CWY Series 3 – Cross Cultural Understanding: Begins!

Previous Series: CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

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I hung out around fancy airports lately. It was really exhausting, but the excitement beat every negative feeling. And I really did not appreciate the complicated-ness of this travel. It looked organized but somehow I did not feel comfortable. And if you ask me why, I would not say anymore statement. I also could not decide which was more annoying: the jet lag or the cold – I was born and raised in equator city, what do you expect?

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I walked slowly behind my friends on purpose because I wanted to see around as half of my mind was still inside the plane. This airport right here, was not as fancy as the previous two these past two days. My Canada Air flight from Montreal to Halifax had only two stewardesses. One stewardess dressed like a real one; wearing that dress you saw from TV and all smiley.  While the other one, who was really unfriendly, wore glasses and dressed like she was about to do morning run with the body type that you would never find in any Indonesian flights. I did not know whether this country was too tolerance or my country was just appreciating beauty more for the sake of passenger’s comfort. And what I meant by beauty was of course a friendly personality. I wasn’t talking about beauty through body type at all, because just two seconds ago, I walked pass a body-sized mirror and saw beauty in a freezing 98kg flesh, blood, and fat (n) Homo sapiens.

The exit door was already behind me, bunch of kids were smiling while holding “Welcome to Canada” signages. People shook each other’s hands and introduced themselves. I did not usually approach people first which gave me no reason why I should start that time. I saw a blond girl with glasses whom I also saw on the plane. She smiled and “Hi” me.

“Were you also on the plane with us?” I replied. Frederique was indeed on the plane but was just too shy to introduce herself as part of our group. I met and introduced myself to several people after.

Someone yelled “Timbits, anyone?” and walked around while holding a box of Tim Horton’s timbit, something that looked like a sugary donut hole. I didn’t feel like I wanted a bite of timbit nor embarrassed myself when another person yelled about the last thing I wanted to hear at that very moment – an important moment when a perfect impression was what matter the most.

“So guys, we have this very special dance that we always do to keep our spirits high!” That was Amelia who initiated an interesting dance called G-O-O-D-J-O-B for public to either enjoy or laugh at. I enjoyed crazy things in some occasions but randomly performed that particular dance in front of people we were about to live with for the next 6 months was a bit immature, I could say. Who didn’t love Amelia!

“Hi, I am Louis, nice to meet you” someone talked to me right when a big bus driver told us to pay attention as he had an announcement. Most Canadians looked really fancy with long sleeved shirt

“Hello, I am Feby, nice to meet you too!” I could not decide in which accent I should speak. I was really good with accent but I would not want people think I was weird to speak in British accent in North America.

The driver had finished explaining as we were lining to get inside the bus. I sat next to Felix, a tall boy from Quebec City who was really quite. He told me the committee of CWY told them to dress up a bit because the Indonesian might wear that famous attire of theirs, which was why Felix wore a formal shirt with a tie. That Canadian road was really neat; there was no hole on the street and the 1-2 hours long ride was decorated by trees on every side of the road. Felix said that it was technically still summer, so all leaves were still on their branches.

I still could remember clearly how things smelled. I was in a room with 3 floral-pattern-sheeted beds, with 2 chocolate balls below our each name that was written on an orange paper. Someone mistakenly thought that Laksmi was a boy because I saw her name on the bed that was nearest to the door. While on the other side of the room, Felix was unpacking his stuffs from a very large luggage. They put us in the same convenient room on the upper floor of the house. The bathroom was also big, and I could see pretty much everything around the area of the camp.

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This whole area of Tatamagouche Learning Centre was so huge. They had the main building where every activity basically happened: dining hall, recreation room, library, chapel, and offices, that was surrounded by smaller houses for bedrooms with also living rooms inside them. Beside buildings, the area had a massive field of beautiful grass that you could roll your body onto for days, a really large lake where you could go canoeing, and small forest where we usually had our bonfire. That whole scenery was the view that I usually just saw on movies, but it was real at that time.

