Author Archives: mayavolk

Becoming Part of the Family: Reflections on a Semester in Bali

When I think about the start of my semester abroad, I’m immediately taken back to when I first stepped off the airplane at the Jakarta International Airport – not my final destination, but the first time I thought to myself “Wow, this is different.” I already had layovers in two other international airports, but I was familiar with both of them and so I hadn’t yet felt like I was really abroad. But as I stepped off the plane in Jakarta, I was met with the distinct smell of air pollution that I have only found in Walla Walla on days when the winds blow in exhaust from nearby factories. Here, the smell was all encompassing. I remember going towards the baggage claim, both bleary eyed and anxious after more than twenty hours of solo travel, only to be bombarded with porters asking to take my suitcases. I think this very moment was when my travel safety “edge” was engaged. I remember lying on a wooden bench in the middle of the night, waiting for the terminal to open. And finally, I remember landing in Bali over the ocean, palm trees in sight. This whole travel experience was not necessarily the most accurate precursor for my semester in Bali, as I generally felt very safe and comfortable during my semester there, but it was definitely accurate in the sense that I was in an environment completely different than Walla Walla and Portland, even down to the way people use the bathroom.

When deciding where I wanted to study abroad, I chose a few specific priorities that translated into a few goals. Most importantly, I wanted to go to a place where I would be able to have a semester vastly different than one that I would experience at Whitman. A facet of that was going to a place with a different culture (which was not necessarily hard to find), but a place where I could actually learn the language. This leads to my goals: I decided that my two most important goals for the semester would be to interact with a culture beyond just being a tourist, and on a similar note, feel comfortable speaking Bahasa Indonesia. I did it! I navigated around a not-so-touristy town, asking questions in markets and shops and generally just interacting with locals (who would seem impressed with my language skills even after saying only a few words, which was quite the encouragement). As I may have mentioned in my previous ISP post, I stayed in my homestay during the last month of my program, partially in order to reach the point where I felt like I truly lived in that neighborhood. By the end of my program, I was able to walk home from my program center and not only recognize people, but say hi and have conversations with them.

As a way to wrap up this blog, I’ve decided to list some of my highlights/memories from this past semester.

-I’ll start off with one that may seem like TMI, but definitely offers a glimpse into the very different life in Bali. While many study abroad program orientations cover topics like navigating public transportation, academic expectations, living arrangements, etc., mine covered a couple others that are a bit more unusual: tropical diseases and bathroom etiquette. I remember sitting in our outdoor classroom at the orientation site learning that there was a somewhat high likelihood that I could develop Dengue Fever and that I should try not to use toilet paper when using the restroom. I knew life would be different during my semester in Bali, but using my hand for toilet paper?? I was terrified, especially since I told myself I’d try to adopt some of the Balinese customs. I didn’t sleep well that night and remember texting my parents with something like “what did I get myself into?” (to which they responded that toilet paper is more of a Western thing so I needed to get out of that mindset). I realized not long after that I could adopt some cultural practices, but didn’t have to adopt all of them.

-I wrote another post near the beginning of my semester about riding in bemos (little public mini-busses). Since that post, I had a number of crazy experiences. One time a few of my friends and I were planning on taking the bemo to Ubud, and like usual, it took forever to flag one down as (like most things in Indonesia) they are not on a strict schedule. After waiting for awhile on the side of the road, one of the turquoise blue bemos came around the corner, and stopped for us. It should be noted that a bemo will stop even if it is full, because they will always find a way to make everyone fit. This particular day, we entered the bemo to find a big group of women and children. They made room for us on the side of the seat, the ground, and even on the step leading out the open door (totally safe, I know). During our ride, we counted 23 people total in that tiny bus, which is definitely some sort of safety violation. Thankfully we got up the couple of hills that day with no problem. That was not the last time I had a stuffed bemo – once there were even people standing in the doorframe holding on. Another time I was in the bemo I met a market seller, who had a big bag of lanterns. He asked me my name and all about my life, and then told me that he had met other people from my program already. After talking to him for about a half-hour in Bahasa Indonesia, I returned home and sort-of forgot about our interaction. The next day, though, I ran to catch the bemo back home from Ubud yet again (though at a different time and spot), and lo and behold, my market seller friend was there! He even remembered my name and what I was studying, which was quite impressive.

– I really enjoyed my homestay in Java, as I said in a previous post. I lived in a small house where the walls just ended and had no ceiling, so you basically could hear everything in the house. One night, as I was falling asleep, I heard my host-dad (who was probably 30 years old) reading stories to his 5 year old son and then practicing numbers and the alphabet. The five year old was still a bit shy towards me at that point, so being able to listen to him in his element and bonding with his dad was one of the cutest things I experienced during my week with the family. Another less cute but equally memorable experience there had to do with bathing. The family had a bucket shower, so I’d usually put off the freezing mandi (shower/bath) until just before I went to bed. One night I was in the little bathroom, about to rinse off when all of a sudden the power goes out and I’m standing in complete darkness, covered in soap suds. Thankfully my host family quickly realized that I was in the bathroom and came over to the door with a flashlight that shined just enough light for me to finish up bathing. For a few seconds in the moment in was scary, but as soon as my family “rescued” me we were all laughing it off.

-Our last week a the program center was definitely one of the most memorable, not because we had final exams, but because the family that lives in the (massive and beautiful) compound where our classroom was located was having a rare, massive scarification for a week. They prepared for this for a month, creating offering baskets and towers made out of fruit, colorfully dyed butter, or even meat. On the first day of the ceremony, we were all invite to attend. There were cockfights, dancing around offerings, all sorts of sacrificed animals (ducks and chickens mostly, but we did spot a few puppies :(), priests, and even a full gamelan band and masked dancers. It was a little overwhelming, but I loved it nonetheless because it was a ceremony not intended for tourists and we were welcomed as part of the extended family. Because I stayed in my homestay during my ISP (which started the days following that first day of the ceremony), I was able to see other events throughout the week, including holy dances done by young girls and boys. The very last day of the ceremony, a few of us went with the family to a beach about an hour away where there is a holy bat cave. In full ceremonial dress, we processed with a gamelan “marching band” towards the ritual spot, where we drank delicious iced tea and hung out with the young children of the family while the elders prayed. While it was interesting to see everyone praying at the beach and the bat cave just across the road, I loved this little excursion most because we were able to become close to the kids that live in the compound. There are many groups of college students that come through their compound, so I was really happy to reach the point where the kids felt like we were part of their family and not just another student coming through.

-My last two memorable experiences for this list actually happened after my program ended, when I traveled around Bali with my mom for two weeks. First of all, she is a very experienced traveller and also not shy at all, so she taught me how fun it can be to talk to other tourists and hear their stories. We met all sorts of different people – from a headmaster of a prestigious British International school, to a yoga teacher from Germany that looked a bit like Jesus. Our adventuring lead us to the NW tip of Bali, to a town called Pemuteran, where there is a national park and a small island with a protected reef. I was convinced that I was afraid of snorkeling, so I was incredibly hesitant to go. My mom somehow convinced me to go with her on a guided snorkel tour, which ended up being one of the highlights of my four months. The reefs were lush and full of fish in every color you could imagine. There was a massive reef wall (picture the Drop off in Finding Nemo), where one direction we’d look out to open ocean, and in the other direction there was a massive wall full of coral, fans, seaweed, giant clams, and of course, fish. I kept telling myself this wasn’t the real open ocean where you couldn’t see the bottom (even though this was actually true), because it was equally terrifying and beautiful.

