Mental Health Day: Battling Culture Shock in Indonesia

Some days I love Indonesia. I love the heat, the fried tofu, the constant traffic, and even jam karet (“rubber time,” aka nothing starts as scheduled). Some days I hate it. I wish I had ruby slippers I could click three times to bring me home. I hide in my neon green house, burrow myself in my pillows, and just wait for the end to come (“because surely it can’t get worse than this”, I think melodramatically).

Culture shock really sucks. Living in Bandar Lampung has made me question if I’ve ever truly experienced it before. My time in Malang, Shanghai, and Lilongwe seem like nothing compared to this. The constant mood swings, confusion, frustration. I feel perpetually drained by the unfamiliar world around me. It’s tiring.

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Views of my neighborhood

 

This week was particularly challenging. I got hit by a stomach bug and was out of commission for 48 hours. At the same time, an army of cockroaches and scorpions invaded my house. I’m still recovering from fighting a GIANT cockroach in the bedroom last weekend. It was traumatizing.

Dealing with culture shock often seems like an uphill battle. My little “wins” are always overshadowed by the endless challenges of living in a new place. After two months of dealing with the language barrier, desperately trying to reach 350 students in a foreign language, and battling numerous illnesses, I hit rock bottom a few days ago. I thought about giving up.

But today’s a new day and the start of a new week. I sensed that my body and spirit needed a pick-me-up. So I cancelled all my plans and spent the day alone.

I started the morning with a quick run to Chondra—a local convenience store—to pick up more bug spray (I’m ready for the cockroach army now!) and candy for tomorrow’s Halloween party.

I walked back to my neon-green house and broke out the yoga mat. After some light yoga and meditation (and an hour of napping), I was feeling much better. My mind felt free and rejuvenated: my anxieties no longer gnawed at me.

I hopped on my motorcycle with the intention of going to Aditya’s, one of my favorite cafes in the city. I took the back road through the mountains. A beautiful, clear blue sky shone over the ocean in the distance. It made the sea sparkle with deep blue and aqua hues—absolutely breathtaking! I wished I could have gotten a better look instead of the fleeting glances I stole as I zipped through the mountain roads.

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One of my favorite country roads

By the time I got to Aditya’s, I wasn’t ready to stop driving. So I flew by the café and followed a previously unexplored road. I wound up in a cute corner of town dubbed “Little Europe” (seriously, there was a glowing, neon sign displaying its name in huge block letters). It was adorable: a short row of brightly-painted buildings, outdoor tables with red umbrellas, and a mini Eiffel Tower statue. Most of the little shops were closed or empty. I couldn’t tell if they were still under construction or if they’d gone under. But, from the large number of people there, I’m guessing the former.

After walking around for a bit, I hopped back on my motorbike and kept driving. I passed a man picking plastic bottles out of a chocolate-colored river. I zoomed passed a Buddhist temple, complete with red and yellow dragons and large incense candles.  I scampered around an old pick-up truck with over 20 women and children crammed into its cargo bed, looking dirty and windswept as if they were making a long journey. And I stole another glance of the beautiful ocean beyond.

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“Little Europe” in Bandar Lampung

I ended up at Liep’s Café, another one of my favorites, where I sit now. I’m sipping fresh strawberry juice and munching on a delicious chicken bean burrito (not as good as the Mexican food back home, but I’ll take it). One Direction is blasting from the loud-speakers, and a giant mural of Audrey Hepburn is staring at me. A couple of small, colorful kites float past the window to the right. For the first time in over a week, I feel content.

At times, I’m worried I’m not doing enough in Indonesia. I’m worried I’m not fully dedicating myself to my community or making the most of my experience. Today, for example, instead of going solo, I could have visited a local university’s English club. But, then I remember how hopeless and empty I felt just this morning. Spending my day teaching English probably would have made me feel more drained, more empty. But because I took time to myself, I’m feeling happier and recharged.

I don’t think the key to adjusting to a new culture in necessarily diving head first. The key is to find a balance: to mix parts of your new reality with traditions of your old home. I’ll never be Indonesian. I’ll never walk the streets of Bandar Lampung and feel like a local. But I can adjust, to love and appreciate the differences around me. Yet to be successful, I must give myself time to recharge. Mental health days will allow me to keep going.

 

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4 comments

  1. Your honesty and insight reflect perfectly who you are. I am so proud of the woman you have grown into. Thank you for sharing yourself through your blog.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Mrs. Mannino 🙂 You’re passion for learning about and exploring the world has always inspired me! Lots of love from Indo ❤

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  2. “I don’t think the key to adjusting to a new culture in necessarily diving head first. The key is to find a balance: to mix parts of your new reality with traditions of your old home.”

    This line got me. Really well written Sarahann. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece, it’s helped me analyze my own feelings about the 3 months away from home!

    Like

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