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The boys of Charlottetown and Truro were placed in this old big house called the Campbell House. Louis, Thomas, and Anggoro were all in a smaller room right beside ours. We walked down the stairs together and headed to the main building for our very first meeting. The six Project Supervisors were all there to greet us as we needed to stand in a giant circle so that everyone could see everyone.

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“We need you to mention 2 things about the place where you’re from” Said Suzanna, Truro-Sei Gohong project supervisor explained the activity as the introduction of our diversity of origins and backgrounds. Gillian and Dini high-fived each other when they just realized that they both wore Harvard University sweater as the first person started mentioning things about their city. Renata said “12 million populations” to describe Jakarta, Aryo said “City of hundred rivers” about Banjarmasin, and I said “Equator” to inform about Pontianak.

The introduction game was fun but I was having a jet lag. I fell asleep several time when the Director of the learning centre explained about the house rules. We continued to have supper which took place at the big dining hall at 5 PM. Yes, freaking 5 PM. The room had several circle tables for people to sit around. I didn’t know where to sit as friends whom I liked to gossip with like Renata, Mayfree, Reyska, and Meilia were busy with their group. I guess every time from that moment, was supposed to be the time that we had to know our own group better. We didn’t know our counterparts yet and I needed to know which person should I share bedroom with for the next 6 months.

“Do you Canadians always have supper this early?” I asked, with an inside battle of which accent should I use. I was in this table with mix of Canadians and Indonesians from my group, including Kim our Canadian project supervisor.

“Well, closer to winter, the daytime is also getting shorter. Some people consider 5 PM as also early time for supper. 6 or 7 PM are usually the more normal time.” Said a Canadian I could not remember.

That made more sense, it was not even really dark outside. There were these huge windows sized as big as the dining hall’s wall where you could see everything outside, the hilly grass field and the lake. They also had this wooden benches right outside the doors where we usually used for breakfast as the weather were really nice.

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We had this fried rice with sunny side egg for supper. I didn’t really like the taste, they put beans with the rice and that made the taste a bit interesting. I finished eating and had several conversations with some people before I decided that I was tired enough and needed some sleep. The next 3 days would be full of trainings during the daytime before we left for our each community.

The first meeting that morning was with Francois Tardiff, the CWY Program Director of Maritime Area. The Indonesian were showing that famous Saman Dance as an opening where Sudiani had a bit of an incident of losing one buttons of her pants, things that made me and Amelia laughed for days when we heard the story. Sorry, Sud but that was funny!

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Francois was explaining about the general rules of the program, things that we basically were already informed during our 2 weeks of Pre-Departure Training. But he explained it in more casual-not intimidating way. After the session, he divided us into several group to make a skit about each points of the CWY rules during the program – in which I later was infamously well-known as the boy who funnily pronounced the word “Answer”. The sessions were really needed for us so that we understood certain important things to stay away from trouble, and not get kicked out of the program especially in the first few weeks.

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Later in the afternoon, we were finally divided into meetings with our group only. The Charlottetown-Cikandang group was in the ‘common room’ of the building where 20 of us, including the supervisors would have more focused training sessions of program’s objectives and characteristics with one facilitator. Kristin, our group’s facilitator was a friendly, smart looking middle-age woman that apparently knew lots of thing about Indonesia. She’s been to Indonesia, became a facilitator of CWY-Indonesian program for several times before, and her Batik perfectly suited her easy-going personality.

She wanted an Indonesian interpreter from the group, thing I thought really unnecessary as all the Indonesians spoke English, but she insisted as she wanted to make sure that everyone could clearly understand of what was actually happening in the conversation. And of course, again, everyone asked me to be that interpreter.

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“Tell us something that we all didn’t know about you before” Kristin asked everyone

“I am used to speak in British accent, as many of my Indonesian fellows might have known. But I am afraid that everyone will think that I am weird, as a non-native speaker to speak in British accent in North America.” I answered.

Many people looked interested. “Can you please show us!” Someone asked.

“I can’t, that feels weird if someone asks me so.” I replied.

“Man, you just said ‘I can’t’ in a non-North American accent.” Someone told

Everything felt mixed-up. It was hard to omit my obsession of Spice Girls, Harry Potter, and Keira Knightley for an instant first week of adjustment eventough I regularly watched Gossip Girl and Mean Girls was still one of my most favourite movies.