-The other highlight of my two weeks traveling with my mom happened somewhat accidentally. My mom arrived in Bali a week before my program ended, and in that time she met a walking guide who took her on tours around rice fields and nature surrounding Ubud. One of their walks lead them to the Prince of Ubud’s massive home, which was under construction and at that time, empty. She kept telling me how beautiful it was, so of course when we later met up we went on another walking tour to see the palace (and rice fields, of course). When we arrived, I knew just by looking at the front doorway that the home would be lavish. I was not wrong – this place was the most ornate Balinese home I saw in four months. Each wood and stone carving was meticulously designed and created, and there were more fountains than I could count on two hands. When we went towards the pool, we found that the Prince was actually there, so we ended up having tea with him while looking out over carefully manicured rice fields and a three level swimming pool. The Prince was quite proud of his home, and gave us a little tour of the living quarters, where there were massive fish tanks in the bedrooms (one in the wall between the bathroom and rest of room, and one even in the headboard of the bed). It was absolutely ridiculous. After our tour, the Prince invited us to the royal temple that night, where we saw a dedication ceremony for ritual puppets from a nearby village, and felt honored to be there as we were the only non-Balinese. That whole day seems a little surreal. We were told that this Prince (who is not even the Prince of the whole island!) is incredibly generous to commoners, but definitely is way more wealthy than the average Balinese person.

I hope you enjoyed these few highlights of my months abroad! It has been a pleasure to write and reflect for you all, and I highly encourage everyone to travel if you have the means. I don’t know if this single semester abroad “changed” me, but I would say without a doubt that my  travels as a whole have offered me a different worldview. I have learned to cherish small things, like a shower (not even a warm shower!), sturdy walking shoes, being able to stick my toothbrush under the running tap, and organized public transportation. One of my goals for this blog was not to sugarcoat my experience – there were definitely moments where I was not satisfied with my program or very homesick – but I hope that it offered you a glimpse into my travels – the good, bad, and everything in between! It was an honor to write for you all this term – terima kasih banyak and happy adventuring!

ISP Reflections: Part Two

Although my last post promised a follow-up on how my ISP ended, as you may notice I’ve taken a little longer to post again. I’m not sure if I’m even technically allowed to keep posting as I have returned from being abroad, but after trying multiple time to write this post and failing, I realized that I needed time to process my semester abroad before I could (coherently) reflect on it all. This post will come in two parts: one part following up about my ISP, and one part reflecting about my time abroad overall. I feel like I’ve become the queen of splitting up posts, but I’ve also become the queen of very long posts, so I think the former is a better title to end on! And a last note before I jump in: as I mentioned in my previous post oh so long ago, my computer decided to suddenly fail on me (perhaps thanks to humidity, one joy of somewhat long-term residence in a tropical country), so my pictures are currently inaccessible. If I am able to still post to this blog when I get them back, I will make sure I get a photo album posted with some captions that show you all what the end of my semester (and travels in Bali post-semester) looked like.

To fulfill my first promise, I’ll give you a follow-up about ISP (Independent Study Project, which if you’re reading this for the first time and have no idea what I am talking about, visit here where I explain it all). I am proud to say that I after a little over a month, I finished my first big research project in the field, complete with sixteen interviews, a twenty minute presentation to my peers, and a 36 page paper! My final title is Breaking the Compound Wall: The Impact of Employment in Tourism on Families in Bali, Indonesia. The title kind of speaks for itself – my research investigated the effects of jobs in tourism on Balinese families, from physical living structures to opinions about tourism generally in the island. The results were somewhat unexpected, which made it all exciting for me as a researcher. I thought my participants would be more negative about tourism in Bali, which I’ve since realized may have been some of my own bias interjected into my hypothesis (researching fail, oh well). Although many of my participants were able to name negative effects of tourism on Bali, they seemed to have an overall positive sentiment about the impacts of foreign visitors and the booming industry on the island. That was also reflected in their feelings about working in tourism. I wanted to have a holistic representation of the family, and achieved that to some degree by interviewing both people who work in tourism as well as people who don’t work in tourism but have family members who do (and in a couple of cases, I had more than one interview from one family). I also thought that family would be important to my participants, and found that through my research this point was very true. Grown children employed and working away from home felt strongly that they should support their extended family, and in that sense the growth of the family economy and support was the most common response in all of my interviews.

In the midst of my research, I had a vague idea that primarily independently conducting interviews in a foreign language (that I had only started to learn 2.5 months before) was a personal accomplishment. A month out and back in my home country, I am realizing how proud I am of this. Granted, I didn’t do everything completely myself – I had wonderful teachers who helped to transcribe interviews and a teacher who jumped in for one interview when the participant spoke Balinese (while I spoke Bahasa Indonesia). Google translate was also my hero – sometimes translations came out a little funny, but usually I was able to piece together words and sentences.

But although there were these accomplishments, doing research in a foreign country definitely came with major challenges. I had very limited access to background and supplementary sources. The majority of my sources are over thirty years old, and with some knowledge about what makes good research, I am not crazy about this fact. I really wish that I had current data about families or even more recent background information, but sadly I failed to find any. Even  tourism data is hard to come by – I found statistics about tourist arrivals, yet nothing about Balinese employed by the industry. This is, to some degree, understandable, as many workers are undocumented. Still, with nothing to truly back up my research about current families and workers in the tourism industry, my research is simply reliant on my sixteen informants. Another challenge that could also likely be found in most cases with a researcher in a foreign country is that I had to figure out how people would respond to my questions. Many questions that seemed reasonable to me were worded in a way where the Balinese participant likely had a hard time responding. For example, I’ve always been taught to ask open ended questions in an interview. In this case, I would ask a question like, “How have you see Bali change due to tourism from (x point) until now?” and then I would sit there for awhile while my interviewee struggled to come up with an answer. I found out (a little later than I would have liked) that if I had asked “Has you seen Bali change due to tourism?” and then followed up with “How?” my interviewee would be much more responsive. It’s the little things, but after three weeks of research I realized that they can definitely add up.

Since this has turned into a sort-of a “What I Learned From My First Major Research Project That Also Happened to Be in a Completely Foreign Country Than My Own” list, I am going to add one more thing. This falls less under the foreign country part of that title and more into the general research part, but in writing a very large paper, I found that it will take way longer than one would think. When I write this out, it seems like a fairly dumb point to add on this blog. But, for anyone who is reading this blog with an ISP paper or even regular long school paper in their future, think of this as one of those warnings where you respond “duh,” but then make that mistake yourself. I felt comfortable with my probably 100+ pages of interview transcripts, my three weeks (plus unofficial three months) of observations, and few news articles and book chapters I had read. Still, when I thought I was nearing the end of my paper, the last few pages seemed to take forever. I am normally one who can write papers fairly fast, but with a project and paper this big (and with a short turn around time for writing conclusions), it kind of turns into the Mary Poppins bag of projects, where it just seems to never end. I suppose in my case a partially broken computer did not help, but I still feel the need to present myself as an “Example A” of big project warnings. Do Not Underestimate the Writing Process. Again, just think Mary Poppins bag and you’ll understand.

