Monday, January 11, 2010

Glancing Back, Facing Forward

Finally home after a month of exciting traveling experiences, I am just starting to recuperate and readjust to my Indonesian life. I promise that as soon as I have some extra time and energy, I will post about all the exciting places I went and things that I did in December. But I thought it was important to do this post first, before it was too late to be relevant.
On some of our recent travels, my friend Alexa found an article written by an English woman living in Indonesia detailing the 17 highlights of her year—things she was proud of, things she enjoyed, etc. Alexa recently wrote a response on her blog []. I enjoyed both the article and Alexa’s post. Then, yesterday, one of my students asked me, “What do you like about yourself? What makes you proud of yourself?”. When one of the other students responded for me [“You’re beautiful!”] with an answer that I would not have said, I decided that it was time for me to write a list of highlights myself.
Here is my list of highlights and accomplishments for 2009:
1. In May, I graduated from Colgate University. I graduated with honors, but most importantly with the knowledge that I am not done learning yet. I love to learn and I know my time at Colgate has equipped me with the skills to remain a life-long learner. In 2010, for the first time, I have started a new year without being enrolled in school.
2. I turned down an opportunity to achieve. I know, it sounds like the opposite of an accomplishment, but let me explain. My entire life I have been an overachiever. I have always taken every opportunity for extra credit, for more involvement, for leadership positions. In January, just before the start of my last semester at Colgate, I wrote an email to my advisor detailing my decision to NOT write an honors thesis in Sociology and Anthropology. I made the decision to spend my last semester at college enjoying college and spending time with my friends rather than shacked up in the library struggling to write a paper that would let me graduate with more academic prestige, but that would ultimately have no affect on my future. I resisted the urge to achieve and it was the right decision for me.
3. I found that my passion and my purpose are for practicing speech language pathology with children with autism. Once I knew that, I created opportunities for myself to learn about and participate in this field even though Colgate does not offer SLP courses. I worked with, and became friends with, Max. Max taught me that I could handle, and even enjoy, the challenges of working with children with autism. I volunteered at Camp Kaleidoscope. At Camp K I learned about the impacts of autism on whole families and met SLPs and SLP students who were able to give me more information on the field and the process of entering the occupation.
4. I traveled to my 5th continent—Australia—not as a tourist, but as a scholar. I’ve loved to travel for as long as I can remember; which I blame completely on Nana Vickery who initiated me into the world of adventure at a young age with all of her stories of globetrotting and that first trip to Colonial Williamsburg. In June 2009, I went to Australia and was invited to live among the Noongar people, to hear their stories and learn about their lives under the aboriginal policies of a white-run Australia. I saw parts of Australia that tourists never see and that many Australians don’t know exist. For that I am thankful.
5. I packed my life up into a backpack and moved halfway around the world to accept a Fulbright scholarship and teach English in Indonesia. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I found the courage to say goodbye to everyone and everything I knew and take the plunge into a complete unknown.
6. I became a teacher. In Indonesia, I don’t just teach English, but I am a teacher. I’ve learned how difficult and stressful it is to create lesson plans, to make sure that everyone in the class is paying attention and learning, and to create a balance between fun and discipline. I’ve also discovered how wonderful it is to see the dawning of comprehension on your students’ faces, to know that you taught them something, and to see the impact that you have on their lives. I’ve learned that teaching English can be unbelievably fun and rewarding!
7. I had my first non-white Christmas and my first Christmas away from home. While Christmas in Cambodia was exciting and unique, the major lesson that I learned from the experience was that I never want to have a non-white Christmas again. I love Christmas. Christmas is not Christmas unless you are surrounded by family. I love Nana’s Xmas party and I want to be there every year from now on.
8. I learned that time has nothing to do with the depth of friendship. This year someone very intelligent whom I greatly admire, Professor Ellen P. Kraly, told me that we all have many soul mates each of whom complete a different part of us. I already knew this to be true because I have many friends from Colgate and Vermont who are absolutely indispensable. But now I find myself reliant on people whom 4 months ago I did not know existed. Our time in Indonesia has bonded us in a way that is difficult to explain. I know that without the other ETAs I would be unlikely to survive my 9 month stay here. And like Ellen said, they each serve a unique role in keeping me functioning. I have Alexa for encouraging me to try everything once and for dusting me off when trying becomes falling; Sarah for sharing life lessons and adventures; Anna for responding calmly to all my minor crises; Ricky for instant self-confidence boosts; Jimmie for smiles and dancing that solve most problems; Thom for taking me back to my flannel-clad VT roots; Lolly for the always available home-away-from-home; and the other 24 ETAs who all complete me in their own ways. They are truly wonderful people whom I know will be important to me for the rest of my life. [sorry for the Fulbright love fest...moving on]
9. I learned that very few things that we in the Western world consider essential to life are actually, in fact, essential to life. It is completely feasible to survive without electricity, internet, water, English, a schedule, reliable transportation, bug-free food, cleanliness, etc. It is, however, not feasible to survive without chocolate.
10. I have practiced acceptance. I’m a tightly-wound person [surprise, surprise]. In the last 4 months I have had a lot of practice dealing with stress. I have learned to stop, breathe, analyze, accept, and let go. Of course I have yet to completely perfect this process, but I’m working on it. I have also learned to identify when I can handle stressors by myself and when it is necessary to phone a friend…or a parent.
11. I have practiced being content alone and entertaining myself. I’m still not good at it, but I’m getting better every day.
12. My father shot two deer this hunting season. I know what you're thinking, "Sarah, you're a vegetarian. Why is this a highlight of your year?". Yes, I'm a pescetarian. No, I will not be eating any of the venison. This is a highlight of my year, however, because it made my father so happy. The last time he shot a deer was the year I was born. Clearly, shooting TWO deer means that good things are coming!

Some goals for 2010:
-Study Bahasa Indonesia every day
-Write in my journal frequently
-Blog more often and more substantially
-Make more age-appropriate friends in Magelang
-Engage with my students more outside of the classroom
-See as much of Indonesia as possible
-Learn Javanese dance
-Laugh more; laugh loudly
-Do things that make me happy; acknowledge when I am happy

“That if we are living…we had to be awake with the people who are still dancing.”
– Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity!
-Engage with and appreciate my Fulbright experience as much as possible; always be one of the people still ‘dancing’


  1. Sas,
    You are amazing! You have accomplished so much in your 23 years, not to mention 2009... You have so much to be proud of, I am happy that letting go, and easing up on yourself, is one of your accomplishments... Oh, the places you'll go, even if you slow the speed somewhat... I couldn't be prouder of my only daughter...
    Mum xoxo

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