There are questions people always ask when you’re abroad.
Where are you from?
What are you doing here?
How long will you be here for?
After a while you get so used to these questions that you start to answer them without thinking. Taxi drivers often mistakenly assume I have fluent Indonesian, because our conversations are three-minute question-answer periods which I rehearse for nearly every day. But sometimes my answers change, and I don’t even notice.
A month ago in early August, when I was asked how much longer I would be here in Indonesia for I said three months. Yesterday someone asked me when I finished my internship, and I still said in three months. I hadn’t realized that so much time had gone by. A month has passed as quickly as an Indonesian Grabbikedriver swerving illegally through traffic.
Six months isn’t long. When you first arrive it feels like you have so much time. There’s no rush to get things done. Now though, I’m halfway through my internship, halfway through my time in Indonesia, and I still feel like I’ve only just arrived.
Of course, things are different now. Now, when I choose my Warteg warung-style lunch I know that the chicken isn’t worth it, and that I’ll regret it if I don’t order fried tempe. When I call my motor-taxis on GojekI know how to get the best deals, and I feel comfortable on the back of a stranger’s bike like I never would’ve when I first arrived. I was about to say that I feel safer crossing the road now too. But let’s be honest, those roads will always be a little too crazy for me.
Things are different now, because now I’ve figured out how to be at home here. I’ve discovered how to be me in a new context. Instead of having my day shaped by my circumstances and a culture I don’t quite understand, I can shape my day while being considerate of the circumstances and culture in which I find myself. Instead of eating soto ayambecause my co-workers are, I know that what I want is the nasi tongsengin the warungdown the road. Instead of taking a car because I’m told that’s what people do, I feel comfortable enough on the road to walk because that’s what I like. I have the confidence to be myself and make my own educated decisions.
Once you find that in a new country you become a much more productive human being. After three months working in my office I know where my skills lie, and where they don’t, and I finally feel at ease applying what I’ve learned in the most productive ways possible. I know I can offer my services on projects that interest me, and suggest improvements when I feel they’re necessary. I can ask to attend conferences that benefit myself as well as my organization, or bring my camera to get photos of exciting CIPS events. If I find a task unnecessary, or think something could be improved by handbooks and guides, I know when it’s appropriate to say so.
After three months in Indonesia I’m finally at home and able to be myself, with all the good and bad that brings, and the only thing that I regret is that it took me so long to get here. I know that in my next few months I will contribute more to my organization, offer more to my friends, and be able to do more for myself because I feel safe enough to now. I will be a better me for the time remaining.
Only, that isn’t very long. Six months is short. It took me more than half my time to get home. Now that I’m here I have to work extra hard to make all the effort my co-workers and friends put into helping me arrive here worth it.
When, before I know it, a taxi driver asks me those questions I’ve heard so many times before, and I have to respond that I’ve been here for six months, and that it’s time for me to head to the airport to catch a plane home, I want to feel that I used my time at home well. I want to feel like I gave something back to my organization and friends, and that I’ll be taking a little piece of this home with me when I go on to my next one.