Reverse Reverse Culture Shock

Our trip to Peru allowed for a very twisted but interesting cultural experience. People talk about “reverse culture shock” – the idea that re-entry, into that which was once normal for you, can be a surprising and overwhelming experience. While most people go home and are reminded of things that they had forgotten about while abroad, though, I headed to another third world country, which was very similar to Indonesia, and watched other people go through the things that had been normalized in my mind over the last two years.

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I watched 93 others process the things that I stopped balking at long ago – bucket showers, no toilet seats, hot and humid weather, not understanding the language, a lack of efficiency, and big bugs.*

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The biggest change that I recognized in myself, though, was my reaction to things not going as planned. One of my biggest shortcomings is my love for control. I’ve habitually stuffed my life so full that things not going as planned throws a major wrench into my mental projection of how things should go.

Those of you who know anything about Indonesian culture can probably imagine, with some amusement, the way that it lined up with my personality and priorities. Needless to say, I had many opportunities to practice dealing with things that did not go as planned. To name a few: nothing ever being done on time, rain storms and flash floods, bankrupt airlines and disappearing drivers.

When we got to Peru, there were lots of things that weren’t quite what we expected. I didn’t get my luggage for two days. “We provide bedding” turned out to mean that there was a sheet on the mattress, but nothing else. We had no enclosed showers, and the public spigots sat between the boys’ and girls’ cabins.

What struck me, though, was that none of this really bothered me. Two years ago, I would’ve been up in arms, but my time in Indonesia taught me that, if you really think about it, those things don’t determine your effectiveness or joy or anything of much importance.

I learned that complaining and worrying and anxiety don’t solve anything, and that one’s response to a situation is 95% of the outcome. This sounds so simple, but it had to be beaten into me time and again before I really internalized it! I can’t say it was a fun lesson to learn along the way, but I am grateful for it.

So for that, Indonesia, thank you for rarely getting things right the first time.

*A quick return to the big bugs and getting over things that don’t go as planned. There were tarantulas around our camp, which had the students (literally) running in terror. A few days in, I decided to teach an object lesson in taking control of one’s surrounding and overcoming fear. One of the translators picked up the spider, and I passed it around to many of the students, who quickly learned that they were, in fact, bigger than the spiders at hand. I was pretty impressed by how many fears were tackled!

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Investments

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks left in Indonesia.  While I am unbelievably excited to get home and see the people I miss, breathe clean air, climb a tree, and eat Chipotle, it will also be hard to leave.  There is so much that needs done before I leave – the school year must be wrapped up (teachers – and English teachers especially – I know you feel me on this one!), my house needs packed and cleaned, you’re-leaving-the-country paperwork needs to be taken care of.  We have our last homeroom get-together to be had, our last student council event to be planned, our last coaches meeting to be attended.  On the other side of things, a place of dwelling in America needs to be found, paperwork needs to be done for the new job, summer plans need to be made.

And on top of all of this, I am leaving a lot of people that I have grown to love.  And moving to the opposite side of the world.

Now more than ever, the question arises:

What is important?  Where do I invest?  

A few weeks ago, my mom shared with me a story about my younger brother that answers this question beautifully.

As you prepare to be challenged by a 12-year-old, let me give you a quick background on my family:

We love to win.

It’s just something in the Schaeffer blood.  Ice cream and winning, not necessarily in that order, are among the most important things in life.  My father has instilled in us a deep love for both.

And this love for winning can bring lots of good!  In addition to the highly entertaining rivalries and memories that have resulted from this, it often points to achievement.  We don’t want to give up!  My siblings have accomplished all sorts of neat things due to the drive to do well.  Where I see it tripping me up, though, is when it becomes the main goal.  When it becomes more important than people.

A co-worker put it well recently while we were casually sharing important life lessons with our students.  “Just because you prove you’re right doesn’t mean you win.”  Sometimes focusing on achievement means neglecting or stepping on the people around us.

Back to my brother.  Although he appropriately loves ice cream, Andrew’s real passion in life is baseball.  Since he was three, that is the activity in which he has invested the majority of his time and energy.  And he’s good!  He plays on a travel baseball team and does a pretty darn good job of it.

