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November 11, 2017

What my Research is All About

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I was in high school, people started using this phrase: “I’m all about…”  I thought this phrase was really stupid, but because I was in high school and the people around me were all saying it, I said it too.  “I’m all about cool ranch doritos!”  “I’m all about the Spice Girls movie!”  “I’m all about that inflatable sofa!”  I can clearly recall one summer night at Camp Akita when every member of the high school work crew had to introduce themselves and say what they were “all about.”  I might have said I was “all about” grilled cheese and tomato soup. Frankly, I have no clue now what I was “all about” at age 16, and I probably didn’t know then, either.

When you’re doing dissertation research, or preparing to do dissertation research, people always ask “what’s your research about?”   Here’s a little experiment you can do: find a doctoral student, ask them this question, and watch carefully. You will be able to see a little piece of them die before they answer.  I have answered this question a thousand times, a thousand different ways.  Sometimes I say, “the learning, beliefs, and practices of novice Indonesian English teachers.” Other time I say, “how English teachers learn to teach about culture, and how they do so during their early years of teaching.”  Here in Indonesia, I can just say, “my research is about English teaching,” and people will accept it because they think it is so darn great that I decided to come to Indonesia for my research. One of the greatest parts of being here in Indonesia is that I am spared the never-ending introductions and queries about “research interests” that happen on university campuses in the US

So, my research is about all of those things, but most of all, it is about English teaching in the Indonesian context.  Indonesia is the fourth-most populous nation, is home to more Muslims than the Middle East, and is dizzyingly diverse, but we hear almost nothing about it in the U.S.  A recent series of stories on NPR is a welcome exception, and I recommend reading or listening if you’d like to learn more about Indonesia.  Most of those stories start something like this:

“As home to 250 million people speaking hundreds of languages and spanning some 17,000 islands in an area as wide as the continental U.S., Indonesia is one of the most populous and diverse countries in the world.”

This is all true.  Indonesia is home to Sumatran Muslims who practice Sharia law, to Balinese Hindu women who carry offerings to the temple every morning, to cosmopolitan Jakartans who shop at Cartier and Versace, and to Papuan men who wear penis gourds.  To unify this enormous mishmash of cultures and peoples, the Indonesian founding fathers were very deliberate about crafting a national identity.  The best example of this is the Pancasila, the nation’s official philosophy, which includes a commitment to social justice and unity across diversity.

Education policy plays an important role in sustaining that national identity.  For instance, in recent years, Pancasila has become a required subject on all college campuses, perhaps in an effort to remind Sumatrans, Balinese, Papuans, and all the other residents of those 17,000 islands that they are Indonesians first.  Another example is the most recent primary and secondary school curricula, issued in 2013, which requires teachers of all subjects to infuse “character education” into their teaching by addressing one of 18 “values that form character” in each lesson.  Some of these values are rather benign, like “loving to read,” “friendliness,” “caring for the environment,” but others are more ideologically charged, at least from my American point of view, like “discipline,” “religiosity,” and “nationalism.”  Most national public education systems implicitly expect schoolteachers to help their students become good citizens who contribute to society and conform to societal expectations.  Few systems are as explicit as Indonesia regarding the teacher’s role in sustaining the nations cultural values.

My research looks at how novice English teachers balance this demand with the teaching of language, which is already a culturally-laden subject.  Culture and language are so interconnected that teachers can’t help but expose students to new ways of thinking and seeing the world while teaching English.  Language teaching requires teachers to act as cultural mediators and help students see the world and their lives from an intercultural perspective.  It could be difficult for new teachers to sustain Indonesian cultural identity while also teaching about new cultures in language classes.

Or at least that is what I thought.  That’s what my dissertation proposal says, that’s what the fancy academic research says, and that’s what I thought based on my own experience as a foreign language teacher.  After 3 months of data collection, I’m not so sure.  Over the past 3 months, I’ve done 10 interviews and 3 focus groups with novice teachers; I’ve done 42 lesson observations and interviews with English teachers from elementary school to university level, including in teacher education courses; and I’ve led 2 teacher professional development groups.  After all that data collection, I have the impression that it’s actually pretty easy for new teachers to sustain Indonesian cultural identity because they don’t do much teaching about new cultures in language classes.  In other words, the systemic pressure to focus on Indonesian culture seems to be so strong that new English teachers don’t feel comfortable or able to also address the “intercultural perspectives” that the fancy academic research talks about.

So, I’m at a point in my research where I need to figure out what this is “all about.”  I’ve done all that data collection.  At first glance, what’s happening isn’t what I’ve expected.  But I haven’t done much more than a first glance.  This week marks the end of the first phase of my research, where I’ve been observing what is happening without any efforts to change it.  I’m curious about how teachers are teaching about culture, but I haven’t explicitly talked to them about how they could be teaching about culture or addressing intercultural perspectives.  At my next professional development meeting with the novice teacher participant this afternoon, I’ll open up a discussion about culture and model some techniques they could use to teach about culture.  I’ll do that again at meetings in December, January, and February.  As I continue to observe and interview these teachers every month, I’ll look for times when they do address intercultural perspectives or engage students in critical thinking about cultural issues.  I’ll look for what circumstances and factors support their ability to do so.  My research isn’t quantitative, so I’m not looking to provide any kind of causal link between teacher’s practice and the professional development I’m providing them.  Instead, I’m hoping to see when and how new English teachers teach about culture, and tell the story of how that happens, so that other teachers elsewhere can follow their lead.

That’s the fun part of my research.  The less fun part, for me at least, is analyzing all that data I have collected – pages and pages of field notes from lessons and transcripts from interviews.  Before I get too far into helping teachers teach differently, I need to look at how they’re teaching now – and I need to look carefully at all that data to see if what I think at first glance is what’s really going on.  It probably isn’t – what people say they are “all about”, and what data seems to be “all about”, is often not the whole story.  So I’m going to take a break from data collection, bring my computer with me to a quiet string of Islands just north of Java, and spend the next week digging into what story the data is actually telling.   Another one of the greatest parts of being here in Indonesia is the chance to make data analysis more fun by doing it in sight of the ocean.  And I’ll probably find a little time to relax, as well. Because, you know, I’m all about beach vacations!

