Welcome to Indonesia: Highs and Lows Part 1

After an 18-day orientation in Bandung, Central Java, members of the 2016-2017 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) cohort said goodbye to each other (and the swanky Sheraton Hotel) and dispersed to their site placements. This year’s ETAs are spread across the islands of Sumatra, Java, Bangka, Sulawesi, Flores, and Timor, where they will spend the next nine months teaching English and building relationships in their host communities. Indonesia’s diversity means that each site placement offers a unique culture, cuisine, and language. While an ETA in North Sulawesi will experience a far different Indonesia from an ETA in Central Java, everyone can agree on one thing: adjusting to a new culture (while learning a new language) is both uncomfortable and exhilarating. In a series of two posts, ETAs will share the highlights and low points of their first two weeks living in Indonesia.


The most positive experiences for me have been meeting community members. There are so many great people in Labuan Bajo working for NGOs and other research organizations, and we all want to help each other out. The sense of community here is outstanding.
-Anna Sophia Katomski, Labuan Bajo, Flores


Spectacular sunsets at Lake Toba. Photo credit: Daniel Gerardi.

The other night, a group of guys around my age who work at my school took me to the hot springs in Tarutung, about an hour outside of Balige. We ate and swam and laughed a lot, and we picked up some beers on the way back home. During the drive back, I looked out the window at all the stars and didn’t feel the pressure to hold a conversation because we were all basking in the events of the night. A song came on the radio that the driver knew, and he started to sing it softly, and one by one the rest of them joined in until the whole car was singing loudly and hurrahing (except me, didn’t know the words!). It was heartwarming and sobering and made me feel a bit more at home — a much-needed guy’s night out.
-Daniel Gerardi, Balige, North Sumatra

My students are absolutely wonderful. They’re eager to learn and are engaged even when they are confused. It makes this often difficult experience feel like it’s worth it.
-Kayla Stewart, Semarang, Central Java


Exploring the beaches of Bandar Lampung. Photo Credit: Sarahann Yeh.

Exploring the city of Bandar Lampung has been incredible! There’s so much to see: from swanky cafes to towering malls to littered beaches at the fishing port. Every angkot* ride brings a new adventure. My favorite spot is in Tanjungkarang district at a cafe called “Dawiels.” Their mango juice, lava cake, and fried noodles are to die for. And the English music and European decor remind me of home amidst the organized chaos of my Indonesian city.
-Sarahann Yeh, Bandar Lampung, South Sumatra

Everyone I’ve met in Indonesia thus far has been extremely sweet. The students, teachers, and my neighbors are all so kind. They’re constantly mandi-ing (showering) me in love and gorengan (fried food)! Talking to, eating with, and hanging out with them has been a great way to step into Indonesian culture. Everyone is always willing to explain and share aspects of the Muslim religion or Javanese culture to me. I love it!
-Krupa Patel, Surabaya, East Java


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Sorting through immigration paperwork. Photo credit: Kate Barton.

The immigration process had me at my worst, impatient and frustrated.** The office is two hours away round-trip from my house, and I had to go two days in a row. I was accompanied by limited English speakers and had so many unanswered questions. I had to miss school to make the trip, pay money, and go around the village collecting signatures from people allowing me to live here for the next nine months. I felt apprehensive about handing over my passport and the immigration officer refused to stamp my passport photocopy, something I knew was important while they held onto my actual passport. I will be immensely relieved when this complicated, confusing process is over!!
-Kata Kreuger, Salatiga, Central Java

Something that made me angry was when an angkot drove away with Rp 5.000*** of mine in change. No, it’s not that much money, and no, in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big of a deal. But I have been trying so hard to integrate myself: take the public transit, speak the language, dress to assimilate – it just frustrated me that I could be taken advantage of so easily in a place that I have been trying to make my home. But it was also a good lesson in always having correct change on the angkot so… lesson learned!
-Julianne O’Connell, Kupang, Timor

To all the creepy men of Indonesia: please stop taking “sneaky” pictures of me on your phone. I see when you do it and it creeps me out. Please. Just. Stop.
-Kelly Fitzgerald, Sidoarjo, East Java


Playing Uno in the teachers’ room. Photo credit: Kate Barton.

One of the things that has been frustrating is the inconsistency of my class schedule. Some days I have class, some days we have a student from the local university teaching instead, and some days the students have some other activity to go to and class is canceled. So I’ll just sit in the teachers’ room and play Uno and wait for my next class.
-Kate Barton, Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi

*An angkot is a van taxi that operates on a fixed route. They are one of the most common forms of public transportation in Indonesian cities.

**Getting long-term stay visas in Indonesia is a notoriously difficult process. Due to immigration difficulties over the summer, this year’s ETAs arrived in Indonesia with short-term stay visas that were valid for 60 days. ETAs began the visa extension process immediately after returning to their sites from orientation. Converting the limited stay visa into a long-term visa requires ETAs to get letters and signatures from officials in their communities, such as their school headmaster and the head of the neighborhood watch association. They must also make multiple trips to the regional immigration office and pay a 2,055,000 IDR (180 USD) fee.

*** 5,000 IDR equals about 0.40 USD at the time of this writing.

One thought on “Welcome to Indonesia: Highs and Lows Part 1

  1. Pingback: Welcome (Back) to Indonesia: Highs and Lows – Where in the world is Kelly?

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