We were back to more discussions and fun-task. Kristin explained that we were in this honeymoon phase where everything still felt exciting. But soon later in the program, especially when we would be in the community, that phase would just change in several cases when we interacted more with a lot of components in the program: Counterparts, host families, people from the group, work placement, and the community itself.

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“We all come from different places with different cultures and common practice, and adjusting ourselves into certain group of people in a short time can be really challenging, and of course it’s really normal to have those challenges.” Kristin explained.

“The way we interact, the way we think, even the way we eat can be different. And this program is designed to achieve cross cultural understanding. We all come here to learn and share and combine those differences into one unified message: to be the youth leaders of the world.” She added.

“Let’s have a little activity to show how 1 thing can be reflected differently in all of you.” She asked us to stand up in one area and asked a case: “One evening, you are in the passenger seat while your friend is driving. All of a sudden, your friend hit someone on the road but your friend just continued driving without helping the victim. As a friend, will you report him/her to the police of hitting someone on the road, or you’ll just protect your friend? Those who’ll go to the police please make a group on my right, and those who won’t, make a group on my left.”

I suddenly remembered my friends back in Pontianak. I have this clique consisted of 8 persons and were really closed during our 4 years in University together. We just graduated together literally a month before my departure to Canada. We indeed had been in a similar situation when we hit our lecturer’s car in the campus parking area, but this case that included police was a whole new level of friendship-test. I loved them and a 21-year-old me chose to move to Kristin’s left area.

The group was divided equally, each group also consisted of fair mix of Canadian and Indonesian – which indicated this case obviously had nothing to do with nationality and culture.

“Now I am going to add a new fact to the case. What if later on you find out that the victim had a terrible injury that was caused by the accident, and unfortunately the victim can’t do any activities for a long time meanwhile he/she is the only working person in the family?” Kristin added.

That scared me. I felt confused and I thought that the accident would have been my fault as well. The only way my friend would drive irresponsibly was just because I would have let them to do so. Several people moved to the right but no one from the right group moved to the left. I was in doubt until I decided to stay in my place. There were very few people stayed in that group, including the blonde short-haired Gillian with the nose ring.

I told her that time: “You and I should be best friend!”

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Small Boy, Big Dream – You Won’t Understand

My blog posts haven’t been that useful in 2015. Excuses are better be left unsaid because to be honest, what am I defending for? I don’t have that much of blog followers on the first place.

Several weeks before it happened, I allocated some spaces in my brain to think of how I would spend the Christmas long weekend. This may sound exaggerating –you know, my life as usual– but I put a lot of thought in it. I was thinking of several options as, thank God, I live in a country where literally anywhere is beautiful. And for the sake of the memory, at the end I put the dot on my map to this place where several parts of my character was shaped. And then it became the travelling of a reminder. A reminder of what kind of person I was, a reminder what kind of person I wished I would become.

I hopped in to the bus around 12 PM that 24 December. I read from social media that the traffic was literally crazy, but yeah bitch, what would my life be without craziness? I was lucky that I could sit as the bus was literally full of people who were probably tired of the city, excited to see other places, or just simply missed home. Another man sat next to me, an ear phone was plugged in to his ears as he was sleeping unbotheredly, great skill.

I committed myself to do a digital detox; I would turn off any internet connection and be in the ‘real life’ during the trip. It was such a perfect timing as I did not really have to reply emails or did some other work related things, I just wanted to be a hippie –And I am not using this in a sarcastic term–, I would not care about anything else other than what I would actually be experiencing in those 4 days, and I expected that to be lovely.

But then life was always a bitch. Traffic was, to be exact. It took 11 hours to arrive in the town where it usually took only 5 hours to visit. It was an hour after midnight and the early morning was really cold at the bus station. Everything was basically the same at that station: several buses were lining up to drop the passangers, the corner stores were open with limited lighting, and many motorcycle and pedicab drivers offered everyone their transportation service, it did feel really nostalgic. But it was really different as I was just literally alone.

