Seeing as this year was my senior year of high school, one of the biggest things that others were concerned about with me going abroad was that I would be missing out on the senior festivities such as prom, graduation, Etc. Well, for all of you out there concerned that I would be “missing out” on the high school experience, this post should put your mind at ease. I didn’t exactly have the prom night and graduation that I dreamed of as a freshman, but, as far as I’m concerned, I got something better than what I had imagined.
On the day that would have been my prom, I oddly enough didn’t have school so, some school friends invited me to hang out with them. My friends knew my favorite Indonesian food is baso (see blog post about food for more information) and brought me to a place that boasted some of the best meatballs in Bandung. Needless to say, it was delicious. After some discussion about where to go next, my friends decided it would be of my benefit to visit Moko Hill. Well, I had no idea what that meant, but, something I have learned over the past ten months is that when you are on exchange and your friends invite you places, you say yes. It turns out Moko Hill wasn’t exactly a hill, but, more like a small, steep mountain. We rode motorcycles through the winding roads for about an hour, until we finally reached the top. The view was absolutely stunning. And, because of the change in elevation, the air was cooler, crisper and fresher and a nice respite from the hot humid air that usually surrounded Bandung. We hung out and took pictures for a while, and then trekked into the nearby pine tree forest, because pine trees are not something you see every day in Indonesia. At dusk, we took the long motorcycle ride back down, but we weren’t ready to call it a day quite yet. As any Bandung teenager knows, a day out with friends is not really a day out with friends unless you document it by going to the photo box at the nearest photo studio. And so, we did.
When I returned home that night, it wasn’t until I was lying in bed that I realized that day was what would have been my prom. By that point, I was too exhausted to get all nostalgic and sentimental and just fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.
|Best. Baso. Ever.|
|I'm just one of the guys.|
|Because why not?|
|One more because I'm feeling artsy.|
Graduation was a little different. Because my dance teacher also teaches the extracurricular Sundanese culture class at school, we were invited to dance at graduation. I was beyond excited. Up until that point, I had only danced at festival-like events, but, this was going to be different. We were going to be dancing because it was a graduation ceremony, and for that reason, it was going to be straight up traditional. Or, so I thought. It turned out we would be performing twice: the first part more traditional, and the second part fun and strictly for entertainment only.
After a few long nights of rehearsal, the day of graduation finally arrived. From what I was able to hear backstage, the Indonesian graduation ceremony has some aspects in common with a typical American one. First, the students proceed in, the school’s choir sings, the national anthem is sung, the principal and other school dignitaries give speeches (students don’t) and then comes the part for recognition. Students go up to the front with their class (remember that in Indonesia students have one class with the same students and the teachers come to them) and instead of being presented with a diploma, each student is presented with a medal that says “SMA 1 Alumni”. After that process is where the fun begins. The top students from the whole graduating class are given a special ceremony where they are brought to the stage area accompanied by – you guessed it – the dancers! This was the ceremonial part, set to traditional Sundanese gamelan music. And, lucky enough for all of you, I have it on video! Click here:
The second part was more for fun and as a former drum line “groupie” back at my American high school, I finally got to live out my dream and dance while playing a Sundanese drum called “kandang”. Our teacher thought it might be fun to add a little bit of surprise to this, so you should watch this video to the end to see the plot twist. And, you can watch that one here:
After the dancing, there were some more short speeches, and then there was a break to eat lunch. Oh yeah. I should probably mention that one of the biggest differences between an Indonesian graduation and an American one is that in Indonesia (well, at least for my school) the graduation starts early in the morning and continues on all day until close to the evening. Anyways, after lunch, the whole thing basically turned into a party. All of the school’s performing clubs (choir, “angklung”, Etc.) gave performances followed by the many, many, “bands” that wanted to perform too. (Believe me when I say that literally almost every boy in Indonesia can play guitar, and subsequently wants to be a rock star…
But, the highlight for the students was when the theater club gave their performance. I have performed with the theater group from my school multiple times, and I am good friends with many of them. So, when I was getting ready to leave after two very loud performances from aspiring rock stars, they told me to stay because it would be worth it. And, well, it was interesting to say the least. At my school, apparently there is a tradition of taking all of the gossip stories from the graduating class and putting it together into a series of small skits for the theater performance. The performers wear giant nametags so everyone knows who they are portraying and the gossip topics related to everything from bad break ups, unrequited love, girl drama and even selfies gone wrong. But, here’s the thing: they weren’t mad about seeing themselves portrayed in what would be considered a negative way in the US. Every single one of the students was laughing – even if it was at themselves. I guess after ten months, I still can be surprised by the culture here.