 

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November 5, 2017

Everyday Adventures

by Tabitha Kidwell

My approach to life here in Indonesia is very different from when I was here before.  Over the two years I was here as an English Language Fellow, I traveled to all the major islands and a lot more not-so-major islands.  There’s a patriotic Indonesian song that extolls the beauty of the country “from Sabang to Merauke,” the two farthest cities in Indonesia – one on an island perched just above the northern tip of Sumatra, the other on the southeast coast of Papua, almost to the border of PNG.  I didn’t make it all the way to Meruake, but I did get to Manokwari, on the northern coast of Papua.  That is still 500 miles away, but a lot of people don’t even make it all the way out to Papua.  And I did go to Sabang, 2700 miles northeast, and to dozens of cities between the two.  Because I had friends working as Fellows in major cities all over the country, and because those friends often hosted teacher workshops that needed speakers or facilitators, I was able to travel all over the country, and often had it paid for through my professional activity allowance.  During those two years, I also traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia.  Even when I wasn’t setting out on big trips, I would leave Salatiga every few weeks, often just to visit friends in Jakarta or in Yogyakarta, a city about 3 hours to the south.  I somehow found time to do my actual job in Salatiga, and even to make friends here, but I did my best to see Indonesia during my time here.

This time is different.  Maybe it’s because I’ve already been everywhere I wanted to go (with the exception of a couple of remote dive resorts that are probably still out of my price range).  Maybe it’s because I have a clear project here – with only 7 months, my data collection schedule is pretty full, and I can’t be jetting off every weekend.  Whatever the reason, since arriving in Salatiga in mid-August, I have left town overnight exactly twice.  Both were for trips with clear purposes – first, to attend a conference in Semarang, a town an hour north of me, and then to shop for a wedding dress in Singapore.  Otherwise, I’m happy staying here and sticking to my routine.  That isn’t to say that life here is boring – for instance, as I write this, I am distracted by a wedding down the street with very loud speakers and very amateur karaoke.  Life offers up surprises every day here, and those little surprises are probably another reason I’m happy just staying in town.  Even my daily routine is a departure from daily life in the US.  Here’s a typical day:

I start to wake up a little before 5, when the call to prayer starts, but I don’t get out of bed until 5:30 or so.  I do yoga or go for a run past farmers in the rice fields and children headed to school.

Most days, I go to observe and interview an English teacher at a local school.  My arrival usually involves stares, giggles, general merriment among the students, who are not accustomed to seeing foreigners come to their school.  If it’s an elementary school, I’m usually mobbed by children wanting to shake my hand; if it’s a middle school, brave students are more likely to shout out “wass-yoh-nem” and then beat a hasty retreat into a group of friends; at high schools, the mobile phones come out, and I pose for a few dozen photos.

Sometimes I even lead an impromptu song and dance session!

If I don’t go to a school, I ride my scooter to campus, past rice fields and views of volcanoes.  I hang out in the office, chat with colleagues, and try to do a little work, before heading out for lunch. Sometimes I go fancy places with waiters and menus (for less than $5), sometimes I go to street food stalls (for less than 75 cents), but recently I’ve been going to a little Javanese cafeteria that lets you choose among dozens of Javanese dishes.  I fill up my plate, then the lady at the end calls out a price.  The price doesn’t always seem to correlate with the contents of my plate, but it is never more than $1.50, with a drink.

In the afternoon, I might go back to campus, unless the gamelan orchestra has practice.  I’m more likely to go work for a few hours at a coffee shop, or to go to a local hotel and read by their pool.

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I’m usually home for the evening by 5.  I have dinner at home, and read or watch TV until I go to bed around 9. I’ve read the full New Yorker most weeks, and have even gotten through most of the Economist some weeks, which I consider a real accomplishment.

So, three months, and only two trips away.  This time around, I’m much happier just leading my quiet life here in Salatiga.  Even if some days, like the days when there is a wedding down the street, are not so quiet.  At least I can always head to that hotel pool!

October 4, 2017

Wedding Dress Shopping In Singapore

by Tabitha Kidwell

My fiancé Jim proposed to me the night before I left for Indonesia.  The last-minute proposal was a good thing because I didn’t spend the last week in the States trying to plan a wedding.  I was able get ready and spend time with Jim without having that added stress at the last minute.  The last-minute proposal was also a bad thing – because I didn’t spend my last week in the states trying to plan a wedding.  It turns out, there are a lot of wedding-related tasks that are a lot easier to do in America.  Like getting your ring properly sized.  Or finding a venue.  Or buying a wedding dress.

The first problem was easily solved with some dental floss:

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The second problem was solved by the world’s best mother and future-mother-in-law, who have already booked the church, reception venue, and rehearsal dinner venue, with virtually no help from the bride or groom.  They also already bought their dresses:

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Jim and I have also been working on DJ, photographer, flowers, cake, etc., from out of town/country, and that is all going fine so far.  But that final problem was something I just couldn’t do here.  This photo of the local wedding dress shop might explain why:

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Pastel ball gowns aren’t exactly my style.  I looked into shopping in Jakarta, and there were some possibilities, but it didn’t seem too promising.  I thought about flying to Australia for a weekend, or flying home to Ohio to buy a wedding dress over Thanksgiving, but before traveling to another continent to shop, I headed to Singapore to check out the options there.

I did some research online and found some VERY expensive stores where you could buy designer gowns (e.g., Oscar de La Renta, Carolina Herrera, Elie Saab)  that were WAY out of my price range.  And I found some places that offered to make any gown you brought a picture of, starting at 89 USD, which seemed WAY too cheap.  And then there were some goldilocks, just-right boutique.  I made appointments at a few of those mid-range stores.  As I started making appointments, I realized most of the stores were located on the same two streets.  I’ve written before about how Indonesian people are cooperative and tend to put businesses of the same type on the same block.  It turns out Singaporean people are the same way:  There were like 10 bridal shops on two streets in Chinatown. I made appointments at a few of those, and also at The Gown Warehouse, which was located near the U.S. Embassy.

