Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Beginning of the End

If you didn't previously know, you can see from the above photo that I'm returning to the USA in 17 days. Frankly, I was uncertain whether to end my last sentence with an exclamation point or a sad face. I'm conflicted about my imminent departure. On the one hand, I'm over being here. I honestly feel like I accomplished what I set out to do during my Fulbright grant period. I've taught English, I've learned Bahasa Indonesia, I've made friends inside and outside of my school, I've learned more about Indonesia than I can tell you. I sometimes feel like now I'm in a holding pattern; treading water until I move on to the next step. The next step is graduate school and I'm excited to start learning again. I'm tired of being in a place that is where I live, but never where I 100% belong. I miss my friends and my family. In so many ways, I'm ready to leave Indonesia and return to the United States, my home.
On the other hand, I am very sad to be leaving. I love Indonesia! I love that every day is an adventure. I enjoy the sense of excitement that I feel every day. I will miss teaching--for I've found that I really do enjoy teaching ESL. Most of all, I will really miss my students. They are sweet and kind, silly and curious, bold and gracious. They make me feel like what I'm doing is important--that I'm impacting someone. They make me laugh. They make me blush. They make me feel effortlessly beautiful and special. They are accepting of all my cultural/teaching missteps and fumblings. Their acceptance gives me confidence. We have learned together. I think that is a powerful gift. They can at times still puzzle me. I don't know why they sometimes yell over me in class or why no one ever does their homework and I'm still not used to boys sitting on other boys' laps in class. At the end of the day, I will seriously miss them. I will miss the moments when I feel profoundly alive teaching them--those FLOW moments Bruce Crowley taught us about. I will miss their laughter and their enthusiasm. I will miss their eager little faces constantly peering at, and following, me. I wish I could see into the future and see how they turn out. What will become of them? And I guess that is what makes leaving so difficult...I probably will never know. I'll leave here and it will be like I fell off their planet. They won't have the opportunity to leave Indonesia and it is unlikely I will find them if/when I return. They will be lost to me--absorbed back into their villages. And that hurts. I'm proud of them. I'm invested in their triumphs. I want to know what they do with their lives, I want to see what they make of themselves. I want to continue to be proud of them, even from afar, even from America.
Everyone is starting to panic about my departure. That was why I made the window countdown so that they would all be forewarned and have time to adjust to the idea. In the week since I've put it up I've constantly been receiving invitations to lunch, dinner, to visit people's houses; having my picture taken ["one last time miss!"]; being asked to sign things; and being given gifts. Once again, I am awed by the generosity and depth of feeling that people here possess. Class 1EC, which I taught last semester, asked my Ibu if they could come to my house before I left. She told them to come on Thursday because it was a holiday. So this morning, 26 students from 1 EC squashed into my house [there is no comfortable way for my house to fit that many people]. For two hours we played the boardgames that my parents brought for me to give as a departing gift to SMK N1. It was strange and fun for me to see them in normal clothes. The house was full of laughter as they played the games.
After they had tried out all of the games, they presented me with a beautiful piece of hand painted batik. Most batik these days is printed with stamps, but this is the traditional, hand painted kind. It is gorgeous--full of small purple flowers--easily the most lovely batik I've gotten here. I gave them each a penny taped to the "find a penny, pick it up..." poem.
Before they could leave, we obviously had to have a photo shoot outside. We took group photos, we took all-girl and all-boy photos, and then we took individual photos. We took photos until everyone was happy.
Before they all left, they each shook my hand and "salaam"-ed me [I know that's not what it is actually called because 'salaam' is a greeting, but people are always telling their children to "Salaam Miss Sarah" so that's what I refer to it as. What I mean is that they take your hand and press it to their forehead or cheek. It's a sign of respect.]. It usually makes me uncomfortable when they do it. I'm not old enough to be an elder and although I'm their teacher I'm closer in age to them than I am to any of the other teachers. I want them to feel like my equals, not like they must obey me. Today it felt natural. It felt like a proper ending to our day and to our time here together. And that makes me hopeful that when the time comes to leave it will somehow feel right.


  1. What a touching (almost) good-bye note to your friends, colleagues, and students in Indonesia. And think of how far you've come in these 9 months. And interesting that you mention flow, a concept developed by a former professor of mine at the U of Chicago, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

    Will you continue to blog after you leave? And, language lover that I am, are you planning a blog on how increasing competence in Indonesian affected your experience there?

    Best wishes. Enjoy these last days, take photos, carry some tissues since there might well be tears, and bon voyage.

  2. Sas,
    These words and photos warm my "teacher's" heart... You have given so much to these young adults and they have rewarded you in kind. "They may forget what you said, But they will never forget how you made them feel."
    Enjoy your last 17 days as Miss Sarah... We are counting down the days until you're back in America!
    Love You,
    Mum xoxo