Alumni Spotlight: Rebecca Kulik

DSCF6449Name: Rebecca Kulik

Hometown: Dayton, Ohio.

ETA Placement and Year: I was at SMA 1 Telaga (a public school) in Gorontalo, Gorontalo.

Current City: Chongqing, China.

Life after Fulbright: I’m developing a very strange relationship with Indonesia. On the one hand, I miss it like crazy. My students, my school, the food (oh God, the food). I miss waking up in the morning and knowing it would be a hot one today, just like every day. I miss racing along on my motorbike, long skirts tucked under me and long sleeves flying up my arms in the wind as I took an impulsive 30-minute trip to the ocean. I miss looking at my skin, the way it grew tanner every month until I was darker than some Indonesians (we compared). And I miss people. The boys who sat in the back of every classroom until I dragged them to the front. The groups of girls in their white jilbabs, sitting practically on top of each other in the lunchroom. The lunch ladies who knew to save nike for me (a local fish which was only available during the week of the new moon). The waiters at the restaurant across the street from me, who would tell me without being asked whether there was any squid that day. The packs of neighborhood kids who, at first, would dare each other to knock on my door—who became my friends.

On the other hand, living in Gorontalo was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. I was often very unhappy, frustrated, and lonely. As an introvert, I found it very difficult to deal with Indonesians intense socializing. The Indonesian public schools is plagued by teacher absenteeism, student apathy, lack of materials, lack of infrastructure, and practically every other problem you can think of—and my school was practically overwhelmed with these problems. It was a difficult environment for experienced teachers, much less for a first-time teacher with no Indonesian language skills.

Now, I am working as a Peace Corps volunteer at Chongqing City Management College in Western China. All the fish I eat comes boiled, and I use chopsticks instead of my hands (enjoy makan tangan while you can!). Most days I can’t see the sun behind the pollution from the coal power plants. I am not in Indonesia anymore.

The lessons I learned in Indonesia changed me to a degree I didn’t truly understand until I arrived in China for Peace Corps training. Where other people were frustrated with cultural barriers, I found myself laughing and moving on. When volunteers choked on the local spices, I asked for seconds. And where most people were shy, intimidated by this first immersion in a new culture, I found myself barreling forward with a smile on my face.

In my Peace Corps handbook, it says that a common motivation is to “seek a profound encounter with a foreign culture, a series of experiences that change forever the way you think about the word, your own country, and yourself.” My encounter with Indonesia left me changed. China is changing me even more.

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