Official

Each day of my Peace Corps service, I remind myself that the days may be long, but the years are short. The first two months have raced by at lightening fast speed, and already I find myself nostalgic about the things of yesterday. We had our official swear-in as Peace Corps Volunteers June 17th, and shortly after the 50 of us dissipated throughout East and West Java. The 15-hour train ride from Malang to Bandung provided some much needed time to decompress and let my thoughts crystallize on life thus far in Indonesia. We existed in a simulated reality the first two months with our living conditions, families, daily schedule, and schools pre-determined by the American and Indonesian government. Despite such constraints, I look back on that time as one of the most prolific periods in my life. I’m optimistic that in the next two years the relationships fostered, the language acquired, and the overall saturation in the culture will continue to evolve.
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The Westward expansion of the Peace Corps Indonesia program is something all of us are extremely excited to be a part of. Thanks to the success of the program in East Java over the last three years, the Indonesian government invited Peace Corps to expand to West Java (and eventually some of the outlying islands). Members of Bappenas (The National Development Planning Agency for Indonesia), principals, heads of curriculum welcomed us to Bandung. They were eager to initiate the new partnership, and over the next two years our success will be contingent upon one another. Their encouragement made the transition from East to West Java all the more fluid.
It’s hard to distinguish the differences right off the bat between East and West Java; or rather the Javanese and the Sundanese. In fact, there is no real demarcation. The cultures have been shifting and migrating across the island for thousands of years. However, it would be an offense to either islander if you were to confuse the Javanese with the Sundanese, or worst yet, a Madurese (but we won’t get into that just now). The Javanese are a force to be reckoned with, and upon first meeting them, you’ll most likely be overwhelmed by their hospitality and generosity. In all my travels, I have to say that they are the friendliest people I have ever met. Yes, ever. Their friendliness is superhuman. Wandering down the street, don’t be surprised if they ask you, “where do you want to go? What did you just eat? Want to come in for tea? Are you going home?” Their greatest joy is inviting you in for a cup of sickly sweet teh, and exchanging stories. That’s not to say that the Sundanese aren’t friendly either. Another difference noted is the increase in traffic in the West, because it contains two of the three most populous cities in Indonesia. The influence of the “cosmopolitan” cities of Jakarta and Bandung is not merely felt in the traffic, but is also evident in the language. People from all over Indonesia move to Jakarta and Bandung, and communicate with the lingua franca, rather than their native language. Lastly, and in my option, most importantly is that the food over here is a whole lot better. Diabetes isn’t a constant threat, and there’s an ongoing joke that if you can’t find a Sundanese, he’s most likely in the garden. I’m sure in the upcoming months I’ll become more attuned to the cultural differences, but for now I’m just happy to be back in the West.

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