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One week left!

27 May

How does it feel to wake up with only one week left in my Peace Corps service?

Click here to find out

I can hardly contain myself. I’m absolutely giddy, and at any moment I could be on the brink of tears.

Suddenly I feel so free, nothing matters. All of the little things that concern me, stress me, bother me…in a week they’ll all be gone.
Yet at the same time EVERYTHING matters. The time is so limited.  Because of that, all of the things that I have come to appreciate and love about this experience —the people, my village, all of the day in and day out stuff I’ve become comfortable and familiar with — all of the good stuff, equally will be gone in a week. Every moment is precious.

I find myself in an odd dance with everyone around me. Living our lives as usual, yet with the acute awareness of my imminent departure. It’s hard to leave, yes, but to reiterate Erin’s post and something I’ve now felt from the both sides—  it’s harder for the one that’s being left, than the one doing the leaving…

I’m a reflective person. It’s often easier for me to make sense of something in hindsight when I can piece it all together. So for now, I won’t try any further to explain what all is happening in my head. I’d rather focus on a few highlights from last week.

Gelar Seni and an official goodbye

Last Sunday was our school’s Gelar Seni. It is a combination between a graduation ceremony and an arts showcase. If video didn’t take so long to upload and I had software to edit it with, I’d consider posting a few pieces from it. It’s one of my favorite events because it allows me to see my students’ in such a different light where their creativity isn’t limited by the walls of their classroom. (See last year’s Gelar Seni post for some examples.) There were a variety of performances including student bands, dance routines, dramas, the school choir and more. It also gave me the opportunity to officially thank my school community and ask for forgiveness. (Asking for forgiveness is very common here. During special holidays or events or even something as simple as speaking up at a teacher’s meeting, people will often say they are sorry and ask for forgiveness for any mistakes they have made. This includes mistakes that they are unaware they have made.)

Teacher’s Workshop in Bondowoso

After weeks of on and off frustrations with class cancellations, counterparts’ dwindling motivation, and the other typical inconsistencies at my school, we ended on a good note. At our Sustainability Conference  back in March my principal, counterpart and I discussed having a workshop in our district to share our best practices. With some pushing from me and help from the wonderful English teachers at the local MGMP (English teacher’s professional group), we had the workshop last week. It was a hit! Sixty teachers from junior and senior high schools in Bondowoso and English teachers from local tutoring centers attended. They learned a little bit about me, the U.S. (Arizona to be more specific), Peace Corps and a lot about activities and techniques to use in their classrooms to engage their students more and set them up for success in learning English as a Foreign Language. I’ve been receiving emails and texts from teacher’s who’ve already tried out some of the new activities in their classes. They said their students loved it! Hooray for sustainability and spreading best practices!

One last weekend trip

A while back I got the idea to go paragliding in Batu from a few other volunteers who had attempted it. The weather wasn’t right, so they weren’t actually able to do it. Then I kept hearing about it and seeing it. I quickly added it to my “Before I leave Peace Corps Indonesia Bucket List.” It wasn’t too difficult to recruit a fellow volunteer up for jumping off a mountain with essentially a glorified kite.

Here we go! Attempt #1:

Mike had a little more luck with the wind than I did.

Here we go again! Attempt #2

We did it!

Snapshots from iGLOW

3 Apr

iGLOW. I believe I’ve mentioned this in a post or two. It’s by far been the most exciting, stressful and encouraging thing I have worked on here, and last weekend it happened. I’ll give you more details in another post. But, for now I wanted to give you a little taste with my favorite pictures from that extended weekend camp. Enjoy (and mouse over for captions!)

Registration time!

Lined up and ready to go for the blindfolded obstacle course

One team member guides another through the blindfoldeded obstacle course

Bidding at the values auction

Simultaneously speeding up and winding down

15 Jan

It seems about that time… for an update. A real one.

In the beginning there was so much I wanted to share, but not enough time to be writing blogs all day. I had to experience it!

Likewise, I found it hard to keep up with all the places my overstimulated mind was racing. So I tried for a post once a week.  Then things slowed and starting sinking in a little deeper. The things I wanted to share were more complex, difficult to summarize. Blog posts didn’t seem as appropriate of a format.  So despite a few exceptions I tried to keep you entertained with more pretty photos and short bits and pieces here and there. So now where are we in the life of this blog? I’m trying to keep it alive because if nothing else it forces me to continue documenting this experience. It forces me to continue writing and taking photos. It forces me to continue evaluating what’s interesting and worth sharing here, and what’s going on in my world.