Shopping for wedding dresses in Singapore was an interesting experience for a few reasons.  First, apparently Singaporean brides usually rent several dresses, including one for pre-wedding photos that is not meant to be walked in (and certainly not danced in).  That meant that some of the dresses I was shown were totally impractical.  I asked how the train of one dress would be bustled, and the saleslady told me, no, that dress was just for pre-wedding photos, NOT for walking.  Also, the fact that dresses are typically rented means that if you’d like to buy one, it is made to measure, and you can typically customize it.  A lot of brides go a step further and have a dress designed and made from scratch, often copying the design from a photo.  Because they’re worried you’ll copy their design, the dress boutiques don’t let you take photos unless you are in contract to buy the dress!  This doesn’t totally make sense, because they all have photos of their dresses on their websites, but they have signs up threatening to end the session if you take out a camera.  I almost started crying at my first appointment because I was already a little sad about shopping for dresses by myself, let alone not being able to send photos to my mom and sister.  Sensing my panic, the saleslady let me take a few photos, and I knew from then on to take pictures surreptitiously in the dressing room before the ladies came in to  zip me up:

As you can see from those photos, I tried on a bazillion lace, boat-neck, mermaid-cut dresses.  I ended up buying the first one I tried on – which is not pictured here (but looks more or less like all of those).  I started at the Gown Warehouse because I had seen a design I liked there, and that design ended up being the one I compared everything else to.  In my opinion, The Gown Warehouse had lower prices and nicer dresses than the stores in Chinatown.  A taxi driver told me this was because I needed to bargain in China town, which I believe (most of them quoted a price of 3000 USD to have a dress made!) but didn’t try to do so myself.  For fellow Southeast Asian resident brides-to-be, if you want to keep the process simple, spend a reasonable amount, and have as close to a “western” wedding dress shopping experience as possible, I would recommend The Gown Warehouse.  They are making my dress to measure, and are even customizing a few features so I can have exactly what I want!  I’ll go back in January for the first fitting, then may have to go back again in March if alterations are needed.  I’m so relieved to have this taken care of – and so excited to wear the dress next June!

September 6, 2017

Navigating the RISTEK-DIKTI Visa Process: Advice for Foreign Researchers in Indonesia

by Tabitha Kidwell

To be able to conduct research of any kind in Indonesia, researchers need to get a foreign research permit. Actually, that’s only the first of many documents you need to obtain. I’ve collected over a dozen official documents, and I’m not yet finished with the immigration process. I’m sure all those permits and letters serve important purposes for different people or offices, but the labyrinthine bureaucracy makes it all blend together. In this post, I’ll try to explain my experience through the whole process. Depending on a researcher’s nationality, research topic, or location in Indonesia, your experience could be quite different, but I hope this will be helpful to future researchers in Indonesia. I’ve divided the steps up into three stages: applying for the FRP & getting a research visa, paperwork in Jakarta, and Immigration and residency paperwork. I suggest only thinking about one stage at a time, otherwise the process seems too insurmountable. Completing all the required paperwork to do research and live in Indonesia is a long and tedious process, but anyone with enough tenacity will be able to complete the process.

I. Applying for the FRP & Getting a Research Visa (At Home in your Country)

This is much easier than it used to be now that the process is online – I have friends who had to send their application in paper copy just a few years ago.  Here are the steps you should follow.  When I can, I’ve included copies of the documents I submitted.  I was accepted on the first try, so my documents must have been okay.  Even with being accepted the first time, I didn’t get my visa until about 3 months after I applied, so that would be the bare minimum.  I recommend applying at least 4 months before you hope to go to Indonesia.

1. Create an account at frp.ristekdikti.go.id

2.  Complete the initial application. This asks for your demographic and personal information, information from your CV (education, research experience, professional experience, and recent publications), information about your study (title, objective, abstract, location, duration, funding), information about your counterpart, and information about your advisor and department chair from your home institution.  If you are a student, be sure to indicate that when asked for your “role” or “position” so that there is no confusion about you paying the (significantly smaller) student research fee.

3. Obtain and upload the following documents:

a. A formal letter of request to conduct research in Indonesia

b. Your CV

c. A passport photo with a red background

d. A color scan of your passport photo page

e. A letter of acceptance from your Indonesian counterpart

f. The Indonesian Counterpart’s CV

g. Your detailed research proposal (I had trouble later because I did not include a cover page, but RISTEK-DIKTI accepted this version.  I’d suggest including a cover page with the title, your name, and your institution,  just to make this easier later)

h. A letter of recommendation from a university official (I had my department chair write this)

i. A letter of recommendation from a Senior Scientist in your field (I had my advisor write this)

j. A health certificate (I asked my doctor for a letter saying I was in good health).

k. Letter of Recommendation from the Indonesian Embassy or Consulate where you will apply for the visa (I found an e-mail address for the embassy nearest to me, and e-mailed them to request a letter of recommendation)

l. A list of the research equipment you will bring to Indonesia (I uploaded a short letter saying I would bring my laptop and an audiorecorder)

m. Letter guaranteeing sufficient funds (I asked my department’s secretary to write a letter saying how much funding I had from my home university).

n. A letter telling which Indonesian Embassy or Consulate you will visit to apply for your visa  (They ended up e-mailing me to ask this again after I had been approved.)

o. Bank statement (They e-mailed me to ask for a more recent one after I had been approved. I have heard that they want to see at least 1500 USD in the account.)

p. A letter committing to joint publication of research results with Indonesian counterparts. (I wrote a letter myself.)

q. If you are coming with a partner, family, or research team, you also need to upload their passport, photo, CV, recommendation, health certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.

4.  Check all that over, hit “submit,” and celebrate – you have completed the first major hurdle in this process!

5. Now you wait.  The approval committee meets monthly, and you can see their meeting dates and minutes here.  They could ask you to revise your proposal or your documents, or they could contact you or your counterpart to Skype into a meeting and present about your research.  You are probably more likely to encounter difficulties if your research topic is something sensitive like police corruption or deforestation.  Mine was pretty benign – about English teachers – so I was approved on the first try.

