Final Days: Return to America and Post-Semester Transitions

The semester came to an end very quickly, but it did feel like an end to me. I successfully returned to Bali, travel-worn but ready to tackle the last few pages of my incomplete draft; and after the blur of days featuring final presentations on our ISPs, the very last few days of the program were blissfully devoid of immediate academic responsibility. We spent those days simply enjoying each other’s company. For me, it was a lovely, cathartic end and a great way to kickstart my transition from Indonesian life to American life.

Lembongan Beach

It was during those last few days of my Independent Study Project (ISP) in Jakarta that it really dawned upon me that I would be returning to America in a very short span of time. Although I hadn’t exactly gotten completely accustomed to living in Indonesia by then, I felt anticipation that my world was about to change dramatically—but this time in reverse. I couldn’t clearly anticipate what reverse culture shocks would hit me, but I anticipated culture shocks nonetheless.

While in Indonesia I had developed characteristics that I had somewhat expected to lose once back in America. The language Bahasa Indonesia for one; but I worried most that I would lose my newfound self-confidence to navigate unfamiliar situations. On the other hand, I was both excited and trepidatious over what new skills or ticks I would retain after returning to America. I was curious: How different was I truly from pre-program Eli?

I returned to America as the winter season begins. In my case, I returned to a cold, grey, and foggy homescape that was made all the more dramatic by the size of everything. Everything seemed wide and open, giving me the impression that they were spaces that could be filled but weren’t. Everything seemed unnecessarily large.

Picnic Sack Race in Bali

As I am with this landscape, I am still in the process of configuring myself. I spent a whole semester being forced by new circumstances to self-examine, but I am not done, yet. I am still trying to pinpoint the new habits and perspectives that I have absorbed and carried within me to America. Size is the only example so far that I have been able to clearly recognize. Otherwise, I have not yet experienced any dramatic reverse culture shocks.

During the last few weeks of the SIT Program, I amused myself by wondering and worrying about the reverse culture shocks that I would have to face and navigate upon my return. Thus, it is to my great surprise and confusion that, other than the great big openness of America, I have not yet experienced any differences that lead to “shock.” Forgive me if I speak too soon, but I feel that I have reacclimated quite smoothly. Does that mean that I have not changed at all?

I would say no. Certain habits of mine that I held previous to my semester abroad are noticeably gone, and in their place, I utilize new habits that I formed in Indonesia. Although, I find that the whole transition for me from Indonesia to America has not been very exciting. Yes, I feel that I am different than before studying abroad, but I don’t feel like an entirely new person. I am still the same person with the same personality but with some tweaks.

I suppose if I were to try and spin some greater wisdom from my experience, I would both comfort and temper those who expect great grand changes to result from living in another country. For those who are worried that they won’t recognize themselves after their experience, well, don’t worry about it. In my case, I am still myself, despite the developments that I have gained along the way. And to those who are concerned that they won’t change in any way, well, depending on where you go and what you study, I believe that it’s highly unlikely that you won’t experience some shift in yourself. It’s just that those shifts may be more subtle than you realize.

Thank you, and until next time!

Climax of the Semester: A Field Study and the Benefit of Breaks

My primary reason for applying to a SIT program was the promise that I would have the opportunity to conduct a field study for my Independent Study Project (ISP). While the SIT Indonesia program also offered opportunity to pursue other major projects, I stuck fast to my original want. I had never conducted a field study before and likely never will at Whitman because my major and my own interests simply do not support doing a field study.

I and the other students were allotted a month to conduct our projects, and during that month I learned more than I could have ever prepared for. In all honesty I entered this project fairly confident in my abilities. With my skills in English writing and reading, as well as my lack of nerves, I felt endowed to tackle the research and the writing periods. For the most part, in hindsight, my skills did not fail me. What I did not expect were the difficulties with time management.

My Apartment in Jakarta

A month is not very long. On paper, us students are allotted perhaps three to four weeks to conduct research, then the last week is spent writing the paper draft. I have always known myself to take a long time to both write and research, so I planned to begin writing half a week in advance and to have finished all of my external source research beforehand. Yet, the amount of evidence that I amassed and the time that it took to both outline and draft far overshot a month’s limit. Perhaps what truly trapped me was the endless number of external sources to examine. Technically I could have started that research before I even embarked upon my ISP and perhaps still wouldn’t have exhausted my research.

And I should have begun research much earlier. It would have saved me much time, energy, and sanity. Due to my lack of proactivity, for the last two weeks I spent hunkered down in an apartment in Jakarta working nonstop on my ISP. Needless to say, I went quite stir-crazy. Out of necessity I took two days off to counteract the numerous hours that I spent on the project.