So what’s going on in my world?

Well weather-wise we’re in the midst of rainy season, where nearly everyday we are blessed with a shower that varies both in duration and strength. Being from Arizona, where rain is infrequent, I absolutely love it. It reminds me of the monsoon season but pretty much every day. This also means I feel a bit more “PC” in my day to day life as power outages are much more frequent. This causes me to always be on guard for the next blackout with my headlamp in position and ready-to-go, much to my host family’s amusement.

And because Oscar Wilde once said “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” I’m not going to linger there…


The second semester of school started last Monday after an official two-week break. (Which was basically an unofficial month-long break.) And I have to say, the seven days following it have probably been my most productive in terms of work. Every day I’ve come home with a true sense of accomplishment and also fairly tired. This sort of productivity was not fathomable to me last year. To give you an idea of what an “accomplishment” is at this point:

  • It’s my counterparts taking turns to write down our weekly lesson plans that are being saved, printed and stored in a binder to be used again or adapted next year. (Yes, it took a year and a half for this to happen. Previous documentation of what happened every day in class was spotty.)
  • It’s a counterpart showing up to school with a worksheet she created herself and not some shoddy thing found online.
  • It’s my counterparts writing the daily agenda on the board so students know what they can expect to do that day in class, and there is no confusion over whether or not there was homework.
  • It’s my counterparts more frequently stepping up and out of their comfort zones with methods and activities that both they and the students desire, but that was previously left up to me to implement.

Overall it’s me letting go of the reins and consequentially not feeling as needed. It’s a sort of bittersweet moment in sustainability. It’s not over, but it’s currently leading me to feeling much more fulfilled.  It’s also motivating me to really follow through with this and finish what I’ve started. I’m now a little more freed up to focus more attention to other projects. One of which that I’m extremely excited about, is a girl’s leadership camp to be held in March. It’s dubbed iGlow (Indonesian Girls Leading Our World), and it’s an expansion of what a few volunteers started last year. More on that later.


I think some were slightly concerned after I posted this little bit about some dental issues. After several sporadic, cancelled and re-scheduled appointments it has all been resolved. The grand total of my cavities came to four. It was a hell of a lot better than nearly all of my teeth having cavities. Even better news was that they were relatively small. So small in fact, that the dentist didn’t use any anesthetics. (To tell you the truth I didn’t even know people needed that for fillings. I also didn’t know they actually drilled into your teeth, and I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand.)


I mentioned earlier last month that I was contemplating going off Facebook. Whether this is unthinkable for you, or you could really care less, I did it. I’m off Facebook, minimally for a month. I figured it’d be a fresh way to start off the new year. I’ve also gone back and forth about the pros and cons of social media for quite some time. (See links below) It really is a love-hate relationship. That’s why for the time being I am OK with our separation, but I know we’ll inevitably be together again.


  • The IRL Fetish by Nathan Jurgenson of The New Inquiry
  • An  interview with the author of a new book on how we expect more from technology and less from each other

Vacations and travel

Due to those dentist appointments, iGlow meetings and other semi-official business I’ve spent a lot of time in Surabaya recently. It sufficed as a home base as I bounced all around East Java between trips, and it was a destination in and of itself for Christmas.

All that bouncing around led me to some familiar places and slightly beyond to some new ones.

For the second year in a row I accompanied teachers and the twelfth grade class on a study tour to Jogja. I spent 35 hours on a bus within a 65 hour period. If that doesn’t deserve some sort of badge or ribbon I don’t know what does. This especially considering five of those hours were spent stationary, on the side of the road, in the wee hours of the morning, holding my bladder and dozing in and out of uncomfortable sleep while a small group of teachers backtracked to retrieve a student who had accidentally been left behind.

Other trips went more smoothly.

I did a rafting trip in Probolinggo, spent Christmas at the Sheraton in Surabaya (a vacation in and of itself), made my way to the isolated Meru Betiri National Park in Banyuwangi to see sea turtles, then ventured on over to Lombok and the infamous Gili islands for New Years.

I had equal parts adventure and luxury. I walked barefoot in the pouring rain for five kilometers through the jungle. (Yes, I now have one of those stories to tell my grandchildren.) We were drenched, my sandals had broken (hence the bare feet), my cell phone died due to the downpour, and we even got snarled at by a wild boar.

