A few more updates…

A few exciting updates! I have moved into my cute new (albeit ant-filled) abode; my housemate, M, made a lovely pumpkin and potato dish for me as a little welcome-to-the-house dinner. She is totally wonderful! We have both experienced living in Javanese villages before and both have experience teaching English here, so we have a lot in common already, even though we are from two very different countries/cultures. I love being able to share a space with someone also experiencing expat life in Malang. I feel completely comfortable and at ease; I could get used to this…especially to the fact that I don’t have to do any cleaning besides my own dishes. Thank you, housecleaning boys! What a fortuitous outcome of the house-hunting (which lasted approximately one hour)! AND, we got wifi in the house today!!!

There is a rather extensive expat network here in Malang, and they have been so far quite welcoming. I like the fact that I will spend some time in my village each weekend (or most weekends, anyway) so I don’t feel like I’m getting too sucked in to the expat world. It’s not a bad place—decidedly not—but I do want to maintain my connections with my host family and the ‘real world.’ So far, my new friend J, from Poland, has been most supportive and helpful. She has given me a few tips about Malang already, which are handy since I haven’t actually lived here before: good shops for Western-style bread and cheese, a top-notch fitness center (where she, as a lady, feels comfortable working out), and ideas about transportation. We had a lovely time at the café today chatting it up and getting to know one another. There’s a gathering on Friday that I think I’ll attend so I can meet the rest of her crew.

The visa process is slowly but surely coming along. I should be able to pick up the documents on Friday, which means I can officially start collecting data. Our trip to the immigration office was something else; Mas T picked me up with Mbak R, a Thai student also applying for a visa, at 9:30 instead of 9 since he was waiting on the car to arrive, and the car wouldn’t start when we got in to leave. Someone walked over from campus to help fix it, and after we stopped at the ATM to get money for the visa fee, the car broke down again. Another friend came to help, and we made it to immigration, finally. On the way back to drop said friend off at his job, the car broke down again. A bunch of guys worked on it for a while, and Mas T drove Mbak R back to campus on a borrowed motorcycle, since she had to teach a class (but she didn’t make it; her students had already left by the time she got back to campus). Finally it started, and Mas T and I headed back, stopping for some really excellent nasi pecel on the way back. Got back to the office at 1:30 or so, and, perfectly, the internet on campus was down. Thus, I went ended up at the café with J, as mentioned. Too much!! But I do just love Mas T for all the hard work he does around campus. He is a great friend, too. (Actually, everyone I’ve met/re-met in the office is completely wonderful. Mbak E is just a goofball and a total pleasure to be around, Mas M works hard to get me to practice my Javanese, and Mbaks O and K seem like really nice ladies who will hopefully become my good friends.)

On the research front, there have also been some interesting developments. By way of the professor who sponsored me, Pak P, I have been connected with a couple of professors at my university who specialize, in one way or another, in a field of study related to my project. One of them, Pak H, was a fellow who helped out my training village in Peace Corps… he’s a hoot and a half, and then some other stuff on top of that. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, he is an anthropology professor and a former Fulbrighter who studied at University of Michigan. He also, apparently, knows just about everyone in East Java and has lots of friends who practice traditional medicine, shamanism, and various other healing techniques. I guess he practices something himself, too, plus he’s head of the American Corner here on campus (more on that in the future). He’s in Jakarta until later this month, and I’m eager to re-meet him and see what’s up. There’s also another professor, Pak HS, who’s an expert in philosophy (or so I gather) who may also be able to help me.

I’m plodding along developing my research questions and beginning to consider how to approach recruiting and interviewing someone… I think I may stick close to Malang for the first couple weeks’ worth of fieldwork (perhaps pilot interviews), so I can rely on the networks I’ve established ‘round these parts to get my feet wet. Mas T seems really interested in helping me in the field, and I can tell already that I made the right choice in choosing to come back to Malang. I couldn’t imagine starting afresh at another university considering I only have ten months, and I wouldn’t even want to start over fresh anywhere else!

I finished my first book the other day, which I started for pleasure during my first few days here so that I could have a little mental break: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It’s a non-fiction account of a family of Hmong refugees whose second-youngest member has epilepsy, which in Hmong culture predisposes her to becoming a shaman(ess). The book explores her family’s relationships with the American doctors who treat her and in doing so illuminates quite a bit about Hmong culture, history, language, medicine, and religion, as well as the author’s experiences working with the family and medical workers involved in the ‘case.’ I highly recommend it; I hope I forget enough about what happened so I can read it again before I go home. I haven’t read something so captivating in quite some time. I’ve since moved on to a practical book about ethnographic fieldnotes that is far less entertaining.