Night Bus to Bali

Ferry to Bali








One of the benefits of conducting this ISP alone were the opportunities to take true breaks. During them, I could self-reflect and take advantage of these private moments to recollect myself. There was great value in simply spending time alone, especially during the few times I went out and ate at restaurants. I am not one to whip out my phone to find entertainment while at a restaurant. Thus, I spent my time reflecting upon myself, my experiences, the ISP project, and on my future. Even better, sometimes I thought nothing at all. It was great quiet time away from the apartment. Afterwards, I was better prepared to reenter the fray of research and drafting. Considering my short schedule, it might have been unwise of me to take that time off, but it did wonders for my peace of mind.

My ISP Presentation

I would love to say that I finished my ISP paper on time. However, even a full week and a half of work was not enough time for me to finish it. I was lucky that I rode a night bus to return to Bali and had a long stretch of time to work on the paper. That trip totaled around twenty-one hours, and I probably spent eleven of those hours dutifully typing away at my poor computer. When I arrived in Bali at the program center, I still wasn’t done; and I turned it in two days late.

The fact that none of the students—as far as I know—turned theirs in on time, too, was quite comforting. Now that I’m older and wiser with the power of hindsight on my side, if I were to write my ISP all over again, I would still probably suffer greatly. I am floored by how long it takes to write that project, but holding the finished product in my hands makes up for the experience in spades.

Thank you, and until next time!

Misfortune Abroad: Missed Flights and Delayed Travel

Although the words are here, I’ve struggled for days about how to represent this part of my experience this semester. It is very negative, and I would rather forget about it entirely. But it is nevertheless undeniable.

The short version is that I missed my first flight to Sumatra. I intended to travel there in order to study Batak ulos-weaving and ulos’ social function among the villages surrounding Lake Toba. Due to complications with my VISA, I was refused during check in; and due to complications with my phone’s network connection at the airport, I was unable to cancel my flight with my agency in time to receive a decent refund. Worse, the whole situation occurred around 1:00am in the morning. My exhaustion compounded upon everything else.

Thankfully, the SIT Indonesia Program Director Ni Wayan Ariati graciously opened her home to me for the next few nights while I acquired another plane ticket. Because of her generosity, I was able to spend a couple days reorienting myself and rearranging the schedule of my field study.

Ibu Ariati’s Cats

Because of the delay, I would only be able to remain in the Lake Toba area for a mere eight days before my second flight to Jakarta, during which I planned to attend a conveniently timed museum exhibition on ulos. At the same time that I was wrestling with my planned schedule and managing the costs of purchasing yet another plane ticket, my computer began to fall apart—literally. As of now, it’s being held together by the strength of my fingers and gravity—I’m looking into duct tape.

Delicious Pumpkin at Ibu Ariati’s Home

If there’s one thing that I have learned from this misfortune, it is to always prepare for the worst. If not literally, then mentally. Conceiving backup plans and emergency action plans for worst-case scenarios both reassures me in the moment and preps me to handle sticky situations should they pop up. All in all, mental preparation at the very least helps to alleviate my newfound anxieties with the ISP period, as well as helps to avoid the downfalls of over-confidence.



In Case You Need More Sugar for Your Overly Sweet Coffee

As I walked into the airport for the second time, my mood markedly contrasted the first. Whereas before I embarked with such excitement and confidence (despite my tiredness), the second experience seemed far colder. While there was still some part of me that anticipated my field study and yearned to learn, at the time I could only see the hurdle that was travel.

Thank you, and until next time.

Pre-ISP: Planning and Waiting for the Unexpected

With roughly two weeks left until our Independent Study Project (ISP) period, everyone was restless. Restless and eager. I myself felt no less anticipatory, excited even. The ISP month is fraught with uncertainties: on where you’ll live, what you’ll experience, how you’ll accomplish your study and write a fantastic paper, too. (And I must say, the uncertainty doesn’t stop during the ISP itself either—but more on that in another post.)

An Adequate Description

For me, the greatest promise ISP held was to conduct my lifestyle with much more freedom than the regular program schedule allowed. While naturally, I expected to be constrained by limitations in environment, money, and the fact that I most definitely would spend most of my time on the field study; I also anticipated little freedoms in what I would eat, where in my area of study I could travel, what time to awake from sleep, how to spend free time, and so on and so forth. I figured that one could view the ISP period as a well of free time, and it was up to me to decide how to allot that time between my studies, basic needs, and free time.

Giving a Presentation in Class

That isn’t to say that we were simple dropped into the situation with no plans at all. During those two remaining weeks, in between the final exams and essays, we were required to complete an ISP proposal, which hammered out some of the more crucial ‘uncertainties’ such as housing, transportation, budget, and a rough schedule of one’s field study. Having determined these basic requirements, despite that fact that pretty much everything is an uncertainty—even how I would acquire food—I didn’t feel bothered. By then the SIT program had hammered in a nonchalant, go with the flow attitude. In fact, I was comforted to know that my future ISP experience was an unknown. I simply didn’t have enough information to form clear expectations, which I feel helped me prepare for all the unexpected experiences—of which there were many.

