Tag Archives: living abroad

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.

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 iceberg and beauty queens

24 May

This was an entry I almost didn’t post. The reasoning being I thought I would have to be bashing my host country

Instead it became a perfect example of the iceberg.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The iceberg is one of the first things we discussed upon arriving in country. I want to say it was day two. During this prep/pep talk, our Director of Programming and Training Betsy Vegso asked us to make some observations about things we had heard or seen that were different. The call to prayer was new, the way people greeted each other was different, as was how people were dressed, etc., etc.   Being that we hardly left the hotel those first few days it was limited, but it helped prove the point. We were about to encounter a lot of things that were, well, different.

She explained that the things we experience and see are only what is happening above the water. We can’t begin to understand them without further inquiry and taking the time to do so. Every day we see the tip of the iceberg in Indonesia. Yet the bulk of why people do what they do is below the surface. This was our first lesson in cultural adaptation and an essential piece of the pie in living and working abroad. Try to observe without making a snap judgment of what’s below and the reason it’s there.

I forgot about the iceberg. It was lodged somewhere in the back of my head, but I was reminded of it last Tuesday.

My alarm clock had been set for precisely 2:55 a.m. Continue reading

Confession Sunday: 5.13.2012

13 May

I’m horrible with names.

It occurred to me the other day when my neighbor called after her three-year-old son to come home so she could give him a bath. He was playing with my four-year-old host niece in the living room. I was in my room reading, and I perked up. She repeated the name several times. Each time I kept thinking now I’ll finally know his name!  But I couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. Is that an “ei” sound or an “ae” sound. Does it end with a d, s, or an f? And then they went home.

I see this kid every day, and I don’t know his name.

I know his father’s because it’s both the word for dawn in Indonesian and Aladdin’s archenemy Jafar’s name jumbled– Fajar.  I know his brother’s because it’s the same as his father’s, and I can mispronounce his mother’s. But I can’t figure out what his little two-syllable name is.

No one was around, so I sat there. Embarrassed at myself.  Sadly this isn’t unusual.

I used to have what I thought was a clever way to handle this situation:

Illustration by Christie Young and published on Good.is.

I can make excuses like, welll…. they’re foreign names to me.

Or they’re names are so long! There’s too many syllables for my clumsy tongue to say that the same way every time I hand you back a graded assignment.

I can make excuses like well… Indonesian names don’t follow a familiar pattern in naming convention. No first name, middle name and family name. Perhaps they have one name or maybe they have like five. And then they go by some variation of it or grab a few syllables from each one and recombine it.

I can make excuses like even the name they tell me they go by, they don’t consistently go by. Sometimes Ibu Mei Lusyana Darawan is Ibu Mei or sometimes she’s Ibu Lusy. And no, she doesn’t have multiple personalities (that I know of.) Or sometimes my host sister, Ervin Vani Pemilia, is Mbak Vani which she told me to call her. Or sometimes, she is what most people call her, Mbak Lia.

*note: Ibu, Bapak, Mas and Mbak are all courtesy titles that are used much more commonly than in the U.S. Ibu= older woman, Bapak=older man, Mas=young man, Mbak=young woman. Adik is also commonly used to refer to friends and family younger than you that you consider like a younger brother or younger sister. In general these courtesy titles can be a great substitute for names also.

I can make excuses like they don’t use these real names on their Facebook accounts, which I originally hailed as my salvation to this name dilemna.  Rather, they use some sort of mash-up of their real name and a perceived alter ego or screen name such as: Haidar Rozzan ‘Rezpectorz’ or Princess Dyach Ayyueor or Vnous Putrifarahayuarianti’s Purplepurplelove  or Guntur Aremania CrazyLion or maybe even Uchauphaulfaceweberzodiakpisces Iiankiingindndridlu. All of those are students or friends on my Indonesian Facebook account.

I can make lots of excuses. But the truth is I’m just bad at learning and remembering names.

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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