On returning to Malang

13 September 2014

Of course, shenanigans ensued immediately upon arrival in Malang. I was picked up at the airport by my friend, who helped Peace Corps as a language and culture facilitator and also presently works at the international relations office at my affiliate university. He texted me to let me know he was at the airport: I’m standing right behind you. And he was! Had a nice lunch and chatted before heading to campus to stop by the office; ran into the host sister of a fellow now-RPCV and hitched a ride to her village, near mine, to see her extended family and meet her new baby (whose new nickname is now Baggage since his name is one letter shy of that word in Indonesian). The baby liked me! Normally, Indo babies get fairly spooked by my pale face, but Baggage and I goofed around for quite some time before heading to my village. So far, everyone that I’ve met up with that I knew from before has been super gracious and excited to see me. This definitely feels like a homecoming, in a great way!

I didn’t even recognize my host parents’ place when we pulled up. The whole house has changed, and a new, blue, two-story house has been built right behind the old house (which is now being rented out). Bapak and Sinta were home, and again it barely felt like I had been gone at all. The major change in the family besides the new house is that Sinta is two years older, now 20, and that much more confident, ebullient, and, well, grown up. Ibu was at a selametan for the one-year anniversary of Bapak’s kakak’s passing, and she didn’t come home until quite late. She received a good long squeeze upon arrival.

So far, chatting with Bapak and Ibu about my upcoming project has been quite titillating. They are both so intelligent and well-spoken; Ibu in particular has a way of making things really clear for me (because, after all, my language skills aren’t as great as I’d like them to be). The best part of the conversation was when I asked Bapak, an architect and contractor, whether he had ever been to see a dukun (shaman) and he said no, but I’m a shaman myself. I said, oh? Really? He said yep— a dukun pembangunan, a building-shaman. He also informed me that he’s been to a female shaman— Ibu, ‘cuz she takes care of everything. Earlier today, Ibu and I were discussing shamanism around Indonesia, and she had an interesting story about magic on Kalimantan: Javanese men who go to work on Kalimantan often get hypnotized by women there, and when they come back to Java, their privates disappear (and thus cannot be used in the marital bed). When they go back to Kalimantan, poof! They reappear, and the man is lured into marriage on Kalimantan, leaving his Javanese wife behind. Who’d want to return to Java, wife or no, under that sort of spell?

I can start searching for participants as soon as my KITAS comes through, which should be next Thursday. My friend from the international relations office helped with that process, too, and also helped me start searching for a place to live. It was suggested to him that I live in a house owned by the university, and luckily there is a spare room. Even luckier, I can live there rent-free, at least for this semester. Apparently the university owns a couple of guest houses—one for males and one for females—that international/visiting lecturers can use during their time here. I don’t count as a visiting lecturer, so I don’t have priority, but enough of the lecturers here this semester have found alternative housing for themselves.

Admittedly, the facilities are lacking slightly: no A/C (though it’s cool enough that I think a fan will be enough), no real sink for washing dishes (though apparently most housing around here doesn’t have complete kitchens as food on the street is so cheap and plentiful), Western-style toilets instead of squatties (which would be ideal except that in Indonesia, Western-style toilets are often wet all over due to splashing from manual flushing), and three twin-beds in my room (since the house is really a 10-person house, though the 4 rooms and status as international housing means it functions as a 4-person house). However, can’t beat the price, and I think I’ll just tilt the extra beds up against the wall, get a blender and an electric kettle for coffee and smoothies in the morning, wash dishes in the tiny little hand-washing sink, and cope with the toilets. The positives: hot water for showering, a nice living room with a big coffee table for studying/working, an interesting and nice housemate, a couple young guys who come daily to sweep and tidy up, an Indomart convenience store and laundry toko just around the corner, and just a five minute walk to campus. I will be sharing with a nice Uzbekistani lady who’s teaching English this semester. She’s part of a little expat group of lecturers from all over the world: Libya, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Venezuela, France, etc. etc.! I haven’t met them all yet, but they warmly welcomed me yesterday into their little circle.