Recently, they were playing in a tournament and Andrew was up to bat. The catcher let a pitch pass him, and the opposing coach began yelling across the field, berating him. Andrew, as the batter, was at the place as all of this took place.  Before taking the next pitch, he turned and told the catcher that it was ok, that those things happen to everyone, that he just needed to keep his chin up and keep on playing.

Andrew wanted to win that game.  He wanted to do his best, and he worked toward that.

But he didn’t let that stop him from loving people.

It’s not an either/or questions.  It’s not accomplishments or love.  It’s not working hard or having friends. It’s not winning or being soft.  Both can absolutely co-exist.  We just can’t let a to-do list or a desire to win stop us from seeing people.  Stop us from loving people.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

It is good to strive for excellence.  It is good to want to do well.  It is good to work hard toward things. But we must be careful not to focus on these things alone, blocking out the people in our peripheral vision.

As I finish here at SPH, I want to finish strong.  I want to invest in people.  And sometimes, as a teacher, that means taking the extra hours to give good feedback on students’ assignments.  It means staying after school to focus on that new unit I decided it would be a great idea to do at the end of the year.  It means organizing everything for the people that come after me.  That is one way to invest in these kids.

But it also means putting my pile of papers away during lunch and laughing with the students in my classroom.  It means taking the time to sit and talk with a student that is struggling, whether that be academically or otherwise.  It means patiently working through the silly requests that may presently seem like they don’t matter.

Because really, those are the reasons that I love teaching.  Those are the things that I look back on and remember.  Those are investments in people.

And that is worth it.

A Trip to the Market

Here in Indonesia, I live in a bit of a bubble.  Less than a kilometer away are the huts and swamps and broken down walls and children playing shoeless in the street, but I live on the 50th floor a building across from a mega-mall and within walking distance of a golf course.

Generally, I like my bubble.  It’s comfortable.  Other times, I have an overwhelming urge to break out of my bubble.  I venture out to the warungs, or street food stands, to buy roasted corn.  I take my motorbike on drives through the dirt streets and over the speed bumps of the villages.  I shop for my green beans at a traditional market.

This is a part of life that has gone majorly undocumented thus far, because I’ve always been nervous of being an intruder.  As my time in Indonesia starts to wind down, though, I’ve realized how little of “real Indonesia” I have pictures of!  I wanted to share normal life, too – not just the trips we took for holidays or the fancy nights out.

My friend and I recently took a few hours on a random holiday to drive into the surrounding kampungs, or neighborhoods, and visit a market.  We were scared at first of intruding, of looking like eager tourists with a camera obsession. On the contrary, when I asked a lady for permission to take her picture, the floodgates opened!  Everyone in the area called to us, asking us to come over and photograph them and their goods. We had a great time, and I think they did too!

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Kalimantan: Dayak Village

When I was younger, I read and heard stories of the Dayak people, an Indonesian people group living in the jungle of Kalimantan.  One unexpected, but exciting, visit during our time in Kalimantan was to a Dayak village.  Because the village was nearer the town and tourists than most, it was definitely more Western than the more traditional dwellings.  That said, though, having the opportunity to spend time among the Dayak people was really fun.  Reading about things or people and then seeing them is my favorite!

Our guide was half Dayak, and had a really fascinating story.  His father lived in a jungle that was 6 hours by speed boat into the jungle and worked as a hunter.  When he ventured into the village to sell meet one day, he met his wife-to-be, a Malaysian economist studying the Dayak people.  They fell in love, and he whisked her away to the jungle. She fell in love with the jungle and the village life, but he decided that their children needed an education, and the family moved into town when our guide was 5 years old.  He went on for a university degree, and speaks 7 languages!

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“A hut for children to gather and play”

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My Life in Indonesia: A Tragic Comedy

I walked down the highway chatting with my friend as the sun shone down on our shoulders.  The street was lined with trees and the mountains rose behind us, creating a backdrop that re-demanded attention and remarks about its beauty every few moments.

And, as we walked, we inhaled the fumes of hours of stand-still traffic and did our best to ignore the constant catcalls that were sadly misplaced due to a lack of control of the English language.