The luxury end of that spectrum was just days prior when I indulged to an uncomfortable level at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Christmas Eve at the Sheraton. It was a splurge at $14 U.S. It may have been steep enough to deter others from the group I was staying with not to ikut,  but I couldn’t pass up toast with butter (real butter) and marmalade;  cornflakes with honey and topped with toasted almonds; blueberry yogurt with granola; french toast; mini-waffles with all those golden nooks and crevices; a cheese platter with feta, cheese, cheese, cheesecheesecheese!freshfruitplattersaladbarham and… shall I go on?  That morning I had awoken in the comfiest bed I’ve laid in in nearly two years, complete with a down comforter. The night before I had taken a hot shower. It was preceded by a hot bath. Because I COULD. Luxury indeed.

I realized two things during these travels: 1.) I am now more enthused and baffled by what once was normal (See the paragraph above) than anything that once was exotic when I arrived. 2.) I sometimes forget how lucky I am.

This first point I realized during that buffet and also when I arrived in the Gilis where it was confirmed that variations in cuisine do exist.  One day a burger and fries, the next day Indian food, the next day Italian… I was a very, very happy girl.

I have yet, though, to get some good Mexican food in me.

The second part I realized on my last day as I was riding a boat back to Lombok from the Gilis with several Australians, other Americans and mostly Indonesians. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful country with endless travel opportunities and adventure if you’ve got the time and money. Which fortunately I have one of those things. (Guess which one it is based off my comments on the $14 U.S. buffet)

Beyond PC

Ah yes. The question everyone wants to know. “What are you doing after this?” I’ve had this conversation with probably almost every person I’ve been in touch with in the last month. The answer… to be determined. I have several more solid ideas now than I did a few months back. It’s become evident to me that I’m ready for a new challenge, yet what that entails is not entirely clear yet.


I’ve slacked off in the photo department more recently. I’ve been relying much more frequently on my point-and-shoot and photos from friends, which you can enjoy below. (They’re in no particular order and you can roll over for captions.)

In conclusion of this hodge-podge post…

… as time is running out, things are simultaneously speeding up and winding down. I’ve got about five months left, a lot of work to keep me busy, but also a determination to enjoy it.

Welp, this is how I’m feeling right about now…

3 Oct

School and my actual work take up an extremely small fraction of this blog. Perhaps it’s what continues to make people wonder things like what is the purpose of the Peace Corps these days and what are volunteers doing other than having some kind of exotic and nutty two year trip. Well believe it or not, we do do work.  I just find it hard to bring up here because it’s a massive challenge and difficult to summarize. I kid you not, I’ve got a 16 page blog draft dedicated to school challenges that I shall someday unleash if I can get that mess of info into some sort of concise and coherent piece. Regardless, I’ve got to say this year things have gone  surprisingly well. I still can’t figure out what’s happened. Is it me? Is it my counterparts? Even our class cancellation rate has gone down from last year! What’s suddenly caused that lurking beast Progress to begin poking his nose out from wherever he’s been hiding?

Running on a high off of summer vacation, our mid-service training and a much smoother start to year two than the chaotic point I was at last year, I’ve felt incredibly more positive about my time here and my choice to do this. (Not only in my work but in how I’ve grown from this experience.) Last year, at times, I’d find myself conceding  “well, at least I entertain them,” as being my accomplishment at the end of a day. Now small changes are happening in class as teachers and students begin forming new habits that I hope will benefit them and be sustainable once I’m gone. And the best part is we’ve developed them together! (Ok and with some pushing from me.)

Sometimes I get too ahead of myself though. There’s still plenty that gets me frustrated, but not nearly to the extent as last year. Which means when something does frustrate me, I get really frustrated. Frustration. How many times can we throw that word in here?

Today was one of those days after increasing issues of students being noisy, not paying attention, and not doing their work over the past few weeks which wastes class time and leaves my counterpart and I exhausted after these two particular classes.
Again these are issues we had last year. Students start to get more comfortable and push their boundaries. That and things are heating up with the muggy rainy season now upon us which just makes everyone more restless and less focused.

