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Post-Peace Corps pondering and telling stories

27 Sep

Let’s get right back into it, shall we?

I’ve officially been done with my service for almost four months. That means for nearly four months I’ve been using the line, “Oh, I just got back from finishing my Peace Corps service in Indonesia” when new people I’m meeting or old acquaintances ask what I’m doing. I began thinking more about this question and that reply this last week. More so, I began thinking about how long I can continue to use that line before it becomes obsolete.

Despite it being so long, I have no shame in using it. Though I said my goodbyes in June, it’s fresh. I still feel like “I just finished.”

Some people follow that question with “How long have you been back?” and then “What have you been doing between then and now?” The answer I want to say is “It’s been a blur, non-alcohol induced.” Elbow nudge. Ha. Ha… More often than not I simply say “I’ve been traveling.” And it’s true. I’ve taken more trips between June and August than I had during any other three-month period.

It feels fresh because I’ve gotten to a point where me and my belongings (for the most part) are in one place, and we’re not leaving. I’m excited about that. I’m excited to be able to completely immerse myself in one place again. Fortunately for me this one place is New York City.

Another reason it feels so fresh is because time has escaped me. Volunteers must sometimes grow accustomed to a slower pace of living in their country of service coupled with limited options of what to do with much more free time.  This often leads to volunteers starting projects. And when those don’t work they pick up seemingly random hobbies like gardening, learning a new instrument, cooking or in my case spending three hours with a mortar and pestle to make one handsome jar of homemade peanut butter. To each their own.

On the reverse side, well, it’s the reverse.

So as a returned volunteer with sudden endless ways to fill my time and surrounded with the go-go-go mentality that is particularly palpable while transferring subway lines during rush hour at Time Square, it’s quite easy to wake up and realize September is almost over when you swore yesterday you were planning Labor Day weekend and sending out those first few resumes.

Back in spring, when my Close of Service was in grasp, I began to think more heavily about my return. I thought about the habits I had created and aspects of Indonesian culture and my Peace Corps experience that I would want to retain when I got back to the U.S.  I knew it’d be all too easy to leap back into old patterns without much intention to purposefully do so or resist doing so. During service all that time to kill actually became important as it provided ample opportunity for reflection, journaling or enjoying some sort of stimulating reading, podcast, documentary or movie that I might not ordinarily set time aside to read/listen/watch and digest. That’s a habit I’m trying to make stick—not just quickly consuming everything that’s out there—but rather spending time to fully explore something. I’ve been trying to set aside an hour or two before I go to bed to do this. That’s how I happened upon this podcast: TED Radio Hour: The Next Great Generation?  Which in turn inspired this blog post, the remainder of which was adapted from my journal.

What’s your story?

We’ve been hearing about it for years now, about this emerging adulthood where 20-somethings are lost and living unconventional lives. We’re underemployed and living with our parents. We’re idealists and optimistic. We’ve grown up with social media that has morphed us into narcissists taking any opportunity to post, tweet and squawk about ourselves.


What is it with 20 Somethings? via New York Times Oct. 8, 2010

The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright via New York Magazine Oct. 2011

Educated and Jobless: What’s Next for Millennials? via NPR Nov. 12, 2011

Many ’emerging adults’ are not there yet via USA Today July 7, 2012

A few years back, it fascinated me to see these topics, experiences and attitudes enter the public conscious. Being the “narcissistic” millennial that I am, I thought these were thoughts and feelings exclusive to me and my friends. It was interesting to see that this wasn’t unique to me, but it was part of a larger social trend. It was a generational thing, and it validated a lot. I wasn’t alone in the ambiguity of early 20s, and it was OK to have a quarter-life crisis.

It’s a conversation that doesn’t seem to be going away. Just yesterday I got into yet another conversation about my generation. I’m less enthused to hear about it all now, as it seems there’s nothing to add that hasn’t been said or that doesn’t just state the obvious observations. Regardless I’m still intrigued by what is being said about my generation.

I liked this podcast because it put a positive spin on it all. Instead of focusing on our search for jobs and meaningWe’re creative, innovative… the next greatest generation! We’re changing things up, creating new norms and emanating innovative ideas and energy.

