Category Archives: Pre-Service




Indonesians are shy to express their wants, particularly in terms of food and drink. If they want something, they will repeatedly say “No, thanks!” when they really mean “Yes, please.” Accordingly, actually not wanting to eat or drink something doesn’t translate. Hence, I’m constantly stuffed, and slightly sick to my stomach at the thought of food or a food-related confrontation (all of which inevitably end in my eating more). In my mind, I want to be polite; I see repeated offers of food as attempts at politeness and see acceptance of those offers as reciprocation of the extended good manners. However, Indonesians see my eventual acceptance as something completely different: if after repeated declinations I accept the food, my host believes I have done what I’ve wanted to do all along (eat or drink what was being offered). I see accepting as accomplishing three things: my host stops his/her relentless offerings, which satisfies me; I satisfy my host by accepting; and I get a stomachache because I’ve eaten when full or consumed a cup of liquid sugar, which is called “coffee” in these parts (Bercanda! But seriously.). Normally, no big deal, but this kind of thing has been happening on a daily basis for the past…since I got here. You can imagine what days and days of stomachaches can do to a girl. Not ideal. Hampir dreading going to visit someone else’s house or the sound of the bakso vendor on my street is pretty depressing (though, I admit, equally humorous).

But earlier in the week I learned why this happens to me.

I’ve thought for the past two and a half months that I was being treated as a guest, which isn’t necessarily true. In fact, this system of offering/declining/accepting is called basa-basi and it’s commonplace here. What’s actually going on is this: Indonesians offer food and offers are initially declined because, in the words of my host family, Indonesians are too shy to reveal what they really want. So, the host keeps offering until she/he goes ahead and serves even if the food/drink has been declined repeatedly. Then, since the guest actually wants the food but has been to shy to accept it, they take what they really want(ed all along).

Can you see where this is going? I’ve been giving in after declining honestly, mainly to please my host, who really couldn’t care less—the host simply wants to be polite and is assuming that I in fact do want to eat or drink but will be too shy to say so. My acceptance affirms, in my host’s mind, that I always wanted something (when I didn’t!). Of course, Indonesians don’t realize that we don’t have basa-basi in American culture…and I didn’t realize it existed at all. So, I thought the Indonesians were being pushy* while they thought I was being polite (they were being polite and I just felt bad about giving in and making myself sick). They want me to have what I want and need…though by eventually accepting something, I was setting the level of my own consumption way above standard. Of course, this means the host becomes even more persistent because he/she thinks I’m capable (and desirous) of eating mountains of food. O, the many hours of pain and discomfort!

Luckily I discussed the issue with my host family last night because I learned a little bit about basa-basi in class this week. My host family had no idea that I wasn’t operating under that system and that my refusals are genuine. Likewise, I had no idea they weren’t treating me differently than they would treat anybody else (Indonesians “pressure” each other, too). I repeatedly accepted in order to be polite since I thought they were trying to be polite, too. We had a good laugh over it all and since yesterday I’ve been saying, before every refusal of food or drink, “Without basa-basi, I am not hungry!” It works, sort of! Plus it makes my host mother laugh, which is always excellent. We understand each other a little bit better now and I’m significantly less stuffed than days past (and the best part of all…today I did not have to have my traditional afternoon-off-but-two-hours-before-the-not-unusual-supper-of-gigantic-proportions “snack” of bakso!). I’m satisfied and my host mother is glad to know I’m not withholding any secret desires for enormous, never-ending meals and countless afternoon snacks. I’m glad she now knows that, too.

I also explained to the fam that I do, in fact, want to try everything, and if there’s ever any bit of space in my stomach and I’m offered a new food, I’ll try it. I told my host mom that sometimes there’s simply no room in my belly at all, which is true. At least I haven’t been stuffed with food I don’t like. It’s all delicious, and now I’ve regained control over how much I eat,** which means I can enjoy what I do eat even more. Just in time, too… now that my host family and I have an understanding, I’ve got less than two weeks left here. Oh, boy. It’ll start all over again, and probably be less ideal than ever…since my new host parents are grandparents, and grandparents in Indonesia like feeding me just as much as grandparents in the States (from what I can tell so far). I’m a little more prepared now, though, thanks to the newfound basa-basi knowledge.

