Author Archives: ellenm2011

D.C

We arrived in D.C at round midnight.  By the time we made our way through the train station we were all so weighed down by our fatigue that we could barely take in how gorgeous an empty Union Station was at night.  We got to our dorms at George Washington University and passed out.

Our first stop in D.C was to visit the important capitol buildings.  Of course there were tons of tour groups and we all were herded from one historic room to the other like cattle, our heads all turning and dipping and gawking in unison as our tour guide took us from room to room.  I certainly have an appreciation for history and for historic sites but I find the company of hundreds of other people to be a distraction from all of the important things we saw on the tour.

I am quite glad that I have gotten to understand the way that the United States government operates better  since doing this program.  I feel a bit more competent as an American citizen now.  Anyway, after seeing the capital building we went to the Indonesian Embassy in D.C to meet with the ambassador.  The embassy was one of the most beautiful buildings that I’d ever seen.  The Indonesian Ambassador was so incredibly friendly and down to earth.  He was so funny and was just a really likeable guy.  We met with him for about an hour and then posed for some pictures where we also got to meet his beautiful wife.  They seemed like some of the coolest people…ever and I kinda didn’t want to leave 😛

So after our meeting we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then went for a walking tour of the monuments.  We got about less than halfway through the tour before the exhaustion and pain of walking around for hours forced us to call it quits.

The next day was a lot less packed, we went to Arlington cemetary and saw the exchange of the guards.  I had never been to Arlington before and there really is nothing like seeing a sea of white headstones to make you understand the horrors and senselessness of war.  The entire time we were on the tour all I could think of was “were all of these deaths really worth it?”  I think war is a horrible thing and it makes me sad that we have been in this one for so long.  I won’t go off into an anti-war tangent but having that visual representation of all of the young lives throughout history that have been lost because of war just makes me angry.

Seeing the exchange of the guards was a real treat…not just because they were cuties.  It was interesting to see how precise and involved getting off your shift at work can be.  But really it made me feel a sense of pride and patriotism.  The American military fascinates me.  We also saw the Kennedy’s memorials and I got to learn a little bit more about their place in American history from Jack and Debra.  Of course, I was not anywhere near alive to understand all of the drama and tragedy that followed the Kennedy family so it was interesting to hear them from the perspective of people who grew up during that time.

The next day we spent in D.C was relatively low-key.  We went to the Holocaust museum which was an amazing museum but also a very difficult museum to visit.  The museum was huge and it really took you through life before during and after the Holocaust.  The exhibits gave you an idea of what it would have been like to be a Jew in Europe during that time.  There was even a video that had real Holocaust survivors talking about what their experiences were like in the concentration camps.  As they were telling their stories of all of the horrific things that they had witnessed, I couldn’t help but appreciate the strength of the human spirit.  The idea of genocides and ethnic cleansings is so deeply disturbing to me and it sickens and saddens me that such terrible events are still happening in the world today.  Once we left the museum we went back to the monuments to finish our tour.  It was a much welcomed slower pace to the day and we ended with a nice dinner at a Tapas restaurant in Georgetown.

The Fourth of July came and excitement was in the air.  I managed to put together a red, white, and blue outfit and we all set out to watch the parade.  The parade was nice but slow-moving so we left before it ended to have lunch.  Later that evening we put together some classic American snacks and headed to the Washington Monument to watch the fireworks.  One fun fact about me…I am terrified of fireworks.  Most people think they’re beautiful and fun, I think they’re horrifying and dangerous.  So as much as I could appreciate the opportunity to be in the Nation’s capital on the 4th of July I was honestly pretty shaken by the fireworks…embarrassingly disturbed.

But they didn’t last long and after they were over we headed back to our dorms and prepared to pack up and say our good-byes.  It was so hard to part ways with everyone, however, I feel confident that we will see each other again.  This has been one amazing experience and I feel so fortunate and appreciative of all the wonderful people I’ve met and all the fantastic things that I’ve gotten to do in one amazing month. Thank yooouuuu soooo much to everyone who made this trip possible!

NYC day 2

After arriving back at Lehigh after a very long day in the Big Apple I packed up all of my things and got ready for our second and final day in New York before heading to our Nation’s capital…Washington D.C.

