days until I start a new life in Indonesia.
Current feelings: Mostly excited with drops of intimidation and periodic pangs of sadness.
Excited because this is going to be a year of huge personal development and adventure, intimidated by the idea of living in a country whose language I am not fluent in, and sad for every goodbye this week that I’ve had to remind myself is a true, lasting goodbye.
But let’s talk more about the exciting things.
For the next nine months I’ll be living, learning, and teaching in Yogyakarta (also known as Jogja) Indonesia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. I’m an assistant in the sense that I’ll be teaching alongside an Indonesian teacher in a high school English as a second language class, which is nice because I’ve never taught specifically English before and I’m interested to see what the Indonesian classroom atmosphere is like.
“How do you teach someone English when you don’t speak their language?”
Well a) I’m actually working pretty hard to learn Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of Indonesia, via audiotapes and books and such, but b) a lot of these 10th-11th grade students already have a solid foundation of English from years of study, and my presence in the classroom is to be a walking source of English conversation-practice in addition to bringing as much creativity and cultural enrichment as I can to their daily lessons.
Cultural ambassadors, they call it.
Generally speaking, the Fulbright Program has a larger mission to send Americans to different places in the world, each bringing with them a unique slice of American culture to share with their community abroad, each hungry to get to know the culture and livelihood of the place they’re going to be living in for 9+ months.
So what’s in my slice? I just recently graduated from Rutgers University with a major in neuroscience (which makes me very qualified to teach English, right) and I have interests in medicine, bioethics, and public health. It’s these last two interests that have more to do with this nine month endeavor in Indonesia. My favorite topics have always been those that have to do with culture – the cultural clash between Western medicine and traditional healing practices, the cultural gaps between patients and their doctors, whether a health policy actually considers the cultural systems of a target population, etc. I have goals of becoming a physician, but I have more immediate and more pressing goals of becoming someone whose eyes are open to the traditions that communities hold dear and who can understand values and perceptions different from my own. Thus, I’m taking a year off before attending medical school to live and experience an entirely different culture.
Indonesia, in my opinion, is the perfect country to learn about cultural differences. Just looking at a world map can give you an idea of how many different islands make up this spiraling archipelago, and you can imagine that each of those islands has its own niche of traditions – which, if we’re talking numbers, adds up to thousands of islands, 34 provinces, 300+ native ethnic groups, 700+ local dialects, and six recognized religions. When it comes to ethnic and religious diversity, Indonesia is like a candy store.
Jogja, to be more specific, is a city on the Indonesian island of Java, and from what I’ve been able to gather so far, it’s one of the great hubs of Javanese culture – rich in arts such as batik, wayang, and gamelan.
I’m overwhelmingly excited to get to know Jogja, and I’ll give it my best to do this city justice in the coming year, using as many platforms of social media as I tactfully can to share this beautiful country with you. While I have hopes of tackling a handful of meaningful issues in this wordpress, the only things I can really promise are lots of pictures and my honest, somewhat unfiltered thoughts when I arrive and get settled in. =D
Until then, I’ll keep saying my goodbyes before they suddenly turn into introductory hellos! two very long plane rides from now.
See you on the flip side!