*We’re talking pushy. This is way beyond the level of insistence I’m used to. In America, maybe someone would offer a drink/food twice before stopping. Right? Here, there are probably four or five offers from the main host and numerous offers from other Indonesians present. Everyone will sit and stare at you until you take something. There’s a sort of pattern to the offers, too… Take again, please take, what do you want to eat, take this, it’s delicious, let’s go, eat, let’s go, take, please, help yourself, take again! It’s the mantra of the Indonesian host. And they don’t stop until you take the food!! They “can’t” conceive that no means no because it doesn’t. I’m the anomaly.

**All the stuff we’ve read about how Indonesians won’t offer more if you still have food on your plate is complete hogwash, by the way. My host mother sometimes says “Let’s go, take again!” before I’ve taken my second bite of the first helping. It’s ridiculous and it would be funny if it didn’t always lead to extreme physical discomfort (okay…it’s pretty funny.).


Things that are unexpectedly ubiquitous in Indonesian popular culture: the phrase “OMG!”; Steven Seagal; cross-dressing; bling for jilbabs (and the combination of jilbabs and skinny jeans); Mr. Bean.

Eat things before asking what they are. This way, you can realize rabbit livers and cow skin can be quite delicious.


It’s gonna be two years here. It’s setting in. I miss my friends (and family, of course) so much. I miss hanging out at the house, drinkin’ coffee, relaxing in the basement…I’m fantasizing about trips to the farmer’s market, playing instruments, cooking…running, biking, washing machines, and Indiana air. Emily and Evelyn…where are you?

Today I love (about Indonesia): batik, es buah, catchin’ an angkot and chattin’ up strangers, seeing Southern Hemisphere stars for the first time (last night; it’s the dry season! No clouds!), eatin’ with my hands, Pallapa, my Tlekung pals.

PS: New template? Yeah! Plus, I took that photo at Candi Prambanan outside of Jogjakarta. Nice!


I’m in Love Already

I can’t believe the amazing things I have seen, done, and eaten today… or the amazing people I’ve met.

Today was staging day. We met in the hotel lobby and moved into a conference room. First, we finished up our registration paperwork and got our first H1N1 vaccination (I think there will be one more soon, then another in a year). Then, we started talking, doing activities, making skits and silly drawings, and listening to some amazing speakers… a very important regional director for PC was here, as well as the “number two” from the Indonesian embassy in Washington, DC (I’m thinking he’s maybe the junior ambassador?). We finished up our staging by getting our malaria pill package and discussing travel plans. I volunteered to be a group leader and will be in charge of some important stuff tomorrow. At the end of the staging, we were invited to supper at the consul general’s house in San Francisco, one of seven Indonesian consulates in the US.

The consul general’s house is absolutely amazing. It’s full of Indonesian artwork and furniture and it has thirteen rooms. There’s an amazing view of San Francisco (including the Bay and Golden Gate bridges) from the rooftop. The consul general and his wife were amazingly kind and wonderful, as were all of the other Indonesian folks I met there. I even got to practice using some of my Indonesian words and learned a few new ones.

But I’m going to talk about the dinner. During the initial reception, a lovely woman brought out trays of hors d’oeuvres: a spring roll, a coconut bar, and a crazy but delicious gelatin snack that had a green layer, a pink layer, and a brown layer. All three were do delicious! After the consulate general, the regional director, and the embassy representative said a few words, we moved into the dining area. We started the meal out with baso (meatball) with tofu and green onions. Our main course was chicken satay, sauteed vegetables, sweet corn cakes, nasi goreng (fried rice) with extremely, extremely spicy pepper sauce and sweet cucumber pickle, and fried shrimp. Then, the most amazing dessert ever… a clear glass bowl with very thin coconut milk, avocado cubes, jackfruit, tiny baby young coconuts that were so young that they were about the size of a grape and had no milk in the center, and strips of regular coconut meat. It was absolutely amazing! I’ve never had anything like it. Finally, we had some Sumatran coffee with sugar, which was, of course, divine. Plus, the conversation all throughout the meal was just lovely, inspiring, and exciting (yet relaxing… calming).