6.  Eventually you will hear that your application was approved.  Then you wait some more. It took about 6 weeks for me to receive the visa authorization “telex” that let me apply for my visa.  Once you have that, you can move on to the next step….

7.  Apply for your visa.  If you have lived or worked abroad before, this stage will be similar to your previous experiences getting visas.  I was able to start my file by registering online with the embassy in Washington, D.C., then I had to give them 105 USD, my passport, passport photos (with a white background this time), and a copy of the telex I received from RISTEK-DIKTI.  I also had to show my round trip airline ticket. Processing the visa took 7 working days.  Since I lived in D.C., I dropped it off and picked it up in person.  Check with your embassy or consulate about their required documents, fees, and timelines.  Once you have your visa, buy your plane tickets input your arrival date at frp.ristekdikti.go.id, and get ready to go to Indonesia!

III. Paperwork in Jakarta

No matter where your research will take place, you have to start in Jakarta – and you probably need to plan to stay about a week and a half, unless you have a friend or hire an agent who can pick up your document from Kemendagri.  Bring plenty of passport photos with a red background (get a bunch of these taken before you go – I just took a photo with my iPhone, edited it to the right size, and printed out a whole page of them on photo paper), several copies of your passport, and make extra copies of any documents you are given along the way. Here are the steps you can follow:

1. Go to the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education (Kementerian Riset, Teknologi, dan Pendidikan Tinggi, or Ristek-Dikti) to get your Letter of Research Permit (Surat Izin Penelitian, or SIP).  Their office is on the 20th floor of BBPT building 2 on Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta.  This was the most pleasant and quickest of all the offices.  I went right at 8:30 the first morning I arrived, and the place was very calm.  I completed a form, gave them passport photos, and paid the 1.6 million Rp student research fee.  You can’t pay at the office itself – you have to leave the building, walk out to the road, go to the Mandiri bank in the next building over, pay it there, get the receipt, and go back to the Ristek-Dikti office. I had to wait few minutes, then they gave me my SIP, a cool laminated Research Permit Card, and with 5 copies of my SIP with cover letters to give to the rector of my host university, the immigration office, the police headquarters, and the ministry of the interior.  They were really nice, and the whole process took maybe 45 minutes. If you do this in the morning, you can easily hop on a go-jek or in a taxi to go complete the next step on the same day.

2.  Go to the National Police Headquarters (Markas Besar Kepolisian Negara Republic Indonesia, or Mabes-Polri) to get your traveling permit (Surat Keterangan Jalan, or SKJ). This is located at Jl. Trunojoyo no 3in South Jakarta.  If you ask around about where foreigners should go to “lapor” (report), people in the police complex will point you to a waiting room at the back of a building.  You take a number when you enter.  I had to wait about 45 minutes, then I completed a form, gave them two photos, and the packet that Ristek-Dikti had made for them (which included a cover letter, my SIP, and photocopies of my passport and visa pages).  I finished this just before noon on day 1, and they told me they would have the SKJ ready the next morning.  I returned the morning of day 2, and didn’t need to take a number. I just went to the same window as the day before and asked if my “SKJ” was ready.  I waited about 5 minutes, and they called my name and gave me the letter.  There is a copy shop just down the way from the waiting room where I made a photocopy.  That left me enough time on day 2 to submit the documents for the next step.

3.  Go to the Office of National Unity and Politics (Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, or Kesbangpol) at the Ministry of Home Affairs (Kementerian Dalam Negeri Republic Indonesia, or Kemendagri) to request your Research Notification Letter (Surat Pemberitahuan Penelitian, or SPP).  The Kemendagri complex is a huge collection of big white buildings on the road north of the MONAS (Monument Nasional) complex, conveniently called “Jalan Merdeka Utara” (North Independence Road).  This confused my Go-Jek driver, who kept trying to take me to “Jalan Merdeka Timor” (East Independence Road).  When you find KEMENDAGRI (No 8, Jalan Merdeka Utara), the Kesbangpol office is on the ground floor of building B.   Enter the complex, walk straight ahead, turn right before the banks, and the office will be the last door on your left.  You need to give them a copy of the documents collected thus far (SIP, SKJ, cover letter from Ristek-Dikti), a copy of your passport, and 2 passport photos.  They give you a little yellow form and tell you to come back in 5-7 business days.  That form has a phone number you can call to ask if it is finished, but it took me 4 or 5 times before anyone answered the phone. If you need to get to your research site right away, someone else can collect the SPP for you, but if not, enjoy your week in Jakarta.  It took 5 business days for my SPP, and it took about 10 minutes to pick up.  They also gave me copies of the SPP addressed to the regional governor at my research site and to the regional police office at my research site – more about that later.  Once you have your SPP, celebrate with a nice dinner in Jakarta before you head to your research location and begin the next round of paperwork!  You got your SIP, your SKJ, and your SPP, and you deserve a treat!

III. Immigration and Residency Paperwork (At your Research Site)

Once you leave Jakarta, you might be tempted to relax and feel like your paperwork woes are finished, but they are actually just getting started.  The Jakarta offices are accustomed to issuing the paperwork you need, but the local offices often don’t encounter many foreigners. Even in Central Java, a fairly well-connected area, many of the civil servants I met with seemed a little confused or flustered about what paperwork I needed to submit or be given.  This can make the process more complicated because you may go one day and be told you need to collect a certain number of documents, then come the next day with those documents only to learn that you need something else, too. Also, in these offices, there is often only one person who is in charge of paperwork for foreigners, so if they are out for a few days, it can really hold you up.  But don’t lose hope – everyone I encountered was very friendly, and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment after you finish all your office visits and get all the letters you (may or may not) need.  I’ll explain my process below, but your process is almost guaranteed to be different.  There was a lot of confusion for me about which paperwork needed to be done first – I was told by one person that I needed the residency letter to get the KITAS, and by another that I needed the KITAS to get the residency letter.  It’s best to just proceed step by step.  If you can get one letter or visit one office every day, you’ll be done in under two weeks.

