Monday, February 1, 2010

Anthropology 101

I'm an Anthropologist. At least that is what my diploma from Colgate claims...I'm not so sure I agree with their assessment of my anthropological [or sociological for that matter] skills. Regardless of my qualifications, Indonesia has provided me with a very interesting culture and society to observe. I've been conducting participant-observation since the day I arrived and I could probably write a pretty interesting book by now if I had the patience to research the theoretical groundwork.
During the first two weeks in January, I conducted some slightly more tangible anthropological inquiries. My school, instead of letting me teach my classes, was dragging me around to all of the classes that I don't teach and having me introduce myself and basically answer the students' questions for 2 hours in each room. A boring waste of turn it into an anthropological game. I started to mentally tally the most common questions I received from the students. And I started to ask some questions of my own.
Top 3 Questions Received from Indonesian Students:
1. Do you have a boyfriend?
2. Do you have facebook?
3. Where have you been in Indonesia? Tell us about your travels in Indonesia.
Okay, so they weren't exactly peering into my soul. But the question about where I've been in Indonesia started to interest me. And I started to ask questions back.
My Questions:
1. Raise your hand if you have been in an airplane.
2. Raise your hand if you have been to another country.
3. Raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java.
4. Raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java and is not Bali.
I asked all the classes that I visited. Then I asked my classes. Then I asked the teachers in the teachers' room. Of the 2,000 students at the school I probably asked 1,500. A pretty good sample size if I do say so myself. What were my results? Maybe you've already guessed, but I was fairly shocked. Keep in mind that each class has 36 students.
Question 1: "raise your hand if you have been in an airplane". Look around the room, on average 0-3 people are raising their hands [including the teachers] and usually we're on the low end of that scale.
Question 2: "raise your hand if you have been to another country". Around the room, on average, 0-1 people are raising their hands. The people that are raising their hands have been to Malaysia. Our school has a program where during 11th grade 5-10 lucky students get to go to Malaysia to apprentice in their chosen industry. These are also the kids who have raised their hand about the airplanes.
Question 3: "raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java". Results here are skewed due to the 12th grade all taking a bus to Bali for 2 days in December. Hence the need for question 4. In the 10th and 11th grade classes, 0-3 hands raised on average. Typically, these students have taken a boat to Sulawesi. A very few have taken a boat to Sumatra.
Question 4: "raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java and is not Bali". Again, on average 0-3 hands are raised. Like the underclassmen, the few lucky seniors have been to Sulawesi or Sumatra.
Results for the teachers followed the same trends.
Conclusion: The vast majority of these students and teachers have never left the island of Java.
Prediction: The vast majority of these people will never leave the island of Java or if they do, they won't go much farther away than another island in Indonesia that is reachable by boat.
Significance of Findings: I found a two-fold significance for my findings. First, I felt pretty darn guilty. I have been on more airplanes than I can count. I have been to 15 countries and 6 of Indonesia's islands. I have seen more of Indonesia than any of the students or teachers I talked to. This is their country. I'm only visiting. How is it fair that they have to ask me, an American, to tell them about their country? It once again threw into sharp light how privileged I am. How can I share my privilege with my school? I can't afford to take them all with me wherever I go. But I have a new resolve to share all of my Indonesian travel experiences with my students--to show them pictures and tell them stories that show them what a diverse, interesting, and wonderful country they live in. It is the very least I can do.
As for the second significance--all the the experience and the entire world that most of the people I encounter here know is confined to the island of Java. They honestly do not have experience with the rest of the wider world. I am one of the only Westerners that many of them have met and certainly the only Westerner that they have interacted with frequently. This means that the comments that make me cringe and want to create lessons on diversity, feminism, human rights, etc. do not stem from ill-intentions but rather from pure inexperience and/or ignorance. It does not occur to the average citizen of Magelang that telling Nicole that she can't possibly be American and rather must be from Papua or Africa because her skin is black is rude, hurtful, and incorrect. Same with asking Carrie to speak Chinese even though she has repeatedly stated that she is Korean-American and doesn't know Korean let alone Mandarin because she grew up in the U.S.. It is difficult to remember and at times hard to hold my tongue. But my little survey really helped me unearth where these comments are coming from and gave me some peace of mind about their intentions.
Further Research Questions: The students and teachers that I questioned had similar levels of experience travelling outside of Java. Why then do adults make the majority of cringe-worthy statements? Sachi pointed out during my visit that I have to spend more time in the classroom "disciplining" the other teachers than I do disciplining the students ["Please don't distract the students, we are in the middle of a lesson." "Please don't answer your cell phone in the middle of the classroom." "Please use English in English class."]. She's right. Most of my 'behavior complaints' would be lodged against adults not kids. For the most part, it's the adults who leer at me and ask me about my experiences with 'free sex' and drugs; who send me inappropriate text messages at 3 a.m.; who tell Jenny that she's not American because she looks Chinese and Ab that he must be from Papua because his skin is not white like a 'normal' American; and who blatantly ignore my requests for privacy. Why is that? Is it generational? Do kids just have a more international worldview and better grasp of Western culture due to their higher exposure to television, music, the Internet, and facebook? Or is it something else? Are my students just better at reading my body language and facial expressions? Are they more in tune with what makes me uncomfortable because they are closer in age to me than my adult counterparts? It was certainly my students who first noticed my discomfort at being commanded to lead them in prayer before and after class. Is it just that they watch me more closely? To be determined...

[NOTE: I love Indonesia and Indonesians of all ages. This post was in no way meant to point fingers at individuals or pass judgements on societies or cultures. Please do not take offense.]

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah, I'm the ELF in Gorontalo and I stumbled upon your blog through Alexa and Katie. You've got some great posts here and am happy to follow them. I totally hear you about realizing how few people leave their islands. I was similarly shocked when I discovered that some of the university English lecturers I work with have never left Sulawesi.