So today we laid down a bit of a smack down. One class we created a seating chart. BAM! Your privilege to sit by your friends, gone. In the other class, I was flying solo without my counterpart. So two students got warnings and another three got kicked out of class and a stern talking to afterward. They aren’t permitted to return until they can commit to behaving in class. We’ll see how all this works out as it really is the strongest test thus far of my counterpart and I’s commitment to more sternly and consistently enforce rules around here. Which isn’t done all that often.

The school bell rang, signaling the end of the break. I gathered my things, my counterpart in tow, adrenaline pumping. A teacher who had overheard our conversation with the students just prior leaned over and whispered behind me “patience”… and walking out of the teacher’s room and into the sunlight headed towards my next class, all I could think about was that scene from Cool Runnings.

And in the name good fun and for the sake of memeing I’ll leave you with this gem. Maybe I’m just out of it after a long day but it had me in tears laughing. Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t but some of these just ring so gosh darn true.


A different kind of celebrity

18 Sep

Note: Some may be wondering what the response has been here to the YouTube film that has sparked protests around the Muslim world. While there have been protests in major cities, so far the protests have been relatively peaceful. Police have had to use tear gas and water cannons to control the crowd and there has been burning of American flags. This is obviously unsettling, but I just want everyone to know that where I am I have been largely unaffected. So far I have not felt any adverse reaction to this being an American living in East Java. All of the Muslim people I know are peaceful and life has been going on as usual. Additionally, Peace Corps does an excellent job of keeping volunteers updated on developments as volunteer safety is a priority. If you are curious to see where protests have been happening The Atlantic Wire has a map of where protests are taking place. I think it’s also important to remember that words said or actions taken by some do not represent everyone or even the majority in any given group. It saddens me that individuals can incite so much anger and hate, especially as someone who works towards breaking down stereotypes and barriers everyday between Muslims and Americans. That’s all I will say about that, and now to our regularly scheduled programming…


It’s not a word that’s meant to be derogatory, but it still gets under my skin.

It means foreigner. Typically it refers to Caucasian people, but it can suffice for any foreigner.

There’s also Tourist and Mister. The latter of which I believe is actually intended to be polite.

Regardless, to me it says, you and I? We’re not the same.

You’re different.

Continue reading

A trip to the dentist

25 Jul

I was going to make this a Confession Sunday post, but I can’t wait. I need to get this out in the open…

My mouth is forever tainted.

It is cavity-ridden.

I’m not talking like one or two cavities which might be standard for some five-year old in the U.S. after blowing through his Halloween stash. I’m not talking four or five, which might be particularly unpleasant news from the dentist. I’m talking like almost every tooth in my mouth now has a cavity of some sort whereas a little over a year ago I did not have one.

Let that sink in.

I know. I was in disbelief too—dentist had to show me. Though I wasn’t sure what I was looking at since I’d never gotten one before. With a mirror tilted at just the right angle he pointed out each tooth and said “cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity…this one is ok, cavity, this is ok too, cavity, cavity, cavity, cavity…”

Peace Corps volunteers’ health and dental care is put in the hands of Peace Corps itself. Each post has a medical staff that minimally consists of a Peace Corps approved doctor and a medical assistant or nurse. The dental work, at least in the case of Indonesia, is outsourced to a facility deemed to meet U.S. standards in the host country. ← a note on this later

Aside from any medical or dental issues that may arise during service, all volunteers are given an annual physical, as well as, a dental check-up and cleaning. Fortunately I haven’t suffered a whole lot physically in this country.[i]
While other volunteers here have had their bouts of giardia, dengue, e. coli, fungal infections and who knows what else, I had always felt fortunate to have only had a cold or flu. And it wasn’t even as bad as the annual cold or flu I’d get back in the U.S. Other than that I have suffered from the occasional food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea. Sakit perut or “sick stomach” is what the Indonesians call it. I doubt anyone could refute that that is not part of Peace Corps. In fact, loose bowel movements aren’t that unordinary and I’m fairly sure that talking about it and other shitastrophies are running jokes in almost any Peace Corps country. The other day I read an online story and in the comments section someone had said something to the effect of “You must have been a Peace Corps volunteer. We always considered shitting your pants initiation into Peace Corps Turkmenistan….” Don’t ask me what I was reading.

Seriously. I can’t remember.

Fortunately, I have not had that experience, nor this one. It’s a good thing too because I can really be a baby about any brush with illness or injury.[ii] So luckily no one has had to put up with that side of me yet.

As it turns out, I couldn’t get off that easily.