After the performance, my theater friends invited me to go out to dinner with them, and once again, it was another exhausting day, so I didn’t even realize that what I had just experienced was my own high school graduation.
|Being attractive at rehersal|
|Selfie with my theater girls|
|Practicing one last time before the show|
I guess it goes without saying that school is over for me, and it has been for a while. After having some time to reflect, the best way I can describe how I felt about school is that it was a kind of love-hate relationship because, well, there were days when I loved it, and days where I hated it. When I was new to SMANSA and no one really knew me, school was probably at its worst. Everyone at the school knew I was there, but had not yet met me, and were very curious. So, that meant every time I left my classroom, I was bombarded by countless eager students with a million questions, and, well, it was overwhelming. Also, I understood most of what the teachers were teaching in class, but, I was never sure about the teacher’s expectations of me, and always somehow ended up doing too much or too little. But, as the months wore on, things got a lot easier. One of my teachers suggested that I spend a few days in many different classes to meet as many students as possible, and that really helped. I joined theater and Sundanese dance and had even more friends outside the classroom. As more time passed, I began to understand my teachers better, and was able to figure out what was expected of me.
For about my last two months of school, if I had a free period, I would go to another class to give a presentation about my life in America and meet even more students. Between visiting other classes and giving my presentations, towards the end, I had met literally almost every student in the school. That was what really changed everything. When I walked though the hallways and someone said hello, I could say hello back and know them if not by name, then by face. I had multiple friend groups from extracurriculars and classes, and hung out with them often. The long hours spent in class passed quickly with friends to talk and joke with when we weren’t working. We all soon became comfortable enough to be ourselves and I began to feel like I truly belonged.
From art projects gone horribly wrong, afterschool karaoke with my girls, playing poker with the guys (we weren’t gambling, it was just for fun!) when the teacher was late to class, to countless trips to the canteen, batik on Fridays and the time the whole class ended up singing “Hey Jude” at the top of their lungs because I refused to sing alone, I have made memories I will never forget, and I feel blessed to have made them with such an amazing group of people.
On my last day of school, I was a hot mess, literally. I woke up with a fever and a nasty stomach ache, but I knew that I was probably never going to see some of my friends and teachers from school again, so I forced myself to go. Throughout the day, I went from class to class and said my goodbyes without a problem, and it wasn’t until I started saying goodbye to the teachers that it hit me that it was over. They were all wishing me good luck and success in college, and with the mention of college, I began to realize that not only was this my last day of high school in Bandung, it was my last day of high school. Ever.
By the end of the day I had made it back to my classroom and was basically fighting tears as my final minutes came closer and closer. Honestly, I was surprised. I mean, I know I am an emotional person, but, I didn’t expect to get so upset about leaving school because I didn’t realized how attached to it I had grown. When the final bell sounded and my friends filed out of the class, I stayed for an extra minute just to feel how surreal it was. I was done with high school, forever. But, I had finished my last day in a foreign country that no longer felt foreign with people who were strangers a few short months ago, but now felt like a second family. I looked around one last time, to try to memorize the way the classroom was organized and hold on to that strange feeling. When I felt like I was ready, I took a deep breath, stood from my desk, looked back one more time, smiled and walked out the classroom and into a completely uncharted territory.
So, yes. As it has for all students who graduated high school this year, a chapter of my life has ended, but in a way a little more unorthodox than I was expecting. I took some time to process all of this craziness, and you know what? I don’t feel like anything has been lost, I feel like more has been gained. And, even though this whole last paragraph is getting too cliché-y and I kind of hate myself for being so stereotypical right here, I really don’t know how else to put it, so….: A chapter might be ending, but, a new one will shortly be beginning.
That’s all for today, bye!