more freedom to create our presentation, including cultural activities.

Ava and her co-teacher with her students sitting in front of them
Ava and her co-teacher with her students

One activity had a surprising impact on the students. It was a simple activity where everyone shared their daily routines, practicing to present them in front of the class. What we didn’t expect, however, was the sense of unity it brought --we realized how much we all had in common. Sure, I might not eat rice for breakfast in the U.S., but just as the Indonesian students sometimes wake up late, I have often had my breakfast on the road. Maybe my school building looks a little different, but we all take the same subjects, and look forward to the lunch period! The activity created a real and genuine bond between our cultures!

A few weeks after we finished the project, I ran into one of our students at a Hindu celebration. He not only remembered us and our presentation, but he ran up to us and started using the Italian and English words we had shared months ago. While sharing my culture is still not straightforward, I have learned that simply trying can make bonds that last a lifetime!