Yet one idea we still abide by, perhaps you’ve encountered it, is the whole “What do you do?” This question has an implicit meaning. It’s an abbreviated version of “What do you do… for a living?” Or more specifically “What do you do from 9-5?” It can appear that the answer to this question is inseparable from our identities. Perhaps for some it is or was. Perhaps it’s the easiest way to sum ourselves up in brief encounters.  It does provide information of value, but does this common question have to be the first one outside of “What is your name?” when meeting someone new. It’s appropriate in an office, but why do we carry it to less formal settings as well?

In Indonesia this was not the case, at least in the area where I lived. I can’t speak to the culture of a big business-centric city or other islands with their differing local cultures. However, with the people I regularly came into contact with, the information they shared about themselves in introductions included 1.) What town, village or region they were from, 2.) Their religion, 3.) Their birth order within their family, 4.) If they were married or single, and 5.) If they had children of their own. I don’t recall getting around to what a person did for a living until a while later into a conversation. In fact sometimes when I asked, it seemed aside from the point.

As I was preparing to leave and considering those elements I appreciated in East Javanese culture… the warmness, hospitality, the focus on working together and supporting one another… this way of identifying ourselves outside of what we do for a living did not occur to me as something I might want to hold onto.

Now it’s in my thoughts after having answered this question frequently upon returning and not having a set title (aside from my former one.)

What if we took this cultural idiosyncrasy and applied it here? What if we broke the U.S. norm derived from a time when “what you do” from 9 to 5, more or less was the same for the duration of your career and perhaps rightfully so displayed something telling about you?

We are finding new ways to identify ourselves outside of that. It’s in the clever quips in the bio sections of personal websites and social media, and it’s perpetuated through the curated images we portray of our lives online. It shows there’s more to us than a title on a business card. Yet why face-to-face does the question “What do you do?” remain one of the first we ask?

Before putting all this thought into it, I noticed a little while back I had started to ask new people I met at social gatherings, “What’s your story?” It’s candid, a good opener to get someone to talk about something. Sometimes it’s a little unclear. We all have multiple stories after all. If the person needed further prompts, I’d provide: “Who are you? What are you interested in? How’d you get here tonight? Tell me something about yourself!”

I’d like to think it opens the door for that person to tell me about whatever he or she feels is important about himself or herself. I hadn’t thought too deeply about my choice in asking this, other than noticing that once I threw it out there, I liked it and continued to use it. Now it’s more conscious and an interesting experiment in seeing how people define themselves through how they respond. When meeting someone new I put effort into avoiding the obvious question because I don’t want the obvious answer. Give me something better to go off of.

This podcast got me brewing as I noticed that the millennials featured had great stories that told who they were without a title. They weren’t defined by a typical job but through what they weren’t getting paid to do whether it was volunteering, pursuing unpaid work, or blogging.

Being that I’m in a transition phase, I can take liberties with my story telling. I can stick with the tried and true whole living in Indonesia/Peace Corps/new to New York/exploring my options story or I can dive right in to any one of the other things I’m currently interested in and pursuing. I dance around these questions. That’s probably why I even started using the whole “What’s your story thing?” My story varies from person to person because I don’t have one single thing I’m doing or have been doing that I can default to as I could if I currently possessed a business card with some cool title on it.  In the interim, as it seems a business card with a title is an important thing to have to answer the question “What do you do?” and because people are less interested in your birth order, religion or marital status, I’m considering something in the likeness of Oskar Schell’s business card which plays to not one single story, but to the variety of stories I have to tell.


29 Jul


As I find myself in a transition, so does this blog. Thank you to everyone who has followed along so far. I plan to continue blogging but the content shall shift and change as I do. Not only do I have a lot of great travel and summer photos to share, thoughts on completing my Peace Corps service and readjustment in the U.S., but I shall also embark on my next adventure in this upcoming month…

Twenty-five and feelin’ alive

25 Mar

Last Sunday was my birthday. I spent most of it on a bus returning to my site after an amazing two weeks that included conferences and some traveling around Central Java and Bali once more.