My plan at this time is to stay in the guest house Monday through Friday and go home with my host sister on (most) weekends to Bapak and Ibu’s house. She’s studying for her bachelor’s at the university and commutes daily, so I’ll be able to see her now and then during the week, perhaps for lunch or coffee!! (Went back to the much-beloved coffee joint in front of campus and had a delicious $0.75 iced espresso yesterday.) Not to my great surprise, Bapak and Ibu were very gracious and offered that I stay with them instead of paying for a place on my own in Malang, which is noisy and dirty, they say. I think a good compromise is splitting up the time. I love staying with them, and frankly I still have a lot to learn about Javanese language and culture; they have always been some of my best teachers. Lately, great conversations have been about: dukun, as mentioned; the recent Indonesian presidential election; cross-cultural co-habitation and its many challenges; family updates, including a couple of untimely deaths of middle-aged relatives on their end and updates about my family (that photo album was much enjoyed by all, Lauren!) and storytelling about my grandmother’s recent passing; village gossip, changes, and news; and what we’ve all been up to, in general, over the past two years, including Sinta’s somewhat negative experiences as a university student (she’s finding it hard to make friends since she is the only person in her cohort who commutes daily).

I think that’s all from me for now; the rest of the weekend, I’ll mampir to the other host families to catch up and say hello, head to the shopping center to get a few things for my new place, and hang with the family some more. I’m especially enjoying Sinta’s newfound enthusiasm for practicing her English, sitting in the kitchen in the morning with Ibu sipping coffee while she cooks and chats, and Bapak’s clear excitement that I’m visiting again. I also feel especially relaxed and enthused because of my smartphone and data plan; keeping in touch with important folks in the States is much easier this time around. Actually, since I knew what to expect this time around, everything so far as been much easier. I’m sure I’m still honeymooning, but I can’t imagine the coming weeks will be any less exciting since I get to start my research project. From my current vantage point, it seems that the most difficult thing about the Fulbright year so far is getting over my anxiety about the big shift back into this Indo life, and now that I’m here, I can finally relax about it all. I don’t doubt there will be big challenges in the future, but I know I’ve got a great support network (here and at home), a great internet connection, and a great deal more language, cultural, and self knowledge than I did four and a half years ago.

dreamland, usa

Well, what a time Jakarta has been!

I’m getting ready to fly to Malang tomorrow, and the next steps in this adventure are to obtain the appropriate visa and get an apartment, probably not in that order. If all goes well, I will only have to wait for two weeks for the visa to come through, at which time I can officially start my project. So, I will have two weeks’ time to find and settle into some digs in Malang, do some reading, reconnect with some important people in the area that I’ve been waiting to see, start planning logistics of the project, and eat a lot of gado-gado at my favorite restaurant. 

Today, the other student researcher and I finally had some face-to-face orientation from the organization administering the grant. I count it as a big success; why there’s no pre-departure orientation in the States I’ll never be quite sure. We’ve learned a lot of important information recently that ideally I’d have known before departing, but begitulah! We’re well on our way, and things seem mostly under control. The paperwork and bureaucracy isn’t terribly overwhelming, just laborious, costly, and time-consuming. Luckily, during our visit to various ministries and the national police headquarters, we were escorted by our AMINEF contact; I don’t think I’d have been able to find all of the appropriate offices and personnel on my own. At least we’re being helped by people who have gone through this time and time again with Fulbright students. I am grateful! 

Our major goals have been to obtain the required permits and letters of permission to apply for out full-term visa and to send to the various kabupaten (districts) where we will conduct our research. Luckily for me, I get to send out a bunch of letters since I plan to travel all over East Java collecting data. Couldn’t have just chosen one location, could I? So far, it seems that the research visa I will obtain in the near future is much more restricted than the teaching visa I had during Peace Corps, which was administered by the ministry of education rather than research; as it turns out, on the research visa, I will not be permitted to do any formal teaching beyond presenting or discussing my current research project or visiting as an invited guest speaker to workshops on research methodology designed by the university counterparts (unfortunately, I can’t design or host any workshops myself). I will be able to use my Peace Corps connections as planned in order to construct a travel plan and conduct participant recruitment, but I need to be very careful about how I do this, and everything has to be discussed with and presented to my university counterparts so that there are no surprises to any relevant authorities or supervisors when I start. I also need to make clear to communities with PCVs that I am no longer affiliated with Peace Corps. 

Anyways, that’s the only semi-interesting stuff– I can’t say it’s boring because the inner workings of a highly bureaucratized government on the verge of a change in administration are inherently interesting in a befuddling sort of way, and considering the challenges foreign researchers face in Indonesia is interesting as a novice researcher whose regional focus is this amazing and complicated place! I don’t doubt that this is the only time I will have to go through this type of process, and perhaps things will become easier as these ministries begin to act as academically and internationally open-minded as they apparently claim to wish to be. I hope that more academics from outside of Indonesia can come here for research or educational exchange, especially for research projects in collaboration with Indonesian scholars… we’ll have to wait and see whether the permit/visa process becomes easier in the future (I certainly hope so!). 