Let’s go back a bit, shall we…

My pristine teeth were once a point of pride. Prior to Peace Corps I had never had a cavity.[iii] I had also gone to the same dentist my entire life. Dr. Kline is one of the most gentle, kind-hearted men I’ve ever met. As a kid it was easy to assume he had a double life as a superhero. He was just that great of a person. As the years wore on his deepening wrinkles portrayed nothing but a lifetime of smiling. This was very apt for a dentist.  His staff was devoted. They remained consistent figures in my life. Every six months I would see them. We would catch up. Not only did they know me by name, but they knew more about me than your average dental staff should know or would care to know. It gave the growing city of Chandler and the sprawling suburb of Phoenix a hometown feel.

This led me to be one of the only people I knew who would proclaim “I love going to the dentist!” How could you not when you were in the hands of Dr. Kline and his tender staff? They knew me. They knew my teeth.

More dental history

I had braces for a year and a half in high school and a palette expander. My mother had a hard time justifying the cost of orthodontics just to give me a bigger mouth. Nevertheless she conceded. So even my few feral teeth shaped up. A year or two later I had my wisdom teeth out. Two of which were becoming impacted and thus threatening their newly arranged peers. Tragedy was avoided.

And so yes. My teeth were a point of pride. I felt fortunate to have what many people told me were “good genes” and access to great dental care throughout my life. People often commented, “They’re so white”[iv] and “They’re so straight. Did you have braces?” Why, yes. Yes I did. Please continue to adorn me with praise of my gorgeous smile and the gems that make it so winning.

As a direct result of this kind of attention that my teeth frequently got me, as well as the self-confidence instilled in me from Dr. Kline and his staff from a young age, I enjoyed my dental hygiene practices. I was always excited by the fact that a visit to the dentist meant walking away with a bag filled with goodies—new toothbrush in the color of my choice, travel floss and toothpaste from a selection of flavors, coupons for more dental products. Score. I swear by Oral-B® Glide floss[v], which I stocked up on before I came to Indonesia. It’s like flossing with silk ribbons for heaven’s sake! I also am a big fan of Sensodyne®  Pronamel® toothpaste which had the stamp of approval from pre-dental school friends. They were just about the only people outside of the dental office who’d humor me in discussions of the horrors of acid wear on your enamel and brushing too hard.

And so poor David, I feel ya bud. I find myself wondering the same thing: “Is this real life?”

Could this be happening to me?

And how can it be?

You can ask most anyone back home. I’m not a sweets person. I don’t mind them of course. But I would take a garlicy hummus over chocolate cake almost any day, and I rarely eat candy. I don’t buy the stuff. So I only eat it when it happens to be around. We just can’t let it go to waste.

Indonesia changed things. When the only accessible comfort and taste of home is something sweet (Oreos and Snickers), it’s what you go to in times of need. So yes, I’m guilty of indulging in much more candy and sweets than any other time in my life. I’ve undergone emotional and mental stresses that have pushed me over the edge. They’ve transformed me into a monster who considers two Snickers bars (or was it three?) a dinner when I don’t have the heart to eat another plate of rice and tofu.  That only happened once. Don’t judge me. I’ve become something that makes up reasons why I must immediately consume an eight-piece pack of fun-sized Snickers and half a cinema-sized box of Sprees upon receiving a care package filled with nothing but candy. On a particularly rough day I wallowed in my room hunched over a full-sized Butterfinger.  It wasn’t until I was licking the chocolate smeared wrapper clean that I realized how pathetic I would look to anyone who could have seen behind my closed bedroom door at that moment. Oh, the despair.

And now I pay for it.

Earlier this month we went to the dentist in groups of five, scheduled every evening following our mid-service training activities. I was the first in our group to have my checkup and cleaning. It lasted all of 10 minutes and the quality of care was questionable. Our Peace Corps doctor admits this and has agreed that we will get a second opinion.

I walked out into the lobby. The four others looked up. We played a guessing game.

“Guess how many cavities I have.”

“None” was the first response because every PCV in Indonesia knows how surprising that would be after a year on the desa diet of the overly fried and sweetened.

After thirty seconds or so of way-too low guesses, with composure masking a tinge of rage, I informed them that, no. In fact, almost every tooth in my mouth had a cavity.

To which the responses were consolation followed by fear for the results of their imminent visits.

