Tuesday, June 24, 2014

School and End of the Year Festivities

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. 
 The view from Moko:

Pine trees!

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!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Capstone

 I was going to make this post into a video. I figured because this is one of the most important - and actually the only required aspect of my exchange - I should make it all nice and fancy with a perfectly edited video complete with epic effects and background music.
Too bad that’s not me.
 It took me less than ten minutes of attempting to shoot before I realized that a video of any sort would be a disaster. And, well, like I said, this is important. So, why waste my time on a video, when a post will be just as effective, if not more because it will be done properly?
Ok, rant over.
So, yeah. As I mentioned, this is pretty important, so for those of you out there who only look at the pictures, make THIS the post you actually read. From the title you can probably guess this post is in regards to a brand-new edition to the YES Abroad scholarship: the capstone project. Basically, the capstone is an open ended project we were assigned to complete before our return to the US that would somehow wrap up what we had learned and experienced here. We were encouraged to make it something that we could share with our home community so that friends and family in the US could learn about the country we have lived in for almost a year, and somehow tie in our host community too if possible.  Naturally, I was perplexed. Asking me to pick one thing to focus on after nearly a year of experiences seemed downright impossible.
After some soul searching, the first thing to come to mind was traditional dance. For about six months I have been seriously studying a type of Sundanese dance called Jaipong. Jaipong is a fusion of traditional Sundanese dance mixed with some more modern elements and aspects of martial arts. In Bandung, Jaipong is practiced in the same way ballet is in the US: many kids attend classes when they are younger, but by the time they get older, the number has trickled down to only a few dedicated dancers. And, for good reason. Jaipong is HARD. Like ballet, it is very technical and if one wants to do it correctly, Jaipong requires years of committed, hard work. After six months, I am still understandably a beginner, but, I have been given incredible opportunities to perform multiple times. I’ve also made some very important relationships because of dance too. As in the US, the teachers and dancers at my Bandung studio have become my second family, and have been nothing but patient and supportive as I’ve struggled to keep up over these past few months. Needless to say, that is one goodbye I am NOT looking forward to.

...makes perfect

Performing at graduation

Sometimes I like to pretend I'm a Sundanese princess....

Me and my dance teacher

      In February I was offered the opportunity to participate in something I soon became passionate about. A friend from school volunteers with a program called Save Street Child Bandung (SSCB) and invited me to join her one day. SSCB is a program created for homeless or low income children who might not have the ability to go to school or may be at risk of dropping out because of financial reasons. SSCB meets three times per week and provides a safe place for children to come and learn through one-on-one type tutoring with volunteers. The volunteers at SSCB are some of the most caring, devoted and selfless individuals I have ever met. They give copious amounts of time and energy to help these children succeed and consequently know every child’s story and track their weekly progress. And, I understand why – the children are polite, bright, and always enthusiastic to learn. When I was new to SSCB the children were shy at first, but, once they knew I could speak Indonesian (with a few Sundanese words thrown in) that all changed and now I am treated like any other volunteer. In the past few months I have been lucky enough to teach these wonderful kids English and math, help with arts and crafts, coloring, singing songs, playing board games and reading books. But sometimes, the children just want someone to talk to, and that’s ok too. SSCB is dedicated to making each and every child feel special, while doing whatever they possibly can to ensure the child’s success. And, the results are incredible. A few weeks back I was talking to a thirteen year old boy who plans on returning to elementary school after being out of school for a couple of years. Through the encouragement and support of SSCB, he sees the importance of education and now has the confidence to know he can pass. He told me he is looking forward to going to Jr. High in the years to come.
However, SSCB has one major setback. Due to lack of funding, SSCB does not yet have a building and for that reason meets in two different public parks in Bandung – both of which are very close to major highways.
Some of my favorite pictures from SSCB:

I know picking favorites is bad....but, these are my boys. 