The very interesting aspects so far are, of course, friends and food. I had a lovely meal with Agnes the first evening in Jakarta, and I just about cried when I saw a friendly face after so much exhausting travelling. We had satay Padang from a street vendor off the main road by my hotel and caught up on just about everything, including each ID-4 PCV, one by one. The next night, after an afternoon pedicure and finally getting a new (smart)phone, my fellow American friend and I met up with Lauren’s host sister and her friend. They are both working on their bachelor’s degrees in computational statistics here in Jakarta, both planning to graduate into immediate employment with the census bureau. I had met Lauren’s host sister many times in East Java and was just tickled to see her again! We all had some spicy nasi goreng from a street vendor in a pasar malam (night market), which we reached by way of a crowded, rat-infested back road behind the shopping plaza where we met. Lauren’s sister was very apologetic for making us walk through the nastiness in the dark: “I did a bad, I’m so sorry!” Still, we had a great time catching up, too, and she Skyped with Lauren after she went back to her apartment. Reunions!

The hotel accommodations here in Jakarta have been perfect; I’m staying in the same hotel I stayed in when I first arrived in Jakarta in March, 2010. I’ve got a western toilet, decent internet, hot shower, AC, and complimentary breakfast with coffee, so what else could I ask for. I’ll be happy to move on to Malang and escape the noise of the city (and the damn taxi fares, sky-high due to unavoidable traffic jams), but parting ways with my new Fulbright friend will be a bummer. Still, I get to look forward to reunions upon reunions over the coming weeks/months, and I couldn’t be more excited at the prospect. I’m very eager to settle down, unpack my suitcase, and see what kind of fun I can have, though I’m enjoying myself quite a bit already just by reminiscing and remembering my previous experiences here (and thinking about how far I’ve come in the past 4 1/2 years). Indonesia smells, looks, feels, tastes, and sounds the same, and, overall, being back is amusing and pleasurable. Bowling Green is starting to feel like a dream; how could it be that I was gone from Java for two whole years? 



Mau berangkat!

Hello, friends! I am leaving two days to start my Fulbright “year” in Indonesia; my bags are packed, goodbyes have been said, and I’m bringing more books than I should. Doesn’t that make me ready? 

Preparing for this trip has been a breeze in important ways: no longer at the mercy of the Peace Corps Cambodia/Philippines packing list and equipped with two years’ worth of experience, I can pack the appropriate clothes, footwear, and gifts– and I feel immensely relieved. In the old brain are but minimal worries about language issues, food, weather, transportation, and facing the unknown of full cultural immersion, but the prospect/reality of designing and executing my own “major” research project remains daunting. I have decided to coffee treat myself right through it all and actively try to take it easy on myself, and hopefully I’ll emerge a better scholar, friend, and person at the end! 

The excitement of seeing my far-away friends and family is building by the minute. I can’t wait to reconnect…and I can’t wait to develop more friendships and relationships over the course of the term. Hopefully, I’ll do quite a bit of teaching and lecturing during the next ten months, both at the secondary and post-secondary levels. I’ve already got plans with a high school teacher in eastern East Java who wants me to teach her some lesson planning tricks and give her students motivation to study English. #Indobanget. Full steam ahead! 

I’m sure it will be surreal to be back, but I think that living as a graduate student rather than a PCV will allow me to keep a more amused, detached, and loving attitude toward navigating the interesting waters of Javanese culture and to relax a little more than last time I lived on Java… I hope! I’m not going in with the attitude that my Fulbright year will be a 24/7 job like I made the Peace Corps out to be, and I feel clear-headed about the certain challenges ahead. So here’s to mental preparedness and trying to be calm, cool, and collected. Lucky for me, I always manage to fall on the side of optimism. 

Travel this weekend will take me through Minnesota and two countries before I reach my destination, and I won’t reach my site until three days in the big city collecting research permits and other important documents. Ideally, I will have an apartment by the end of next week and a phone number a few days before that, if not Monday. I’m both excited and nervous for this next chapter to begin, but I hope that in a weeks’ time or a little more, I’ll be settled in and ready to go– belly full of white rice, sweating through my shirts in ten minutes each morning. 

I hope to maintain this blog on a very regular basis, so please keep checking in if you would like to keep track of my adventures/exploits. Encouraging comments are most welcome! Keep in touch! 

