I chose Fulbright because I knew that I wanted to gain more experience living and working outside of the U.S. to prepare for a future in international relations. I also wanted to know what it was like to be a teacher and to learn about school systems in other countries that I could share that knowledge. Furthermore, I didn’t want to commit to a long length of time abroad – like 2 years of Peace Corps – at the time that I applied to Fulbright.
When I got to my location, I first unpacked and organized my new room! I always like to spend a few hours upon arrival to a new place doing these things because it helps me to wind down after traveling and create a space that is truly ‘mine’ to come back to right away.
When things are everywhere or packed up all in suitcases in my living space, I can’t relax and focus on what truly matters – living and teaching here in Indonesia.
I brought my stuffed tiger (given to me by my grandparents) and a small beanbag turtle (via Japan-America Student Conference 64) with me because they both remind me of home and the friends that I’ve made in my life’s journey. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for the family and friends I have made along the way and having a reminder of them halfway across the world is a daily comfort.
The trip to get here was long; both in time spent on a plane and to become a Fulbrighter in general! ☺ Where I live in Indonesia – a city called Pangkal Pinang, which is the regional capital of a medium-sized island called Bangka – is just about equidistance from my home in Massachusetts. It took about 24 hours of total time on a plane (Boston – New York – Hong Kong – Jakarta – Pangkal Pinang) and another 9 or so sitting in airports waiting for my connecting flights. It was long but I met up with some of my fellow ETAs throughout the journey and made some new friends along the way!
As for the trip to become a Fulbrighter being long too, as an Ada Comstock Scholar, I had a few stops and starts on my educational pathway. The 10-year gap between graduating from high school and graduating from Smith was both wonderful and difficult and taught me a lot about myself and about the world. Even when I graduated from Smith in 2013 – I didn’t expect to become a Fulbrighter two years later! I’ve found though that life sometimes has a funny way of setting you on the paths you need; just not in ways you may expect.
Something I have never done before is scuba dive! I actually have not done this in Indonesia yet either but I’m really looking forward to learning over the next few months so that I can experience all the stellar diving spots that that I plan to visit after my grant year is over.
I was surprised by the friendliness of every person I have so far met in Indonesia. I have made countless new friends as well as new families here. People say hello whenever I pass by on my bike rides to school or to the markets and shops. I am invited to dinners, outings, or just to come inside for a drink and to talk, any and all times of day. It may partly be because I am the first foreigner (bule in Indonesian) that some in my medium-sized city have seen, but I think it is mostly that Indonesians are the kindest, friendliest, most wonderful people in general. They share even if they do not have enough to share because it’s a part of their religious culture and because they know one day it will be returned.
I love going to school everyday! Being surrounded by the students and teachers on an almost daily basis is something I look forward to all the time. Whether I’m teaching, working on lesson plans at my desk (which usually turns into talking with teachers), chatting with the lunchroom workers, or watching a teacher’s singing contest, there is always something happening on campus and I love taking part in whatever I’m invited to (and even things that I am not).
When I am teaching I try to make it as fun as possible for my high school kids. Learning is hard, learning English harder. Added to that is the challenge that many of the students I teach won’t even need to use English in their daily lives after they graduate. Due to all of these factors, I try my best to make what they have to learn as engaging and interesting as I can. I’m hopeful that it will spark further interest in English outside of the classroom and if not I hope that the activities I include at least help to make class exciting.
At the end of each day, I take a moment to breathe. Indonesia is a majority Muslim country and as such, five times a day I am surrounded by the call to prayer (azan). My favorite thing to do is sit outside on the porch of my house around 5:30pm, listening to the evening call to prayer (Maghreb) and watching the clouds and the sun set past the houses in my neighborhood. It is in those moments where I take that deep breath and reflect on the day. (There is still a bit of the day left by then but usually it’s taken up with eating and getting ready to go to sleep.)
When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far I tell them that I haven’t stopped moving or learning from the second I stepped off the plane in Jakarta. Every day is new, different, and exciting. Whether it’s shopping by myself in the traditional markets, experiencing a sudden concert on a Saturday night in the city center, hanging around with friends talking late into the afternoon or evening, or driving four hours to a deserted but beautiful beach, there is always something to do outside of my time at school. At the Pre-Departure Orientation before I left, a previous ETA had this piece of advice, “Say yes to everything.” I’ve been doing just that and it’s helped to shape my experience so far into something incredible.
I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright DO IT, DO IT, DO IT‼!
Regardless of when you apply, the Fulbright experience and the process to get there will change your life.
If you’re not sure about it senior year, keep it in the back your mind for later. I did and I ended up in Indonesia! Fulbrighters are selected for their experience as much as for their ideas to research or their desire to teach. If you go out and teach, tutor, or do research for a few years, it will only help your application. Also don’t let age be a barrier, I am currently the oldest of the ETA cohort in Indonesia (at 31 years old) and there are many other Fulbright ETAs spread out across the world that are older too.
Smith’s application process can be draining – it takes weeks and sometimes months to whittle down a grant essay and personal statement into one single-spaced page with a lot of late nights, hours spent hunched over questionnaires and wording, and possibly tears in between.
However, it is absolutely worth it and not just if you win. The act of working on the application alone leads to many lessons about yourself – what experiences shape you, what your future might look like – and which of those experiences you can draw on in situations that you find yourself in as you move past college. (It also provides valuable experience writing grant proposals, which is always a useful skill to have!) So, if you’ve been thinking about it, take the leap. Send that inquiry email, go and talk to Ryan or Don. It’s hard, but you’ll be glad you did it regardless of the outcome. I promise.