Bali v. America

Bali v. America // Woof Magazine

Bali v. America // Woof MagazineWhen I was packing up to leave at the end of May, I had no clue what to expect on my dialogue. I was traveling to Bali, Indonesia to actively learn about social entrepreneurship and immerse myself in the culture. During my time there, my group of Northeastern and Ganesha University students put together an amazing business proposal for a new social enterprise. But more importantly, I learned so much more about myself and the world around me. Being placed out of my comfort zone halfway across the world, in a country I knew very little about, was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. (Thank you, Professor Horn!)

Bali v. America // Woof MagazineSeven weeks abroad, a trip extension to Thailand and Singapore, and five varieties of foreign currencies later, I have had a lot to reflect on. It is hard to summarize such a life-altering experience on a single sheet of paper, but there are some essential elements about living in a third world country that I discovered.

  • Currency numbers are crazy. I went to the ATM in Bali and withdrew over 1,000,000 Indonesian rupiah. I felt rich, but to put it in perspective, that equated to roughly less than $100, which goes extremely far in Singaraja (a northern, non-touristy city). Living frugally was quite fun and has made me much more aware of how much I spend on a day-to-day basis in the States, as opposed to my spending in Indonesia.

  • Food is cheap. To elaborate on the first point above, we could eat dinner costing anywhere from 500 rupiah ($0.50) to 1,300 ($1.30) rupiah and be pleasantly full. Street food was the way to go––Tofu Cart Man, I’m looking at you. This guy was amazing. He would hand grind the peanuts into a sate sauce made-to-order. With such delicious, handmade food for so cheap, it really makes one question the McDonald’s dollar menu on a cost per calorie (and quality) basis, doesn’t it?

  • Everyone loves music. The Balinese love Bruno Mars and Adele. If a bit of pop Western culture leaks over, they run with it. The drivers that we had for our time in Singaraja had just about every single remix of “Someone Like You” on a CD, played on repeat.

  • Social networking is huge. For the Ganesha University students, whom we collaborated with for our final projects, the Northeastern students were some of their first Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends from outside of Indonesia. Social media came in a variety of formats and some students carried around two cell phones so that they could stay connected at all times.

  • IMG_1567Travel is a luxury. Despite Bali’s proximity to several other countries, most of the Balinese students had never been outside of Bali or Indonesia, and it mostly comes down to the money. Another reason is that a lot of our Balinese peers feel more connected to their home than many Americans do. Getting to pick up and move around is not the norm in Bali; it’s staying close to family.

  • American students are lucky. The freedom and encouragement we have to analyze and challenge each other and our professors at Western universities is something we should not take for granted. In many parts of the world, students come to class, are preached to, and are never to question the authority of a teacher. In addition, the process to become a teacher in Indonesia has many loopholes and often comes down to who can pay for their teaching certificate rather than who is most qualified to teach. Professor Horn was likely the first educator who ever asked the Ganesha University students for their opinion on a topic and encouraged them to do so.

  • Not everyone’s populations are as diverse as America’s. The diversity we see in our everyday lives in America is unheard of in a place like Bali. Whether it be skin color, hair color, dress, mannerisms, or any varying degree of difference, being anything but part of the homogenous culture is highly abnormal and a difficult concept for several of the Balinese to accept.

  • Bali v. America // Woof MagazineBalinese rarely talk about their problems. Having an open discussion about the problems in one’s home country and how to fix them is another concept that is unheard of in Bali. Whether it be HIV/AIDS, poverty, a flawed education system, a corrupt government, what-have-you, discussion of problems is very hush-hush in Bali. They would rather avoid talking about their issues, or even blatantly deny them, than have a foreigner know about them. I struggled with wrapping my mind around that.

  • Things move a lot slower outside of America. Like molasses. I was withdrawing money from an ATM located in a convenience store when the machine ate my card. It took 20 minutes on the phone with the bank, with everything being translated, to come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done about it. I was lucky enough to get the card back the following morning because of a fortuitous contact I had, but when someone tells you “five minutes,” expect no less than 45.

  • Language is a beautiful thing. Bali has several sayings that helped me look at situations from another light, one of them being “Time is a relationship,” rather than the Western mantra, “Time is money.” The saying that resonates the most with me is, “It will be beautiful when it happens,” instead of simply thinking, “Everything happens for a reason.” It means that everything will fall into place, and it cannot be forced. I try to believe that everything happens for a reason and all will resolve in the end, and magically, without fail, it usually does.

During my time in Indonesia, the days were long, but the weeks flew by. We were all told that at the beginning of our journey, but it’s hard to believe how quickly it went. I learned so much in a short period of time, and it made me realize how much more I have left to learn.
Bali v. America // Woof Magazine