–By Shelby Lawson–
Moving to Indonesia was an intimidating prospect. It was a country I had never stepped foot in. My plane ticket was already purchased for me to return nine months later. I was moving to a city that pulled a total of two results on Google. I didn’t know anyone who lived in the entire country.
But you know what my biggest concern was? Boredom. I was petrified that with a work schedule of only 25 hours per week, I would flounder and flop, get lazy and get discouraged.
I have had a few study abroad experiences to pull from. In Costa Rica, I immediately connected to the community, made friends, and was immersed in the culture. In fact, my friendships are so strong that I’ve been back to visit them and relive my times there. But on the other hand, in Argentina, I was a small fish in a humongous pond. I found few people interested in taking me under their wing and showing me the way of the city (unless of course it was an Argentine man interested in more than just welcoming a visitor to his country). So with both experiences weighing on each shoulder, I looked toward to Indonesia with the hope that it would fulfill everything I wanted from it: love, acceptance, family, friends, and life.
And, yes, of course, I knew I was asking a lot.
Upon arrival, I settled in immediately. I painted my room, moved my furniture, got a motorbike, and made this place feel like home. After the logistics were taken care of, I moved on to finding friends. And honestly, in the beginning, I was disappointed. One memory sticks out so clearly. My fellow Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) and I were searching the city for something to do on a Saturday night when we happened upon a cafe called Bangi Kopi. Not only was the food delicious–I got chicken rice served inside a half pineapple–but they had live music, dancing, and tons of young people! As I ate my meal, the prospects of the night made me giddy. This is where the fun in Kendari has been hiding. This is going to be my go-to spot!
As we finished our food and headed outside for the music, the hot air wasn’t the only thing that deflated my excitement. Every table that held so many promising friend prospects was full of people looking at their phones. No one was interacting. I couldn’t even make eye contact to walk over and start a conversation! Hoping that my being a bule (foreigner) might spur something on the dance floor, I walked to the front of the stage and started grooving alone to the music. Not a soul joined me. Defeated, I walked back to our table and sat slumped and stumped. The whole evening continued like this until the band started packing up to head home. How could I have been so wrong? How could I have misread this so badly? With my tail between my legs I went home with little hope left that I would be able to find fun weekend evenings in my new town. Was all this settling in vain? Friends and family are what truly create homey-ness.
As I’m sure you are hoping for my sorry soul, I have come around to the idea of fun in Kendari. This story doesn’t end with me finding a better, cooler café the next weekend and now I have dance partners to join me. But instead it ends with a realization. Fun is different. It doesn’t translate cross-culturally. Once I accepted that I wasn’t going to have American fun, I have learned to have tons of Indonesian fun. Now I meet up with people in cafes, go to exhibitions, try local foods, ride on motorcycles, explore the beaches, and exchange language and culture. I have definitely had to adjust, but Kendari didn’t have to change, I did. It’s not that my expectations are lower, just different. I am learning to have fun in different ways and I’m enjoying it. Now my afternoons are full every single day because I am open to the possibilities, the people, and their idea of fun.
And to be quite honest, I’m having fun with it.
Shelby Lawson is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kendari, Indonesia. Previously she worked in South Texas as a high school math teacher. Her favorite things in Kendari are her students, learning to play guitar, and meeting new people.