— By Sarahann Yeh —
Happy one-month anniversary, Indonesia. It’s been a rollercoaster. I’ve loved you, loathed you, never wanted to leave you, and wondered why the hell I got myself into this relationship in the first place.
Together, we’ve conquered cultural differences: I’ve learned to haggle for motorcycle taxis, cover every inch of skin except for my hands and face, eat rice with my hands, and become an ant assassin. But you’ve allowed me to hang on to a bit of my past. You’ve given me English movies and music to ease my homesickness. You even have chunky peanut butter! Yum!
Our first week together was rough. I felt like you abandoned me in my neon green house in Bandar Lampung. Where was the warm, welcoming Indonesia I knew years ago?
Weeks two and three were better. I saw a different side of you in Bandung at Fulbright orientation. I met friends, drank LOTS of yummy fruit juice, ate my weight in green tea ice cream, and refreshed by Bahasa Indonesia skills.
I visited Tangkuban Perahu, an active volcano about an hour outside Bandung. Legend has it a god fell in love with his mother there. I can see why it’s a place of passion. The sloping hills and wisps of sulfur reminded me that I do love you, Indonesia. But the place also brought me peace. It reminded me that I’m small, and I must put my worries in perspective.
I celebrated Eid Al-Adha with Indonesians and Americans alike. I cringed when the first cow was sacrificed—why does salvation come hand-in-hand with death? Yet you eased my pain with the beautiful music of the angklung, a traditional 30-person instrument of the Sunda people. And you dolled me up with beautiful batik clothing; I could finally blend in.
When I left Bandung, I cried. I was worried the Indonesia I loved wouldn’t follow me back to Bandar Lampung. I was terrified the abandonment I felt at the beginning would return.
But while my passion may be tested in my neon green house in Bandar Lampung, it is still there.
Week four brought my new job as an English Teaching Assistant at SMA 7, a public high school. I have over 350 beautiful, curious, brilliant students. They’ve reminded me how deeply I believe in global education—in teaching our youth to dive head-first into relationships with countries and cultures they’ve never experienced.
I have so intensely benefited from exploring, studying, and working abroad. It’s a privilege that weighs heavily on mind. How can I impart such a global curiosity to 10th and 11th graders who might never leave their home? How can I communicate my passion for intercultural exchange in a 1.5-hour class on English grammar?
Indonesia, you challenge me to infinite ends. We are far from perfect. But no relationship is. I know I say things that seem harsh. I know my tears may make you think I hate you. But inside, I know and pray that we will make it. You have taught me to love myself, my community, my home. You have shown me how to think independently, adapting to new places while also retaining my identity. You’ve given me an appreciation for the millions of people who have moved half-way across the world before me.
These nine months together—regardless of how finite they are—will forever change who I am. For that, I will forever love and appreciate you, Indonesia.
Sarahann Yeh is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at SMA Negeri 7 Bandar Lampung. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2016 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and minor in International Development and Conflict Management. In her free time, Sarahann enjoys devouring green tea ice cream, falling asleep on public transportation, and playing the guitalele. You can follow her daily misadventures at sarahannvstheworld.wordpress.com.