The Indonesian people I met tonight were so incredibly kind and helpful. They were gracious and tolerant of our questions, which to them, I’m sure, seemed extremely basic and perhaps silly. Their openness and willingness to help us learn a little bit more about Indonesian culture was so comforting.

Tomorrow morning… I’m waking up at 5:45 so I can go with another trainee to get coffee before our departure at 7. Since I’m a group leader, I have to be in the lobby by 6:45, which isn’t that bad. Our flight for Tokyo doesn’t leave until 12 or so, but that just means we’ll have time to talk and have breakfast at the airport (ALL of the trainees, by the way, are totally amazing, impressive, funny, happy, smart, and fantastic people. There are 12 ladies and 8 gents and the regional director gave us all a nice overview of what we’ve collectively accomplished in our lives so far, and it was amazing! I’m so impressed and proud to be a part of this group!).

We have a three hour layover in Tokyo and then it’s off to Bangkok, where we’ll stay for 9 hours and get rooms in the hotel at the airport. Then… Jakarta. I’ll try to post again as soon as possible, but I fear that now is the moment for us to begin reciting our new mantra… “embrace the ambiguity.”

I love you! I think of you! I’ll try to get online again as soon as possible!

XOXOXO, see you in 27 months, America!

San Fran!

Took some lovely pictures today in San Fran. Here they are! (I hope that link works. If it doesn’t just log onto Facebook and look at the album via my photo albums page. I am not dealing with figuring out how to get a Facebook widget into this blog. I’ve been up for nearly twenty hours, so forget it! Maybe after this I’ll just use my Flickr.)

Met my lovely hotel roomie tonight! She’s from Michigan, too. Super sweet gal! I fear I may have talked her ear off already but I’m just so excited to start meeting my fellows that I can’t stop the beat.

Today I had a great day. Everything was just what I needed it to be. I hung out at the wharf and took some pictures before Al and Liv picked me up… while I waited for them to arrive I managed to scratch out a few post-cards and take my first self-portrait (I plan to take a self-portrait every day for the next 27 months). After Liv and Al found my hotel room, the three of us took the bus down to Haight-Ashbury and got delicious drinks and the best burritos ever… plus, I bought another book, and Liv and Al gave me yet another! We got to walk and talk and be sweet to one another… such a pleasant day. Boy, those ladies can sure catch buses. I wouldn’t have seen as much of the city as I did if they hadn’t been here. San Fran love!

And… I’m totally sunburned! It’s excellent! I love summer!!

Sam goes to San Fran

Well, I can’t believe I’m about to type this… I’m currently blogging from the airplane on the way to San Francisco. Yes, it’s true! Wireless internet, on the plane. Mix that with baby laptop and I’m in business… for only $9.95 for the entire flight. I don’t think I’d normally bother buying internet access on an airplane, but I’m going to take what I can get since I don’t think I’ll have much internet access once I get to Indonesia.

Mom (and family) threw me an excellent going-away brunch yesterday! In addition to seeing lots of lovely family members and friends who might as well be family, I got to spend some time with four fantastic ladies from Bloomington. After their arrival on Friday evening, mom made chocolate martinis and we got to visit for a bit… even with Nanny, who was resting in her royal blue satin jammies in bed. There were ten women plus my stepdad in the house that night! How lovely!

The best part of brunch was seeing my friends and family start to learn a little bit about Indonesia. Mom had checked out lots of children’s books, which turned out to be the best idea ever. They were full of pictures and maps and basic info that was easy to sort through and quick to read. I should have gone straight to the kid’s section of the library when I got back from New York City a few weeks ago… In addition to the books, we all watched a two-part travel documentary featuring one very silly American woman and a rather beautiful Aussie man trekking around Indonesia. I had seen it before, but it was great to watch everyone, especially my little (and big) cousins, get some visual idea of where I’m going. Plus, the food was great!! Mom made doughnuts and tiny quiches, plus we had a coffee bar with chocolate covered spoons… outrageous! The desserts were great, too. Thanks to everyone who came by and helped out with the party!

Now, I’m on my way to San Fran. Orientation at the hotel doesn’t start until tomorrow at noon, so I have from about noon today until then to hang out, write some post-cards, find some sourdough bread to munch, and meet up with two fellow Bloomington gals who are traveling through SF this week. I’m so excited to see them!

