Welcome team BYP Indonesia!
I hope that this note of introduction finds each of you enjoying the final weeks of summer and the company of loved ones. I am sure that like mine, your minds are beginning to wander across oceans – that you are finding yourselves splitting your attention between the here & now and the journey we are about to embark upon.
I want to start by congratulating each of you on making the brave choice to step off of the standard path. I couldn’t be more excited to join you as we figure out what it means to live, learn, work, and build relationships in Yogyakarta.
I’ve been leading summer and semester programs for Where There Be Dragons in Indonesia for most of the last two years, but establishing a life in Jogja (this is what most people call Yogyakarta for short) will be a new adventure for me as well, as I begin my first year with BYP. I’ve been fascinated by the city since I first visited in 2011 when I was living in the neighboring country of Malaysia and teaching English at an Islamic boarding school through the Fulbright program. The similarities and contrasts between Jogja and the place I was living blew my mind. I’ve visited Jogja many times since then, and every time I gain a new appreciation for it and deeper understanding of how complex a city it is – steeped in Javanese culture and tradition but with a strong bent towards innovation and activism. I’ve always been drawn to art (both of my parents are artists), and art has been one of the main conduits through which I’ve explored the city: getting a feel for tradition while accidentally burning my fingers with the hot wax that creates the designs on batik fabric, chatting with an activist who helped bring down a dictator while carving slogans into woodblocks, and mapping Jogja’s winding alleyways while spray-painting stencils alongside a graffiti artist whose pieces decorate the city. All along the way I remind myself to stay open and curious, inviting the stories that make up the texture of a place.
Each of you will discover your own ways of exploring this city, and as you do so, you will see that relationships, people, and their stories form the core of the experience. You are probably, even now, trying to imagine what this year will look like, what it will taste and feel like – you might even hope that I’ll give you a preview here – but the truth is that no matter what you read or hear or watch ahead of time, the reality of Indonesia will blow away your expectations. As a traveler, I’ve come to savor these moments of when I realized I was wrong, when I’ve had to reckon with my own ignorance or misconceptions, because these are the moments when I am able to see my growth. I’ve found that in stepping in to the unknown I have come to know myself much better, and this is a huge part of what we will attempt together; our journey will be one that takes us not only outward into a new place, but inward as well. Together we will reexamine our assumptions and the lifestyles we have taken for granted, and make visible the thousand little things that make up our daily lives in the U.S. – things that we cannot see until we are immersed in different ways of seeing, doing, and being.
It is not always easy or comfortable to step into the unfamiliar, but with it comes an expansion beyond what you know yourself to be capable of, as well as an expansion of the concepts of home, and of family. We will share grand adventures, breakthroughs, moments of triumph; we will also struggle, share tears, insecurities and countless screw-ups as we try to make our way through this year – but most of all these will be shared and we support one another at every turn.
Over the next few weeks we (Sani, my wonderful co-director who is on the ground in Indonesia right now preparing for our arrival, Steve, a veteran instructor who will be joining us from South Africa to assist in running our orientation, Dragons administration, and I) will use this space, our program’s “Yak Board”, to pass along important information, so be sure to check back regularly.
We also want to invite you now to take your turn to introduce yourself briefly on the Yak board– take a moment to post a photo and tell us who you are, where you’re from or what places have influenced you, and what you’re looking forward to doing/seeing/experiencing in Indonesia, plus any fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share.
As we get closer to our orientation, you can also use this space to post any questions that come up – if there’s something you’re wondering about it’s likely that someone else is too! I’ll also be emailing you soon to set up one-on-one calls where I can answer any questions as well.
I can’t wait to meet you all at Princeton in just a few weeks!