Category Archives: 3. Visiting two mosques, a Catholic Javanese church, an Islamic boarding school and a Catholic seminary

Trip update!

My apologies for the delay in updates during this fantastic study abroad experience I’m having.  I have a few excuses, mainly a bad case of a stomach virus/fatigue post-Indonesia.  So now I have put myself in the challenging position of sharing all of the amazing adventures I had during my last week in Yogyakarta into one long blog post.  So on Saturday June 11 we went to visit a Pesantren over night and for those who don’t know what a Pesantren is (like me prior to being on this trip), it is an Indonesian Islamic boarding school.  We stayed at the Pesantren Pabelan, a lovely place located about an hours’ drive from Jogja.  As we drove through the outskirts of Jogja the beauty of the Indonesian countryside struck me.  All of the lush vegetation and green rice fields that blanketed the landscape were truly breathtaking.  I loved all of the tropical trees as they reminded me of images that I had only seen in books or in movies.  I must admit that as we approached the Pesantren, I was nervous about what staying overnight at a boarding school would be like.

When I first arrived I inhaled deeply, letting the country air fill my lungs as my eyes scanned the Pesantren with anticipation.  We were led into a building that was set up in a rather formal manner complete with a large banner welcoming us to the school.  We first met with the principle and other important faculty and staff to have our first q/a and discussion about the Indonesian education system (in this context) and of the school itself.  One of the most interesting aspects of schooling in the Pesantren is that students attend classes seven days a week!  This certainly made me feel like a pansy for whining every Monday, year after year about having to go to school a whopping five days a week.  Another aspect of the Pesantren that struck me was how little many of the students will get to see their families throughout the year.  Though I suppose this wouldn’t be uncommon for all boarding schools.  To my knowledge, the testing system in Indonesia for primary education differs from the American system in that they have large nationwide test as opposed to the smaller, regional testing we have in the U.S (MEAP, IOWA test, etc…) Oh but now, I can’t wait to talk about my favorite part of our visit to the Pesantren…meeting with the STUDENTS!

So we met with approximately 20-30 students from the upper level grades so that they could practice their English and we could ask questions them questions about their school and anything else we could think of (that was easily to understand and/or translate) and vice versa.  So we asked them questions about what they like to for fun and those brave enough to respond told us that they enjoyed sports, music (Justin Beiber) and participating in girl/boy scouts.  As many high schoolers are at that age, quite a few students were shy but some asked us questions that were along similar lines to the types of questions we asked them.  Oh yes and I almost forgot to mention one of the ways that they punish students that misbehave.  If a student does something bad like skip classes or go off campus, they have to get their heads shaved.  The principal explained to us that this form of discipline acts as a way to bring down that oh so frustrating teenage sass/cockiness by way of touching on one of adolescence’s biggest fears…standing out.

Anyway, so after we talked with the students they were given time to hang out with us more informally.  And as soon as I got up from my chair, several giggling girls greeted me.  Sandra was especially eager to talk to me and one of the first things she said to me was that I was her “idol”.  Now if that doesn’t make your day then I don’t know what else would!  She and her friends were sooo sweet and she immediately took me by the arm and took me straight to her room.  Their smiles and laughter made me feel so giddy that I found myself just as happy to be with them as they were to be with me.  Sandra told me about her aspirations to be a singer, go to America, meet more Bule (foreigners), and oh yeah…how awesome she thought I was 😛 She even gave me this adorable bracelet with her name on it.  I will definitely keep it forevah!

Funny story about my lovely ladies at the Pesantren, they were all significantly older than I thought they were.  Okay so the entire time I’m in her pink Barbie, girly girl room I had this notion in my mind that I was chatting with kids’…twelve, thirteen year olds. NOT.  When I asked Sandra how old she was she told me that she was seventeen and one of her other friends was eighteen.  I couldn’t believe it at first, especially when I think of what my friends and I were like at those ages.  It really made me realize how differently culture and religion can shape one’s development.  And I can certainly say that I was nowhere near as giggly or smiley as those girls.  Nor would I have been all that enthusiastic about meeting college students from some foreign country.  I must admit that in seeing how they acted at seventeen and eighteen years old, it made me feel kind of like a rebel during my adolescence.  Anyway, after hanging out with them and watching Carrie play football with some of the boys we had dinner and then another discussion and q/a with some of the teachers from the school.  In the morning we got to witness part of their boy/girl scout ceremony, which was suuper cool, and I had wished that we could have stayed for all of it.  But we had to go so that we could visit Gereja Ganjuran (Church of Ganjuran).