I suppose my list of things I have learned makes this seem somewhat like a disaster, and by no means was it really one at all. I produced a research project that I feel proud of, while still acknowledging that there are faults (which are mixed in terms of what I could have prevented). Was this a culmination of my entire semester? In a few ways no, but in many ways yes. And by yes (because why focus on the no?), I mean that I utilized my newly acquired language skills, developed my research techniques, practiced writing and organizing long papers, and came full circle with my homestay. That last point is one I’d like to end on, as I haven’t really talked about it besides a little in my ISP Part 1 post. I imagine that I will also mention it when I reflect on my semester as a whole, so I’ll make it fairly simple and concise (ha!). To me, this seems like the epitome of study abroad: I disliked my homestay at first. I felt lonely, and it was not what I expected in a country that is so family-oriented. However, with a little time and language classes, I was able to realize that I actually really enjoyed living with my host mother. The fact that my homestay then inspired my ISP topic seems to be just another layer of this all, where the seemingly uncomfortable, foreign situations often will turn into the best opportunities. To anyone who is starting a program and unsure about their situation , I say wait it out. It could turn around and become something you value most about your time abroad.

ISP Reflections: Part One

Greetings blog followers! Due to a busy schedule and broken computer, I was unable to post this blog when I first wrote it. However, both of these problems have since been solved, and although my program has ended, I will be posting my last few posts over the next few days. First, I’m going to travel back in time a few weeks, to midway through my independent research period, when I wrote this post. Enjoy!

 (PS: my apologies for the lack of pictures – with my broken computer I am unable to access my iPhoto library right now. I am hoping that I can get some other pictures from my hard drive for future posts, though.)


As I write this blog entry, I’m currently sitting outside my room in the village, watching chickens run around and squawk at each other, and cute little fluff-ball baby chicks following their mother. It’s drizzling – a good sign for the very rain deprived Bali, considering it is  the rainy season – and also a good sign for me, as I am able to sit outside and enjoy the cool breeze. I’m in the village for just a couple of days, in order to conduct interviews for my Independent Study Project (ISP). ISP is a component of all SIT programs, and is essentially the culmination of the whole semester in a month long research project of your choosing. I’m at the beginning of my third and last week of research, but still in the thick of data collection. I’ve dedicated my last week of ISP to data analysis and writing, so I although I am still actively interviewing participants, the end is in sight!

My topic for my ISP sort-of came out of my homestay situation, which, looking back to the first couple weeks of the program, seemed to be less than ideal. I came on my program knowing that I was interested in families and potentially interested in tourism (having traveled a lot in the past, especially this past summer). I knew that Balinese were known for living in compounds with extended families, so when I found out that I was placed in a home where the old mother lived alone and her grown son and his young family lived about 45 minutes away, I was disappointed. Over time that disappointment faded as I started to learn more Bahasa Indonesia, and was able to talk with my Ibu (host mother), who became more and more goofy and cute. Still, that idea of moving towards a less traditional family living style stuck with me, and when it came time to do my ISP I knew that I wanted to study how tourism has impacted families in Bali, especially in terms of family structure and values.

Tourism is huge in Bali, as you may have gathered if you have read my past blog posts. It’s Bali’s biggest industry, and really the only industry thanks to the Dutch many years ago (which I could but probably shouldn’t go on about, however if you’re interested in this historical part I recommend checking out articles and books by Michel Picard or Adrian Vickers). So because tourism is so big, it’s a cash machine and the most lucrative job market for Balinese. For my ISP, I’ve chosen to do multiple interviews (mostly by myself, mostly in Bahasa Indonesia) with people varying in ages and varying in occupations, some working in the tourism industry themselves, some parents of people who work in the tourism industry. I’ve asked a lot of questions about how people feel about families in general (always positive and central to their life), how they see their family changing after working or having children who work in tourism, and how they feel about tourism/see it changing Bali. I’ve spent most of my time at my original homestay, the base of my idea for this whole project, ironically because that’s where I’ve grown to feel most at home in Bali.

As with any research project, there have been some challenges, although I think most of them in this case have to do with the fact that I’m doing research in another language in a completely different country than my own. Conducting interviews in a language that I have only been learning since the beginning September has been both a major accomplishment for me as well as a major challenge. Only after my fifth or so interview did I feel like I could really ask my questions naturally without having my eyes glued to my paper and speaking with awkward pauses, and only recently have I felt like I can really ask effective follow up questions. I still face the challenge of not always being able to understand my participant’s responses, which was how I usually ask follow-up questions when interviewing in English. Those, however, are all challenges that I anticipated beforehand. One challenge I didn’t even think about until after my first practice interview here was that Balinese don’t always respond to questions the way that I would expect if I were asking the same question to someone back home. So, oftentimes I sit in an interview and am met with a short answer to what seems to me like a complex question, and usually it’s just a matter of difference in culture and discourse.

Regardless of all of those challenges, this project hasn’t been a complete failure. I’m not sure if my research will really become something as big and complex as I anticipated, but I am still happy as I have been able to practice some basic research skills. At the very least, I am happy to be able to practice my Bahasa Indonesia, and I’ve loved sitting down with parents who express great pride in their children’s jobs, or children that are happy to have a job that will provide for their family.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Climb Every Mountain…Or Just One Volcano

As promised, here is a recap of the second half of my weeklong excursion, this part featuring adventures in North Bali. As you first read this entry the title may seem misleading, although I can assure you that I did in fact climb a volcano…I just did some other things first. But keep reading on if you want to hear about volcano adventures.

On our last morning in the village, I woke up at five with many people from my group and walked to the closest highest point near the village to watch the sunrise. I wish it was possible to capture the beauty of the early sun on the rice fields, but sadly even a picture doesn’t do it justice. In the approximately 45 minutes that we sat on the top of the hill, surrounded by green rice fields and palm trees, the sky went from starry and dark to colorful, accented by mountains on the horizon. As you may have seen in my last post, the landscape of rice fields – green steps cut into the earth – seems to exemplify the beauty of Bali, and are becoming more and more rare as hotels and restaurants are built. So, waking up before the sun, experiencing the rare feeing of cold in Bali, and then watching the rice fields become illuminated by the colorful sky was the most appropriate way to say goodbye to the real Bali, the natural and traditional rice cultivating culture.

1794645_10152823771404228_355391734223714215_n 10703965_10152823771694228_8384512744656691768_n

Soon we were on our way, slightly tired from rising early but excited to venture up north. On the way we stopped at a temple so our Academic Director could give a few offerings, as it was an auspicious day. This likely seems so foreign to those reading from outside of Bali, but here it’s like second nature. As you’ve probably gathered from my past posts, there are so many ceremonies in Bali. In fact, I now read that in the voice of a Balinese person, as many have said those exact words to me.  When we reached North Bali, Lovina to be specific, we took in the sight of the ocean, as well as the massive dolphin statue. Apparently Lovina is the place to spot them, although sadly we didn’t see any while we were there. A little while after we arrived, we visited a Buddhist monastery in the area, which I really enjoyed because I was in other countries this past summer that were prominently Buddhist, so it was interesting to see Buddhism in practice here. There were a number of different buildings in the complex, all with Buddha statues and murals. There was even a mini Borobudur (see my Java post if you’re not sure what this is!), and a banyan tree with a statue of Buddha teaching at its base. I’m not really sure if I could last through a meditation retreat, but this monastery seems like the kind I would want to be at if I could. While we were there we even glanced at the schedule for a retreat, and it basically was alternating sitting meditation and walking meditation, after rising super early in the morning.



