Donnilah McClendon

There are at least 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia, each with their own set of customs and distinctive cultural differences. That doesn't mean there aren't any similarities or tendencies between one culture and another other, often what is considered as Indonesia's culture is in fact an image of a dominant one or reflects an amalgamation of certain similar cultures. I chose to teach in Indonesia because I wanted to challenge myself in a world unlike my own. I wanted to learn from my students as I teach them. Over the past year, each day, I've surprised myself with what I am able to take away from Indonesia as I improve myself both personally and professionally.


Indonesia has a huge Muslim population; the largest in the world despite being a secular country by law. Islam is just one of six official religions acknowledged in the country — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In Bali, for example, the dominant religion is Hinduism, and there are localities where there are more Christians than Muslims. I've never lived in a majority Muslim country and being born and raised as a Muslim woman, I have been able to celebrate alongside of teachers and friends that understand Islam as I do.


The feeling of community here is like no other. Since its earliest history, Indonesians have always been communal. Farmers work together to cultivate land and manage resources, villages keep close-knit communities and take care of each other, and cultural values push forward principles of collectivism. Even in modern settings like the office workplace, modern communities and in the classrooms you'll witness the inclusiveness and friendliness of Indonesians.


The islands of Indonesia are rich with herbs and spices, which shaped traditional recipes to utilize the abundance of those ingredients. In fact, many dishes may come out strong to tourists' tongues. Recipes do vary from one locality to another, according to the main crops in the area. Javanese, for instance, tend to like sweeter meals due to the abundance of cane and palm sugar. Many other locales like Padang, Manado, and Bali, surely don't hold back on the chili and spices.


No matter how old or independent the next generation gets; Indonesians tend to keep tight relationships with members of their family. For many Indonesian youths, moving out of parents' house is simply not a “thing”, even when they already have a stable income of their own. This is not heard if in western society. As soon as we turn 18 we are ready to give our parent back their keys and set on the path of adulthood. Many choose to live under their parents' roof unless they absolutely have to (for example, leaving their hometown to get a job in the city). It's not necessarily a sign of dependency, it just shows the values, unity and principles this nation has when it comes to family.

To truly understand yourself you must be immersed in a land nothing like your own. The magic and mystery of Indonesia was the perfect place for me to teach, share, taste and embrace customs and distinctive differences.

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