That doesn’t mean it was a dull one or went without celebration. The night before a dream of mine was realized…


…to have Mexican food and margaritas!

And after returning, since my birthday is exactly 20 years and three days before this little one…


…my host family being as adorable and awesome as they are, decided to have a birthday party for us.


So attending my birthday party was a gaggle of pre-schoolers and neighbors that endearingly call me “Tanta Nicole” or “Aunty Nicole.”


My birthday was splendid on all accounts.

I still have roughly 10 weeks before I am officially done. I know it’s going to be difficult to leave this experience behind because of the amazing people here both in my Indonesian community and among the PCV community. However, I’m truly excited for the possibilities as I prepare for the next chapter in my life. Essentially as I enter twenty-five I feel fortunate and enthused.

I just wanted to give a quick update being that this has been my longest absence without a post (nearly two months) since I started this blog. The reason for that is simply there’s a lot going on.

In addition to preparations to leave here and plans following that, a few other things that have been occupying my time and mental energy were/are:

My host sister’s wedding

The sustainability conference and the closing of service conference. (It’s an essential piece to ensuring my work is continued once I’m gone. Also one of the last opportunities to be with the complete group of volunteers I arrived with.)

and iGLOW, iGLOW, iGLOW!

Glow logo

iGLOW stands for Indonesian Girls Leading Our World, and it’s a leadership camp for young women. We’ve been preparing for it for months now, and just yesterday we had our training of trainers workshop. It was a success, and I’m delighted to see all of this hard work come to fruition in just a few days.

So you can expect more updates soon thereafter with more on that. Thanks for staying tuned!

Election Reflections, thoughts (and links) from abroad

10 Nov

It’s over. Win or lose this is the one thing I’m sure that most everyone is celebrating. The U.S. Presidential Election is a curious thing. And it’s not just of interest to us Americans. A good deal of people abroad are interested in and follow the U.S. elections and political happenings.

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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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An Indonesian Wedding

17 Jul

Wedding season is in full swing here in Indo! The Islamic holiday, Ramadan, is nearing. According to several sources, this is what is pushing everyone to get in their kicks before the month of fasting, sleepless nights and who knows-what-else begins…thus making July a popular time for weddings.  I’ve been to three wedding parties within the last week, including the one I just got back from a bit ago. It isn’t uncommon to be invited to wedding parties if you aren’t particularly close to the bride and groom. Oftentimes a wall of amplifiers announces to the entire community that a wedding is going on and that you should be part of the festivities. Another interesting cultural difference is that it’s not rude to eat and leave. In fact, that is the status quo: show up, say hello, eat some food and be on your way. (Fun fact from my life: A few days ago I went to a wedding party with a group of teachers from my school.  We said congrats, ate our food and were gone long before the party even started!)

For my host family, weddings are the family business. My host mother owns a salon (aka: she’ll do your hair and make-up in our living room) and my host brother-in-law is an entrepreneur of sorts. He creates the decorative sets that the bride and groom greet people from during the wedding parties.  Here is one such example:

This is what I call a "wedding set." I don't know what they really call these things.

I enjoy attending wedding parties because there is good food and it’s interesting to see some of the more traditional culture seep through in garments worn, music played and the wedding ceremony itself.  Though I’ve attended a number of parties, I’ve only seen the actual ceremony once, at a wedding held a few weeks ago.

It was fascinating to observe such a tradition. The bride processed in, flanked by her parents. She stood opposite the entrance as the groom followed suit with his parents in-tow. The two processed down a red-carpeted aisle, and they met in the middle where a series of ceremonious actions unfolded. The bride washed the groom’s feet in a bath of flower petals, circled around him, people threw rice… and so forth. I didn’t quite catch all of what was happening because I got shutter-happy with my camera. Thus here are a few photos as a result….

The bride washing the groom's feet.

Both the bride and groom kneel before both sets of parents.

The bride kneels before the her parents.

The groom kneels before his mother.

The bride and groom stand before family and friends for the first time as husband and wife.

The goings-on after the ceremony.

