Understanding Indonesian Humanity

In my first month here, I made lots of assumptions about the culture and people of Indonesia that were unfair and incorrect. I faced a multitude of challenges that I didn’t expect, and it initially tainted my view of Indonesia. That being said, when I went to my school,  SMA Negeri 5 Bandung, I saw most of my peers in a very one sided light. I was comparing them to American stereotypes and seeing only what they offered on the surface, not trying to cultivate deep and personal relationships. Thankfully, one night on September 9th changed my understanding of Indonesian humanity for the better.

That night we went to Makrab, which through some rough translations, I found out was a very interesting event. In the high school, all the juniors raise money collectively and put on this event for the seniors. It is a celebration, a sort of homecoming, showing massive respect for the other grades. What initially made me curious was that the event was completely privatized from the school. In fact, the school discourages the event, in fear of students acting out because so many students attend. This made me realize the hidden and powerful respect the students had for the other grades, since they would still put on Makrab against the will of the school.

Makrab was in Lembang, which is the more mountainous part of Bandung. It is vast, “cold”, and absolutely beautiful. It was about an hours drive, and the juniors went first to prepare. They left in a massive motorcade, with the student security going in front on Motorcycles to scope out the best route. I rode up with the juniors and got to hang out with lots of friends, getting to know the students a lot better.

A meeting with the Juniors discussing what to do before leaving in the motorcade
A meeting with the Juniors discussing what to do before leaving in the motorcade

Once the motorcade arrived in Lembang, we had 3+ hours to set up. With all that extra time, there were plenty of photos and general chilling, a staple of the concept of Indonesian “rubber time”. I really got to understand the importance of the event, because I saw so many kids working hard to provide an amazing experience for the seniors.  We were in Dusun Bambu Leisure Park, or Bamboo Village, and it was absolutely stunning.

Of course they had to take a squad pic!
The motorcycles that led the junior motorcade
A very excited bule!
We had to take advantage of the awesome background scenery
Me, Santiago (Rotary Student from Mexico), and our good friend Aaron

After being there for 2 hours, I was in an awesome mood. Everyone was in good spirits and I was connecting with my peers, now friends, in a much better way. This culmination of energy inspired me to hop on the main-stage and do a little dance, and everyone payed attention. It was a complete spur of the moment, adrenaline pumping, joyous moment. Looking goody in front of 350 foreign teenagers just seemed appropriate at the time. I really enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone, and inspired Santiago (the other exchange student at SMAN5) to get onstage after me and sing!

Low quality but a good time
The song was One Dance by Drake, and if you haven’t heard it I challenge you to try to NOT dance to it

This moment really helped me break down my preconceived notions of Indonesian teenagers. It showed me that they liked to have a good time, and in one fatal swoop, I showed them that I am ready to be happy and friendly to all of them as well.

An hour later, the seniors arrived, escorted by the previous motorcade of juniors on motorcycles. It was dark, and we were all dead silent in order to show respect for the seniors. Soon, I heard the roar of Bikes trudging up the mountain and a flash of headlights. The seniors rolled up holding a large flag saying V’17 (Class of 2017) and when we saw them, massive cheering ensued. The joy, respect, and all around good vibes astounded me. I was so impressed that these kids, with all the drama that happens at school, put down their gossip, hatred, differences, and forgave each other for one night.

After they arrived we feasted on some noodles and rice, and they brought out a DJ to let everyone party into the night. As I danced and enjoyed seeing everyone, I took a particular notice to seeing certain people together. In Indonesia, the grades are pretty split, and don’t hang out together. Knowing this, I saw so many Juniors and Seniors making friendships and hanging out, it was amazing.

All in all, I went home that night with a new understanding of who I was going to school with. These kids didn’t fit into the cookie cutter stereotypes I had created while in America, they were each vastly different than the next, and are incredibly interesting people. I realized how wrong I was, and after this great night I’m making more an effort to listen and be sensitive to my friends here, so I can fully understand who they are. I made some great friends that night, and they helped me understand the humanity of Indonesian teenagers and opened my mind to the differences I will come to face the next 10 months.

With my love of music, I want to share one of the songs that I listened to while writing this post. When drafting this post, my favorite song was Good Morning by Grouplove