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Students in a long tail boat in Indonesia. Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Semester.

Such A Sampela Moment

“Sampai nanti Ibu!” I call as I tiptoe across my porch and down the precarious and wobbly steps of our stilted home. I set out towards rumah Andar (our program house in Sampela) tiptoeing, eyes glued to the boardwalk, trying to remember which boards were secure and which were…not so secure. Halfway there, I pass a herd of children and am instantly bombarded with “Halo mister!” and “Siapa nama?” This momentary distraction leads to my forgetting to duck and avoid the power-line that runs across the boardwalk near Nate’s homestay house. A moment later, Lila’s voice rings out across the coral beds to which some homes are anchored, “Anna! Guess what happened this morning!? It was SUCH a Sampela moment!”

What’s a Sampela moment, you ask?

Moments that could only ever happen in Sampela, that we have hilariously normalized after three months in Indonesia. They are the truly funky moments of our life here that we all connected over and related to.

Multiple times a day, as I meandered across Sampela’s boardwalks, I would run into a fellow Dragon and we would proceed to share our Sampela moment of the day.

Here are some of our very Sampela moments (compiled from the whole group):

  1. Taking a nap and instantly making your sheets damp with sweat
  2. Seeing children make rafts out of pieces of Styrofoam and paddle each other around
  3. 3am tuna fishing
  4. Learning the hard way that two of the boards on the boardwalk were not nailed down by sending them into the water when trying to take a short cut to the kamar kecil (bathroom)
  5. Brown boobies (birds) on strings being flown like kites
  6. Needing two people to load a speargun
  7. 3-scoop bucket mandis (showers)
  8. Showering in the rainwater that pours off the roof
  9. “Swim slowly towards me, there is a sea snake two inches from your face.”
  10. Porch hopping and pisang goreng and teh manis
  11. Breathtaking sunsets from the sunset houses on the Sampela outskirts
  12. Heartwarming talks about falling in love with our panelists
  13. Lights that turn on but never off
  14. “Istriahat dulu”…all the dulus really
  15. Soap-container-stealing rats
  16. Soap-container-returning rats (5 days later, and a little worse for wear)
  17. “Pagi” (good morning) at 4pm and “Malam” (good evening) at 2pm
  18. Sore arms from a brief canoe paddle to market (the Ibu’s have superhuman strength!)
  19. Coexisting with a cat under your bed, lizards on the wall, rats on the rafters, and mosquito swarms in the corner. #TheThingsThatLiveInMyRoomAsideFromMe
  20. Hour-long chats
  21. Hour-long stretches of silence
  22. Tying seaweed to long stretches of rope under the neighbors house (and a boobie falls on you from your homestay brother’s play)
  23. Crying from the wood-smoke while stirring a giant pot of bubur (porridge)
  24. Being told that you will go to the market at 3pm. Looking at watch and reading 3:45pm. #SampelaTime
  25. Roof cats
  26. Magical reefs and sea turtles that swim by peacefully
  27. Ferrying dead fish from Pak’s speargun to Kapal (boat)
  28. Moons that are a hands-breadth away
  29. Misfiring a speargun at an angry sea snake
  30. Climbing on one side of the rocking boat and accidentally launching yourself off the other side in front of the whole fam


All of these moments provided laughter and a way to connect and let go of some of the awkward and challenging moments we all experienced. It became a fun tradition for our group to share the uncomfortable moments of the day as we ate lunch and dinner all together. For me, however, the sharing of these Sampela moments started to take on more meaning.

Three months ago many (if not most) of these experiences were so far outside of my comfort zone, I couldn’t ever have imagined them being a casual part of my everyday life. Honestly, I could never even have dreamed these up. Now, I have handled and seen my friends handle these experiences in stride (albeit for me, an at times a wobbly, new-born-deer-esque stride).

Recently I have thought a lot about personal growth. When I started this trip I had very clear ideas of the ways in which I wanted to grow and the pace at which I wanted my growth to occur. I had the notion that just by setting foot on Indonesian soil I would become the person that I always wanted to be. Although I do believe that Indonesian soil is magical, it did not magically transform me upon arrival (to my chagrin).

As I spent more time in Indonesia, I started to let go of monitoring my own “change” and started, instead, to focus on my daily interactions. When I tore my thoughts away from change and focused instead on how I reacted to each situation I faced, I began to form deeper connections and have a more meaningful experiences. Although I was able to put “change” out of my mind for most of the program, I still wondered about my personal growth. I wasn’t sure I had really grown that much.

Then came bright, cheerful Jen. Jen, one of the illusive Boulder Dragons, who dwells in the snowy HQ, joined our group for a few days in Sampela. She provided me with the most amazing opportunity. She allowed me to once again view Indonesia through the eyes of a newcomer. I began to realize all the ways I had adjusted to the Indonesian way of life and, more than that, how tasks that I had once been so petrified of I was now accomplishing daily without a second thought. Seeing her struggle with some of the same things I had struggled with in the beginning was a wake up call for me. Seeing Sampela and myself through Jen’s eyes allowed me to take a step back and appreciate how much I had grown.

Change is a complex idea, one that I am not sure I completely understand. Some days I feel like I have changed a lot and that that is a good thing. Other days I feel like I haven’t changed at all. Sometimes these changes are easily visible, sometimes they take months, or years, or the nudge of a friend to be noticed. I like the idea that I will always be changing, always be evolving but it doesn’t matter if I am changing in big ways, all that matters is every day making an effort to interact with those around me and the environment in a positive way.

So dear parents,

It’s likely that the individuals you pick up from the airport are not going to be the same ones you dropped off 3 months ago (though the changes may not be as obvious as our tan skin, longer hair, and occasional usage of Bahasa Indonesia). And students? The parents we said goodbye to so long ago are inevitably changed as well–I’ve learned here that change is what happens in those little moments while you’re busy living life.

The time apart has given us invaluable time to reflect and grow, detached from each other for one of the first times in many of our lives. As our lives continue and weave themselves back together, it feels like a fresh start, a new chapter, in our relationships. These new layers may not be formed instantaneously, but trust me, they will come and be all the more amazing because of it.

We can’t wait to see you all!