Really, this dichotomy of beauty and frustration is quite symbolic of my life here in SouthEast Asia.  I live in one of the most stunning countries on earth.  From the coral nestled deep in the seas to the cauldrons of the looming volcanos, there is no denying that Indonesia is naturally fascinating.  However, at the same time, life here can be endlessly disheartening.  Things don’t go as planned, people don’t show up on time, and no one will give you a straight answer.

This was one of those days which started off with the highest of hopes but quickly morphed into issue after issue.  At the time, I was definitely not enjoying myself, but looking back it is undeniably ridiculous to the point of laughing at the sequence of events.

8:00 a.m.

Having spent the long weekend a few hours south of our current abode, my friends and I woke up early to beat the traffic in the area.  We had plans to go hang gliding and spend the afternoon at a tea plantation, and our driver was scheduled to arrive at 8:00.

I’ve lived here for two years now, resulting in (more of) an understanding of the way that things work, so I checked with the hotel staff to make sure our driver had actually showed up.  “Yes,” they assured me, “he’s ready when you are!”  So the six of us brought our various bags out to load of the van, only to find that he was, in fact, not there.

I spent a good while explaining to the hotel manager that we had somewhere we needed to be and time was important (this is counter-cultural).  After determining that driver #1 was in traffic (read: never called and/or not in the mood to show up), she called another driver.

9:30 a.m.

Driver #2 arrived and was quite eccentric.  The entire car was covered in trash, and #2 was very excited to practice his broken English by asking me barely coherent questions throughout the entire journey.

11:00 a.m.

After about an hour and a half of driving, we had successfully covered the 20 miles to the tea plantation.  Leaving one friend there to read, we continued the final 2 miles to the hang gliding location.  When we reached the top of the hill, we inquired with the people behind the hang gliding company’s desk.  They knew nothing, and seemed quite frustrated that we would consult them; it turned out they had simply been looking for a seat.  We located a random restaurant owner who called a random man who told us that maybe we could hang glide.

Though his logic was faulty on many levels, I managed to work out in some mix of English and Indonesian that we would wait until 12:00 to see if we could hang glide, but that we would need to return to Jakarta after that to avoid traffic.

12:10 p.m.

The hang gliding random man told me to wait 10 more minutes, or maybe until tomorrow.  I re-informed him that waiting longer was not an option and danced through a circular conversation* only to arrive at the fact that we would not be hang gliding that afternoon.

We started back down the hill, only to immediately stop in traffic that was not moving.  At all.  Apparently, the system set up to help with traffic in Bogor is having a one-way road that alternates back and forth. Without a schedule.

1:00 p.m.

We sat for an hour, and all rejoiced as traffic started moving… and then our driver pulled over to the side of the road.  “Sorry, sorry!  I buy gas!”

Groaning, we waited and watched our sliver of hope disappear.  By the time he was back, traffic had grid-locked again.

“It’s okay, ya?” he asked.  “No,” I told him,”please buy gas while we are stopped instead of the one time traffic is moving.”

2:00 p.m.

Sick of sitting in an overcrowded car on an overcrowded road, several of us decided to walk down to the tea plantation and wait there for our driver.**  Which brings us back to where we started: the sun, the mountains, the exhaust, the catcalls.  We finish our trek in all of ten minutes, and go in to buy some tea before returning to the entrance of the plantation to wait for our driver.

3:00 p.m.

Traffic speeds up significantly, and all of the cars that had been in front of and behind ours have passed us. Our driver still has not showed up.

 Now, let me set the scene for you.  We are six white people sitting on the side of a road very full of people that think all white people are celebrities worth harassing.  There are three policeman, a news anchor with her camera man, and a handful of ojeks (or motorcycle taxis) at the same entrance.

Our driver has all of our things, and we are becoming increasingly concerned that he has driven off with them.  The longer we wait, the more significant items I realize I would lose – my credit cards, passport, laptop, camera, student tests (God forbid).

Working together, we mentally and verbally flip through our slim options.

1. Ask the police for help.
This idea is immediately rejected since police here only take your money, not find it.  However, they did seem quite amused by watching our helplessness.

2. Call the driver.
We call the hotel for the driver’s number, and are given the wrong one. We call back and are given the right one.  We call him six times and he does not answer.  This increases our anxiety.