I asked one random driver to bring me to the nearest hotel for me to stay overnight. It took 2 places before there was an inn that actually had an available room for a lonely visitor to stay. The lady was extremely friendly to me and to another couple that I thought only wanted to stay there to have sex. You know I’m really judgmental.

The couple was disgusted by the shitty room as they went with a motorcycle in that cold morning but I guess I did not have any choice. Dirty might be a strong word but the room was so far to be said as proper, it was really ‘different’.

“I will change the sheet” Said the lady as like it would help the room to be more proper.

“This should be fun and nothing wrong with having a different experience” I convinced myself, and it was really sincere. That was supposed to be the travelling of a reminder and I reminded not to complain. Besides, I was tired anyways and I would not do anything but sleep and I would just leave in the morning.

I woke up around 10 PM the next day and as planned, immediately leave the inn to explore the city a little bit before continuing to the final destination. I took another pedicab and went to the downtown, looking around to re-feel the “city warmth”, tasted good local foods, and did a Friday prayer in the City’s Great Mosque – all by my own.

The digital detox was working perfectly fine as well. I talked to real people when I wanted to know the direction, or when I was waiting for the angkot , sort of a van that became a public transportation in most Indonesian cities. I knew more about the people and their background I was actually facing rather than spending my time looking at the phone screen and putting love on people-whom-I-don’t-actually-know on instagram pictures,  it just felt damn nice! I wish the people of Jakarta would be more friendly so everytime I talked to random people on the street, they would be more welcoming and would not think that I am capable of doing bad things to them.

After a full-hour of eye indulgence when I saw anywhere was nothing but prettiness, I arrived in my destination around 4 PM in the afternoon. I ran to my house, where I spent several time of my life with people I really cared about, and surprised everyone as I did not tell everyone that I would go ‘home’.

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“You look more handsome!” Ibu –The Indonesian nick for mother and as how I called my host mom– said. “Of course!” I replied. Typical me.

I had a great conversation with the members of the house, updating each other’s life and laughing the fool things we did that we could remember. I left the house for an afternoon walk before the sun set. That was the second Christmas day I spent in that place I called home.

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The sun almost set behind the green mountains. Everything still existed, the mural, the library (they even have a new one!), the village hall, the ram statue, the football court, and of course the ram fighting arena with its famous huts. I broke my heart that Christmas afternoon, right in the heart of Cikandang Village.

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Back in 2011, I had an international youth exchange where they put together 9 Canadian Youth and 9 Indonesian Youth in one group to live together in both Canadian and Indonesian community for several months and aimed for International relations, mutual understanding, cultural exchange, sustainable changemaking, youth leadership and other endless positivity.  We were placed in the city of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for the Canadian Phase and the village of Cikandang, a mountainous village in Southern Garut, West Java. We left the village at the end of the program around end of March 2012 with many beautiful memories.

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I have actually been back visiting the village after the program for three times with some other people, but the last time was in 2013, just right before I departed to Bahrain. So this visit was actually my first visit in 2 years, and the very first time when I came back literally alone in Cikandang.

My heart broke not because I haven’t moved on with my life. In fact, I did not even know what broke me inside to be exact. Maybe the fact that I was visiting with no friends or the reminder of how I envisioned the future-Feby in the past.

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I am really grateful of how my life turned after the program. I moved out from my hometown and I befriended great helpful people that gave me descent jobs in the capital city, Jakarta. I was blessed to have another opportunity to live in another foreign country, learning new stuffs and living in a total different culture, and especially at this time of my life when I was having my best job yet with lovely people around me, no reason to complain about life.

But something was missing….

And it was not my body fat, obviously. I did not know, It was maybe my attention to humanity, my sensitivity or my motivation to spread positivity.

Saying that I am not as a positive person as I was is too strong of an argument, especially it also indicates of how exaggerated I judged myself in the past. I mean, who claimed themselves of creating positive vibes by themselves? Maybe some people but I don’t think that’s my call.

Instead, I have the right to say something has definitely has changed. And honestly, until this particular word, I have no idea where this article will lead to and how it will end. Thoughts in my head are just like strings that can be straighten from earth to moon and back, but now it’s tangled. It became really messy that made it just as big as a tennis ball.

