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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

a homecoming of sorts

On August 28, eight bright-eyed Princeton students boarded a plane to halfway across the world with a lot of hope, a little bit of fear, and a sense of adventure. Today, six months later, we have somehow made it two thirds of the way through program. The passage of time here is inexplicable. Sometimes the days seem unbearably long, and the monotony of the routine gets the best of me; and other times weeks zoom by and now, suddenly, it’s March. I’ve been up and down in my emotions recently, feeling a combination of missing home but also feeling sentimental about my last few months left in Indonesia. I often find myself flipping through my journal, reminding myself of the myriad of experiences and growth I’ve made on this journey. I wanted to share this entry that reminds me of learning to find a balance of home and adventure in Jogja. I wrote this upon returning to Jogja after winter excursion, which although seems like just yesterday, was actually almost two months ago…

As I stared out the window of the plane, I daydreamed of returning to home. Winter excursion, a sizeable amount of time but a comparably small blip in the grand scheme of the program, was longer than any trip I’ve taken in my whole life. It felt like after a trip like this – definitely after a month of travel, let alone 4 months abroad – we should be going home. It’s been long, it’s been different, it’s been exhausting – it’s time to pulang. I just wanted to go back to New York, to comforts and food and family and freedom… But I had to keep reminding myself that even though this was the end of one journey, another one was just beginning. I was not going home – I was going back to Jogja. I kind of psyched myself out on the plane, making myself nervous thinking of the four and a half more months of continuing to push myself further and further outside of my comfort zone. Whatever I just got through in the past 4 months in Indonesia, all the good, all the bad, and everything in between, I have to do it all again. We’re halfway through – but we’re also only halfway there. I’m both scared that time has gone so fast but also scared that I have to do this all over again. I just wanted familiarity. Comfort. A homecoming. Some feeling of normalcy.

So I was shocked to find that when we landed, a sense of familiarity overcame me. I stood at baggage claim, wondering why this felt so normal, why this felt so familiar – until I realized that we had been in this exact situation previously. We had already been at the baggage claim in the Jogja airport, only last time we had just arrived after an almost 50-hour journey from Princeton through Qatar and Malaysia. I was brought back to the feelings of nervousness and anxiety over the newness of the place and people. We barely knew each other and the city we would call home for the next 9 months.

Only when I had reentered a place from the beginning of my journey did I realize how far I’d come. This time, Pak Wafiq, Elliott’s homestay father, picked us up. A familiar face – family – was there, waiting for us to come home. I sat in the back of Pak Wafiq’s truck, remembering the first time we drove down these streets – everything new and bright. Our instructor at that time told us to look out the window. He said this moment and these observations will never look the same again – these first impressions and immediate differences will quickly fade into the background of our routine as time goes on. And he was right – because before what looked so foreign now feels familiar. I look at the streets and realize that I recognize where I am. It’s as if each street holds a memory, kept covered and waiting for me to return to reveal its sentiments: coffee adventures, transjogja bus stops, roti bakar stalls, warungs, gojeks – each thing that used to seem so foreign now seems normal, dare I even say comforting.

We found our homestay families waiting for us at AJS (the restaurant Elliott’s homestay family owns that we spend most of our nights at). “Alhamdulilah” – praise be to god – our homestay parents exclaimed as we walked in the door. All the parents gave us hugs, smiling ear to ear, to finally have their anak-anak return home. We sat in our usual spots and ordered our usual drinks. How seemingly normal. As strange as it was to feel so comfortable in a foreign city, it was a homecoming in it of itself.

I did miss Jogja. There’s something about the city. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or what I’m doing – the city still moves around me. Even if I’m just going on with my day to day, I just have to look out at the sprawling city in front of me to remind me of the excitement that surrounds me. Gojeks zipping in and out of traffic to deliver whatever service to whatever waiting customer; transjogja huffing and puffing through the streets, unbothered by whatever vehicle is desperately trying to swerve out of its way; the countless warungs and cafes that beg customers to stop by for a quick bite and refreshing kopi. There’s always so much to see, so much going on – it makes me feel small yet part of something at the same time. I’m just one of the many moving parts of the city that makes it so exciting. It’s very humbling. To leave and come back – you kind of selfishly assume that the place is put on pause and is waiting for you to come back. In some ways was – Jogja is still Jogja – but the city kept on moving, whether I was there or not. It feels like I missed nothing yet everything in the short time I’ve been away.

To come back to a place I’ve put roots down in that isn’t exactly home is… weird. I wanted to go home, I wanted my comforts and familiarities – and in some strange way I found it, just not in the place I expected. But I’m more than ok with that.

*the pictures I’ve attached are just some snippets of the exploring I’ve done in the past 2 months of being back in Jogja*