Sampai ketemu lagi, 





by Bonnie Blankenship

BOWLING GREEN, O.—It’s the fourth most populous country in the world, and an important trading partner. Yet, like most U.S. citizens, Samantha Martin knew almost nothing of Indonesia until she served there in 2010-12 as a Peace Corps volunteer. She was part of the first cohort to serve there since 1964 following President Barack Obama’s 2009 re-opening of relations with Indonesia.

The complex culture of the island nation resonated with Martin, and after she receives her master’s degree in Cross-Cultural and International Education (MACIE) from Bowling Green State University this August, she will be heading back as a Fulbright Student Scholar to do a case study of traditional healing practices on Java, the most populous of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia.

After having personally experienced traditional healing practices both while on Java in the Peace Corps and while she was a student teacher in the Navajo Nation as an undergraduate at Indiana University at Bloomington, Martin became interested in how a person in today’s world becomes a traditional healer, and what their status is in their community. And, in the case of Java, how contemporary Indonesian Islam overlaps with secular Javanese healing arts, and how traditional practices have evolved.

“In rural areas, people may identify as Muslim, but the elements of traditional culture may be a little stronger,” Martin said. “I’d like to know which traditional cultural practices are still being held onto and why. And whether young people are still becoming healers and what their path is toward that.”

Martin’s master’s thesis is a case study of women healers in south-central Indiana. “The possibilities for a comparative project on healers’ experiences in the U.S. and Indonesia are exciting to me,” she said.

In addition to her research, Martin also will do volunteer teaching in local schools during her Fulbright stay. “I want to be contributing something, not just taking information from them and leaving,” she said. “I like teaching and working with kids.”

Indonesia is a rich mix of all the influences over the centuries from the various traders who came through, bringing with them their religions and cultures. Among them have been Arab, Indian and Chinese traders, Buddhists and Hindus, and 300-plus years of Dutch colonialism. Two typical dishes, meatballs and fried rice, reflect the multicultural background of the country.

“It’s been 65 years since independence from the Dutch and now there are burgeoning markets and a lot of money there, although there are huge income gaps,” Martin said. “The country is also very wealthy in natural resources. Technology is booming, and they’ve effectively skipped over landlines and now everyone communicates by cellphones. They access the Internet daily from their smartphones. Indonesia is quickly becoming globalized and more prominent on the international scene.”

Martin will be based during her 10-month sojourn at her host university, the Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang, and will travel to rural communities to interview from eight to 15 traditional healers and their clients in depth. She expects to draw on her connections in several areas and then, through them, meet others, staying with local families at times.

Getting around on Java is not nearly the challenge it can be in some countries, Martin said. “Java is the most densely populated island in the world and there’s so much public transportation that it’s easy. It’s not the two-hour bike ride to even see anyone that is often associated with Peace Corps service.”

Student Fulbright grants are very selective; this year there were only 12 research grants and about 30 English-teaching assistantships given. The application process is difficult. Martin said she’s grateful for the support she received from BGSU’s International Student Services.

“They were wonderful. They helped me refine my proposal and tailor it. Having their advice and experience was invaluable.”

Martin said she also received important advice and assistance from Dr. Nancy Patterson in the School of Teaching and Learning, who had been a Fulbright scholar, and MACIE director Dr. Christopher Frey, who had also worked with the Navajo people. “We shared the same experience, around 10 years apart,” Martin said.

Patterson, who has worked with Martin on two grant submissions related to Indonesia, said, “Sam is a singular person who is the perfect mix of compassion and initiative. Whenever I work with her, I learn about myself, which is the sign of a true teacher and humanitarian. Most impressive is her command of Bahasa Indonesia, which I have seen her use with fluency and grace on our Skype calls with her good friends at Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang. Sam Martin will continue to elevate BGSU’s reputation in Indonesia, and I relish hearing about her work in years to come.

“I never thought when I entered the Peace Corps and was assigned to a nation I knew nothing about that Southeast Asian Studies would turn out to be so interesting to me,” Martin said. “But MACIE helped give me some direction, and helped me develop my thesis project. That’s what’s so special about MACIE: you have a group of really neat people with such diverse experiences and it’s still small enough to be very intimate.”

After a hectic time of finishing her master’s thesis, weighing her acceptances into doctoral programs, learning of her acceptance into the Fulbright program and planning her next steps, “Everything is falling into place.”


i wanted to post this as the inaugural entry of the next phase of this blog, which i will resume writing in order to document new experiences in indonesia as a fulbright student scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year. i am looking forward to this next chapter of my academic journey and am even more excited to return to indonesia to learn, teach, grow, and explore even MORE.

xo, sam.

Sam's Adventures in Indonesia


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