We had one full day in Lovina, and it was jam packed. To start, we stopped at a Chinese temple, which was my first big exposure to Confucianism in Bali. As I think I said in an earlier post, Indonesians must choose one of six religions, and their affinity is printed on their ID card. Confucianism is the most recent one of the six to be recognized, and is a small minority group, especially on Bali. In the temple we all prayed, which consisted of putting many red incense sticks in pots located around the temple. I enjoyed praying, but I think my favorite part of the temple were the turtles located in the center, signifying long life. I don’t think I’ve seen that many turtles since I visited the zoo years ago.


From the Chinese temple we drove on to Gitgit waterfall, which I loved because it reminded me of the waterfalls back home in the Pacific Northwest. Most of our group stripped down to bathing suits and jumped into the water, but I’m a wimp and thought it was too cold. After hiking back up to our cars (past many souvenir stalls, a common sight in places like this that attract lots of tourists), we had lunch and I was able to get one of my favorite Bali drinks, es jeruk (iced fresh orange juice).With bellies full of gado gado (vegetables and peanut sauce), ayam kechap (chicken in a sweet sauce), nasi (rice), tempe, cap cay (sauteed vegetables), and mie goreng (fried noodles), we went on to our last stop, which was my favorite of the whole day. The place was called Santhi Budaya, and is basically a traditional and contemporary dance and gamelan school. Kids attend classes there as an extracurricular, starting fairly young until as old as mid-twenties. The kids were amazing. They performed a few dances with us and invited us to do their warm ups with them, which I somewhat failed at since I basically just watched them the whole time. The dancing was considered contemporary by Balinese standards, but it still used many traditional aspects of dance like precise hand movements and the dancing stance (basically feet flexed, toes up, knees bent, but out, chest forward…not so easy!). We also saw a solo dance done by a young man which was really interesting to watch because most of the dancing (besides mask dancing) that I have seen has been  performed by women. I took a few videos of the dancing, one of which I will post a link to below, so check it out! This group is so talented and even performs around the world!


Gitgit with my teacher, Ella!


Click here to see the video. Just a warning, the music is loud so don’t have your volume up too loud. Also, it’s probably better watched in HD if you have a fast enough connection.

On our way out of Loivna the next morning, we stopped at a large village (in my opinion, more a small town) called Sangsit that is known for having religious harmony, as it is made up of both Hindus and Muslims (and some Confucianists). I believe many years ago Muslims came to Sangsit as either traders or fishermen, and since then Hindu community openly welcomed them. Since then supposedly they all work together, respect each other’s religious differences, and even provide support during major religious holidays. We were only in the village for a short time and only saw one family’s compound, which looked a bit more like houses we saw in Java – not quite as ornately decorated, and obviously no family temples as it was a Muslim house. I wish we had the chance to stay in the village longer, as I’m curious to see if this so-called religious harmony is actually true, but I think I’d probably have to talk to a lot of people or live there a long time to get to the bottom of it all.


Sangsit village


After our stop in Sangsit Village and a two hour long twisty turny drive, we made it to Kintamani, which is more central-eastern Bali, and where Mt. Batur is located! Batur is a volcano that is about 6,000 ft above sea level, and has two calderas. The outer caldera is massive, and contains a lake that people live around. The inner caldera is what people commonly climb, and also what has more recently erupted. The volcano is still active, althoughI don’t think recent eruptions have caused  major damage in the area. We arrived mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the day relaxing in preparation for our climb the next day. That night I set my alarm for one for the earliest times ever to have graced my alarm clock – 3:00 am – as we had to be ready to climb at 3:30 am. Of course, in true Bali (and SIT Bali group) fashion, we didn’t depart until after 4:00 am, but it was still completely dark and freezing. For the first hour or so we walked through what seemed like forested land, until we finally hit gravel and began to ascend. Unlike most climbs or steep hikes I’ve done in the past, the trail was hardly marked and there were no switch backs. Plus, because we were climbing a volcano, there was volcanic gravel everywhere, which is quite difficult to walk on.


Batur in the daylight.


The beginnings of the sunrise, from the side of the volcano. I’m not really sure what that peak in the picture is, but I don’t think it’s volcanic.

The sun began to rise when I was about halfway up the volcano, which gave me a good excuse to stop every once in awhile to catch my breath. It was incredible, lighting up the whole sky with reds and oranges and even illuminating a volcano that is on the island of Lombok. Sadly I did not make it to the top before the sun totally rose, but I didn’t mind because there was something special about climbing, stopping, looking at the sky, and feeling empowered to keep climbing. I feel like this all seems incredibly cliche, but I don’t know how else to describe how I felt on the side of the volcano. I had thought of myself as totally out of shape (exercise is not really a thing here in Bali), but I felt physically and mentally recharged and strong as I climbed on the volcanic rocks.


Almost at the top with Cecilia and Dixon


When we finally made it to the top, we were greeted by cool winds and the rest of our shivering group. I am ashamed to admit that in the one instance where I could have really used the sweatshirt I brought with me on the trip, it was sitting where it has been sitting since I flew here late August – in my suitcase at my homestay. But, the view from the top made it all worth it. Plus, as we had been climbing, our guides were working on making our breakfast…in the side of the volcano. Yep, they dug holes out of the top of the caldera, buried eggs, and then served them to us hard-boiled. My egg was a bit of a fail, though, as when I tried to crack it on the table it exploded everywhere. Apparently volcano cooking isn’t always the best method. I still was able to enjoy a breakfast of warm bananas in between slices of white bread (surprisingly good for regaining energy), and a little fruit.


I made it!


My beloved volcano egg, before it splattered everywhere. Photo by Cecilia.

Our climb down was not so pleasant, as the loose gravel that was a nuisance going up became a slipping hazard on the way down. Many people in our group fell, although thankfully the worst injuries were just scrapes.  When we finally ended the hike it was only mid-morning, and we were able to rest in the car until we reached home.

Overall, I think this weeklong excursion showed me multiple sides of Bali that I hadn’t seen before – the tourist-less village, the diversity of religion up north, and the beautiful nature that reminds me that I really am in Indonesia, the Volcanic Ring of Fire.

Amidst The Rice Fields

We arrived at the village by foot,  which was perhaps the most practical way given the amount of potholes in the somewhat-paved road that were not quite catered for a four wheeled vehicle full of college students. In retrospect it also seemed like the most appropriate way to start our short stay in the village, free from cars, free from technology, walking through rice fields without a car window in the way or headphones in my ears. Our walk was incredibly hot and gave many of us a sunburn, but we lots of cocoa trees (which surprisingly tastes really good, once you crack them open and eat the white substance around the seeds) and rice fields which were so beautiful and made it all worth it. Not to mention the two young coconuts I had at the end, which came at about the best time ever.