3. Cry.
This almost happened.

4. Count down the days until I move back to America.
This definitely happened.***

5. Take motorcycle taxis to search for our lost driver.
At our wit’s end, we sent two members of our party on ojeks to search for our long lost driver – and valuables.  While they are gone, we begin planning an alternate way to get back to Jakarta.

3:30 p.m.

Our friends call us, telling us that they have found the driver.  He had stopped for gas (again) as soon as the traffic had started moving (again) and was apparently just hanging out up there.  Needless to say, they climbed into the car and accompanied him toward us.

3:45 p.m.

As we continue waiting at our perch for him to make his way to us, we hear an enormous crack of thunder and the rain begins.  Let me remind you, dear friends, that Indonesia is a tropical country.  This means major rain storms.

We begin to trek our way back up the hill, seeking the cover of the vehicle.  As we trudge up the side of the hill, through the pollution, in the rain, all of the people in the cars along the way roll down their windows.

Many take pictures, many try to hit on me by calling me “mister,” and others simply state “hujan***.”

4:00 p.m.

Needless to say, I was not in a good mood when we finally arrived at the car and the driver stuck out his hand and said, smiling, “It’s okay, ya?”

8:30 p.m.

After stopping twice more for gas (the second time I gave him money and told him to fill up the car, that we would not be stopping again), major car sickness, multiple requests to please roll up his window to keep the pollution in the car to a minimum, and endless stop-and-go traffic we arrived at our apartment.****

9:00 p.m.

Over sushi and Starbucks with a friend, I thank God that we made it back home before work the next morning and with all of our things in tow.  And really, it is home.  After two years here in my little corner of a little suburb outside of Jakarta, I feel at home.  There is that relief of return and the reality that I’m starting to figure out how to do life here.  Here, where the beauty and frustration have become so interconnected that one cannot really separate them from one another, I have been challenged and have made mistakes and have grown and have become sad about leaving.

But let’s end on an honest note (I was still born and raised an American, after all): I’m so, so glad that that journey is over, and am very much looking forward to the “bad traffic” in the States.

*In order to save face, people here will not tell you no.  They simply avoid saying yes until you give up.

**This is one of the nice thing about Indonesia!  Maids, drivers, nannies – they’re a fixture in the life of normal people!

***Recently, I have been quite sad to leave Indonesia.  I absolutely adore my students, and our lifestyle here is pretty cool.  This was not one of the moments in which I was upset to be leaving.

****Hujan = rain.  Yes, thank you, I do realize that it is pouring.

*****Our apartment was approximately 60 miles away from the starting point, which we had left more than 8 hours before.

Taman Safari

One of the benefits of teaching here in Indonesia is that, though we have short summer breaks, we have lots of random holidays off of school. Muslim, Hindu, Christian – you name it, it’s a day off.  In May, we have a Tuesday off for Christ’s ascension and Thursday the same week off for Mohammed’s ascension.

Monday this week was Nyepi, a major Hindu holiday, so we had a long weekend to play.  With five friends, I ventured about 60 miles south (of course, this takes four hours here) and visited Taman Safari, a drive through zoo kind of deal.  They actually had a very impressive variety of animals, and we even got to hold some!

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My [Assumed] Chinese Heritage

I never really thought of myself as particularly Asian.

Apparently, people here disagree.

My kids tell me that I look Chinese all the time, that I have “more Chinese eyes* than they do.” Of course, my students say a lot of things, and if I believed them I would identify myself as a Taylor-Swift-esque, Shakira-resembling, main-character-from-brave-look-alike who is Chinese and fat and tall.  So I don’t always listen.

Then, just a few months ago, a good friend of mine told me she thought I was half Chinese for all of the first semester.

Then, I went to get glasses.  16-year-old Lauren was told that she needed to get glasses to fix accident induced double-vision.  My 23-year-old self finally gave in today.  While I was waiting for the glasses, the lady working the counter asked me, in broken English, where I was from.  I told her I was American.

“Oh, but half Chinese??”

No.. just white.

“But your eyes are Chinese, yes?!”

Nope. Plain old white person.

“Oh very interesting.  I was very confused because they are Chinese but blue.”

*The topic of race is MUCH more open here – people will say anything, and it is generally accepted socially.  I’m a bit afraid that this will get me in trouble upon moving home.