I came close to crying as the next volunteer made her way to the dentist’s chair. But I held it together, partly so because I was just in shock. I’ve never heard of someone having almost all of their teeth have cavities. Or at least anyone I know. It doesn’t make sense. I mentally reviewed my dental history. Then I blamed some greater being or outside force. What have I done to deserve this? Didn’t I do everything right? I use Glide® floss and brush twice a day with a soft-bristled brush!  I even swish water around in my mouth after having a sugary drink or snack. Why me?

As selfish as it is, it didn’t help that one by one they came back clean. No cavities. Only one other volunteer had a good number, but it was nothing to compete with mine.

And so upon returning to the hotel the guessing game continued, and we joked that I won the cavity contest to mask my inner pain.

I felt my mortality. So I am not immune to everything. Huh.

Then came the shame. How can I ever go back to Dr. Kline? And what of my now-dental school friends? What will they say? A series of familiar faces shaking their heads in disappointment rotated through my mind.

Now that I have returned to site I’ve been compelled to up my dental hygiene game. I’m still not completely convinced this can be as I wait to hear back from PCMO Dr. Leonard. Will there be another dentist’s appointment? Will I have cavities filled here? And if I don’t how much worse will my teeth deteriorate in this next year?

In a way it’s melodramatic. (I told you I was a baby about injury and illness.) And what’s worse is, secretly, the one thing that makes me feel better is walking down the main street to school and seeing the toothless grins of the elderly and the children skipping to the elementary school with teeth rotting out of their heads.

First world/Whitegirlproblems#? Maybe. It’s devastating to me. Look what I have sacrificed to be here!

Look what I had to sacrifice in the first place, something as meaningful and miniscule as a bit of pride and my perfect dental record in a land where people only go to the dentist to get their aching teeth yanked out.

Photo credit: The fantastical Elle Chang.


[ii] I once got a black eye and a hairline fracture in my orbital bone. I was fairly certain my face would never go back to normal.back

[iii] It is possible I once had a cavity in one of my baby teeth that has since fallen out. So it doesn’t count.back

[iv] Full disclosure, I did have my stint with Crest Whitestrips post-braces in high school. It was a thing. Everyone did it, but didn’t like to admit it. I must say though, I started out at a pretty good place not being a coffee, tea or soda drinker.back

[v] Formerly Crest® Glide floss.back

[vi] Thank you Jay for the footnote idea.back

The transformation

21 Apr

I recently celebrated one year of being in Indonesia. This journey has been long and tough, but let’s not kids ourselves; many people go through way more dramatic changes and endure more challenging things than I have or will ever understand.

One thing I find fascinating is that most people who join the Peace Corps say they want to help others or make a difference in the world. That is true, but moving halfway across the world and having the U.S. government pay for it in the name of peace is not a prerequisite. Helping others can be done anywhere. So can making the world a better place.  It’s in what you choose to do and don’t do day in and day out that accumulates into your sole contribution to the world.

One of the volunteers here put it perfectly in summing up her thoughts of before joining the Peace Corps and the reality of it.

“Before my service I thought I’d be saving the world.  Instead, I’m mostly just learning about myself.” – Sarah Sheffield PCV Indonesian 2010-2012

I couldn’t relate to that more. While I didn’t have delusions of changing the world in two years and was certainly looking forward to the personal experiences this would bring about, I quickly realized during my Pre-Service Training that I was here for me more than anyone else.

This last year has continued to shove that idea in my face as I’ve been personally challenged in a number of ways I hadn’t anticipated and thus learned something new about myself. It’s taken me a long time to feel as home here and at peace with who I was, who I am and who I’m becoming.

Before leaving the U.S. I was pretty happy with myself. It didn’t hurt that people were constantly building me up and stoking my ego by telling me how great I was for joining the Peace Corps and what an amazing experience it would be. Getting here I had to start all over where no one knew just how great I was. Shouldn’t someone have warned them? More importantly no one was telling me it. I’m the kind of person who needs that affirmation. I need to know I’m doing things right. I need confirmation from somewhere because otherwise I’ll spend way too long overthinking things and doubting myself.

Well I’ve worked through that a great deal and then some.

I’ve also learned cultural adaptation isn’t about dressing the part or learning how to properly greet someone. (Though you gotta do that stuff too) It runs much deeper, and it takes a heck of a lot more effort — and consistent effort at that.