The Church of Ganjuran is this amazing Catholic Church that was built by the Dutch in 1924.  The church was so beautiful and there was intricately carved Javanese style ceilings and a lovely open-air design.  I loved seeing how Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary were adapted to look like Javanese figures rather than the typical Western artistic interpretations of such important biblical figures.  We saw a few other religious institutions and I may be a bit out of order in talking about them so bare with me.

In Jogja we went to the Masjid Perak Kotagede, a mosque located in an area of Jogja where a lot of silver and silver jewelry is sold (fun fact).    We got a chance to talk with important people from the mosque to ask them questions about Islam and the mosque itself.  We got to observe the men’s’ afternoon prayer and I also got a chance to walk around the inside of the mosque.

We also got to visit  Seminari St. Paulus for a few hours.  The kind men at the seminary gave us a tour of the grounds and shared with us some very compelling stories about the tremendous ways that they helped those devastated by the 2010 eruption of Mount Merrapi.  They showed us a video that really gave me an idea of the shear destruction that the eruption caused.  The video also proved to me the goodness of human nature that shows in times of crisis.  They explained to us that after the eruption, they welcomed anyone and everyone with open arms to provide them with food, clothing, shelter and hope after such devastating events.


A trip to the pesantren

June 12, 2011

On Saturday, we spent the day and night at an Islamic boarding school in the village of Pabelan (pesantren Pabelan). At first, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Boarding schools in the United States aren’t all that common, and most of the time, the kids who attend are either wealthy kids or kids that have behavioral problems. When we arrived, we were greeted with snacks (like everywhere we go in Indonesia!) along with many of the teachers and administrators of the school. Through some jumbled translation, we learned a little bit more about the school, the students and their curriculum. The students are enrolled at the school for seven to eight years, equivalent to the United States middle school and high school years. They get only a few short vacations, and other than that, they live at the school year round. For the first four years, the boys and girls are separated and don’t have class together, and then for the remaining three years, the girls and boys have class together but their interaction outside of class is strictly monitored. Their morning starts at 4am and they go until 10pm at night, talk about a long day!

When we were there, the boys and girls were both preparing for their Scouting ceremony. The pesantren offers both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and it was really cool to see something that I consider to be an American tradition transformed by Indonesian culture! Outside of the girls’ rooms, there was a court-yard where the girls were setting up a camp site to sleep out in tonight. They did it all by themselves and the set up was quite impressive and crafty. The girls put up their own tents and made entrance-ways into the camp ground. They also had some decorations strung up around the campsite, it definitely wasn’t typical of what you might expect but it was cool to be there to see the final product! They were up really early this morning making the final preparations for the ceremony, which we watched as a group.

We stayed in one of the girls rooms and we had only 9 people to the room where they usually sleep 20! In the afternoon, we got the chance to meet with both the boys and girls students. Their English was pretty basic and a lot of them were really nervous to ask questions. Jack asked them what they thought the hardest part about the English language was and they said just finding people to practice with. They said that often times, they take trips to Borobudur Temple to find tourists to practice their English with. I thought that was pretty funny because I just imagined my dad or someone else I know being approached by school kids who just want to practice their English. It was even better because when we went to Borobudur as a group, Anne Marie and I were approached by pesantren boys who wanted to practice their English with us! Anyway, he girl students were really excited to meet Americans and one of them even gave Ellen their bracelet. They love Justin Bieber and they were amazed at how tall I was. It was really surprising to realize that many of the students that we met were 17 or 18 and yet seemed so young to me. These girls were only a few years younger than me, yet because of the different social cultures we grew up in they seemed so… innocent.

Before dinner, I played soccer with many of the older boys. I wasn’t ready for how good they were but I managed to hold my own. Fikar took pictures and I had a whole cheering section, which was especially comforting when I fell down chasing the ball.

