Wellllll now that we've all been home for a month or more, i finally feel like I have reflected on my experience in Indonesia enough to write something worthwhile on here. (also, i'm just a terrible blogger)
even though i've now been home for a little longer than i was in indonesia, the experience already feels worlds away. thanks to hundreds of photos, videos, and actual memories, i don't think that i will forget the fun time we had anytime soon! after the trip was finished, i realized how important the home stays were in shaping my perspective on daily life in yogya and ubud. i think that these were pivotal opportunities, because we had the ability to see how similar we (as Americans) were to our Indonesian host families (in one of the most routine activities, these families woke up, ate breakfast, sent kids off to school, and then went to work themselves, or began their own daily chores)... but we also would be hard pressed to forget the many differences. For instance, the fact that very few indonesian homes are built in the "traditional" sense that American homes are (i.e. completely enclosed structures where a bug or other animal being inside is a horror), or the fact that amidst the morning routine, our balinese host family would prepare offerings to numerous deities, possibly feed the rooster and chickens, and still save time to sit and chat with the rest of the extended family (who were of course all located within the same compound).
Sitting here on my deck, looking out into my backyard, i realized that my entire home and yard is probably equivalent to one family compounds in Bali. My house holds anywhere from 2 to 4 people, i would guess that a single Balinese compound could hold as many as 10 at once... as much as i love my middle class home in my middle class neighborhood, i feel like a huge jerk for using up all this space! I'm even a little embarrassed by our culture, that I can only think of describing as one of extreme wastefulness.
One of the main points i learned from this trip regarding culture is the overwhelming feeling that the united states is a country without a defining culture. this is not necessarily a new idea to me, but it became much more pronounced after learning of the many hundreds of different languages and cultural traditions that live on in the daily lives of so many indonesians. i think that for many, the ability to define one's own unique culture here in the states is a major plus. but for me, after seeing what it would be like to feel the unification that sharing cultural traditions with your entire town, or even an entire island (or state...), i can't help but wish for that in my own life. it seems that the differences we noticed in indonesian people, their overwhelming kindness, sense of trust, and faith and joy in the most monotonous of activities (planting rice? forever?!) might be tied in to their sense of unity of purpose. so many of them hold the same values and traditions, that it is natural for them to feel connected to one another, and comes as second nature to approach strangers (and foreigners) with a smile and a "selamat ___!"
one final observation i have had since being home is the general sense of despair felt here in the US as a result of the recession. although many still have work, and are able to get by, there is a feeling of fear and panic for the future. there is very little optimism, especially when you live in michigan, the lucky winner of the highest statewide unemployment rate in the country. but, there is hope. it is particularly easy to see that after having seen another country's perspective on poverty. throughout our trip, i found it hard to differentiate some of the extreme poverty we were exposed to in yogya and bali from that i have seen in our own country - detroit, ann arbor, everywhere there is homelessness and poverty. in fact, it seemed that in indonesia, it might possibly be easier for a family to rise up from this by starting their own business for a small price, whereas here in the US, it would be an unthinkable cost that would likely result in such a business' failure after a year or less. not to say that i'm an expert on these matters, or that my observations are even true, but, my experiences in indonesia really opened my eyes to how similar the human condition is around the world. there is suffering everywhere, there are healthcare, wealth, and educational disparities in almost every nation. the difference is the way in which a culture and a population adapt to and think about these discrepancies. it seems that in indonesia, there are fewer disparities, and more overall poverty. but in the united states, these disparities are of phenomenal proportions - so much so that overcoming them seems an impossible task.
these are the matters that really influence my career goals the most. education and healthcare are the most pivotal rights an individual should have, and i hope that in the future i can contribute to the attainment of these by all americans. i will always keep my experiences with GIEU indonesia in the back of my mind as a source of positivity and faith for the future of my own country.
oh, and i do not miss the lawless driving habits in indonesia! although anytime i see a motorbike i will wonder where the rest of the family is, and why on earth there is only one large, fat man in a helmet and other protective gear riding it. where are his flip flops, and why isn't he so close to me i can touch him??
i will also work on my cooking skills - fried bananas and fried rice will be my new specialties :)