Group Update from Indonesia

In Transit (Intro by Jacqueline Lydon)

Whether during travel periods or our daily routines in Yogyakarta, our Bridge Year lives seem to be constantly in transit.

After our two days of cross-global plane rides to reach Indonesia, we arrived in an area just south of Jogja. The first night, our group sat together under the stars, and our instructors asked us to ground ourselves in the idea that we had really arrived, here on the other side of the world. At that time, we were jet-lagged and unaware of what it really meant to be in Indonesia, of what Indonesia would come to mean to us. That realization grows gradually every day here as we both learn to love the country and the people we meet, and learn about ourselves in personal and global contexts with the help of its many cultures.

Following orientation, our first month was marked by travel. We travelled by van to a rural village in the Yogyakarta region, where we stayed in homestays and got our first tastes of the cultures, foods, and landscapes of Indonesia.

We then took a 14-hour train ride to Banyuwangi in East Java. We explored forests, jungles, volcanoes, beaches, and oceans there with everything from hikes to snorkeling in the ocean. Each day mixed those beautiful views with experiential learning from guest speakers -- scientists, local guides, and local political leaders -- relating to the environment and conservation.

Another train ride later, we returned to Jogja, this time seeing the city for the first time. We stayed there for a week, wandering on foot and trying out traditional transportation like the becak (a bicycle with passenger seats on the front).

We slowed down and settled into our new routines there. We found places for ourselves within our new homestay families and NGO placements, and started language classes. 

Now, almost halfway through the program, we have grown accustomed to those routines. With that stability, we became more in tune to other kinds of changes. Now we focus on the little shifts in daily life, like the growth of friendships; or change and growth within ourselves, such as taking initiative with group activities; or the rapid flow of time, as the rainy season begins and we mark the midpoint of our program.

We decided to recollect our time in Indonesia by reflecting on our lives in transit, focusing both on the myriad forms of transportation we rely on, and on the other less tangible ways we mark our transitions here. Each group member chose a form of transportation, including everything from the public bus to the way daily shifts in time impact us. We have found that it’s in these moments of transit, these seemingly mundane shifts in place or time, are catalysts for reflection on our experience here. 

Eva’s piece marks our entry into Bridge Year as soon as we got on the plane. Owen writes about returning to biking as his main mode of transition. Grady reflects on what a late bus means for his sense of routine. Allie tracks her mood and the sun throughout the day. Jasmine takes us through her Google Maps and daily commute. Aneekah focuses on a rainy drive and what it means to slow down. Elliott shows how walking everyday grounds him in the community. Each participant of BYP Indo 3.0 has reflected on transition in a different way.

The Plane by Eva Jordan

The plane ride out of JFK was obviously the first step of our physical journey, but it also became an emotional journey that I was neither expecting nor prepared for. As I felt the plane leave the runway and take to the clouds, I was hit by the fact that there was no going back. I was officially committed to Bridge Year for nine entire months, and I could not take it back anymore.

At first, we were all exhilarated, feeling the adrenaline rush of leaving for this crazy adventure. We talked and laughed and played games, and I’m sure we were hugely annoying to the other passengers in our cabin. As the 21-hour trip drug on though, we settled down some. We went back to our seats and plugged in headphones, watched movies, journaled, or slept.

I started listening to music, but my thoughts wandered back to this journey I was about to start. Was I really leaving everything I knew for 9 months? This is not to say that I was regretting my decision - I was thrilled to be going to Indonesia, all the way to the other side of the world - I was just struck by the irrevocability. Before, this trip had just been something I had planned, but on the plane it was suddenly very real. How would I overcome all the challenges I would face without the support system I had back home? Would I be able to handle homesickness, especially around the holidays? What about Bridge Year itself - would I be able to get as much out of this experience as I was supposed to? Would I be able to do it “right”? I started to get that feeling when you think there is going to be one more step in a flight of stairs but there is no’t, and your foot just falls through empty air. That brief moment of panic.

The thing is, your foot always lands. You may not have known where, but it does. In the four short months since leaving home, I have already built cherished relationships with my homestay family, my co-workers at my NGO, and my Bridge Year cohort, and I have a support system I can rely on. I am constantly surprised by how connected I already feel to Indonesia, and how comfortable I feel here. I have found spaces that feel like home and things that spark my passion in and for this place.

One of these sources of passion has been learning about the environment and conservation here in Indonesia. I have fallen in love with the new landscapes and ecosystems, from coral reefs pulsing with color and life in Komodo to rainforests in Flores so dense the sky becomes a memory, but my first taste of environmentalism came before the plane even landed in Yogyakarta.

Part-way through our flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Jogja, I remember looking out the window and being astonished by the vast green sprawl of trees. After a few seconds, though, I recognized the uniform rows (and rows and rows) so reminiscent of my home in rural Virginia. We weren’t flying over one of Indonesia’s beautiful rainforests that I had been so looking forward to, but rather a massive palm oil plantation. I was shocked. In the U.S. we hear about palm oil plantations and the negative effects of huge monocultures, and sometimes we even avoid palm oil when it’s convenient for us. Seeing it was different, the way the unvarying green threateningly stretched to the horizon, eating up all in sight. It made me want to do something, and I felt much more passionate about environmentalism at that moment than I ever did at home. 

Since then, we have learned a lot about environmentalism here. We have had discussions with local leaders in eco-tourism, conservation efforts, and learned about local agriculture. On the plane, our global need for environmentalism felt very real to me for the first time, and it has become a passion I want to take with me back to Princeton. This is just one example of the many things and people who have made me feel like my foot finally landed here in Indonesia. 

Biking by Owen Travis

Over the course of our first semester in Indonesia, the Bridge Year Indonesia cohort has been “In Transit” quite a lot. Throughout our journey, the instructors granted us increasing levels of autonomy and responsibility. A few days into orientation, Jasmine and I received permission to go on a short run in the area around the cultural house where we were staying. Then, after one week of living in Nglanggeran, each member of the group was tasked with individually navigating through town to our evening destination. Most recently, for a student-planned excursion, we were responsible for reaching out to an Indonesian travel company and securing our own means of transport. However, for me, the most significant enhancement of mobility and trust took place the day I received my bicycle.

In my home town of Evanston, I was a frequent bike rider. On most mornings, I could regularly be seen pounding on the pedals so as to not be late to school. I was also a soccer referee and I would frequently bike to my games at the field just down the street. Even after receiving my driver’s license, biking was often my preferred mode of transport. Instead of having to appeal to my parents for a car every time I felt like leaving the house, it was simpler to just ride the ten or fifteen minutes to my destination. It was freeing. Here in Jogja, while so much my life is new—from the climate to the language—the freedom I feel when perched behind my handlebars is the same. Biking grants me the ability to check out a coffee shop on the other side of town, make a morning trip to the gym, or visit another family for dinner, the same way it would in the United States.

Moreover, while everything from food to footwear is happily shared by my homestay family and me, the bike is one item that I am happy to call my own, at least until the end of the program. On the first night with my homestay family, my bapak (father) offered me two bikes to choose from: a rickety number with a hard seat and a short gray one with wide handlebars. I chose the gray, which my bapak then helped me adjust so that it would fit me perfectly. Later, we went to a local hardware store so that I could pick out a lock and a light for my handlebars. Even though these were small choices and alterations, they gave me a sense of ownership when everything seemed so new and unfamiliar. This ownership means that every day I can count on having a mode of transport available should I wish to go into the city. As long as I’m willing to get a bit sweaty, I can forgo the long wait for the bus or the expense of a rideshare; the bike enables me to reach anywhere in Jogja.

Of course, having my own bike also comes with responsibilities. When my back brake cable snapped two weeks after arriving in Jogja—thankfully, not while I was moving—it was up to me to get it repaired. This presented quite a challenge for me after just eight days of formal language classes and barely any sense of direction. I set off towards the market and eventually found my way back to the hardware store where I had bought the lock. The owners recognized me right away as one of the only foreigners who had visited their store in the past two weeks. I demonstrated the problem to them by saying the Indonesian word for “broken,” which I had looked up at home, and by pretending to ride the bike into a telephone pole. They got the idea. Soon thereafter, all three of us were crouched around my back wheel, each holding a different tool or a different part of the brake. Then, without warning, the power went out in the entire neighborhood. We sat in the dark for ten seconds, hoping it was only a momentary pause. When the hum of the streetlamps remained decidedly absent, the shop owners' daughter came over holding a flashlight and we got back to work.

When we finally straightened up, the new brake cable successfully installed, the four of us exchanged wide smiles. The owners charged me Rp. 15.000—about the price of an evening coffee—before shaking my hand and sending me on my way. I rode home on the dark streets, but if the lights had returned they would have illuminated my beaming face. Not only had I successfully stumbled through an Indonesian conversation and completed a solo trip out to the market, but I had also regained my freedom of mobility. For a few days, I had been walking or forced to slowly coast from place to place, for fear of careening off the road with my brakeless bike. Now, I was back: back behind my handlebars, back to moving, back to exploring. Alive again.

Routines and Roofs by Grady Trexler

I count my minutes on the bus in terracotta and corrugated tin: it is only the tips of the roofs that I can see when I am sitting down in my seat. All in all, I spend about six hours waiting for or riding the bus every week. 2A to UNY, where I take language classes, then 2B to my service site, then 2A back home. This has been a pretty established routine for me here in Jogja.

I like routine. Around week three of our first month of travel around Java in September, my excitement for seeing new places was turning rather rapidly into a sense of vertigo and existential fatigue. I was tired of trying to adjust to a new bed and pillow every few nights. I was sick of waking up at a different time everyday. I was getting antsy to settle down and put roots down in Jogja. 

I like routine. Since being here, I get up at around the same time most days, drink my coffee, eat breakfast, shower - usually in that order - and then bike with Owen to the bus stop or to the program house, depending on the day. Bus stop for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, program house for Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. The bus has been a happy cog in this routine machine. I know the bus lines I take everyday - of which there are only two - and usually recognize the people working at the stop; sometimes even other patrons. I feel comfortable. The rhythm of my day to day whirs predictably along.

When the bus is late, I do not take it very well. I have waited sometimes upwards of an hour for the bus, and the problem is getting worse as rainy season begins. I start to feel the same way I do on a long trip - hyper, anxious, frantic. I am not late to anything in a major way. There will be dinner at my homestay regardless of if I get there right at six or closer to seven. But I am late. The machine is rusty, creaking, and the rhythm is thrown off. 

It’s like music. I like my music calculated and precise. I sang acapella in high school; I like neat harmonies, I like resolved melodies, I like when every note is perfectly attuned to every other note as to minimize dissonance. As you can imagine, jazz has been a challenge for me - play the right note, damnit! - and I will never be able to listen to Brubeck’s compositions in 5:4 without feeling a pit in my stomach. 

At first, Javanese music gave me a similar feeling. Javanese music is famous for its gamelan, which uses an entirely different musical scale. A gamelan orchestra tunes its instruments specifically to introduce a little bit of dissonance into the sound. Gamelan music is hard to describe until you hear it. There is a certain tension in the sound that was a little unnerving for me at first, caused by the undulating sound waves crashing into each other, creating a sort of planned dissonance. Moreover, it is hard to pick out a specific time signature. One note mixes into the next at its leisure. You will not find complex harmonies here; in fact, we have learned that most gamelan music is not written down. The result is something quite different than the type of Western music I was accustomed to, but sounds much more full and encompassing. At once, it is both relaxing and eerie, serene and anxious. When I hear a gamelan, particularly a live one, I can almost see the soundwaves clashing in the air. The music is muddy, shades of yellow, orange and brown, with unresolved and undefined edges. Each note expands into the other until they are replaced by the next, nothing sounds late or early.

When the bus is late, the rhythm of my day is thrown off, the moment I’m at the bus stop expanding longer than I expected like the note from the gamelan. I’m the only one at the stop that seems upset. The attendants laugh when they tell me that the bus will be another twenty minutes; the other patrons joke back and forth with them and with each other. This is very emblematic of the Indonesian idea of jam karet - rubber time. Schedules hold less weight than they do in the West. I need to be careful here - the way time is conceptualized here is so radically different than the way I have always thought of it that I’m still struggling to understand it, and I am using a Western lexicon to describe a decidedly un-Western thing. From what I can deduce, Indonesians are much more concerned about the present moment than they are with planning for the next. I have also heard it said that a life for an Indonesian doesn’t consist of minutes marching one after another, but instead a series of infinitely large and small disconnected moments. The only one that holds the most weight is the present. 

Like the notes from the gamelan, the time I spend waiting for the bus bleeds into the other parts of my routine. If the morning bus is late, then I will have less time in language class, which will then cut into my NGO time. But if I am late to my office, my boss is never mad; if I am late coming home, my ibu just asks me what I was doing. They are not worried about the time on the clock; they are happy that I am there, now. The sounds of my daily machine sound a lot less predictable but a lot more interesting. I am learning how to let go of my need for routine. Instead of looking out the window of the bus and seeing a series of roofs to be counted and minutes going by and time being lost, I see a city in all its beauty.

Selamat Sore (Happy Evening) by Allie Matthias

Pagi, 4am to 10:30am. I wake up, shower, and pack my bag for my day. The nearby Kotagede market is already in full motion by the time I wish my Ibu (homestay mother) “Assalamualaikum” as she leaves for work. I finish getting ready then sit down for a quick breakfast that my Ibu made in the early dawn light of the morning. After washing my dishes and locking the doors to the house, I wait for Jacqueline, my neighbor, to bike together to the program house or bus stop. All of Kotagede has been long awake by the time my routine pagi begins, the gears of the city turning since the first morning prayer at 4:30am. 

Siang, 10:30am to 3pm. The group finishes our Bahasa Indonesian class at UNY. We begin to weave our way through the maze of streets and alleys outside the university in pursuit of a coffee shop to eat our lunch, with Jasmine leading the charge. Each member of the group leaves one by one from there to their NGOs. With my NGO, a reproductive health initiative for youth, I take photos, give presentations on my research, and visit their clinics. With my coworkers, I have travelled to the mountainous areas outside the city, learned to dance in a Javanese style, and laughed with them about anomalies in the English and Indonesian languages. At siang, each member of the group becomes independent. We form relationships outside of the group, explore new parts of Jogja alone, and create our own experiences. This time is structured and sometimes stressful, as I have to be thinking one step ahead of how to translate conversations, what I could be doing to help, and whether I am using my resources enough to maximize these experiences. 

Sore, 3pm to 6pm. I finish at my NGO, yelling out “sampai jumpa!” (“see you later!”) as I exit the office. I meet up with Jasmine, and we attempt to find a new nearby thai tea or coffee stand to get a caffeine buzz at before taking a GoCar (Indonesian Uber) home. A feeling of peace comes over me; I have finished my tasks for the day, and it’s time to go home—go home to the group and my homestay family. On the GoCar back to Kotagede, we cross a bridge that connects the north of the city with the south. From this point, one of the highest points in the city, we can make out all the pink and orange hues that wash over the sky. The sunset has become a daily reminder of the beauty and strangeness of Jogja, the ephemeral nature of this year, and the singularity of each day. The light has all but trickled away once we arrive at the program house, and by the time I bike home, sore ends.

Sore was always my favorite time of day in the U.S., but that time of day lacked a proper word to label it in English. Sore is unique to Indonesia, and I only understood its difference with siang once I settled into my Jogja routine. Both are taught as “afternoon,” although the times are separated by the position of the sun, meals eaten, and the end of the work or school day. For a few hours a day, in sore, life feels like a painting, an impermanent splash of watercolors decorating the sky. The essence of sore is transitional; the lighting is pink and golden until it fades away completely and night begins. Sore is one of the shortest times of the day in Indonesia, but it remains my favorite. In these moments of transition and change, I have been able to gain clarity on parts of myself. In sore, I have found that no matter the place, whether it be the U.S. or Indonesia, I love connecting with people, sharing a drink or meal, and putting myself in new situations. In the U.S., in sore, I finish with school and afternoon activities, eat dinner or snacks with my parents, friends, or siblings, and take a moment to breathe and reflect on my day. In Indonesia, 10,000 miles away, I still do the same. In pagi and siang, I push myself out of my comfort zone, trying to soak in every moment of cultural immersion. In sore, I can explore Jogja and Indonesian life in my own way. I find hidden corners of Jogja when searching for a place to rest and meet up with other members of the group, stumbling upon rice fields along the alleys, empowering activist street art, and pop-up t-shirt shops. I digest my day with Jasmine, enthuse about new realizations, and reflect on where I am and what I am doing here. Sore is the perfect point in the limbo of this year, when I take more risks and break the routine, but doing so with the people I have grown to love. 

Malam, 6pm to 10pm. I shower, change, and eat dinner with my homestay parents, chatting about our days. I meet up with the group at Elliott’s family’s angkringan (a traditional cafe of sorts), Jacqueline’s porch, or my kitchen. We come together again at night to discuss our days and joke around with each other. We talk with each other’s homestay families and embrace the community of Kotagede until we all go home again and go to bed. 

Each pagi, siang, sore, and malam marks the transitions in our days. With the routines we have set to each of these periods, every moment feels as though it passes by slowly. But, each pagi, each day, and each week passes by before I even realized. Everyday the routine repeats itself, but everyday, I am focused on the moment. Through the transitions in these times, I am living in the present, finally, focused on soaking in this experience and taking risks.

Commutes & Coffee by Jasmine Berger

My time in Jogja has been dictated by two things: commutes and coffee. I am always in transit. And always in search of a good cup of coffee. A day in the life more or less follows the same pattern: bike to the program house, walk to the bus stop, get on the bus, bus stop again, walk to class, stop for coffee, class, more coffee, gocar to NGO… and on and on until 12 hours, 5 modes of transportation and two coffee shops later, I end up back at my house. My day is a whirlwind of places, events, and transportation.

Because I have settled into a routine, I sometimes go through my day aimlessly, hopping from place to place without really thinking. I think I am so busy during the rest of the day - from language class to NGOs to program activities to spending time with homestay families -  that the only time I have to reflect on what I’m doing and where I’m going is when I’m on the way to these activities - when I’m in transit. Because it is when I’m in transit – whipping through the city in a gocar, hustling through the streets in Transjogja, biking through the narrow alleyways of Kotagede – it is when I’m in transit that it hits me that I’m really in Indonesia.

We still have six months left. Some days, this number scares me. Some days, I cannot fathom how I am going to spend the next five months with the same people, doing the same thing at the same places. But then there are these moments in transit, where I have never felt more grounded, reflective, and aware of where I am and what I’m doing. When I look out the huge windows of Transjogja, gaze out the open doors of my family’s van, or navigate the city on my bike, the reality of my situation sinks in: never in my life will I ever have the opportunity to do something like this again. I only have nine 9 months to live in a foreign country with a homestay family… and four of them have already passed. I feel this sense of urgency – I have to take everything in: the scenery, the feeling, the moment – I need to remember everything before it’s over.

This feeling of time as a finite concept overcomes me. As I pass all of the coffee shops, art museums, parks, warungs, markets - I am overwhelmed by the places I have to visit before I leave. How did I let myself get stuck in such a routine when there is so much left to explore?

This is where google maps comes in. Having the furthest NGO from the homestay community gives me a lot of ground to cover in the city. Everyday as I travel from the south to the north end of Jogja, I diligently mark down every place that catches my eye. Month four of the program, and I now have over 100 places starred in my “want to go section.” When I zoom out of google maps, the city of Jogja is littered with the places I starred, snaking around the city to form a path that traces my daily commute.

I plan my days around coffee shops and exhibits, adding in stops on the way to and from language classes or my NGO to venture out and explore. Although draining at times, the many forms of transportation and stops I take along the way is my way of seeing Jogja. It breaks up the monotony of my day. It allows me to keep exploring despite routine. This constant hunger I feel to know every inch of this city keeps me alert when I am in transit - I no longer operate on autopilot. When I embody this mindset, when I am in transit, I can not get enough of my surroundings, the cultural vibrancy, and the overall feeling of freedom and potential. It's moments like these that I already feel myself missing. It’s moments like these where I remember how finite my time in Indonesia is.

Nine months – a small blip in the grand scheme of my life. I have to remember every detail - so when I am back at my dorm room, studying, living a “normal” college life, I can remember that one time in Indonesia where I’ve never felt so alive. I have to hold onto this moment before it’s gone...

And then, it is. My time in transit, a time where I can focus on exploration and optimization of my time in Indonesia, is left to be returned to later. My trip is over, and I am pulled out of the world of google maps and coffee shop adventures, stepping back into reality. I park my bike, pay my gocar driver, or hop off the bus. I watch as my mode of transportation zips off, daydreaming about the next time I’ll get to ride through the streets of Jogja.

Pak Wafiq’s Jeep by Aneekah Uddin

During the first real downpour of the rainy season, I found myself in the front passenger seat of Pak Wafiq’s, Elliott’s homestay father’s, open-air Jeep. The sun had set but Jogja still felt alive. As we drove down packed streets, I sat still, trying to take in everything. My eyes followed the mesmerizing beams of store light, the hurried commotion of motorbikes, and the gentle plunge of each droplet onto the pavement. The sounds poured in through the jeep and out into the night.

I attempted to focus on each specific sound or fixate my eyes on an individual thing. For a second I could hear and see a single specific raindrop. Abruptly afterward, the raindrop is whisked out of focus, as the jeep continued wheeling itself through the maze of streets and alleyways.

Plunk. A small drop of water landed on my foot. Somehow it had leaked through the windshield and into the car. Concerned, I scanned the interior of the Jeep. I noticed the exposed electronics, the weathered seat cushion, and the metal bars that functioned as the car door. By no means was the Jeep’s interior fully finished, yet I loved it. I could immerse myself in the passing environment, more than I could with any other mode of transportation. The Jeep meant adventure and feeling free. I could stick my head out the window and feel the raindrops on my face or the wind tousle my hair back. I could sniff chicken satay contrasting with the rain. The Jeep removed the filter over my senses while in transport.

Red Light. We rolled to a stop. Around me, I made out faces of people on motorbikes and they could see me. I was not hidden from my environment. We shared the same space, a street corner in Jogja, at the same time, a Sunday night, 104 seconds before the next green light. Green Light. And the environment I was just a part of for a little less than two minutes is far behind me. I leave myself open and vulnerable by embracing that I am not hiding behind a car door or a windowpane.

Three months ago, I would not have ridden in an open-air jeep during a rainstorm. Now, the allure of being so close to my environment pushes me to ride in the Jeep even more. Three months into Bridge Year, I am pushing myself to open up to the environment around me as I move through it: Just yesterday, I conversed with my homestay parents about religion, local belief, and marriage. Or a few weeks ago, I was joking with the neighborhood pack of little boys on my walk home. And even, this morning, I introduce myself to each of the neighborhood women as we gather for a neighbor’s funeral. Through these moments of making myself visible to the world around me, I am able to have meaningful moments and connections with the world that I am living in. As the holidays roll around back at home, I recognize that I still have a community of people here, even if I relocated myself 10,000 miles away just twelve weeks ago.

Even with six months left, I feel as if I am running out of time to do all I possibly can in Indonesia. I start to cram my weekends, attempting to take on more than possible with the amount of time I have. While I’ve already seen Borobudur or spent time at events with my homestay family, there’s so much left. When can I see Prambanan Temple or explore the traditional Sunday Morning Market?

In the Jeep, I realize slowing down can be much more impactful. Focusing on a specific person, place or thing will help me continue to make meaningful connections with my homestay sister or the other interns at my NGO. Those connections ground me and solidify my memories of Jogja. From now on, I have to be able to fully immerse myself in a new world and treat every day as an adventure to connect, rather than a plan to just do. 

Wandering Footsteps by Elliott Hyon 

Who am I? 

As I stand between the cusp of my childhood and adulthood, I realize that this question has gradually grown in importance for me in these past 18 years. In fact, I came to Bridge Year seeking a delay on my entrance to adulthood as well as answers. Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear of growing up. Fear of responsibility. Fear of independence. These were catalysts and my reaction was Bridge Year.

When my mind is filled with abstract questions in Indonesia, I turn to what worked for me in the US-- walking. Walking grounds me and lets me create space from what is causing confusion and fear in my life. And in Indonesia, walking has taken on more meaning. It’s strange how a simple and universal motion can become nuanced.

Initially, I hated walking in Indonesia. In Tembi, the heat and humidity suffocated me and every walk left me dripping with sweat. I was not adjusted to the climate and so, I abstained from walking unless we had a destination in mind.

This changed in Nglanggeran Village. Here, I learned about a key difference about walking in America and Indonesia. Living in Los Angeles, I learned to avert my eyes from everyone, drowned out every sound with my music, and treated people as if they were part of the backdrop. People were merely accessories to a colorless setting. That included me.

This is not the case in Indonesia. The spirit of community is far greater than my desire to be unnoticed. When I walk down the street, I am greeted with “Mau ke mana?” or “As-salāmu alaykum” or “Monggo”. The greetings all differ, but their expression of compassion remains the same. This mindful attitude pervades every interaction I have. People care - even when you do not want them to.

I began to walk. In Bangsring, I saw how the rich hues of crimson, orange, and purple dived into the crash of ocean waves against the shore. In Jogja, I find myself weaving between motorcycles and warungs and moving from coffee shops to rice paddies within a single street. The scenery is both urban and pastoral and the shift in scenery always puts me in a meditative mood.

And so, I pursue this question. Who am I? I have always thought of myself in the framework of rugged individualism and competition advanced by America. I am an individual, self-reliant from everyone and everything. I now realize how false this idea was.

In Indonesia, I have learned that at my core, I am part of a community. I represent several communities– my amazing homestay family, America, Princeton University, Where There Be Dragons, and so many more. Every human interaction I have had on this program has taught me to be grateful for the altruism a community can show. I am still an individual, but one that is connected to so many other people.

One night, Allie and I forgot the way to her house. Turning in futility, we asked for directions from a stranger. “Di mana Bu Sri?” To our surprise, she did not hesitate and pointed in the right direction. We followed our directions and when we arrived home, Allie’s homestay mom had already received a text from the woman about us. I cannot name even three people in my neighborhood yet Kotagede, our neighborhood in Indonesia, was so connected that we could rely on the kindness of strangers in a foreign environment to help us find our way.

My life often feels like a directionless cadence, its footprints meandering down a road with no destination in sight. But sometimes, it takes a wrong turn to find the right place.

Bridge Year Indonesia