We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
This post was written by Courtney Walls towards the end of her time volunteering in Indonesia. Courtney is now back in the United States.
Where in the world has all the time gone? It seems as though I just arrived here in Yogya yesterday. When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed and excited about all the interesting cultural differences between Indonesia and my own home. I barely had time to just relax or even think. By the time the 4th week rolled around however, I felt as though I was completely immersed and accustomed to my new surroundings. Whereas during the first couple weeks I was utterly shocked to see 4 people huddled and squished onto one motorbike, I now barely even notice the bikes at all. All the excitement of being in a new environment has begun to fade into the background and now I can focus on the importance of this journey.
Throughout this trip, I have felt overwhelming emotional roller coaster rides that I can honestly say I’ve never felt before. Traveling far away from my home has opened my eyes up not only to an incredibly diverse and interesting culture but also to myself. I never knew I had signed up to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I saw this opportunity as a chance to discover a new and different culture and to volunteer my time at an NGO. The more I look back on my experiences so far though, the biggest thing I’ve achieved is getting to know myself much better. It has been incredibly stressful and overwhelming but wonderfully thrilling at the same time.
One struggle I feared I would face on this trip to Indonesia is being ostracized or neglected for my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, since Indonesians are required to identify with a religion on their ID cards. I consider myself to not be much of a religious person and have found that many times, when I tell people this about myself, they are shocked, and utterly offended. I’ve been told so many times that I should read into Christianity or some sort of religion to practice being a “better person.” Two weeks ago though, I visited a Buddhist monastery with a few of the other interns here and we met the head monk of Theravada Buddhism in Indonesia. After answering questions for an interview the interns had done with him, he went on a rant about religion. The biggest thing that has stuck with me so far during this entire trip was what this monk had to say to us: “You don’t need religion to be a good man or woman, it only matters that you have good behaviors.” To hear these words from a prominent religious leader was so touching and moving that I couldn’t hold back the tears in my eyes. I felt accepted for my beliefs as an individual and was overly joyful at the entire experience.
Banthe Pannya (head monk of Theravada Buddhism in Indonesia) showing us around the Buddhist monastery.
On a lighter note, I’ve also experienced very funny moments while here in Indonesia on my exciting emotional roller coaster ride. A couple other interns and I decided to go to Bali for a weekend to have a nice, relaxing getaway and to see in person what we normally only see on postcards and in movies. Upon arrival at the Denpasar airport in Bali, we were shocked at how many white people were surrounding us, considering we (ourselves) are pretty much the only white people we’ve seen in the past month. Della and I noticed a large group of very attractive Australian guys and we felt so awkward, not knowing what to do with ourselves as we walked by them. After walking by them, struggling with all our might to not be awkward or giggle, we bursted out in laughter at how awkward the entire situation was. I laughed so hard that I cried…enough said. It was the most extreme reverse culture shock I’d ever experienced (and probably one of the most awkward yet incredibly hilarious moments of my life)…oh yeah, and did I mention how awkward it was?!
Although this journey has been filled with such new, interesting, and sometimes even scary emotions so far, it has also been incredibly rewarding to learn so much about myself and to integrate myself into a culture so different from my own. I am sad to think that this trip is quickly passing by, as it has been one of the most exciting months of my life. I look forward to taking advantage of my last two weeks here and can’t wait to see where my roller coaster takes me next.