Walking to the village


 The village my group visited is called Munduk Pakel, located in the Tabanan district in central-ish Bali. It is the village that my Academic Director is from, and is not frequented by tourists besides an SIT group every semester. This made our visit really special, as Bali is so heavily touristed that it’s hard to go somewhere without seeing any other foreigners. We visited the village for five days – just enough time to begin to get a taste of the life. Many of the residents are farmers, most of rice but also some coconut plantations (and potentially other crops, although I am not positive what kinds). We invited students from Udayana University (a university in Denpasar), and so in the end we were joined by 14 students, mostly first years as others had exams that week. They all seemed excited to join us and many had never been to rural villages in Bali before. On the last two days they helped us do interviews with locals for our village research paper, so we were able to connect and work together interviewing people. I interviewed five people about the same topic as my research my project (which I will explain in a later post!), but since I did my interviews in Bahasa Indonesia, it was a little bit difficult to understand every response.  Still, being sort-of able to do an interview in a foreign language that I’ve only been studying for two months felt like a huge accomplishment!

While in the village I stayed with a sweet host family in their compound. Every meal I had was some variation of noodles and peanuts, sometimes with an egg on the side, and even one time with three little (dead) fish on a plate, staring right at me. I love noodles and peanuts so I was always happy, although I couldn’t bring myself to touch those fish the night they were served on my dinner tray. My favorite part about my homestay was my host-grandfather (Kak in Bahasa Indonesia), who sat with me for nearly every meal and enjoyed asking me tons of questions in Bahasa Indonesia. After five days in the village I think my conversation skills improved tremendously, mostly just from these little chats with him. The rest of the family was also quite friendly, but they kept to themselves more, and I was not around the house that much as we had a lot of activities and downtime was mostly spent at our academic director’s family compound.


My village host family! After taking this picture I think I need to start a website called “Awkward Host Family Photos”


My bedroom


Other highlights from the village included:

-Lots of walks through rice fields! As a group we walked through my academic director’s property and nearby rice fields learning about natural medicine, and along the way picked up various plants and fruit that could be used for medicine, food, or offerings. I loved this little walk, and not just because I was able to eat a mangosteen right off the tree (although that was a big reason). We were able to collect enough ingredients to make a sambal (a type of sauce, usually with red chilis but  I don’t think there were any in this one) and boreh, which is a medicinal paste made from leaves, cloves, bark and herbs and rubbed on the body to relieve pain. After our walk I helped to make the boreh, which was mostly just a lot of grinding using a mortar and pestle, with the occasional lemongrass or ginger tea break (which I’ll admit I was a bigger fan of than the mortar and pestle work). In the end I tried both the sambal and boreh – the sambal was tasty over rice, a mixture of herbs and onions I think, and the boreh I put all over my shins and feet, and never felt any different. Some people said it was cooling, though, so maybe it was just me.


Fresh mangosteen! This fruit is delicious and one of my favorites.


The inside of the mangosteen. You eat the white parts (not the outside).

Our other hike through rice fields was to a Balian, a Balinese traditional healer. This Balian must have been at least 90 years old, but still was able to walk fairly well. He had only two bottom teeth, and wore a coat with huge shoulders – quite the character. He spoke to us briefly about his experiences, describing cases where he helped patients with physical ailments, and then he showed us a rock he found in the river that helps him tell if he is able to help a patient (basically he looks through a little hole and if he can see the person on the other end he is able to help and cure them). He took a few questions from us, but once his incense ran out he stopped talking. Seems like a pretty good excuse to stop, if you asked me.

Our last adventure in a rice field was near the end of our trip, when we walked to a nearby village to help with rice harvesting (side note: walking up and down hills in the hot sun = extreme sweatiness). I don’t know how much of a help we actually were, but it was pretty fun to be in the middle of a huge field of rice paddies and see what the rice looks like before it ends up on my breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates (not a joke – Balinese eat rice three times a day). Our job in the rice field was mostly just to take bunches of rice stalks and hit them against this wooden contraption, so the rice kernels would fall off. Some students got really into the process and even helped cut off some of the rice stalks, but I just preferred exploring the rice field and hangin’ out with the cows.


Harvesting rice

-We played gamelan in the village! I’m not sure if I have talked about gamelan in my past posts, but it is a group of instruments played in Bali and Java mostly made up of instruments similar to the xylophone, but there are also some tambourines and drums. We were taught by the local gamelan band in the balai banjar, which is similar to a community center, and after two nights of “lessons” our group was able to play four different melodies. The gamelan men helped us all learn the notes by holding the mallets with us as we hit the keys, but they were fairly simple and repetitive, so it was not too difficult. Occasionally I would zone out, only to look up and realize that one of the old gamelan men would be looking right at me as I played the wrong notes. Whoops. Gamelan is an essential part of many ceremonies here, so we were finally able to play some tunes that we hear all of the time (albeit a bit easier than the common ones). Ironically, as I write this blog post there is a live gamelan troupe playing about twenty feet from me, so I have some nice inspiration.


For our last night in the village, we went to a “block party” like no block party I’d ever seen before. A gamelan band set up in the street, and we were all treated to a Balinese flirtation dance, the joged bumbung (which is really fun to say). There were five different dancers, and they came out one by one. They’d start with a solo dance, complete with the traditional eye movements and super bent hands (that I still am not able to do, even though I’ve tried), and then once the music would change slightly they’d pull out a fan and come towards the audience. Each of us was invited up to dance and “flirt” with the Balinese dancer, and when it came to be my turn I got up there and mostly just awkwardly giggled the whole time.


The flirtation dancer!

Like I said before, our few days in the village were the perfect way to see another side of Bali. In the village I felt free of the tourist label, which is nearly impossible to escape here. Before going I was nervous to experience rural life, perhaps because I wasn’t really sure what to expect or because I was convinced that there’d be no running water and we’d have to eat bugs – both rumors that went around. I did not eat any bugs (except for maybe the spider that supposedly everyone eats in their sleep once in awhile) and there was running water, although I surprised myself and opted for skinny dipping in the river with my friends each day in lieu of a bucket bath. Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate thing to admit on this blog, but I can assure you that I did it tastefully. Even the one time that we accidentally chose the same spot as two young fishermen, they were incredibly respectful and we never ended up with an awkward moment. Our time in the village was not like any school day I’ve experienced in the US (really no day here has), but those few days were exactly what I wanted in my program: full immersion into a culture so different than what I find back home in the US.


The path that you can sort of see on the right of this picture lead us to our bathing spot at the river. The structure near the path is a temple. Nothing like bathing with a view of the beautiful rice fields!

After the village we all traveled to North Bali for a few days, but this post is already quite long so I think I’ll do a “part two” post. I’m currently in the midst of my Independent Study Project (ISP), which will also be another post that I’ll write soon. I hope all is well in whatever part of the world you’re reading this! If you’re in Walla Walla (or other parts of the US), stay warm! It’s a bit hard for me to wrap my head around freezing temperatures as I sit here in my tank top and shorts, but it’s making me miss wearing sweaters and boots. Sampai nanti teman-teman! (see you later friends!).