At this point I still feel plagued with inadequacy in everything I feel I’m doing and not doing in connecting with people and in my work here. Though upon further introspection I realize I’ve come a long way from those first uneasy days in-country when it comes to myself personally and my cultural adaptation.

Here’s a few “AHa!” moments from the past week:

  • I’m picking up Indonesian habits – This week I was eating lunch when the spoon was just too inconvenient, I switched to eating with my hand. I didn’t even think about it, I just did it. I was eating alone too, so it’s not like I was trying to impress anyone with “Look how Indonesian I am, I’m eating with my hand!” Though they still get a kick out of that.
  • I’m no longer the guest. The other day at school I should have felt partially offended when I was asked to help fill dishes of peanuts for the guests meeting with my principal. Usually I’m the one being offered food and drinks, not being asked to prepare them. But I wasn’t. I was preparing for the guests rather than being one and I was doing it alongside the people I work with at school. That gave me an immeasurable amount of satisfaction.
  • I know what to say and how to act. On the way to a wake, I was sitting in the back seat with a teacher and reviewing how you give your condolences to someone in Indonesian. I said the phrase and asked her if that was correct. Afterwards, I said “Saya masih belajar budaya Indonesia.” English translation “I am still learning Indonesian culture.” To this she replied: “Sudah tahu budaya Indonesia. Sudah pintar!”  Or “You already know Indonesian culture. You are good at it!”
  • My students correct me. For a year now I’ve been butchering the Indonesian language both grammatically and in pronunciation. No one corrects me. Even when I ask to be corrected when I make mistakes, more often than not the response is “Tapi sudah pintar Bahasa Indonesia”“But you are so good at Indonesian!” I know I’m not and I can’t get better if no one will correct me. Gah! Well it’s come to the point where now my students are beginning to correct me. Students correcting their teacher? What!? Lo! And for this I am incredibly happy. It means that they’re becoming more and more comfortable with me that we can laugh over my silly mistakes together and that they know that not only can they learn from me, but I can learn from them.

So…the transformation is complete. I am Indonesian.

Or at least I can pull off the look ; ) In truth there is still so much I don’t understand and probably never will, but I’m forever grateful for those Indonesians putting up with me. Furthermore the transformation is not complete, there’s still a lot ahead and I won’t fully know in what ways I’ve changed from this experience until long after this is all said and done.

At this point the only thing I can tell you, is that the more I’m exposed to and the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. I’m filled with so many more questions than answers. And I don’t mind that one bit.  It’s all about the journey right?

And now for a little more fun, some numbers things from the last year:

  • Inches my hair has grown: 8
  • Number of pounds gained: 8
  • Number of pounds lost: 5
  • Number of miles traveled and hours spent traveling: a lot more than I had prior to this
  • Number of new people I’ve met: upwards of 400 ( 400 is the number of people I interact with somewhat regularly. So now you can see why I’m especially so bad with name.)
  • Personal money spent: $0
  • Pictures taken: 5,391
  • Text messages sent/received: 5,831/6,072
  • Number of books read: 12 (One for each month, which is an improvement considering I didn’t take time to do a whole lot of reading for pleasure back in the states)
  • Number of blog posts: 48
  • # of days left: 423
  • # of students taught: 200 +
  • # of times I’ve been sick: 3 tiny colds, nothing life threatening and no vomiting—though loose bowel movements are a given and unaccounted for (sorry if that’s tmi, but that’s Peace Corps!)


  • The number of times I’ve felt insecure, inadequate, like I’m letting people down
  • The number of times I’ve been uncomfortable
  • The number of times I’ve had an experience that I could have never had in the U.S.
  • The number of things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about me, about the world, life, etc
  • The number of times I’ve been awed by the people around me and felt incredibly fortunate to have this experience

Turning 24, technology and St. Patrick’s Day

18 Mar

Reminder: scroll over photos for captions. Also here’s a dorky video message from me.

I love my birthday, if for nothing else than the fact that everyone wears my favorite color! My birthday is St. Patrick’s Day.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s day in Indonesia (it’s unsurprisingly not celebrated here.) I was still rubbing the sleep from my eyes as my host family, tipped off by the sound of my door opening, rushed to salam (greet) me. For reasons we shall not reiterate, after breakfast my host mother handed me a basket with my clean, folded clothes. As I began hanging them, I found a box hidden amongst them. My host family gave me a surprise present! (I’m wearing one of those gifts in the video I linked to above.) Though my favorite part was the handwritten note in broken English wishing me a good day despite being away from my friends and family and more warm wishes from my new family.  Cue the “awwww….”

