"Back-to-School" in Indonesia

My amazing class. Can you spot the 'bule' (foreigner) in the middle?

September 8, 2013 - It’s 6 pm in Indonesia, but I know my friends back home are just waking up and getting ready for school. Everything remotely familiar seems a million miles away right now. From bathing, to transportation, to school, everything is different in Indonesia.

But Indonesia is slowly becoming my home. Everyday, I find something new and beautiful to love, whether it’s riding to school on an "ojek" (motorcycle taxi), or hearing the call to prayer radiate over the island five times a day. Indonesia’s millions of quirks and fascinating cultural traditions make life here so unique.

But I should probably update you on what I’ve been doing for the last week. I started school at SMAN 5 Bekasi on Monday, and let me tell you, it’s fabulous!

Apparently, I am the first exchange student to go to this school (at least from what I've gathered). So everyone is very surprised to see me - a blonde, white “bule” (foreigner) - wandering the halls.

But my classmates are great. Everyone smiles and says ‘hi’ to me in the hallway. I guess I'm sort of the school celebrity!

Indonesian class Me in my Indonesian school uniform.

A few words about Indonesian school uniforms:

  1. It is impossible to get on the back of a motorcycle when wearing one. I'm not sure how my Indonesian friends do it so swiftly and easily, when I'm just trying not to fall off.
  2. There are three types of school uniforms here:
    • Batik: Made from traditional Indonesian patterns. Every school has a unique batik and they're beautiful.
    • Pramuka: I think this translates to "scout" in English, and it looks a lot like a girls scout uniform. It brings me back to my 5th Grade Brownie days.
    • The standard white top and blue skirt.

Overall, I really like the uniform because I can blend in a tinyyyy bit more. As you may have guessed, blending in here is extremely difficult if you're blonde, Caucasian, and tall (i.e. 5'4") like I am. I’ll forever be a “bule,” but I'm embracing it.

Everyday I ride to school on a motorcycle taxi. (I have my own little moped back home, so I’m very used to this type of thing.) The ride takes about 15 minutes, and it’s honestly the highlight of my day. We drive down a dirt road that winds through a little village, and the whole experience makes for an “only in Indonesia” moment each morning.

Classes are a lot of fun. There are 2 tracks that students follow: Science and Social. I’m in science and taking Physics, Chemistry, Trigonometry, Japanese, PE, Indonesian Language, English, and probably a few more that I can't remember. It's really funny trying to learn trig. and physics in Indonesian. Safe to say I don't understand much yet, but hey, it's all a part of the experience!

English and Japanese are probably my 2 favorite classes. I love learning new languages, and learning Japanese from Indonesian is really fun. English is cool, too, because the teacher has me help teach. I’m pretty sure I'm giving my entire class a Wisconsin accent, so that’s fun.

So that was this week in a nutshell. So far I can tell this is going to be a great year!

- Sarah

If you’re interested in learning more about the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad Program that Sarah went on, click here.

*This entry was adapted from the post, "school and other tidbits", on the AFS-USA student blog, "a year in Indonesia".