I’ll try to post again soon, probably from the hotel tomorrow evening after orientation. I don’t imagine we won’t get free wireless internet at the hotel… but even if I have to pay again, I’ll do it. That’s how much I like you!


Attractive Americans!

Oh, my. I have left Bloomington and entered the land of sweets and treats and digital cable!

My friends in Bloomington are all so beautiful and full of light, in every cell. I had many going away celebrations that helped me feel a sense of gradual (temporary?) closure with my life in my southern Indiana paradise. The gifts I received last week will stay with me forever and ever. I cannot stop my heart from coming out of my ears and eyes and mouth… love is never-ending, pure, all. Every minute I write songs and my spirit sings through day and night to those I have left behind yet carry with me infinitely. It’s strange to realize that the love was always there, but something inside me prevented me from recognizing its true nature and depth. These realizations are the first changes I am making on my journey; I can already see that by leaving my loved ones, I am incalculably more in touch with my soul and heart. The doors of my heart are and will remain open forever. This will help me move forward and be present and loving during my trip overseas, and for that, I thank you. I thank you! To everyone who has loved me and still does and will always, thank you. Love and light, in every cell, is all. I miss you and see that it’s silly; how can you miss someone whom you carry constantly within your spirit? I hope you will carry me. Pick up again…

Coming home has been wondrous. I have missed my family so much. There’s so much love in my life right now… it’s amazing. I feel grounded by the two weeks I have in Michigan. It’s nice to not leave everything all at once… gradual departure is key to health, I think. My beautiful family…!

I greatly appreciate, also, the time I have to pack. Yes, I’ve started! I have rather strict requirements for luggage (weight limits, volume limits), but this doesn’t bother me. I’m trying to take essentials, and it might be that I don’t have any trouble staying under the baggage limits. I will be taking a suitcase, a duffel bag, a backpack, and a purse. I like the idea of being able to carry everything at once (which, granted, is a requirement, but it’s empowering to know that my materials will be minimal).

The most common question I’ve been asked over the past few days is: “Are you nervous or excited?” and my response is this: I am supremely excited. I feel nervous but it’s a dull emotion in the back of my mind… I know that the love I have and have received over the past weeks (and will receive over the week and a half to come) has made me capable of achieving anything. I don’t care how it sounds! Any obstacle will be overcome with love and patience and tender care, and my wells are infinite thanks to you.

Things are very crystalline. Every song I hear, every time I look into someone’s eyes, every time I touch someone, everything I taste. I will miss these things, but it will be sweet– not even bittersweet. I have a permanent soul smile.

the smile, the smile! my dear ones...

Liminal Zones

My friend, roommate, and co-worker passed away this weekend. We buried him yesterday in Martinsville. He was 23 years old, creative, fiercely funny, generous, kind, beautifully minded, and incredibly gifted. Emotions still come in waves; I’ll be laughing at a memory one minute and the next weeping over the incomprehensible loss we’ve experienced. I can’t stop hearing him laugh, crack jokes, sing and dance, laugh. The things I remember most clearly are mannerism and gestures, a simple hand movement or the way he walked. He saved me at a very difficult time in my life and I’ll be forever grateful to have known him the past five years. I can’t say enough though I fear saying too little; he is sorely missed, but he’s in the stars. I’m caught between understanding and acceptance, past memories and present reality, terror and tragedy.

I’m on the brink now. I’ve only a little more than a week before I go back home to Michigan and I’m sure my time spent there will be too short. I’ll be so relieved to see my mother, and the rest of my family, whom I’ve not seen since becoming an Invitee.

My affairs are not yet in order; there’s so much work to be done. I have so much reading to do (my pleasure!). I don’t know how much I can truly prepare for moving to the other side of the world, but I’m certainly having fun trying to do as much as possible. It’s been hard this week since time I had planned to have for PC preparation was spent grieving, mourning, celebrating a life and death.

My friends have been such a blessing lately, even though some of them are grieving, too. Friends who’ve fed me and hugged me are especially thanked. All of my friends keep me going these days, even as I prepare to “leave” them (we never really leave our friends behind). My biggest fear is no longer the uncertainty of my new life, but the departure from the strong support network I’ve developed here in Bloomington and maintained in Michigan. I reassure myself that everyone will still be here when I leave… continuing to support me, albeit indirectly. It will be strange to lack the common experiences I now share with my friends, the small things, the familiarities of life in the same town. Even if our paths reconnect, our lives for the next twenty-seven months will be diverged indescribably. This has great potential for beauty!

