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Looking Back and Looking Ahead
As participants from YES Abroad Indonesia continue to adapt and learn about their host country, students have reflected about what they have valued from their exchanges so far, and continue to look forward to what's ahead of them.
My year in Indonesia so far has been full of wonderful new friendships, difficult but rewarding challenges, and so much cultural learning. I have had so many amazing and memorable experiences during my time here, but I would like to write about one specific moment in my exchange that was eye-opening and beautiful for me. I participated on a trip with my host school to a small village in the mountains. It was a beautiful little village surrounded by padi fields and full of wonderful and welcoming local villagers. On the first day I was there, a little girl, about five years old, approached me. At this time my Bahasa was still very limited, and I was nervous about approaching people that could not speak any English, even if they were just little kids.
However, she was a brave and curious little girl. She gave me a radiant smile and took my hand in her little weather worn one and led me out on an adventure through the padi fields. She pointed out everything (from chickens, to the clouds, to the trees) and taught me the words in Bahasa. We laughed at the water buffalo rolling in the mud and imitated the bleating sound of the goats and she even taught me a little song in Sundanese to sing to the bright sky and the soft breeze. It was a beautiful and simple moment that I hold so dearly to my heart. I learned from this wonderful little child that laughter was the universal language. We didn’t need words. It didn’t matter that we were from different countries, that we had different religions or even that we spoke different languages. What mattered was our courage and our curiosity to learn and understand each other and experience the joys of this world together. And from that, a beautiful friendship can be born.
When I first arrived here in Indonesia I was confused, lonely, and more than a bit nervous. I knew nobody, didn't understand anything that was going on, and was very worried about offending everyone around me through some accidental violation of acceptable cultural behavior. It was rather intimidating. Since then, however, this has all changed.
Thanks to the support and teaching of my amazing host family, especially my four younger host siblings, I have found family and friends here in Indonesia and have begun to understand the customs and norms of Indonesia. While I still have a long way to go during my time here, I now understand most of what happens around me, know enough to not offend people, and feel like a part of my community. My months here have been amazing, and I look forward to what my next months will hold, too!
These past months have been some of the most formative times in my life thus far. I have not only learned a whole new language, but a whole new manner in which to communicate. I take things more slowly now and analyze what is happening and move from there. My self confidence has boosted one thousand percent because I feel like I know what I am doing, and even when I don't know, or am unsure, I know that I have so many people ready to help. Listed below are a few highlights from my exchange so far:
- Bonding with my host family, especially my host parents, because they are incredibly caring and intelligent individuals.
- Joining KPA 3 aka Keluarga Paduan Angklung (My school's angklung group). Not only was it a way to meet loads of new people, but it was a way for me to learn how to play a traditional Indonesian instrument, which also happens to be the only instrument I've ever learned how to play. One of the most rewarding experiences I have had was placing second while playing with my school at a festival in Bandung.
- Knowing enough Bahasa to negotiate at markets and stores, even if the price could have bee lower in the end, it still makes me proud.
- Studying in school, which should be a no-brainer, but it really takes hard work to keep up with all of the classes.
- Going to a farming village outside Bandung with my school, and teaching some of the kids and adults there English. It was really fun and rewarding to see their smiles and eagerness to learn.
There's so much more I could say but one word to sum it all up so far is: stupendous!
A year ago, I never would have expected to be living in Indonesia. But here I am! It’s been a long journey, with many twists and turns, but I could not be happier with the way it has ended up. I remember how nervous and excited I was when I first got here, how I stared at everything with wide eyes, how everything I saw, did, and ate was brand new, even frightening - and now I feel completely at home here. At the beginning, I had difficulties adjusting to the many differences of Indonesia. Now, I often go cycling and play board games with my host family, I am used to waking up at 4:30 and putting on my school uniform, and I can talk about politics and history in Bahasa while eating nasi goreng. I love stopping at roadside stands for kelapa muda, wandering around batik shops, and teaching about life in America to the Indonesian children at my host family’s library for underprivileged youth. I know I still have a long way to go, but I am excited for the next months and whatever they may bring!
These past months have been transformative and rather indescribable, overall. Of course, I've had my ups and downs. However, the times that I feel the highest are not when I’m visiting beautiful locations for tourists; it's when I’m traveling to school.
My host dad drives me to and from school everyday. It takes about 15 minutes to get home at the end of a school day. This gives me at least 15 minutes a day to observe my surroundings and just think. I see other drivers, whether on motor, mobil, or a different sort of transportation. I see people living their lives: the group of children playing games in front of a shop, a man weighing chickens, women kneeling outside of the local mosque, people waiting at bus stops, or traffic directors escorting cars into traffic.
I only have a couple of seconds before each moment has already whipped by and gone. It is particularly in these moments of reflection that I feel extremely grateful for my time here. How my host family has embraced me completely. How people do everything in their power to make me comfortable and happy. How the students at school overcome their shyness and invite me to spend time with them. How Indonesia is so friendly and overwhelmingly curious. How unimaginably culturally rich and diverse this country is. It is in these times where my heart swells and feels like it will break free of my chest. It is in these times that I say to myself, “Remember this when you may feel negative. Remember how you feel right now. Remember the clarity. Remember how glad you are to be here.”