1. Go to the local police office to get the Letter of Report (Surat Tanda Melaporkan).  I gave them copies of my passport and various letters (I honestly don’t recall which ones).  This took one day in Salatiga, but then the person responsible was out of the office, so I couldn’t pick it up for a couple of days.  You need this letter for the next step.

2.  Immigration paperwork.  Within 30 days of your arrival in the country, you need to visit the local immigration office to request your Limited Stay Permit Cart (Kariu Izin Tinggal Terbatas, or KITAS), and your Multiple Exit Re-Entry Permit (MERP).  At least in Semarang, this was a surprisingly easy process. It used to be that you would have to go three times – once to apply, once to take photos and fingerprints and pay, and once to pick the document up.  But because I completed my forms online at http://izintinggal. imigrasi.go.id/IT-online/, I was able to do my photos, fingerprints, and payment on my first visit, which probably lasted about 30 minutes total!  They need a letter of guarantee from my counterpart, the Letter of Report from the local police office, copies of my visa, arrival stamp, and photo page in my passport, passport photos, and a copy of my original visa telex.  I also included a cover letter, and almost had the whole thing rejected because the two letters were written by different people, but instead, they just gave the cover letter back.  I’ve heard that some immigration offices also need a letter of residency from the RT/RW, so you might want to call your office ahead of time to ask what you need.  The office will take your passport, then you should be able to return after 4 days to take it back with KITAS the stamps inside, and also a KITAS card.  They also e-mailed me two documents.  I didn’t receive a MERP blue book like I did last time, but they assured me that it was now electronic and I didn’t need the card.

3.  The SKTT.  This is the one that really takes a lot of time, and that must proceed in a certain order. You can start this before you have your KITAS.  I’m not totally certain I needed to do this one, since I only plan to stay 7 months and will not need an extension, but I’m a rule-follower, so I did.

a.  You should start by visiting the Local Agency of National Unity and Politics (Badan Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, or Kesbangpol) to ask what paperwork you will need and get forms that will need to be filled out or stamped by lower levels of government.

b.  Then, you visit the Ketua RT, the head of the neighborhood.  Ketua RT is the lowest level of government, but he is unpaid, so you just go visit him at his house.  He is in charge of about 50 households, and will probably want to chat a little bit and offer you snacks.  He should have a little booklet of residency forms (Surat Pengantar).  He will complete one in duplicate using carbon paper, and will sign and stamp it.

c.  Then you go to the Ketua RW, the community unit cheif.  My Ketua RW oversees about 4 RTs, so this level is just a little above the neighborhood level.  The Head of the RW is also unpaid, so again, you’ll visit him at his house in the evening, he’ll offer you snacks, and he’ll sign and stamp your document.

d.  The next step up is the sub-district, the Kelurahan.  This is the lowest level of official government, and it seemed to me that there were about 20 people working in the office.  They take the letter from Pak RW and replace it with a more official Residency Letter (Surat Pengantar Keterangan) signed and stamped by the Lurah, the head of the kelurahan. They also sign and stamp the forms for the Kesbangpol office.  I had to give them copies of my passport and several other letters I had been given previously (including copies of cover letters addressed to other people, which made no sense, but whatever), so just be sure to have plenty of copies of your SIP, SKJ, and SPP, and really anything that looks official or important.

e.  Then, you take your letter and forms to be signed and stamped at the Kecematan, the district office. Again, I had to give them copies of my passport and the various letters I had received.  I had to wait a day for the Cemat, the head of the Kecematan, to return to the office.  Be sure that all the forms and letters are signed and stamped when you pick them up – they forgot to stamp one of mine, which meant I had to go to the Kecematan four days in a row!

f.  Then, you can go back to the Kesbangpol office.  They will actually supply you with two documents:  a Request for Residency Letter (Permohonan Rekomendasi Surat Keterangan Tempat Tinggal, or SKTT) and the Research Recommendation Letter (Rekomendasi Penelitian).

To get the SKTT Request letter, I needed copies of the forms that had been signed at the Kelurahan and the Kecematan, a letter of request from my host university, the Letter of Report from the local police, and a copy of my KITAS from the Immigration office.  It was unclear if I did, indeed need the KITAS, or if I could have done this without the KITAS – I was told different things by different people at the Kesbangpol office, so this could vary from place to place.   To get the Research Recommendation Letter, I had to give them a copies of my proposal, student id card, drivers license, passport, and a letter of request from my host university.

I returned after a couple of days, and received copies of each letter, as well as a sealed copy of the Research Recommendation Letter to give to the Rector at my university and to the Regional Planning, Research, and Development Agency (Badan Perendanaan, Penelitian, dan Pengembangan Daerah, or Bapelitban). Someone from the Kesbangpol office just walked me to the other end of the city government complex to the Bapelitban office, and I handed it to a dude in the lobby smoking a cigarette who may or may not have worked there but who seemed official. They also gave me a copy of my Request for Residency Letter to take to the next office….

g.  The Department of Population and Civil Registration (Dinas Pendudukan dan Pencatatan Sipil, or Disdukcapil).  This is the office that finally issues the SKTT after all those visits.  They needed the form that I had been given at Kesbangpol that had been stamped at the Kelurahan and Kecematan, the SKTT Request Letter from Kesbangpol, copies of my passport, KITAS, Police Letter of Report, and a photo.  They gave me a receipt and told me to come back in 2 weeks for the SKTT.  I asked if I needed to take the SKTT to any other offices, and they said I didn’t, so I’m hoping that this will be the end of my visits to government offices!

4.  Other: Again, I’m not sure I needed to do these last steps, but I’m a big rule-follower.  To do my due diligence, after having been given sealed copies of my SPP by Kemendagri, I reported to the Governor of Central Java, and to the Regional Police Office’s (Kantor Police Daerah, or Kapolda) Director of Intelligence and Safety (Direktor Inteligen dan Keamanan, or Intelkam).  This resulted in a major run around, as it seems that both of the offices that handle receiving this kind of paperwork have moved several times in the last several years in Semarang.