Our first stop of the day was to have a meeting with people from the Institute of International Education (IIE).  The purpose of the meeting was to speak with them about the program also to get more information about the other opportunities out there to work/study/live in Indonesia and vice versa in the future.  I was really pumped about this meeting because after spending two weeks in Indonesia I knew 100% that I was to go back in the future.  I sure will have my work cut out for me applying to all these different programs for my life post-graduation.  I love the ETA Fulbright program, it literally sounds like everything I could ever want to do after I finish college.  Everything I read about the program just makes it sound better and better and makes me want it more and more.  Booo I wish that I could magically flash forward my life and be teaching English somewhere in Indonesia.  Perhaps in addition to finishing the last of my concentration requirements I should start building a time machine.

Anyway, I digress…. so after IIE we went to the United Nations for a tour.  It was pretty cool to see the UN and to gain a better understanding of what all the UN does.  I just loved the idea of all these different people from counties all over the world working together under this one big building… I’m all for unity.

Once we finished our tour we went to the Museum of Tolerance.  The exhibits at the museum were very difficult to watch at times because they dealt with some very serious and very real issues.  We did this little interactive activity about tolerance and freedom of speech that was kind of useful but also mildly goofy as we were presented with a video showing all of these poorly acted scenarios.  But I could see why it was an important activity nonetheless.  After the museum we went to the Indonesian Embassy to meet with a ambassador’s representative.  The meeting was short but informative and we didn’t really have time for questions because we had to catch our train to D.C in two hours.

I <3 New York

Okay now where  did I leave off…

We left Bethlehem early in the morning (5am) to travel to one of the greatest and most well-known cities in the United States and in the world, New York.  It was still dark outside as we waited in the cool morning air for our bus to arrive.  When the bus came, I melted into my seat and drifted off into an hour-long nap,  I awoke to see stretches of highway and trees before me and the faint beginnings of a sunrise in the distance.  About a half hour later I could see the iconic New York City skyline and highway lanes swarming with traffic.  Approaching the city felt different to me this time.  I had never traveled to New York in a large group before and I began to worry about the logistics of our tightly planned itinerary.  I looked around the bus for the Indonesian students who were just waking up, their tired eyes brightening as they looked at the foreign city with excitement.

I’ve been to New York several times throughout my life and have enjoyed all of my experiences there.  Even though it was early morning the streets were bustling with people. I felt a jolt to my senses as I was suddenly hit with the sensation of being thrown into a crowded school of fish making their way up-stream at near lightening speeds.  When ever I travel to a big city I always have to take a minute to adjust my state of mind.  I must force myself to make the shift from the slow-paced, kindly, midwestern mentality to the aggressive, hyper-vigilant attitude that one needs to get from point A to point B in a city like New York.

The first place that we went to visit in New York was Wall Street and I finally got my picture with that big Wall Street bull (It probably has a name or something but I don’t know it).  We took some time to go into the breathtakingly beautiful Trinity church.  As we stopped to marvel at it from across the street, Fulvia (a life long New Yorker) shared with us her account of this area of New York and of the church following 9/11.  She told us about how there used to be hundreds of pictures and names of loved ones lost in the Twin Towers on the fences surrounding the church.  I could vaguely remember seeing news reports from the very area that we were standing and I couldn’t fathom how hard it must have been to be living in the city during such a difficult time.  It was a powerful moment for all of us to reflect 10 years later on such a tragic event.

So after visiting Trinity Church, we grabbed some New York street food and then headed to the New York harbor for a tour of the Statue of Liberty.  Despite having been to New York several times, I had never seen the Statue of Liberty up close.  It was pretty cool to finally see such a historic and cultural figure but it’s quite a shame that you can’t go up to her crown anymore due to security reasons.  And speaking of security, man was it tight (as it should be).  But I have to admit that standing around in 90 degree heat surrounded by a snaking line of eager tourist started to take its tole on me and after we got off the ferry I was relieved to be leaving the island.  After our visit to the Statue of Liberty, we went to Central Park to have lunch and to discuss this portion of the program.  The discussion was led by Lehigh prof Dr. Lloyd Stephen.