Celebrating SSCB's third birthday
For my capstone, I plan to combine these passions into a project that both benefits my home community, and my community in Indonesia. Upon my arrival back home, I will be holding multiple Jaipong dance class fundraisers to share a culture I love and also raise money for a cause I believe in. All proceeds will go directly to SSCB and help to pay for books, supplies and possibly rent for a building to meet in. Through the generosity of some pretty fabulous dance studio owners back at home, I have multiple venues already set up, but, dates and class prices are still up in the air. Seeing as I will be going to college in DC and only coming back home on school breaks, the classes will probably be held around the holiday season.
 So, to everyone back at home, please be sure to check my blog and Facebook page for more information that will come in the months ahead. And to all my dancer friends past and present: be sure to ask if a class will be held at your studio, and if your studio owner doesn’t know what you are talking about, ask to hold a class! The money is going to a great cause, so honestly the more the merrier! (But, seriously, if anybody reading this would like to set up a Jaipong class at their studio or anywhere else, feel free to e-mail me.)
 Also, even if you don’t have any dance experience at all, come anyways! Because this will be a beginner’s class, no prior experience is required, and the focus is going to be more on having fun and learning Sundanese culture.
 Once again, thank you for all of your support, and I hope to see you in class!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Traveling Adventures

Hello! So, it’s May. And, it’s not even early May, it’s late May. In about a week and a half or so, I will be done with school in Indonesia, and beginning my last full month here in this country.

Wait, what?

All of May has gone by ridiculously fast so far because I have been doing a lot of traveling. And, oddly enough, I have realized a lot about exchange through my traveling. I guess it’s true that literally everything is a learning experience in a foreign country.

So, the first place that I went to was Bali. And, to be totally honest, Bali was weird. I mean, sure, it was beautiful and I had a really good time with my host family and I got to see a lot of very interesting things and swim at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but, believe it or not, I actually experienced a little bit of culture shock on arrival in Bali.

Before I left, all everyone here could tell me was how much I was going to love Bali, and how beautiful it was going to be and how great of a time I was going to have. They also mentioned that a large number of white people are also tourists in Bali. What everyone neglected to tell me was how western the touristy parts of Bali really are. My family and I were staying at a hotel in Kuta, one of the main tourist destinations on Bali. When I first arrived it was a little strange to see so many white people, but, that was not the source of my culture shock. What was was the way they were acting. Because so many people were tourists on Bali, they were wearing shorts, tank tops, bikinis and interacting and joking in a really western way. Honestly, I felt like I was on a beach at home in America. It was just strange to be basically surrounded by my native culture after so much time being removed from it. And yet, I was in Bali with my host parents. I was still speaking Indonesian and wearing slightly more conservative clothing and acting in a way that was appropriate at home in Bandung. It was a strange parallel to see a culture that I am so familiar with and realize how different it actually is from the culture I have adopted in Bandung. After a slight identity crisis that came with the realization that in that moment I was identifying more with a culture that I have lived in for eight months more than one I had lived in for almost eighteen years, I began to grasp that the only reason I was feeling that way was because I had become completely immersed into my Indonesian life. To be honest, I was kind of proud about that. Living as an exchange student for a year, it is easy to lose track of how much your life has actually changed or the amount of progress you have made because you are constantly living in the same place and it’s hard to take a step back and really reflect. I often find myself questioning if I am doing enough to really get the most out of this exchange, and little moments like that help to assure me that I am at least on the right track.

Ok, now let’s get to what you really want to see, all of the beautiful Bali pictures!

My little sister being adorable with a catfish at the Bali Safari/Zoo

Famous pork from the mainly Hindu Bali

Your stereotypical beautiful beach pictures:

A scared Hindu spring lies inside this giant rock

Naturally, I took this opportunity to drink the holy water and pray like an Indonesian Hindu. Here's the post-prayer selfie complete with flower and "beras ketan", which is the rice on my forehead. 

So, two days after I returned home from Bali, I set off for yet another adventure with a mini exchange for AFS. AFS decided to try something new this year and have all the different chapters of AFS from all the different hosting cities on Java meet up and switch cities for a week. The point of the exchange is to get to experience living with another family in another city and volunteer some time to a community service project while there. I was exchanged to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, which is about two hours away from Bandung by train.