From the governor’s office, I was directed to the “One Stop Integrated Service Center” (Pelayanan Terpadu Satu Pintu) to get another “Research Recommendation Letter”.  The idea of having a one stop service is a very good one, had I known from the beginning where that “one stop” would be.  In any case, once I arrived, I was informed I could have done the paperwork for the Recommendation Letter online at perizinan.dpmptsp.jatengprov.go.id (this is the link for Central Java), but I just did it online at their office that day.  I had to upload my proposal (with a cover page!), passport, and a couple of other letters (again, I don’t recall which – I was carrying around copies of about a dozen documents at this point), and they e-mailed me a “Research Recommendation” (Rekomendasi Penelitian).  I’m not really sure about the purpose of this letter, or to whom my research is being recommended, but I guess it’s nice to have another letter.

From Kapolda, I was directed to the Intelkam office, which was in another location.  This was my favorite office – two bored police officers were just sitting around.  One barely looked at me, opened my letter, scanned it, stamped it, and handed it back, without even losing any of the ash dangling precariously from the end of his cigarette.  I was at the Intelkam office for about 20 seconds.  I’m not sure if I actually needed to go to either of these offices, but I guess it didn’t hurt to do so.

And then you are done!  It’s time to celebrate, and time to dig into your research.  Before you know it, it will be time to submit your exit paperwork, which should be simpler than the entry paper! I hope so, at least!

September 1, 2017

First things first… the Indonesia permit process

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve been here in Salatiga for about 3 weeks now, and things are going well.  I’m recruiting potential study participants and doing initial interviews, which is exciting.  I found research assistants and have gotten all my project documents translated.  But the most time consuming activity over the past few weeks has been the seemingly insurmountable permit process.  If you’re considering undertaking research in Indonesia and you’d like more details about the minutia of the process (or if you just have a lot of free time to read blogs online), I’ll be publishing a post next week about all the different documents I obtained and how I got them.  Otherwise, this blog is more of an overview of the process and my reactions to it.

I started the permitting process back in April, when I submitted over a dozen documents online to the Foreign Research Permit office.  I had to submit my research proposal, my CV, my transcript, a copy of my bank statement, and letters from my advisor, department chair, department secretary, host institution, local embassy, and doctor.  Then, after waiting over 2 months for them to send my visa authorization letter, I rode my bike down to the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, only to find that it was closed and would remain closed for the next 5 days because of Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan.  But I returned after the holiday, and was able to get my visa by Mid-July, which was perfect for my intended departure date of August 1.

Once I arrived in Indonesia, I stayed in Jakarta a week so I could report and complete paperwork to the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, the Ministry of the Home Affairs, and the National Police Headquarters.  Then, once I got to Salatiga, I had to report at the local police office, the neighborhood head, the community head, the subdistrict office, the district office, the city office, and the census bureau.  I also had to go to Semarang to visit the Immigration office, the Governor’s office, and the Regional police office.  I went to some of these offices two or more times, and have collected over a dozen official letters.

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This is not even all of them.

For most of these letters, I had to submit copies of my passport, visa, various other letters I had been given previously, and passport-sized photos.  Luckily, before I left the US, I had Jim take a photo of me, and I printed a page full of passport photos at CVS.  Because Jim had been doing this when he was supposed to be taking the photo…IMG_0890.jpg…my passport photos for all of these paperwork show me looking tired and unamused, which is an accurate depiction of my feelings about the process:

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The amount of paperwork that needs to be completed to live and do research in Indonesia approaches the absurd.  There may be an equivalent amount of paperwork for foreigners to live in the US, but I don’t think they need to register with every level of government, right down to the neighborhood level.  At least, I hope not. I was amazed at the amount of paperwork that is being filed and recorded, and by the numbers of people involved in filing and recording it.  The small city of Salatiga must employ thousands of people, just to manage its bureaucracy.  Even the smallest government office, the sub-district, had about 20 people working in it, and I think there are more than 20 sub-districts in Salatiga.  I guess it is a good thing to keep so many people gainfully employed, but otherwise, I’m not really sure what purpose all this paperwork is serving.  I have a bunch of letters of recommendation and residency and permission, but I’m not exactly sure what they are all for.  I’m not sure the civil servants who prepared them did either.  At several offices, they had to hunt around for another foreigner’s file to look up what documents they needed from me and what the final paperwork should look like. For the most part, I was able to muster enough patience and tenacity to stick with the process, but the several times I was close to losing it were the times when I came to an office with all the documents they had requested the day before, only to have a civil servant pull out another foreigner’s file, notice that they had a document I didn’t have, and ask me to come back again with that additional document.

In any case, I am close to finished now.  I have received my residency permit and multiple entry permit, which are the really essential ones.  I’ve also received Letters of Research Recommendation from the local, regional, and national level, though I am not certain to whom my research is being recommended.  All that remains is one last office to get my residency letter.  At least I hope so.  What will I do with all my free time when I don’t have go to government offices everyday?  I don’t know… maybe I’ll write a dissertation.  Maybe I’ll plan a wedding.  Maybe I’ll learn to juggle.  We’ll see!

August 19, 2017

The Return of Keeping Tabs

by Tabitha Kidwell

Great news, everybody – Keeping Tabs is back!  My return to more regular blogging is largely motivated by the fact that I, myself, have returned to Indonesia, to do my dissertation research!  I arrived to Jakarta on August 2, and to Salatiga about a week ago, and I’m already far more motivated to blog than I was at home.  There are a lot of reasons for this – I have more free time, I have fewer people to talk to in English – but mostly, life just seems more interesting here. I’ll post soon about what I’ve been doing since I arrived, but first let me fill you in on what I’ve been doing over the past year or so!

I advanced to doctoral candidacy and passed my dissertation proposal

When I say I’m a Ph.D. student, people often ask, “How long does that take?” or “How long until you graduate?” or (maddeningly) “Are you almost finished?”  I suppose, technically, I AM almost finished now, but it will still take almost 2 years for me to finish my dissertation and officially graduate.  But it is true that I am at the point where I “just” have to write my dissertation.  To get to this point, I spent two years (and a summer) doing coursework.  Then, I spent the fall semester 2016 writing my qualifying papers, which are the gatekeeper for being able to call yourself a “PhD Candidate.”  In some Ph.D. programs, I think especially in the sciences, you have to take comprehensive exams to advance to candidacy. In the olden days, that meant  sitting in a room every day for a week with a blue book and a bunch of pencils, but now I hear that “comps” are usually take-home exams given over a stressful 24 or 36 hours.  For my program, I was required to write a couple of long papers that basically end up being the introduction, conceptual literature review, and empirical literature review to lay the foundation for my dissertation.