I was lucky to be born in a supportive family where my opinions and willingness are always heard and appreciated. The situation probably shaped my character to be a decisive individual and I always see the goal in any actions that I did. Every single one of them.

But I just felt that being adult is not that easy….

Life has always been a total player for every human in any ways possible. We undeniably have bigger burdens, big enough to think that the great master plans we always had suddenly became unconvincing. And as it probably got you, it might get me even harder.

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I spent 2 days in Cikandang and re-saw what myself particularly have contributed to that beautiful small area. It was probably intangible, I mean, the sidewalk marks that we hand-painted were not even there anymore. But seeing the exact same mural on the wall about not littering your garbage on the street or realizing that the blue colour or library wall haven’t changed since we dramatically decorated them made me smile a lot.

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My friends and I might not save the world or became a bunch of fairy godmothers and turned a poor girl to be a princess. But we clearly shared the same spirit. We were bunch of young people from major cities in both country and were placed in a village that was totally different with how we used to live, was a total slap in the face. Moreover, this opportunity did not just arrive in my lap in a silver platter. I fought for my spot to be there, to be the part of the team and I did not just start that because I was following the trend. I made some names for myself until those judges could decide that I deserved the spot.

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We sincerely loved the place and had the motivation that we could contribute positively to the village. At that time, the motivation was even bigger because we are entitled as “Youth of The World” which in overreacting version of me years ago, it meant really important as it led to do really important things to the world as well.

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And how I applied that in the life I had? I realized that volunteering and social movement was not a new thing. As I said, I was probably chosen to join the program because I was actively involved in those kinds of activity. And I used those learning process to be really pay attention of any actions I would contribute. I took every single opportunity to help things get better in the village seriously like I would live there forever. All with a very supporting environment from magnificent team member and locals. I sincerely had super strong willing to keep doing what I did until forever, somehow, somewhere.

But now it has been 4 years since that flame positivity burned me inside and outside. When you see myself right now and compare with what kind of person I told you before, your reaction might be really subjective because in reality, those plans haven’t worked, yet. Why? I wish I can say I don’t know but I clearly know the reason. Because it’s what life is about. Remember at that time you ordered a customized menu at the restaurant? You wanted double scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream and specifically wanted the vanilla scoop to be on top but the waiter came with the chocolate on top instead? You can plan, decide, or even manipulate how you wish your life be, but it’s not always up to you, it has never been, it will never be. The world and any single thing inside it work together like a pair of gear that makes certain action affects the others and that is not new information for anyone, I know.

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But we just sometimes forget about it, I often forget about it. And the reflection of it shows in our action. We can complain to the waiter who brought the wrong order of ice cream scoop or just accept and eat as it would taste the same, anyway. And that’s how I probably choose to respond the life world is offering me to.  I am not capable of fulfilling my dream 100% but I should be able to be patient and use any learning in my journey to be the ‘weapon’ of my future. I was probably part of the bigger gear who affected smaller gear in the program and I never wanted such habit to stop happening in any circumstances.

Nevertheless, the beauty of that mountainous village was just everything I needed last end of the year. This reminder, reflection, whatever you call it to make me realize of how grateful I am to be the person that I am now, and the person that  I will be. I was visiting the former head of village’s house and the family greeted me warmly. I had a nice conversation with them and heard them talking sincerely of how happy they were when we were there, joking around about funny things that happened in 2012. Rury, the eldest daughter was still in middle school back then and now she is a year away from University. She told me of how she planned to take International Relation in either University of Padjadjaran or University of Gadjah Mada, two major universities in Indonesia because of how she was inspired by the program that she was being involved with as the local. For the 5 years activities with around 90 youth in the period, irregardless the debatable sustainability and controversy it created. And that seriously made me smile a lot.

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I visited many places in the village where I liked to spend time with my friends and had great conversation with not just my host family but some other host families. You never realize of what impressions you could leave to certain community until you come back in quite some time and feel, really feel inside yourself of how joyful and peaceful your little heart to stand on the place where you usually stood. And I don’t want Cikandang to be the only place where I can feel that way.

Small boy, big dream. That I know.

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