Preparation for the Language Exam

One such experience occurred before I even departed. As I was compiling my ISP proposal, so were the other students; and it was a topic often featured in our final conversations with each other. We found our thoughts wandering towards out financial budgets and the stipend allotted to us by the program (7 million rupiah: roughly $500). To my great shock, everyone shared that they were over-budget. You see, the cost of living in Indonesia is significantly less than in America, so much so that I would have expected everyone to stay within budget. I myself expected to go over because I planned to travel further; thus, I fueled more funds into transportation. However, the bulk of our group were to remain in Bali, needing no plane tickets—which in my case took up the heftiest portion of my budget. Later in the week, we were told that the cost of our VISA extensions had gone up, and it would be deducted from our stipend—leaving us 5.7 million rupiah instead (roughly $400). It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but it put a group already overbudget further into the red.

The reason why I linger upon this for so long in this post is because efforts to behave frugally will not pay off when it comes to the ISP period—at least not in my group’s case. Non-withstanding any costs that one may pay before the ISP period, it is absolutely necessary for future students with this SIT program to save money before embarking; and considering the often hectic schedule of the program, it is especially crucial because one is unable to make money while abroad, unless they work a few hours here and there remotely (like myself). 

Thank you, and until next time.

Our Last Stint in Bali: Lingering Java and the Arts in Kerambitan

So, this post will be technically split up into two parts. All events are set in Kerambitan; however, the first part details some of my lingering experiences with some friends in Java—despite having long left the island. The second looks at how the SIT program involved us in Kerambitan’s art scene.

Now, it is customary for us SIT students to share our college major in our introductions. We’ve had to introduce ourselves many times, and the most general reaction to my declaration that I am an English major is one of amusement. They often mention their confusion over why I study how to speak English if I already speak English—which isn’t untrue, but I would claim that the focus of an English major in America expands on other forms of communication in English than on simply grammatically correct speech. And yet, despite the chuckle that most Indonesians get from my major, there is a strange power here in being an English major, especially in the Pesatrens. Already I have received requests from male students and staff at the Pesantrens to look over their essays for various English assignments, and even for one’s language test to get into an American graduate school. The other English major student in SIT tells me that he has also received such requests. I have never felt so impressed by the power of knowing English and of knowing it well in Indonesia. The responsibility that I feel to not steer these men wrong is sobering. But I guess that’s life. It seems simple, but it is monumental to know that whenever one offers advice, if it’s taken, then one is impacting another person’s life. That is true in America, and it is especially true in Indonesia.

Group Photo after Dance

Another subject that I’d like to share with you is about art in Kerambitan. Us SIT students got to participate in a small part of Kerambitan’s art scene in two ways. The first was through a festival for the village, during which we danced on stage for the attendees. The dance is called Jangi Janger, named after the song we were required to sing along with it. I and two other females danced the men’s role because we had an uneven number of male to female students. In comparison to another dance we performed in Java—during which I danced the women’s part in the women’s dress—it was far easier to do everything in the man’s costume. Our dance was simpler and required less skill, the outfit allowed for a far greater range of movement and breath, and we wore the headdress without pain. It was all quite comfortable. However, one discomfort is question about whether our performance toed the line of cultural appropriation. We were dressed in traditional Balinese clothing and danced to an old Balinese song; and yet, I did not understand the cultural significance behind our dress nor of the song. Even now, I still wonder about it, which only incentivizes me to prevent future feelings. One solution I’ve considered is to consistently interrogate exactly why we participate in traditional Indonesian activities. In other words, I feel motivated to understand traditional practices here in Indonesia and what the  SIT program expects us to gain from it in order to judge whether or not I can respectfully participate. I am unsure how the program takes cultural appropriation into account about its activities, but it doesn’t hurt to be proactive by asking questions and taking personal responsibility.

Working the Torch

The second opportunity to learn about art in Kerambitan was through the program’s arts project. For the arts project, we were individually required to study at least one art form (painting, woodcarving, silver jewelry-making, ceramics, etc) and present our finished products to the group. I decided to learn the silver jewelry-making and focused my attention on how the artist’s creation process was extremely visible to the rest of the community through a large window into the workshop. The artist’s work, from beginning to end, was transparently on display—unlike in America, where the creation process is typically concealed from the consumers’ view. Another takeaway is that everything in Kerambitan—even the most detailed, intricate items—is handmade. People center their whole careers over one art form, and their handiwork is displayed throughout the community—on the townspeople’s’ intricately carved wooden doors, the silver jewelry adorning people’s bodies, the ceramic plates and bowls from which people eat, and much more. Everywhere I go it is awe-inspiring to see such skill.


Thank you, and until next time!