After advancing to candidacy, I spent the spring semester of 2017 writing my proposal, which consists of the revised versions of my qualifying papers plus a chapter describing the methods for the dissertation study I proposed.  I went through a few rounds of revisions with my  advisor, and once she was happy with the proposal, I scheduled my dissertation defense with the five professors on my committee.  I defended my proposal in early June, made some revisions based on their feedback, and then I was cleared to do the study.  So, that is what I came to Indonesia to do.  My study is a qualitative case study of the teacher preparation program at a Muslim university in Central Java, complemented by embedded case studies of several recent graduates of the program, investigating learning, practices, and beliefs of novice Indonesian teachers of English.  If that sounds interesting to you, I would be happy to share my 175-page dissertation proposal with you!

In addition to all those milestones, I applied for lots of different grants to support my research here.  The program at Maryland was kind enough to find a 10-hour weekly graduate assistantship that I can continue to do remotely.  That covers insurance, tuition, and provides a small stipend that would actually probably be enough to cover most of my personal expenses here, since cost of living is so low.  To help buy research equipment, pay research assistants, offer travel allowances for study participants, buy snacks and drinks for meetings, and pay my immigration and research permit fees, I’ve applied for at least six grants.  I got one small one, I didn’t get a couple of others, and I’m still waiting hopefully on others. Even if I don’t get more funding, I think I’ll be okay because of the next thing I have been up to…

I’ve been freelancing 

Being a graduate student for five years has motivated me to look for opportunities as an “Education Consultant,” which is a nice way of saying “underpaid doctoral student.”  During my first year in the program, I started scoring assessments online, including the TOEFL speaking exam, which international students have to pass to study in the US, and the edTPA, which is a requirement for an initial K-12 teaching license in a few states.  The TOEFL was painfully boring, but the edTPA was pretty interesting.

During my second year, I continued scoring both of those, and also presented on culturally relevant language teaching for the Department of State’s American English Webinar Series (you can see one of the summary videos here).  I also started reviewing candidates for the English Language Fellow Program, which was the program that brought me to Indonesia for the first time back in 2011.  This involved reviewing candidates’ written applications, interviewing them on Skype, and writing up an overview of their skills, experience, and interview performance.  I really loved this job, especially interviews, because the group of people interested in teaching English in Indonesia, Azerbaijan, or Uganda is a pretty interesting bunch.

In the third year (last year), things really picked up – enough that I could drop scoring TOEFL exams, though I continued scoring the edTPA and reviewing Fellow candidates.  I got selected for an English Language Specialist grant that sent me to Rwanda and Ethiopia to do a teacher training on project based learning. I did another webinar for the American English Webinar Series, this time on intercultural language teaching (check out the summary video here).  I wrote a teaching tip article for English Teaching Forum (forthcoming).  And I started helping to make some of the graphics for the American English Facebook page. In addition to all that, I was also teaching a class and supervising student teachers for my graduate assistantships at University Maryland.  Oh, and I got certified as a vinyasa flow yoga teacher.  With all that work, it is amazing that I had time to do this one last thing…

I got engaged!

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I met Jim in October, 2015, at one of the bars where they show Ohio State games in Washington, DC.  He was there with his friend Elise, who was there with her husband Dick, whose fraternity brother Joe came, and Joe works with Andrew, who is my cousin Kelly’s fiancé, which is how I was there.  Got it?  We figured out that Jim also is a childhood friend of my cousin Bobby, so it would have been a lot easier to just meet through him.  Jim is also from Columbus, Ohio, and my mom and his dad even graduated from the same high school class at Upper Arlington High School!  This is not as uncommon as you might think – if you scroll down about halfway on this page (the class of 69 is very well organized), you will see that Frank Guglielmi’s son and Ed Rhine’s daughter ALSO got married!!!  I don’t know any of those people.  But it seems that Jim and I aren’t blazing any trails.

In any case, after we met in 2015, we became Facebook friends but basically didn’t talk for a year.  Jim was taking the “slow burn” approach.  Then, I invited Jim (along with everyone else I knew in DC) to my birthday party in September, 2016.  But he didn’t come.  He suggested we get a drink.  We didn’t do that either.  But we did meet up to go watch another football game, and this time, none of our intermediary friends could come.  My friend Alisha did come, though, and when Jim went up to get a round of drinks, we agreed that we both seemed to be on a date with Jim, and that it was going really well.  I don’t know if Jim asked Alisha out again, but he asked me, and we started dating from there.

By the spring, it was pretty clear to both of us that we had a good thing going, so I informed Jim I would like to be engaged before leaving for Indonesia.  He replied by asking “what’s your ring size?”, which is the appropriate response to that kind of ultimatum.  But then we basically never talked about it again, and I languished waiting for him to ask me (which I really can’t complain about, since we had only actually been dating a few months) until THE NIGHT BEFORE I LEFT FOR INDONESIA.  He really knows how to keep a lady on her toes.  But it’s okay, because the proposal opened up the floodgates of wedding planning – a little on my part, but mostly on the part of both of our mothers.   This is great, since I am in Indonesia for the next seven months, and somebody’s got to plan this thing.  It was also really nice to spend our last weeks together enjoying each others’ company rather than booking a venue, negotiating on guest numbers, and debating wedding colors.  Jim immediately suggested going with scarlet and grey, and I immediately regretted explaining the concept of wedding colors.

So, I’ll be in Indonesia until March, collecting data for my dissertation, working online, and trying to plan a wedding from 10,000 miles away.  And also, of course, blogging on Keeping Tabs!