Jalan-jalan ke Java

Hello blog readers! I hope you all haven’t started to think that I was eaten by a giant gecko (tokek) or chicken (ayam) or duck (bebek) or mosquito (nyamok), because I’m very much alive and well in Bali. I have been back from Java for about a week and a half, but in that time I have taken two midterms, made two batik pieces (batik = traditional art form here, essentially painting on fabric with hot wax and then dying the fabric), made one silver ring, listened to four lectures about topics like tourism, LGBT in Bali, and the environment, visited two beautiful beaches, drank/ate one amazing young coconut, visited one temple for a dance performance (and saw the eclipsing moon!), and learned (and subsequently became slightly confused by) at least three new Bahasa Indonesia prefix/suffix and passive voice rules. My days are pretty full, from rising to the sound of chickens, going about my day to the sound of upacaras (ceremonies), and then falling asleep at the “late” hour of 9:30 pm to the sound of barking dogs. No joke about the 9:30 – I’ve turned into an old woman here.

While I could go on an on about my time in Bali, I want to instead time travel a little bit and tell you all about the highlights of my time in Java. I knew from the moment that I woke up on our first day in Java that it’d be a very different experience than my previous month in Bali. Why? Because when I woke up it was 4 am, and there was a loudspeaker blasting the Muslim morning call to prayer. Although I felt groggy in that moment as I turned over in my tiny bed and tried to catch a couple more hours of sleep, I grew to enjoy the call to prayer during my time there because it was a daily (well, multiple times a day) reminder that I was getting a taste of a different part of Indonesia. In fact, I believe I mentioned this in my first blog post, but over 86% of Indonesia is Muslim, so essentially my time in Yogyakarta, Java, was a more accurate taste of Indonesia as a whole. Bali is 90% Hindu, which is not to say it isn’t an “accurate” part of Indonesia, but perhaps more of a little bubble compared to the majority Muslim society.

During our two weeks, we mostly studied religion, which included both lectures as well as the experience of living with homestay families. I stayed with a nice little family – a younger couple with a shy little 5 year old son named Adnan. In Bali I live with just an older woman, so I was very happy to have a completely different experience in Java. In Java families eat together around the table (or, as I saw a few times, in front of the television), so each morning and evening I sat with my Ibu (mother) and Adnan and was able to practice my Bahasa Indonesia as I told them about life back home (banyak pohon-pohon! Lots of trees!). A typical evening at my Javanese homestay would look like this: dinner, cooked by my Ibu – usually tasty noodles or a soup (with noodles), chicken sate, or stir-fry – followed by sitting in front of the TV for a little while, then a bucket shower, then bed. I think the Javanese may be really into singing reality shows, because every time the TV was on there would be one playing. My favorite was Mamma Mia, which features mothers singing with their children. The whole culture around watching television was incredibly interesting to me in Java – it seemed to be on all the time, and not just in my family’s house. If I had the ability to do multiple research projects while I’m here, I’d definitely try to study the culture around TV viewing in households. Oh well, I’m not superwoman!


Selfie with my host brother, Adnan!


My homestay in Java


Other highlights from my time in Java included

  • A “karaoke night” in the village where our homestays were located, put on my the dean of the Philosophy department at Gadjah Mada University (where we set up camp for the two weeks and had lectures and our normal Bahasa Indonesia class). The Dean gave a lecture on the Indonesian philosophy of Pancasila (which basically promotes religiosity and nationalism, although is a lot more complex than that), and henceforth he became known as Mr. Pancasila to us. The dean was a character, to put it mildly. The karaoke night was mostly just older women from the village singing on a stage, and somehow every song would become a duet at some point as Mr. Pancasila would come out of the shadows and join in. He even joined our group as we sang our only song (besides Heads, shoulders, knees and toes), “Disini Senang.”
  • Pesantrens: We visited these Islamic boarding schools twice, and I think they became one of my favorite parts of the trip. The students there were incredibly disciplined, and told us that the wake up every day at 3:30 and go to sleep at 10 pm. That makes me feel like a hibernating polar bear! The students were incredibly sweet, and both times the girls that lead us around were so eager to practice their English with us. A small group of us went to the second boarding school, and learned that we were the first Americans to ever enter the campus. The girls in the dormitory swarmed us as we walked through, and loved to hear when we tried to speak Bahasa Indonesia to them. One girl told me that I looked like her grandma, and called me “Sister Grandma” the whole time. I didn’t think I looked that old! Another highlight was from the first Pesantren, where I was lead around by a girl who spoke fairly good English and wanted to hear all about America. When I joked with her about boyfriends (which are strictly not allowed at the Pesantren), she said. “no boy, no cry!” Amen, sista.
  • img_6241

    With the sweet girls at the Pesantren (plus a couple girls from my program)

  • Prambanan & Borobudur: Our first introduction to Prambanan, the huge (and very old) Hindu temple in Yoyakarta was our second night in Java, when we saw the Ramayana Ballet with the towering temple lit up as a background. If you’re picturing the Nutcracker at a Hindu temple, think again. The dance was nothing like the porietting and tutu wearing dance you’d see in that sort of ballet, but instead very Indonesian, with flat feet (raised toes), bent hands, and curled fingers. See here if you want an example. The classic Hindu story was elaborately done, and my favorite parts was probably when they had REAL fire to show when Hanuman (the monkey god) is captured. The next week we actually visited the two temples ­– Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and Prambanan, and both reminded me a lot of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The temples are about an hour and a half from each other, so it took the whole day to see both. While we were at Prambanan, here was an international skydiving competition happening, so not only were we able to see super old carvings in stone, but we were able to see super old carvings in stone framed by tiny men with parachutes in the sky. Seemed like a pretty ideal jumping spot to me.




  • Malioboro: SHOPPING! If you know me well, you know that shopping is one of my weaknesses. Malioboro is a famous shopping street known for it’s numerous batik stores, souvenir (oleh-oleh) market, and big mall. The mall was a little bit of a let down, although they did have a store that was strangely called Playboy and featured the Playboy bunny, though just sold men’s shoes. If anyone has an explanation for that I’d love to hear it. A friend and I stumbled upon a giant department store selling all sorts of souvenirs, and I left with a massive shopping bag full of pants, mu-mus (my new favorite sleeping attire), and even mangosteen tea for my Ibu in Bali. (side note: she has since drank it multiple nights and each morning tells me that it makes her sleep an extra hour and is curing all her ailments, so apparently it’s magical).

I’m sure I could go on an on about other highlights from Yogya, but I’m afraid I’ve already written a novel. I think that in the end I’m really glad that I was able to leave Bali and get a taste of another part of Indonesia, but in the end I have a special place in my heart for the little tropical Hindu island. Maybe it’s the abundance of trees, or all the offerings on the ground, or the cute little kids in their temple attire, or the trend of less fried food, but Bali is just as wonderful as I thought it was the first time I got off the airplane.

This coming week we go my program director’s village, which is an agricultural village, so we’ll be able to live like the farmers for a little less than a week. From there we head up north, where we’ll do a lot of things including hike Mt. Batur (a volcano!). I hope all is well in the northern hemisphere!

Note: I had a little bit of a hard time uploading pictures to this blog, but I was able to get it to work on my personal blog. If you’d like to see a few more pictures from Java, click here!

Hari-Hari Saya di Bali: My Days in Bali

Salamat pagi! Saya sekarang di Jawa! Saya tiba di Jawa di senin dengan teman-teman saya dan guru-guru saya. Saya rindu Ibu dan rumah saya di Bali, tapi saya suka keluarga saya di Jawa juga. Saya punya Ibu, Bapak, dan satu adik laki-laki. Di rumah saya di Jawa, saya mononton televisi, makan malam, dan tindur. Sekarang saya di Gadjah Mada University (UGM), dan saya belajar Bahasa Indonesia.

