Hello from Leuwiliang, Bogor, West Java, INDONESIA! I am Peace Corps volunteer in the education sector, teaching in a public Islamic high school, a Madrasah Aliyah Negeri, with four fabulous counterparts and many, many bright and lively students. This was also my study abroad blog for the 2011-2012 academic year, spent in Alexandria, Egypt and Menton, France. Many of those experiences parallel thing I have witnessed here, in cultural, religious, and sociological terms, but also in that I came to better understand my place in the world through them:
Sure of only my love of languages and my drive to explore, I saw Arabic among the offered courses as I planned out my first college semester. A line of poetry I had seen only days earlier flowed through my head: “Let the beauty we love be what we do/ There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground,” by the medieval Sufi poet, Rumi. Two challenging years later, despite the news of revolution brewing, I turned in my study abroad application for Egypt, fall 2011. My experiences growing up between cultures had already showed me that the best way to know anything truly is to see it for myself. So, in addition to pursuing my love of the Arabic language, I was fixated on the growing Arab political and social movements: I wanted to be in the eye of the storm, in a nexus of social movement, of revolution, and of profound change.
As with Peace Corps core expectation number 3, it was very challenging, to adjust to a new culture and a different way of life. In Alexandria, as with experiences abroad since, my response was a multi-pronged approach. I did my Arabic homework and participated in class, but I was careful to add as much enjoyment to the experience as possible to never feel drained by the effort. I took dance classes, hung out in sheesha cafés with other students, tried local delicacies, traveled to all four corners of the country, and visited sites of modern and ancient significance, all the while seeking out conversations with people I met along the way. For the next four months, my professors, other students, the women I met on the tram, and everyone in between filled with their stories and, oftentimes, their visions of a better Egypt. At the end of my semester, as my facebook feed flooded with proud posts of inked fingers—proof of voting in the first post-revolution elections—I knew that my study of Arabic and Egyptian culture was my way to kneel and kiss the ground, as Rumi had said. Likewise, I cannot imagine a life in which the beauty I love (languages, cultures other than my own, change) is not what I do. Peace Corps gives me the chance to pursue these passions and skills in a way that serves others, where, instead of coming into the nexus of change, I can be that nexus in my own way. Following my experiences conversant between cultures, my greater trajectory is to pursue a career in international development. Peace Corps will be a step forward on that track and the best way I know to use my skills fully to the benefit of others. With the aid of an ear for different means of communication, a confidence in holding my own in unfamiliar situations, and a determination to turn what I love into what I do, I am proud to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer.
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The views and anecdotes expressed here do not reflect any position of the U.S. government, the Peace Corps, or Indonesians. They are intended to offer a window into my experiences during my service and a chance to share what I have learned in the process. The stories, jokes, and videos provided here are in good humor and my experiences alone.