I’d like to share more but as fate would have it, I’m having some technical difficulties with my flickr account, internet connection and speed. So that will have to do for now. Aaaannnndddd on a final note I’d like to introduce you to my host family:

My host family and I after attending a wedding party.

A few photos from pre-service training

3 Jul

Note: This is a lazy post, but it is also an attempt to make up for not sharing some of the many, many pictures I’ve been taking. More to come soon….

click here

A year since graduation

14 May

I can honestly say a year ago today when I walked off the graduation stage carrying my empty diploma case,* I had no idea I would be where I am today. Literally, I had no idea in the world where I would be located. I had just submitted my application to the Peace Corps and was due for an interview that I had later that month.

It’s odd that it’s already been a year since graduation and over a year since I applied to the Peace Corps. It’s like I’ve been hiking, and I’ve been so focused on the trail, staring at my feet the whole time, that I’d forgotten to look up until just now. And me oh my, the view is spectacular.

This year, just like any other, has had its ups and downs. I’ve also had quite a few amazing opportunities…In the past year since graduating I’ve…

Touched down on three different continents1 …. I’ve felt the world crash down around me, like everything I had going for me and everything I had worked towards was falling to pieces2… I’ve stayed up into all hours of the night and am now unable to sleep past 5:30 a.m.… I’ve said goodbye to my entire support system of family and friends3… I’ve felt like I was losing my mind, and I’ve had moments of great clarity to make up for the times that I felt I was losing my mind… I’ve had far too much fun (OK let’s not be silly, there is, of course, no such thing as too much fun)…I’ve had time to do the things I never had time for in college4… I’ve been crazy busy and crazy bored5… I moved back in with my parents and I’ve moved in with complete strangers … I’ve held a variety of jobs6… I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve been all over the place physically and mentally.

Though things are going quite well, considering I dreaded the day I was pushed out into the “real world” by finishing school,  it’s not at all like I pictured it.

Wait a second, isn’t life just like that though? We never know what lies ahead. We never end up exactly where we think we’ll be or doing the things we thought. And even if we are doing some of that… it’s never exactly as we imagined…

So to those of you graduating, congrats and good luck with what lies ahead. It won’t be quite how you imagined… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A large part of what the Peace Corps has been trying to ingrain in us is managing expectations because it’s just a fact of life that no matter what your preconceived notion of any situation is, it won’t turn out just how you expected.

To see special footnotes for this post click on “Continue Reading”

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Traditional Market

3 May
Waiting for CustomersBananas GaloreBean podsSaturday MorningFor the kidsVegetables for sale
GrainsAt workLots of ColorFashionHustle and Bustle
Veggie StandApplesCoconutsFun

Traditional Market, a set on Flickr.

This past weekend we took a little trip to the traditional market. These days I like to play photographer… here’s some of the results… Enjoy!

Birthday post, birthday post — the rebel in me

17 Mar




Photo credit

Is it sad that on this, my 23rd birthday, I’m begining to realize I haven’t gotten myself into nearly enough trouble? I vow to spend the rest of my life remedying this. I find it necessary to make up for the lost time of my childhood and adolescence because let’s face it, I think it’s safe to say at this point that that is behind me.

Let’s take a brief at my track record, shall we?

  • Age 5ish or so – my parent’s ground me. This may be just about the only time I can recall being grounded — or I guess “time out” would be a bit more appropriate considering my age. I can’t recall the transgression but it was enough to warrant being incarcerated in my room where I did some serious thinking about my future, if I was to have one.
  • Fifth or sixth grade – In my first ever visit to the dean’s office, I was chastised for staying in the computer lab a bit too long. Heaven help me.
  • Sophmore year of high school – I recieved my one and only detention for an untucked shirt (For those who didn’t attend Catholic School, yes we did wear plaid skirts, and the shirts– they had to be tucked in. And they were serious about that.) If you only knew how much of a rebel I felt like for this— in detention— with the bad kids? I’m unstoppable. Charlie Sheen status.

So on this my 23rd birthday, I vow, to get my hands a little dirtier, play a little rougher, bend a few more rules and live life on the edge. This, of course, is subject to interpretation ; )