(Good morning! I am now in Java! I arrived in Java on Monday with my friends and teachers. I miss my host-mother and house in Bali, but I also like my family in Java.  I have a host mother, host father, and a younger brother. In my house in Java, I watch television, eat dinner, and sleep. Right now I am at the Gadjah Mada University (UGM), and I am studying Bahasa Indonesia)

~note: sorry this post is so long! I haven’t had a chance to blog that often, so I thought a more comprehensive and longer post was in store. ~

As you may be able to tell, I’m coming along with my Bahasa Indonesia! After about a month in Bali, I still have a ways to go but I am able to have a conversation and understand quite a bit. I apologize for not blogging sooner/more often – I have been very busy exploring Bali, learning how to speak BI, settling in at my homestay in Bedulu and exploring nearby Ubud. Schedules seem to be very flexible here in Indonesia, and we have had a lot of lecturers cancel which means we get to hear Bu Ari (our academic director) fill in and teach us all about various topics in Indonesia, from religion to politics. We have been able to visit a mask maker and saw him demonstrate wood carving. We watched him hold the mask between his feet as he whittled away at the wood with incredibly sharp tools. I have the option of learning how to make a mask as the art component of this program, but as I was watching the mask maker demonstrate the carving techniques, I can easily picture myself cutting my feet with the tools. Ouch. The mask maker creates masks both for fun and for spiritual/religious purposes, but because feet are considered the most unholy part of the body in Bali, religious masks must be purified with holy water before they can be used. My favorite part of the mask visit was when we were able to go into his gallery and try on a ton of masks. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience, but I loved seeing everyone with crazy new faces. Another highlight was when we visited a wayang, which are Balinese shadow puppets. The shadow puppet maker is also a dalam, which means puppeteer, but also serves as a teacher and Hindu lay-leader. The dalam was a super cute old Balinese man who didn’t speak any English and demonstrated his various puppeteer voices. He had one of the best cackles I’ve ever heard, and luckily it occurred quite often during his presentation.


The mask maker with examples of different stages of the process


The dalam (shadow puppeteer) and Bu Ari, my program director holding the wayang (shadow puppets)

In Bali I live with a sweet older woman who is my Ibu (host-mother). She has a son who lives in Denpasar (~45 minute car ride away) with his three young children and wife. The son speaks some English, but my Ibu can only say about ten words, so I have a lot of opportunities to practice my Bahasa Indonesia. I eat breakfast (usually little Balinese cakes, toast, fruit, and tea, but sometimes nasi goreng [fried rice]) and dinner (usually tempeh, tofu, chicken sausage, sautéed greens, rice, fruit, veggies, but sometimes nasi goreng or chicken sate). In Bali meals are eaten in solitude, so my Ibu serves me my breakfast and dinner in my room, and I eat in the company of my two favorite meal companions, solitaire and tetris. My homestay is a bit quiet since it is just me and my Ibu, but I’ve grown to like having a place that I can go home to where I know it’ll be less hectic than normal daily Bali life. I also have a shower head with warm water and a western toilet, which is a nice added bonus.


With my Balinese host family (photo by SIT Bali)



The view of my homestay compound from my room




A breakfast from my Ibu (fried rice with a fried egg, rice cakes with banana and red bean inside, little bananas, and tea)


Part of my room (there is a shrine in the top left)


Another part of my room. I eat my meals at the desk.

My daily schedule totally varies each day, but here is a rough idea of what a day in the life looks like:

6:20-6:40: Wake up! So far I haven’t had to wake up with an alarm because I have at least ten natural alarm clocks in the form of chickens, roosters, and dogs. Although roosters aren’t the ideal alarm clock, I’ve grown to enjoy waking up to them because it helps me feel like I’m living somewhere way different than home.

6:40-7:30: Mandi (bathe), get dressed, eat breakfast, berjalan ke program center (walk to program center). My rumah (house) is about a five minute walk (including two street crossings) away from the program center. I took a hyperlapse (timelapse sort of video) of my walk, which I’ll post at the bottom.

7:30-10:45: Internet time, Bahasa Indonesia class. There is internet at the program center so many of us usually come a little early to take advantage of it. Bahasa Indonesia class starts around 8 (Bali stretch time means it sometimes starts around 8:15). First we all congregate together and learn in a big group, but then split off into smaller groups (kelas kecil = small class) to practice what we’ve learned. I’m proud to say that I’ve learned quite a lot in less than a month – I can easily have a conversation and can even understand some speeches from lecturers!

11-12:30ish: Usually we have a thematic seminar lecture (something relating to arts, religion and social change). Recently we’ve had a lot of seminars about religion, but we’ve also had many seminars about arts in Bali (which is a major part of the culture, from wood carving to shadow puppet making).

12:30-1:30 THE BEST LUNCH EVER. I love the food at the program center. Perhaps it’s because there’s usually a large variety of dishes, from sate to salad to chicken to veggie stir fry to fruit, but also probably because it simply tastes very good (enak sekali = very delicious). It’s safe to say I gain about five pounds every lunch, but it’s worth it.


A lunch from the program center: salad, beans/vegetables, tempeh (fermented soybean, which sounds gross but is actually quite delicious), rice (so much rice), fruit, and noodles.

The rest of the day: this varies tremendously, because like I said before, the schedule is very flexible. Sometimes we don’t have a lecture before lunch and instead host a lecturer or travel to one another time during the day. Other days, we have the afternoon off and hang out at the program center or travel to Ubud to explore. One of my favorite afternoons was spent in Ubud relaxing in a restaurant with comfy couches, yummy food, and wifi. That’s one thing Indonesia doesn’t really lack – wifi. Although our homestays don’t have wifi, we’re usually able to find it other places. That being said, it often is super slow. Guess that’s the trade off! 

In the evenings I usually go home to my homestay and have dinner. Sometimes I stay there, studying a little and then going to sleep, but other days I go back to the program center to hang out. Our program center is located within someone’s compound, and there are about six little girls ranging in age from about 4 to 10 that live there. They are the sweetest and only recently warmed up to us, so lately I’ve enjoyed filling in the gap of no children at my homestay by hanging out with them, singing songs and dancing. The other night they sang songs for a couple of hours (many of which I knew from class), and then we danced to Waka Waka and Gangam Style.

For the past week I’ve been in Java (which will warrant it’s own blog post), but being here has helped me put my time in Bali into perspective. I get a lot more stares from locals in Java than I do in Bali, probably because Bali is way more touristy and locals are used to seeing non-Balinese people walking around. The shock from locals that I find in Java usually happens when I open my mouth and start speaking their language, which they usually enjoy. I’ve found that people in Bali as well as Java have been so friendly, always forgiving my mistakes when I try to speak Bahasa Indonesia, or just saying hello if I pass them on the street. I’m back to the cold bucket shower here in Java, which is not as much as a shock as it was the first time during orientation, but I definitely prefer the hot water shower. Bali is a lot more green than Java, which has helped me realize that my impression of Bali as a tropical paradise (largely influenced by the western tourist impression of the island is not what the country of Indonesia is like as a whole.