Teachers and students both wished me happy birthday in person and via text. Some knew it was my birthday, others were informed after logging into Facebook. It was a nice and simple birthday. Oddly enough, I preferred to spend much of it alone. I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting these past few months as I approach my one year in-country and 24th birthday. The outcomes of these ruminations I’ll be sharing soon…

Back home, family and friends are currently celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and my birthday due to the time difference. So in a way I’m still celebrating. First I “met up” with my dear friend Rachael. We had an exclusive (there were three of us) international teleconnected dance party, and she serenaded me an improvised 24th birthday song.

Then I “visited” my family, who had cake and ice cream in my honor. They sang happy birthday, I “blew out” the candles, and while they enjoyed my birthday cake, I ate saltines. My one complaint: they got the ice cream wrong. They got coffee and I like vanilla : )

Otherwise it was great. It was great to celebrate here. It was great to celebrate there. And it’s amazing that I was able to do that because of technology, specifically speaking– skype. In sync with all my reflecting, I’ve been thinking a lot about how dramatically technology is changing our lives. Not just for my birthday celebration, but in general and given this context.  My students here are addicted to Facebook and Twitter and have better phones than I currently have yet, many of their homes lack washing machines or other modern conveniences that would be considered commonplace back home. It baffles me. This experience could not have been the same just a few years ago…and again, these are thoughts I may choose to elaborate on another time.

…And speaking of technology, I’m experimenting with Storify so I’ll leave you with some fun stuff on St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy: View the story “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” on Storify
or just check it out here:

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Confession Sunday 2.12.2012

12 Feb

I’m kind of, sort of excited about Valentine’s Day! This is a confession because usually I’m not the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day for the all-too-cliche reason of it just feels so forced and another holiday overrun by hallmark, candy companies, jewelers and the like. And though I won’t be doing much on Valentine’s Day 2012, I’m excited to share a little bit about the holiday with my classes, and I’m dreaming up fun activities for my English club as I type this.

In case you don’t know the origins of Valentine’s Day (or want a refresher), gives a good little overview and some fun facts.

Also while putting together a little presentation on the holiday for my classes I came across these adorable vintage-style Valentine’s Day cards.

Is this one really complimentary?

All adorable Valentine’s cards courtesy of valart2008 via flickr.

Now tell me those don’t make you all warm and fuzzy inside and bring a smile to your face.

In other news I haven’t written a whole lot lately…two reasons I like to keep it interesting and I’ve begun getting into photography a little more lately (or rather just taking pictures more often trying to document my time here). Also sometimes I’m just at a loss for words, and I hope those photos can help in some small way share a little bit of my world with you.

ALSO here’s a fun little video of my class singing Bruno Mars’ “Just the way you are” in class this past week. We were learning about pronouns. Kind of goes along with the lovey dovey theme of this post ; )

Merry Christmas from Indonesia

25 Dec

Photo courtesy of Mukumbura via

Though it is currently 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit and 65 percent humidity, it is indeed Christmas day here in Surabaya. Christmas Eve was spent with a small group of volunteers eating cupcakes, brownies, candy canes and other Christmas goodies while hanging out in the lounge at the Peace Corps office. We turned up the a/c and cuddled up in the loft of the lounge, borrowed a projector and watched Christmas specials. It was sort of cute.

Indonesia is a predominately Muslim nation,  so no where else was nearly as decked out with Christmas decorations as the lounge was with Christmas cards, a few strings of lights, a humble Christmas tree and a small can of fake snow!

This morning we joined a few Peace Corps staff and several more volunteers at our Programming and Training Manager’s home to have a small Christmas celebration and “breakfast.”  I’m in sweets overload, and I can honestly say I have not had a real meal in over 24 hours because my meals have been supplemented by cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products and sweets. These things are hard to find, but they are available in the city. So this is typically the case when I escape to Surabaya for Peace Corps training, events and otherwise.

It was definitely not the traditional Christmas, and though it didn’t necessarily “feel” like Christmas it was nice. It’s inevitable to feel homesick when the internet and Facebook are flooded with Christmas-time images and messages of those celebrating back home. SOooo…in an attempt to combat the Christmas blues I’m off to Bali!

Have a Merry Christmas!

Photo courtesy of sektordua via