However, I ended up doing a lot more traveling.

Before our mini exchange, all of the students had to meet up in Yogyakarta for a day of orientation. Jogja is about seven hours away from Bandung in the opposite direction from Jakarta. So, for my mini exchange, I first took a seven hour train to Jogja, the next day a nine hour train to Jakarta, and then repeated the process on the way home, seeing as there was another orientation in Jogja before I could go home to Bandung. Oh, and I should mention that these trains were not day trains, but, rather night trains….which entails four nights of very little sleep. But, I did manage to have some fun on these trains. I mean, everything is funnier when you are overtired and on an extremely long train ride. Needless to say, there were a lot iPod dance parties and shameless selfie taking in the wee hours of the morning while the rest of the train slept.

I spent most of my exchange with the fabulous AFS volunteer from Jakarta, Binar, and the other two AFS students sent to Jakarta: Izzy from America and Shino from Japan. With the long hours spent talking stuck in Jakarta traffic (which, yes, I discovered is really as bad as everyone says it is) we were able to become really close really quickly and learn about each other and just, well, bond. In that short week we had a really tight schedule and each day was filled to the max with volunteering or sightseeing.

Pictures from Masjid Kubah Emas, or the golden Mosque of Jakarta:

Jakarta traffic makes some people sleepy....and gives others perfect photo opportunities. 

Tea flavored ice cream at a swanky tea shop. We're so fancy.

Artsy teapot selfie with Izzy

Becoming the exhibit at the culture museum in Taman Mini, an Indonesian theme park

We wanted to be like Monas, a famous national monument.

The absolutely amazing National Museum. I could spend weeks there and not get bored. 

And, I was able to make a friend. 


Learning to pray like a Buddhist in Chinatown 

My adorable AFS Jakarta family pre-night train

While it was really nice for me to get to see another city, I will admit it felt like something was missing while I was there. It didn’t take me long to realize that what was missing was my host family in Bandung. I have grown so accustomed to telling my host mom about my day when I get home from school and having in depth conversations with my host dad about the ancient Javanese people and having my little sister “salim” (kiss my hand) before going to bed and then say “kiss bye!” as she blows me a kiss and walks away that I genuinely felt a void from not having them there. I mean, I wasn’t miserable, but, it is comparable to when I have gone on vacations in the US and been so excited to go home and share my experience with my family and friends. It made me realize how close I have gotten to my family, and how big of a role they play in my life. Furthermore, it made me appreciate the little bit of time I have left with them. I don’t know exactly how this happened so quickly, but my host mom and dad are two of the most important people in my life and have definitely have made the most impact over the last few months.

So, yeah. With this whole “going home” thing, I am trying not to seriously think about the leaving my family part until I absolutely have to. Oh, and don’t even get me started on everything else.  For me the scariest part of coming home to America is leaving my new home and not knowing when or if I will ever be able to go back. Even more than that, even if I do come back, I will never have an experience quite like this one in which I have been able to grow and learn as much as I have over these last few months. I know that this is a once and a lifetime sort of thing, and when the time comes I am going to have to be able to let go and move on to the next chapter, but, that doesn’t necessary mean that it is not going to hurt. But, that is where the yoga and meditation come in handy. Being able to center myself even when it feels that the world around me is going faster and faster and becoming chaotic has been the biggest help with beginning this transition, and I know it will continue to be helpful as my return date draws closer.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, I realized that I have left out a very important detail about my Indonesian life, just because it already has become normal to me. Back in October, I changed my name. Well, kinda. When I first moved into my new house, my host parents said that they wanted to give me an Indonesian name, and it just stuck. My name here is “Sari” and in Indonesian the best translation I can give to you is that it means the essence of something. When I started school at SMA 1 in December, I introduced myself as Sari, so almost everyone there calls me Sari too – basically the only people in Indonesia who still call me Bree are my fellow AFSers who knew me before the whole Sari thing. And, well, I like it. Here, I think Sari just fits me, and giving up that name when I go home is going to be kind of hard too.

  So, yeah. I think that’s all for now. Talk to you again soon!