The discussion became really interesting when some of the Indonesian students brought their questions about how they could improve the Indonesian understanding and view of America at the grassroots level.  I could detect the frustration in their voices as they tried to explain to us the difficulty they were having with thinking about strategies that would effectively reach the people.  By the end of our lunch all of us had questions floating around in our minds but none of us really knew what the best answer(s) would be.

After lunch we went to meet with Daisy Khan, the executive director for the American Society for Muslim Advancement.  She shared with us stories about her own journey as a Muslim in American society and the identity issues that she faced throughout her life.  She explained to us how ASMA works to promote support within and outside of the American Muslim community to improve relations between different groups of people.  As she spoke with us I almost became tearful as I felt so inspired by everything she said to us.  She spoke to us about the importance of getting to know people and accept them on a human level in order to get past some of the stigmas and negative stereotypes people with conflicting cultures or viewpoints may have.

The Indonesian students asked her about how they could chance negative Muslim ideologies about Americans in Indonesia.   She explained to them that the best way to reach people would be to use the basic principles of the Quran as a means of exposing the importance of understanding one another and respecting one another.  She told us that much of the recruiting for extremist organisations starts at the grassroots level in places that are the most vulnerable or unstable.  However, by providing a counter movement that, through education, could promote understanding and peace you could stop people from getting pulled into such groups.  By the end of our meeting with her we were all feeling completely inspired.  As we walked to the subway getting ready to make our way back to Bethlehem we were all buzzing with excitement over the multiple epiphanies we had while speaking with such an influential person as Mrs. Daisy Khan.

America the Beautiful

I’ll quickly recap Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday we went to Philadelphia and went to the National Constitution Center and the Historical District.  We had lunch at Reading Terminal which basically made my day because I got to have my favorite soy chicken sandwich from this suuuper delicious vegetarian restaurant there.  I also got to see my sister briefly which was nice.  Later that evening I went to my first baseball game and unfortunately I didn’t really follow…any of it but it was still fun nonetheless.

Today was also pretty great, we went to the Moravian Museum in Bethlehem and learned a lot more about the early history of this city.  After that we got to have a pretty long chat with the mayor!  I couldn’t believe that he spent as much time with us as he did.  Oh my gosh, that reminds me I  think I completely forgot to mention that we also got to chat with the Sultan of Jogja in Indonesia too!! In both cases, they were both so gracious with their time and were so willing to talk with us and answer our questions.  Boy has this trip taken us to some important places.  I mean I can now say that I got to meet a Sultan, like seriously…how cool is that!?

But back to my day today, so after meeting with the mayor we went to Amish country and got to eat dinner with an Amish family!  Okay, the dinner was soooo good and I can’t stop thinking about the mashed potatoes we had there because they were amazing.  It’s funny because Amish country wasn’t completely what I was expecting because now a days there is more technology than I would have thought.  For example, many of them do have propane powered ovens and refrigerators.  They also have phones and some of the young people even have cell phones (I don’t think that is very common though).  The family we ate with was so kind and their home was lovely.  Before eating with the family, we went to a few shops and I had one of their famous pretzels and I also bought some honey mustard, pickles, and salve.  Tomorrow we are going to New York City…oh snap! One thing I will say about this portion of the trip is that I am looking at my own country with new eyes having the Indonesian students here and I must say that America is in fact quite beautiful.

USA continued…

I’m in the final week of this great program and we’re wrapping it up in the East Coast.  We’ve spent five days in Bethlehem Pennsylvania at Lehigh University.  Lehigh is an interesting college in that it was constructed along a mountain so there are tons of hills.  The student housing is at the top and then most university buildings are at the bottom of the hill.  I sure do feel like a pansy complaining about walking up the hills to go to breakfast at Rathbone every morning for four whopping days when the Lehigh students have to walk up and down these hills all the time.  The campus is really lovely and there are a lot of old buildings and more traditional style architecture.

Anyway, on my first day in Bethlehem we began by getting a very thorough lesson about the basics of the U.S constitution and the creation of the Federalist papers.  I was really glad to have the lesson because embarrassing as it is, I really don’t have a very comprehensive knowledge of U.S history or the inner workings of our democracy.  But I do now! After that we went to the Global Union at Lehigh to see a movie about their preparation for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Lehigh in 2008.  The video was quite interesting because we got to see some excerpts from his private and public speeches and we also got to see how the university spent an entire year creating activities and classes to prepare for his visit.