Overall, my time here has been incredibly enriching, largely due to how integrated I am in normal life. Lately I’ve been talking a lot with my host family, and realize that I spend many hours without speaking English, which is a totally weird feeling that I’ve never felt before. I haven’t been spending as much time in a classroom, but I feel like I am still learning a lot just from observing and participating in the Balinese and Javanese daily life, like performing rituals, speaking the language, and using public transportation.


Bali countryside from the car window


The beautiful program center

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

One of the many statues in the program center

Again, thanks for reading my posts and I apologize for the lengthiness of this one. If any of you have requests for specific posts, please let me know!

Public Transportation, Bali Style

Salamat pagi! (Good Morning)

I’m writing this morning from our beautiful Program Center, which is filled with Balinese statues (many with flowers behind their ears and offerings at their feet), an immense amount of tropical plants and flowers, cute little kids running around, and multiple buildings with intricate wood carvings. Our classroom looks somewhat like a classroom (picture multiple rows of chairs with desks attached), but it only has three walls – the fourth wall is wide open and looks out at stone paths framing little gardens and pink and purple bougainvillea, which litter the pathways and add to the magical feel of the compound.

To get to the Program Center from our orientation site, we all took public transportation in small groups. This was about a 30ish km trip, but took around three and a half hours. We were first dropped off in Kerambitan (where our orientation was), and hopped into a mini bus for about a dollar each. I climbed over baskets of offerings, through rows of flip flow wearing Balinese, straight to the front row which was ideal for watching the television screen showing Indonesia  n music videos at the front of the bus. With just a couple weeks of Bahasa Indonesia classes, I was able to recognize a few words from the subtitles, but I still have a long way to go. The music videos definitely helped make the hour long ride more exciting, though. As soon as we reached our first stop, we immediately found a bemo (shared taxi) driver who directed us to his little car. Initially he told us a price, but then tried to raise it once we got to his car. Not acceptable by us savvy travelers. We refused to pay more, and finally he gave in and drove us to our next stop.


Minibus! Featuring a music video.

Once we reached our destination, we hopped out of the bemo into the hot sun. Thankfully we were greeted by a large bus heading the right direction, and the driver agreed to a ~$1 ticket. Our bodies sank into the cushioned seats, which somewhat made up for the sweat dripping from our bodies. I got a very good tour of the area, since the bus drove along at a snails pace. I watched motorbikes pass, and then cars pass, and then even humans pass on foot. We finally made it to our last stop, which was about a thirty minute drive to Ubud, the touristy town close to our program center and that day’s lunch spot. We must have looked a bit disheveled by then, because a nice Balinese woman directed us to the right bemo stop (which was simply just a spot on the side of the road. Cars and motorcycles kept passing the stop, but no bemos. Finally, a bemo came around the corner and I nearly wept tears of joy (which I could have easily confused with sweat, since we were standing in the sun).


The view from the back of the bus

Our ride to Ubud felt like a ticket to tourist land, as the number of non-Indonesian people became greater and greater the closer we got to the Ubud pasar (market). I had only been in Bali for a week, but already I felt like I wasn’t there to just be a tourist – my purpose in being here was a lot deeper than touring around and shopping in Ubud. I remember one of us telling another bemo passenger, “kami bukan tourist, kami mahasiswi!” (We are not tourists, we are university students!). That being said, when we reached Ubud and sat down for a lunch of wood fired pizza, my stomach was overjoyed to be having a non-rice based meal. The pizza so was simple and delicious, I even ate the whole thing (and for those of you that know me well, this is pretty impressive).

After a long day of travel and heat, I was content with relaxing for a bit in Ubud before taking another (quick) bemo ride to our Program Center. Traveling was definitely not as simple as the United States, as official bus or bemo stops don’t exist and a schedule is unheard of, but I felt incredibly accomplished when we made it to Ubud in one piece. Since our day of travel, I have taken bemos a number of times between Bedulu (where our Program Center is located) and Ubud, and each time I feel incredibly prepared, thanks to the challenging and rewarding day of long-distance public transportation travel.


I have many more posts that I’m dying to write since our days have been rich with cultural experiences (weddings, cremations, general exploring, and even a massage!), but internet is very slow at the Program Center and our days have been jam packed. I hope to post more soon, so stay tuned for updates about my host family, food, and general Bali life!

**Note: Sorry about the poor image quality – my internet here is not a fan of uploading pictures.

Greetings from Bali!

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Maya and I am a sociology major spending my fall semester in Bali, Indonesia on an SIT program. My program focuses specifically on Arts, Religion and Social Change, and we also learn Bahasa Indonesia. I apologize for not posting sooner – we have been having orientation for the last week at a puri (palace) in Tabanan (a south-central region).  After being in Bali for a week, I have so much to write about! Each morning at the puri I wake up at sunrise, thanks to a call to prayer (Hindu version, stolen from the Muslims), which consists of melodic gamalan music (kind of like marimba-ish sounding) and beautiful chanting. If I’m not already awake enough, I get a little bit more of a wake up when I take a shower, which consists of just a bucket of cold water that you pour onto yourself with another smaller bucket. To al of you who did the ice bucket challenge this summer, I have no pity – it is basically my daily ritual now. We have had intensive language classes every day for multiple hours, but I can now have a whole conversation and know all sorts of random words. We also adventure around the area, eat a lot of delicious food (which will probably end up being a whole blog post in itself), and spend a lot of time just bonding as a group.

One of the highlights of the orientation week was our hour-long drop off, where the program staff dropped every student in a different location around the area with the mission of forcing us to interact with locals and use our Bahasa Indonesia. As we were driving to my drop off spot, I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest and I was expecting to turn around and find cameras following me like some sort of reality show. I ended up being dropped off at a warung (local convenience store/restaurant) where there were about fifteen women and children gathered around a bamboo platform at the front of the warung. My Bahasa teacher (guru) that accompanied me quickly took my picture and then drove off, and suddenly it was just me, my notebook, and a bunch of very curious Balinese. I quickly introduced myself (nama saya Maya), told them I was from America (Saya dari Amerika), and was bombarded with at least ten different questions. I could answer some, but spent a considerable amount of time flipping through my notebook. I ended up being ushered to sit down, and thankfully was able to talk to a fifteen-year-old girl who knew a little English. I spoke to her and her mother for a little while with my limited Bahasa Indonesia, but soon they had to leave (and I couldn’t go with them since they were on a motorbike).

The rest of the hour I spent sitting on the bamboo platform with my notebook out in front of about six kids, and we went through everything that I’d learned so far. I found out that the liked all the foods and drinks that I had written down, but most didn’t like coffee (kopi).  We talked about sicknesses, colors, families, ages, temples, and the fact that my name backwards in Bahasa means chicken (ayam). When they saw that I had the Bahasa Indonesia version of head, shoulders knees and toes written down, we sang the song. After what felt like less than an hour, my guru was back and I had a newfound sense of confidence in talking to locals. On our way back to the puri after picking up another student, we passed a young boy that was sitting with me at the warung and I heard him singing the song with his grandmother. Success!


After the drop-off!

After just a week in Bali I know that my semester will be incredibly rich with experiences that will be both challenging and rewarding. The language is incredibly easy (Gregorian and phonetic alphabet, no tenses, conjugation, gender, and many cognates), and so I am hoping to do a blog post later on in both Bahasa Indonesia and English so you all can see what it looks like. I hope all is well in Walla Walla, and I’m sending lots of good studying vibes from fifteen hours ahead!