My favorite part about the visit was learning more about my favorite figure here in Yogya, Hamzih. He is a well-known entrepreneur in the area and owns several souvenir stores along with three restaurants. Many of them are called Raminten, named for the female character Hamzih played in a local play in Yogyakarta. Hamzih might best be described as a transgender and is someone who constantly pushes boundaries and people’s comfort zones here in Indonesia. Many of the Indonesian students say that he works to empower the minority here in Yogya, and especially works for the LGBT community. As you can imagine, his lifestyle and values faces a lot of scrutiny within the local community. However, Hamzih is a very successful entrepreneur and gives money to institutes and organizations throughout Yogya, even to those who may not support his individual choices. For example, he gave money to the pesantren we visited to build a welcome center. Through this, Hamzih builds respect for himself as people begin to see the good he contributes to the Yogya community. Hamzih uses his philanthropy, stores and restaurants as a way for people to overlook him as a person (a person many people have a hard time respecting) and instead, see him as a citizen that is truly making a difference in the city of Yogyakarta. This way, even though people may not respect him for his lifestyle, they respect him for his professional choices and the positive impact he has on the lives of many. I was talking to Mas Indra about my fascination with Hamzih and his impact on Yogya. As we were talking and I shared with Indra my thoughts, he said that he hadn’t really ever analyzed Hamzih before and now that he had, he thought it was pretty cool the work that Hamzih did for Yogya. I would love to have a figure like Hamzih in my hometown community, someone who is devoted to the betterment of the community no matter if they support him or not. Indra said that Hamzih’s work reminded him of a quote from Batman that goes something like this, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” I think that’s so appropriate for describing Hamzih and is really beautiful when you think about it. Isn’t that something we all should try to do? Anyway, I’m hopeful that I’ll meet Hamzih while I’m here. Everyone has told me that that will probably be near impossible but I’m hopeful!

The days have been really full with activities and I’m trying to appreciate my last couple of days in Indonesia. The Indonesian students are preparing for the United States and I think are getting really stoked for it. I’ve explained to them that in English, first comes excited, then pumped, and then stoked! It’s been fun teaching them some English slang and colloquial phrases. Soon, the tables will be turned and they’ll be the bule! (Bule is foreigner in Indonesian and something we hear almost all the time here…)

Thanks for reading!


Images from Pondok Pesantren Pabelan, Magelang

Pesantren students with our students

Carrie playing soccer with male students

Carrie’s new soccer fans

The stage set for a competition among Boy and Girl Scouts at the school

Day 4!

Time flies by and it has been 6 days since the arrival of the US participants. We have done so many things and a lot has happened. The excitement is felt until this very day.
Today we were split up into two teams: The Lehigh team, which consisted of Jack, Fulvia, Anne Marie, Annisia, and myself; The Michigan team, which consisted of Kate, Carrie, Ellen, Fikar and Binar. Earlier this morning each teams went to different Mosques: Masjid Syuhada and Masjid Perak Kotagede. My team went to Masjid Syuhada. It is said that Masjid Syuhada was a gift from the first president of Indonesia, Ir. Soekarno. He was also the person who designed the building. This Mosque is not only historical but it is also center for Islamic Education: from kindergarten right up until higher education. We were greeted warmly by one of the committee of the board. He is now an English teacher in the High School, and is also working as the secretary of the board. Our visit there was delightful, and everyone was so nice. After being greeted, the Muslim men left for Friday prayer and the rest of us went on a short tour of the elementary school. We met a very nice English teacher. She took us around and explained what this and that was, and we actually got the chance to talk to some students (who are mostly in kindergarten). It was a great school and they were lucky to have such loving teachers. The children were also nice, well, they were adorable. We saw a couple of girls wave to us from behind a fence. It seemed like they want to know more about the bules (foreigners). It’s a shame that we didn’t have that enough time. We went back to the main building (or Mosque, should I say) and waited for the Friday prayer to finish. A couple of minutes later, the prayer finished and we had a small and short discussion over light snacks. It wasn’t long until it was time for us to go.
Personally, I think the next destination is more interesting. It may be due to the fact that I go to a Mosque every day, and I have never been in such a place which was our next destination. Guess what it is? It’s a church! So my first visited church is Gereja Ganjuran in Bantul. This church is very unique, it was quite overwhelming, remembering the fact that this is my first time in church and everything is different from the “usual”. Gereja Ganjuran is a church formed or built based on the Catholic and Javanese teaching. One interesting thing is that the statue of Jesus is in the form of Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono, and most of the figures there were inculturated with Javanese imagery. Another interesting thing is the presence of a temple located somewhere at the back of the church. People pray inside the temple, in which a Jesus statue sits (also in the form of the Sultan). The place was really shady with lots of trees around. One weird thing is that Christmas tree also grows there, whereas it is so far from mountains, where the pines really live.
I learned so many things today, both in the journey to the Mosque and the Church. One thing I remember most and will hopefully always remember is that we have to see who people are, how they live, and what they believe before making any judgements. Thus no misunderstandings happened.
I cannot wait for a another day of fun. See you tomorrow guys, ciao!