I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this as a sad posting. Though I’m busy and there aren’t enough hours in the day, this isn’t a new development. I always feel that way. This week has been long and tiring. My spirit needs a few days to recouperate… and I’m afraid I may not have that kind of free time.

In Memoriam, MTL, November 2, 1986 – February 15, 2010.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Aspiration Statement

How This Happened, Part II: “Heart Stuff” to follow.

Here’s what I wrote for my Aspiration Statement, which will be given to host country staff along with my updated resume. I won’t post the questions I was asked, but you can probably figure them out from the responses given.


A. My aspirations during my Peace Corps service are both professional and personal in nature.

My professional aspirations include developing an increased awareness of student needs; further strengthening my ability to work closely with others to achieve common goals; easily maintain positive professional relationships through communication and shared long-term goals; understand my needs as a teacher and facilitator and feel comfortable requesting the assistance of experienced professionals; improve the school culture at my workplace by participating in extra-curricular activities; provide structure by scaffolding so that my community and school can achieve goals independently;  and to help teachers and students by fully utilizing the professional attributes I have gained in the States. These include dedication and organization; extensive knowledge of the construction and implementation of lesson plans; integrating available technology into teaching practices; differentiating instruction and assessment to cater to all learning types; a deep interest in cross-curricular education; creative problem solving and classroom management strategies (including participatory learning techniques); and the ability to relate instructional matters to the personal lives of students, thereby building meaningful relationships with them. I wish to help counterpart teachers develop their skills in these areas as well.

Personally, I hope to develop emotionally, spiritually, and mentally throughout the course of my Peace Corps service. I wish to see the country and people of Indonesia and to develop lasting friendships; acquire a new language; learn the nuances and viewpoints of Indonesian culture; experience the world from a non-American perspective; see the geographical and historical landmarks of Indonesia; learn about Islam and those who practice it; challenge myself to live a more modest lifestyle; and understand more deeply the essence of myself and my spirit through pursuing my artistic aspirations and building new relationships. Additionally, I seek to push myself to my limits and succeed by moving past them; gain a greater understanding of my place in the world and the web of human connectedness; develop my problem solving skills; feel the satisfaction of taking part in something larger than myself; and to experience the pride of knowing my work will help future volunteers contribute to the long-term betterment of cross-cultural relations between Americans and Indonesians. Through reflection and self-awareness, I seek to equip myself with the knowledge and sensitivity to return to the United States and teach my friends, family, and fellow citizens about the country and people of Indonesia.

B. Flexibility, creativity, and patience are the broad strategies I wish to use to increase the effectiveness of my work with host country partners. To meet expressed needs, I will draw on my experiences as both a teacher and student in numerous educational settings (particularly in the challenging arena of teaching as an outsider on the Navajo Nation). These experiences include communicating and brainstorming with counterparts and co-teachers; using direct assessment and student input to develop methods for meeting student needs; refining lesson plans through execution, reflection, and revision; and using my strong theoretical background in education originating from my university classes and personal research into best pedagogical practices. In terms of working with host country partners, I will be open-minded and flexible as well as patient with myself (and my partners) in handling communication and cultural differences. I will work towards full language development and cultural understanding through participating in and reflecting on community events, which will help me to gain the perspective and skills necessary for constructively achieving expressed goals. Because my counterparts in Indonesia are a resource that I can consult to more firmly grasp the nature of student and teacher needs, I will strive to fully understand their perspectives and to maintain a calm approach to any frustrations I or others may experience. I also wish to be as open as possible (without cultural impropriety) so that others may understand my capabilities as a teacher and human being; my intention to fully complete my term as a Volunteer; and my willingness to help those who wish for my assistance. Open communication, including professional conflict resolution strategies, is the means by which goals can be realized and achieved, so I will strive to maintain an open and non-threatening channel for communication. Finally, I will remember throughout my service that I am working with my counterparts and their students in order to help them achieve their goals, not working to propagate my own interests or beliefs; recognition and understanding of my own purpose as a volunteer will help me work effectively with counterparts to achieve expressed needs.