Debra, our program coordinator/supervisor at Lehigh was one of the main people who put together the entire event and she was able to give us the inside scoop on preparing for such an important and dynamic person.  I’ve started reading his autobiography and it is quite good.  The video worked as a good segway into the next days activity, a visit to the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in New Jersey.  The center was located deep in the woods and was absolutely beautiful.  I took an introductory Buddhism class last year so quite a few things that we learned about were pretty familiar to me.  We got to observe a Buddhist service that was in a room with gorgeous colors and flowers and statues of the current Buddha and the next Buddha as well as a few other important figures in modern Tibetan Buddhism.  The service began with an explanation of the prayers and chants that would be recited and the entire service lasted about an hour.

After the service, we went to have lunch and then when we returned to the center in the afternoon to sit in on the class that discusses and interprets Buddhist texts.  What I liked about the class is that people were able to apply the texts to handling issues and challenges in their own lives .  Unlike in Indonesia, Buddhism didn’t really become popular in the U.S until hippies thought it was “far out” :p  Also, it is my understanding that Buddhism really isn’t very common in Indonesia though I don’t really think that it’s all that common in the U.S either.  At the end we got the honor of briefly meeting with a very old Tibetan monk who was staying at the center.  The center was also the place where His Holiness the Dalai Lama stayed when he spoke at Lehigh.

Debra told us a story about His Holiness that really struck me.  She told me that there were some Tibetan people from the area that wanted to protest during his time at Lehigh.  They protested the fact that His Holiness isn’t against Tibet becoming apart of China if the culture and religion is still respectfully preserved.  And upon hearing that people wanted to protest, His Holiness not only accepted this but encouraged it and requested that the protesters be placed in the front of the spectators instead of far off in the back of the crowd.  I think that this demonstrates not only how kind and accepting he is but it also shows how important having the ability to engage in dialogue is.  Furthermore, through his actions, His Holiness demonstrates the need to hear and consider everyone’s opinions even if they are in opposition to your own.  I think that this lesson can really apply to what we’re doing here because with many of the things that we’ve done it has been really crucial that all of us keep an open mind.  Especially when visiting the religious organizations and services we’ve been to in both the U.S and Indonesia, I have been truly delighted by the openness that we have had as well as those we’ve met from those various places.  I have seen since being on this trip that in Indonesia there are religious groups that are closed off to the idea of learning about other religions or aspects of life that they are not accustomed to and the same certainly goes for the U.S as well.

As for differences in the place that religion has in both Indonesian society and American society I will say this.  Because of the separation of church and state that we have in our constitution,  religion is considered something that is more of a private issue than in Indonesia.  I think I may have already mentioned how Indonesia requires people to claim religious affiliation of some kind (within the 6 recognized world religions).  Basically, I feel like race is to the United States what religion is to Indonesian society.  Both are important ways of dividing people and also bringing them together.  They are those hot topics that can be really loaded and stir up a lot of passion in people.

USA

I love irony.

So while I’m in Indonesia I’m popping Imodium and Tums like candy and worrying that I would get owned by the “D” and be confined to the bathroom for hours.  Then, only once I’m on my way back from Indonesia after having a nutritious Burger King dinner at the airport in Singapore do I get sick.  I will spare you all the details but I will say that my stomach has probably never been through so much turmoil before.

Anyway, once we got to Michigan we went to visit Pine View, a Pentecostal church in Ypsilanti… a definite first for me.  Though I am not a person who identifies as being “religious” I can appreciate religion and find it fascinating to see how deeply a religion can affect people.  And I must admit that I have never seen a religion touch people as powerfully it did at Pine View.  I enjoyed seeing all of the joy that religion brought those people and I really got into the music.  I had one of the songs stuck in my head the other day haha.  One of the most notable features about the church that I really respected was how racially diverse it was.  I feel like most American churches are racially segregated so it was really nice to see blacks and whites worshiping together and supporting one another.

After going to Pine View, we went to the Islamic Center in Dearborn where I got an even better understanding of Islam and the interreligious issues that Muslims face in America.  The next day we went to the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at U of M to learn about the new Interfaith Action program that’s been created on campus.  It is interesting being back in the United States after having spent time in Indonesia.  From what I gathered from our lectures in Indonesia, more conflict stems from religious issues rather than racial issues (as it is in America).  However, while I believe that race will always play a rather significant role in this country, I do believe that in America today it is increasingly important to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding.

In several discussions in Indonesia and in the U.S we have talked about how negatively Muslims have been portrayed (especially in the media) after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  I feel that when the attacks happened, it sent a surge of panic through every American household and suddenly instead of worrying about a nuclear disaster or contracting lyme disease, Americans all over the country became consumed by a new fear, the fear of Muslim terrorists.  It was as if after 9/11 equating Islam with terrorism became so wide spread that it became difficult to rationally think about what  exactly were creating by the reactions we had in this country.  This trip has really made me realize the importance of truly interacting with individuals or groups that may be misunderstood or stigmatized in society.  Even though one can read about Islam and about how peaceful most sects of Islam are, it simply does not have the same effect as being able to sit down and engage in dialogue.  Because it is only when we are given the chance to interact on a human level that we can realize that while we may have differences, there are also many commonalities that we share as people trying to live, laugh, and love in this crazy world of ours.

But anyway…the next day I was really sick and didn’t get to go to the African American History museum and the Ford Rouge Factory in Detroit.  But the next day I got to go to Detroit to volunteer at Earthworks Urban Farm.  I was really excited about this because I have known many U of M students who have volunteered there.  I must say that I think that what they do out there is so great and really admirable work.  It’s no secret that Detroit has been struggling for some time now and it is really lovely to see that there are people out there trying to change the city and improve the lives of those who live there.  While we were there we got to have a really tasty meal (though I couldn’t really enjoy it due to illness) and then we cleaned yellow and white onions.  Lastly, we went out to one of their gardens and transferred broccoli sproutlings to new soil.  It was really fun and I also bought some of their FANTASTIC honey.  I can’t wait to cook with it!  Going to Earthworks made me feel hopeful for Detroit.  And then our trip concluded Thursday with canoeing at Gallop Park and later having a great dinner at Kate’s house.

Now I’m in Bethlehem Pennsylvania at the gorgeous campus of Lehigh University and with that…I think I’m all caught up now!

Oh and did I mention how nice it is to be in the position of helping the Indonesian students and their answering questions, and explaining American food and culture.  After all of the questions I had there and all of the patience and kindness they have all shown to us, I want to make sure that I can make it up to them now that I’m feeling well again 🙂

Finals days in Jogja continued…

In addition to the various organizations and religious institutions we visited, we also got a chance to go on a field trip to Borobudur.  Borobudur is this huge ancient Buddhist temple in Magelang (same town as the Pesantren) that has these amazing intricately carved stone depicting different parts of the Buddha’s life.  So many people were there and I could certainly see why people would flock from all corners of the earth to see something as ancient and breathtaking as Borobudur.

My final few days in Jogja were great!  We went to some more organizations that had primary focuses on religious pluralism and multiculturalism and we got to learn about Batik painting and Javanese dance.  Now I’ve always been more of an artsy type of person so all of those activities were sooooo much fun for me.  I absolutely love Javanese dance, I think it is so beautiful and I love to watch their graceful movements along with the gamelan.  Oh and I also really loved learning about Javanese puppetry and getting to play around with some of the puppets when we got the honor of meeting with a Javanese puppet master.  Ugh, I can’t say enough good things about those experiences and I wish that I could go back in time and do it all again.  But considering that I don’t have a time machine, I’ll just have to find a way to live in Indonesia and do all of these fantastic things again.

My last day and night in Jogja was incredible.  We got to have an amazing dinner and see the Ramayana Ballet as part of our farewell dinner.  Then on our last night we went to a nearby beach and enjoyed freshly grilled corn on the cob while watching the sunset.  Definitely one of those moments in life that you just can’t capture in a photo or with a video camera.  No, this was a moment that I took in and saved in my memory forever.  Even in writing this now, I long to be back there, I miss Jogja! Sigh…