- Through my STEP project, I was able to work in several different schools across a wide range of demographics in Bali and Jakarta over the course of 3.5 weeks. Through this, I had opportunities to interact in multiple different cultural communities, explore different religions and their context in an international education, and work hands on with students from first grade to high school.
- While completing this STEP project, I was able to immerse myself in a culture that was so completely different from everything that I know. Through every facet of Indonesian culture ranging from religion to transportation and everything in between, I was able to grow in my understanding and appreciation of tradition, socioeconomic circumstances/opportunities, tolerance, resourcefulness, and religion. Reflecting back on all of the experiences that shaped my growth on this trip, I believe that exploring the two dominant religions of Indonesia, Hinduism and Islam, was most impactful for me.
Though the religious diversity is much more vast than I had been expecting, the primary religion in Bali is Hinduism and the primary religion in Jakarta is Islam. My preconceptions about Hinduism had been primarily history based – history is one of my concentrations in my major, so I had studied the historical facts about it but never really thought about it in a spiritual way or modern context. Getting to experience the way that Hinduism dominates the Balinese culture by visiting a Hindu temple, interacting with Hindu students, getting woken up to prayer call each morning before sunrise, observing prayer, and experiencing Hindu traditions is truly what made Bali the experience that it was for me. Hinduism is engrained into the peaceful, Earth-revering way of life in Bali. The religion’s focuses on gratitude, self-improvement, peace, and recognition and respect for the Earth and all its glories are evident in everyday life in Bali. It was so refreshing to take a step back and learn about Hinduism and its relationship to Balinese culture, and also consider how this new dimension of spirituality could apply to my own religion and culture.
The other religion that I had the chance to delve into was Islam. Experiencing this was particularly monumental for me. During my time in Jakarta, it was Ramadan. This special time gave us the chance to interact with the culture hands on both in our school placement and in the local community. This was crucial for me to experience as a future educator because I realized just how ignorant I was to other religions and how my ignorance could affect my students. Many of my young students were fasting during the school day, and I didn’t really understand what that would look like or how I should interact with that as a Christian who wasn’t fasting. The two concepts I picked up on the quickest was that eating or mentioning food in front of a fasting Muslim is rude and that the religious devotion in Islam is an impressive and beautiful thing. To be completely honest, this was my first time really experiencing the depth and beauty of the Muslim faith. Not to say that I was against Islam in any way prior to this trip, but I certainly hadn’t understood it or encountered it in a personal way. I had only ever really been exposed to the American fears and misunderstandings that had been bred through the media over the course of my life. To listen to the religious education classes, watch my 6-year-old students fast all day even when they weren’t required to, and hear them pray, I was able to understand more of what this faith is truly about and how it is misrepresented so often. This was an important lesson for me to learn as I head into my own classroom, not only so that I can be understanding and tolerant of my Muslim students, but so I may pass along concepts of understanding and tolerance to young kids who may have grown up unaware of diversity the way I had.
I learned that I am a much more spiritual person than I realized; its difficult to take the time to develop myself spiritually during life’s business. Through experiencing other religions and reflecting on my own religious practices, I discovered that this is something I would like to prioritize in my adult life. I also was able to develop a better understanding of discipline and intrinsic motivation through my experiences at the Bali Academy. Working with these students was inspiring; I found myself envying their discipline, appreciation of life, hard-working manner regardless of circumstance, and devotion and understanding of spirituality. Now that I have returned, I want to embody these things as I head into my final year at Ohio State.
I also learned a lot about conservation of the Earth while visiting Bali Green School. Our tour guide went through all of the projects and missions students had been working on in order to preserve the Earth and run the school in the most efficient manner possible. This also provided insight into how I could incorporate project-based learning into my future lesson plans so that students can develop into critical, investigative thinkers.
3. A few key experiences helped to shape my new found religious understanding and appreciation. In Bali, I got to learn about Hinduism in a couple of different lights. For one, working alongside my buddy at the Bali Academy, Rama, I was able to see how Hinduism was incorporated into daily life, and also learn about particular ceremonies. There was one day that we were visiting his community pool and a Hindu ceremony happened to be taking place. By watching this with his commentary and explanation, I was able to learn about the value of self-cleansing and self-improvement.
I visited a significant and revered Hindu temple as well as the largest Mosque in Southeast Asia. Seeing these two homes of worship provided so much context into these two religions and allowed me to interact with both in a personal way. During Ramadan in Jakarta, we had the opportunity to break the daily fast at a small mosque in a local community. Through this, we were able to eat cultural food in a communal setting, and truly experience some of the values in Islam, specifically community and devotion, amongst a group of locals. This experience was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
The emphasis of community across these cultures was evident all around. Another community building experience I was lucky to share with my classmates was sitting down for a traditional Jawanese feast in the private home of our guide’s friends. We sat on the ground, the food laid out on banana leaves in front of us. We enjoyed the food the traditional way in Jawa – with our hands. Our guide Dita was so welcoming to us and so eager to teach us about her culture. Not only was I able to learn a lot about the places we were visiting from Dita, but she took on a maternal role for my peers and I. We developed a relationship that I will cherish forever.
My self-discovery and development helped me to refine both new and old characteristics in myself. Gaining new perspectives, ideas, and refreshed focuses on things that may have even already been a part of my life will guide me as I finish my final year of college and enter the real world. I believe having reinvigorated attitudes regarding discipline, acceptance, curiosity, and the importance of learning about who and what is around me will make me a better student, teacher, friend, and leader as I take on new and old roles in my life. Most of my experiences could be applied directly to my classroom one day. I learned a lot about the value of project-based learning and how I could use this to foster independence and critical thinking in my students one day. Also in today’s tense social climate, I feel lucky and empowered to have the chance to learn about religious and cultural practices that are so different than my own. This gives me the power to educate not only my future students about the beauty of diversity, but also my peers and loved ones around me. With little strides like these to educate ourselves about others, I believe the world will be a more peaceful and progressive place. After the profound impact this beautiful culture has had on me, I am already eager to return to Indonesia again in the future.