C. There are several strategies that I hope will successfully aid me in adapting to a new culture with respect to my own cultural background. Though I am a guest in Indonesia, I will be unique because of the planned length of my tenure there and my intention to embrace Indonesian culture through language acquisition and cultural adaptation. I view myself as a constant learner, despite my purpose as an educator; the learning/teaching exchange will, I hope, be mutual. Being open-minded and emotionally and mentally prepared to move beyond my traditional comfort zones are two qualities I hope to employ as I venture into Indonesian culture. I am an extremely flexible, level-headed, highly sensitive, and understanding person. All of these qualities will help me adapt to Indonesian culture with greater ease. I am not afraid to ask questions, seek clarification, or display my cultural and linguistic vulnerability if it means I will gain knowledge and respect. Furthermore, I am not afraid to make sacrifices or uphold cultural mores or requirements in order to maintain a respectful relationship with Indonesian community members, even if I disagree with them (for example, I will wear a headscarf to an event if someone suggests it to be more proper. Of course, this statement does not apply to dangerous or illegal situations). I also intend to maintain a high level of self-reflection and intellectual rigor with respect to decoding and analyzing cultural situations. This will help me more deeply understand Indonesian culture. Gaining experiential knowledge by simply living and being in Indonesia is something to which I greatly look forward, as is teaching Indonesian friends about my culture and self.

D. During my pre-service training I will acquire new skills and gain knowledge that will help me best to serve my future community and the projects I will begin therein. I hope to be provided with basic tools that will ease my efforts to assimilate or adapt to Indonesian culture. Though I believe I will learn an enormous amount of information about a wide range of subjects, including Bahasa Indonesia, I do not view pre-service training as an all-encompassing course in culture or language. Pre-service training will be a foundation for my future learning and development; without a strong foundation manifest in a basic understanding of language and culture, efforts to serve a community would be inefficient and their results temporary. I hope to learn just enough– just enough Bahasa Indonesia; just enough about Islam; just enough about local customs and etiquettes; just enough about current events; just enough about history and politics; just enough about food, dance, and entertainment– to feel comfortable to enter my community prepared to continue learning about all of these topics (and more) at the rigorous pace demanded by complete cultural immersion. My goal is to leave pre-service training minimally competent in the basics of culture and language. This will ensure that my transition into my new community is a smooth one. If I can successfully transition, I can begin to make an impact more quickly and with more lasting results. Additionally, during pre-service training I hope to begin to build relationships with colleagues and fellow volunteers so that I have a support network to help me more effectively serve my community. By the time I leave training and depart for my individual assignment site, I hope to have met some new Indonesian friends and colleagues as well, which will help me feel grounded in a time of extreme change and adjustment.

E. After my service ends, my personal and professional aspirations will, I hope, be positively altered and influenced.

If I succeed in realizing the personal aspirations described above (Section A), I will be positively self-actualized and able to feel confident in setting challenging goals for myself and working toward achieving them. Though I have set and achieved goals throughout my life, the self-reflection and intention-setting am experiencing as I prepare for service are deeper than I have ever encountered. I feel that my Indonesian Peace Corps service will help me understand this level of depth of spirit and purpose and how to continue using it to my advantage after I return to the States and continue to travel and work. I believe that my service will strongly influence my personal aspirations at a foundational level because of the wealth of experience I will gain; the ways I will learn to share and grow with others; the many and varied personal friendships and professional relationships I will develop; and the inner challenges and struggles I will overcome.

There is the potential, I believe, for complete change in my professional aspirations as well. Because I am a young professional and have not yet decided my ultimate career path or field of further academic pursuit, the Peace Corps has great potential to heavily influence my future. Serving in Indonesia will be the most significant undertaking of my life thus far and could help me realize my true goals and how to achieve them. Certainly, the Peace Corps (and Indonesia) will make me a stronger teacher and human being, which will benefit me in any professional realm. Though I have always felt the need to serve through direct action and education, I hope the Peace Corps will give me a greater skill set for achieving my goals in these areas. Learning how to develop programs and strategies to assist others instead of following directions or an already established path will give me great satisfaction, pride, and confidence. Completing my term of service will be the realization of a long-term goal to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer.