A House Is Not a Home

Graphic of the text and image that Remzi received of his host family. The family is sitting with the father, mother, brother, and sister left to right. The description of the family, including names and professions are included below the image.

Bapak Ino is an insurance salesman. Ibu Sri is working at the nearby kindergarten in an admin role.* Diva is a university student and Ahnaf is a student in high school. The family likes to do activities together.”

These few sentences, alongside a family photo, were all I was given before entering my homestay in September. One thing left unmentioned was their house. 

I remember sitting in the living room of our final group homestay. After hearing these short descriptions of the families, everyone’s excited thoughts quickly turned towards the houses we would be staying in. Several failed attempts to find photos of our new homes on Google Maps only made us more restless and left us to wonder.

Left to right, Remzi's host father, Remzi, and Remzi's host mother. They are seated in front of a Where There Be Dragons logo at the program house.

Looking back, it seems so silly to have been so fixated on finding photos of our new homes when we already had our families’ pictures and descriptions. I did not realize that I had already seen my new home: the insurance salesman, the kindergarten administrator, the university student, and the high school student.

Move-in day was a blur of emotions, a mix of excitement, anxiety, uncertainty, and hope. I was unsure of what to expect from such a brief description. That was until I saw the insurance salesman and kindergarten administrator smiling brightly as they picked me up from the program house.

A brief car ride later, we had arrived at my new home. As soon as I entered, Bapak Ino became Ayah (father), and Ibu Sri, Mama (mother). 

They showed me to my room and gave me a little tour of the rest of the house, and that’s where I made these memories of my “home.”

Where the Birds Sing

Four birds hang in differently colored cages from a tree in front of Remzi's house

Pet birds are very popular in Indonesia. Some people collect them as signs of wealth or status and others simply enjoy listening to their calls. My Ayah breeds them and takes them to bird singing competitions, so we normally have five hanging in their cages above our front door. I asked my Mama what their names were and she said they never thought to name them. I promptly named them Noa, Allie, Clara, and Remzi, after all of their Bridge Year host children (this was before the fifth bird appeared, possibly a sign that they hope to continue as a homestay family). Sometimes, I like to take an extra moment and stand still or put on my bike helmet a bit slower just so I can enjoy the sunlight, the sounds of the birds, and the beautiful atmosphere. 

A view from the backseat of a car, capturing the back of a seat, the rearview mirror, and a view of the mountain through the windshield

Where Adventures Begin

The garage is the first room I enter after squeezing past the motorbikes and car. Each family member has their own motorbike and I have my bicycle, but the car is normally used when we go on family trips. We’ve gone to beaches, weddings, graduation parties, and out to eat together. One trip that will definitely stick with me is going to see Mt. Merapi, the active volcano that overlooks Jogja. It’s an ongoing joke with my parents that I will illegally climb it, but they still wanted me to see it up close because they knew how interested I was. For them, the mountain was just a regular backdrop that they’ve always lived with. To someone who doesn’t usually even have large hills nearby, Merapi is a sight of admiration that always grasps my attention when the sky is clear. My parents made the hour-long drive to its base twice in one week to get me a closer view. The first time it was too cloudy to see anything, so we woke up at 4 a.m. the next time and got an amazing glimpse of the volcano. 

Where Stories Are Exchanged

Bagaimana harimu?” How was your day? This is the usual question my Ayah first asks me when I get home. If it’s been a long day, my response might be a bit blunt, but I always appreciate the interest and make sure to go into further detail after resting a bit. The whole family doesn’t always eat together, but my Mama almost always joins me during my meals. My Ayah will also normally sit with us if he doesn’t have to work late. Also, I don’t think he’s ever missed an opportunity to tell me to eat more food when he’s there. Dinner with my parents is also when I attempt to practice any new affixes or words that I learned throughout the day, always pointing and smirking to make sure my Mama notices. Normally, she’ll either laugh because of the face I make or because of my misuse of the word. Ahnaf and his friends enjoy hanging out in the kitchen in the morning and during their mid-day break from school as well. The first time I met most of them was when I came out of the shower with just a towel on and was surprised to see about 10 high school boys sitting right outside, staring at me. Now, those encounters are more expected and I make sure to greet them and ask a question or two.

Where We Cool Down

This is the one room in the house with air conditioning. It’s also where we receive guests and sit and chat. Similar to every other Indonesian household, we keep a table of snacks there that are always offered to these guests. Usually, I end up eating a good portion of them during my free time when I like to lie on the couch and relax. My Mama and Diva always keep the snacks stocked and will conveniently buy more of anything that I’ve ever mentioned I’ve enjoyed. Some of the guests are Diva’s friends who she will always introduce me to. There are a couple that I’ve become familiar with and these interactions are always filled with lots of jokes and hearty conversation. This is also the place to act silly and break down laughing together. It’s where I “practice” my Javanese singing, which has awful resemblance to high-pitched whining, and where I show off my new Jathilan (a traditional Javanese dance) moves after dance classes.


Remzi's host father and mother, smiling directly at the camera, while the host mother gives a thumbs up. There is greenery in the background.

After that first tour of my house, I realized it’s just like any other. There are walls, a ceiling and floor, doors and different rooms. I had been so focused on what it would look like, but it feels ordinary in that way. However, the stories and people that reside within it are anything but. They have become my home here in Indonesia. My home is not an entrance, a garage, a kitchen, or a living room. It’s not the house. It’s not even that first description of an insurance salesman, a kindergarten administrator, and two students. My home is Ayah, the jokester and the one who always makes sure everyone has eaten; Mama, the one who entertains my silly attitude and whose love I can see in her smile; Diva, the older sister who lets me hang out with her friends and is so easy to talk to; and Ahnaf, the one who started off a bit distant but has opened up to me more and more with time. I will always feel at home with the memories that we have made together.


Remzi's host father, Remzi, and his host mother standing in front of an ornate building in traditional Indonesian clothing.
Remzi's host mom, Remzi, and his host dad standing in a cavernous area, with an overhang above











*Bapak and Ibu used here are prefixes of respect denoting father and mother.


Remzi Amaci