January 23, 2017

America and the Women’s March

by Tabitha Kidwell

In the days following the election in November, some of the most interesting exchanges I had were with my Chinese students, who are here on student visas getting their masters’ degrees in Chinese language education.  For one, they weren’t very clear about why everyone in our very liberal region was so concerned about the president-elect. Trump’s conflicting campaign rhetoric about China seemed to have resulted in mixed messages in the Chinese-language media and social media.  The electoral college was also something of a mystery to them (as it is to many of us) and they were not entirely sure the election was actually over.

The most interesting comment by my Chinese students, however, was this: “At least you can vote. We have waited 5000 years.”

So, I suppose we have that. Of course, the Chinese and American political systems are not the only options, but if I had to choose between the two, I would choose ours. Even if that means I have to accept the current president as my own.

As much as we liberals complain about the American system – the electoral college, the gerrymandered districts, the two-party gridlock – we do not want to lose it. We may have hoped that Jill Stein’s recount efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would turn something up, or that the electoral college would elect someone else, but we also wanted a peaceful transition of power. We may have lost our faith in the American electorate, but we will return to the polls in 2018 and 2020. We may hate hearing Trump and his supporters’ rhetoric, but we want them to enjoy the same freedom of speech we do.

Many of us exercised our freedom of speech this past weekend, in Washington and in cities around the globe. I attended the Women’s March on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and it was in incredible day. The crowds were larger than those on inauguration day (“alternative facts” notwithstanding). There was not a single arrest. There was no violence. I did not have to use the bandana I brought along in case of tear gas. Women came from Ohio, New York, North Carolina, and farther, wearing pink hats and carrying signs. There were old women, young girls, women carrying infants, women in wheelchairs, and quite a few men.

The March wasn’t perfect. There have been a lot of criticisms posted online, and many are justified.  There should have been more enthusiasm for the “Black Lives Matter” chants. There should have been less enthusiasm for the ones making fun of Trump’s appearance. Protesters should have stopped chanting “let us march” and turned around to listen to Angela Davis as attentively as they did for Madonna. The organizers should have been more open to intersectionality, and people of color should have been more involved from the very beginning stages.

But it was still an incredible event and an incredible day. It could have been better – but it was very, very good. It was the first step in a long fight to make America great on our own terms. We marched for civil rights, health care, equal pay, reproductive rights, and  education. We marched for our grandmothers and for our granddaughters. We marched because we believe our country is very, very good – and because we believe it could be better.

Thousands Attend Women's March On Washington

November 14, 2016

“The Other Side”

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I ran my first several marathons, I was training with a big running group in Columbus, Ohio. As I got into running, my social life came to involve fewer late weekend nights and more early morning runs. On one of those runs, someone told me that less than 1% of the U.S. population had run a marathon. I was flabbergasted – I felt like all of my friends had run a marathon. I realized then that my social circle may not have accurately represented the full diversity of the American populace.

I realized that fact again this week as I wondered how Donald Trump could have won the election. On most measures of diversity – race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, gender identity – I have an extremely diverse group of friends. But in terms of political preference, it turns out that I run with a pretty liberal crowd. It may come as no surprise that Peace Corps volunteers, public school teachers, and university professors of education tend to support the Democratic Party. Particularly since moving to DC, where Trump received only 4% of the vote, I mostly interact with people who share my political views. My Facebook wall was a Hillary Clinton love fest all day Tuesday: Children at the polls to witness a potentially historic moment; Susan B. Anthony’s grave covered with “I voted” stickers; friends showing off their pantsuits. I would have been hard pressed to think of more than a handful of Trump voters among my facebook friends.

As the election results came in, however, a few tentative conservative voices emerged on my social media feeds. I realized that some of the people I love most deeply were among the 60 million voters who put Trump in the White House. It’s tempting to see Trump voters as monolithically uneducated, ignorant, and racist, but the Trump voters I know personally make it clear that it’s much more complicated. I cannot begin to understand the perspective of nearly half of our nation’s voters, and I won’t try to. From my perspective, Trump is a vile human being who has sexually assaulted women, verbally attacked the family of a national hero, and mocked individuals with disabilities. His record as a businessman, which includes repeated instances of racial discrimination, taking advantage of small businesses for his own profit, and stretching the law to avoid paying taxes, is laughably inadequate experience for the leader of the free world. The policies he proposes could increase income inequality, erode civil rights, and accelerate climate change. I could go on, but I’m sure the other side could also come up with quite a few links to articles about Hillary Clinton’s faults.  Still, the fact that so many voters were able to look past any one of those facts about Donald Trump and his proposed policies – let alone all of them – shows me that we must see the world in entirely different ways.

There have been a few ideas proposed about why we see the world differently:  maybe we have different understandings of the metaphor of the nation as a family, or maybe we get our news from different sources.  Or we might just see the world differently according to which parts of the world we have each actually seen. I’ve traveled, lived, and worked in places where there are no paved roads, where schools close for weeks at a time because there is no money to pay teachers, and where babies still die of dysentery. In comparison, it is absurd to suggest that America is anything but “great” already. Some of the people who voted for Trump quite simply haven’t seen enough of the world to understand how damaging a Trump presidency could be globally – not only for Mexican and for Muslims, but also for countless people around the world who have risen out of poverty thanks to increased global trade and free exchange of ideas.

Much of the time I’ve spent living abroad has been as a citizen ambassador, on State Department-funded programs. I’m so proud to have been able to represent America for the world, to work to build connections that help people understand each other across cultures. And I’m also embarrassed that, until this election, I hadn’t given much thought to how important it might be to turn around and work to build those same connections within our own culture. Many of us who voted for Clinton quite simply haven’t seen enough of America to understand how a Trump presidency could be appealing. I probably know more about life in rural India than in rural America. The vast swathes of red in the middle of the country are indicative of just how divided our country has become – and how little I know about the country I have had the privilege to represent abroad.

For liberals like me, this may be one of the only good things to emerge from this election – the understanding that we need to engage with people in our country with deeply different viewpoints. We need to share our stories, but more importantly, we need to listen to theirs. Nothing could be greater than an America where people seek to understand the perspectives of people different from themselves.

July 13, 2016

Who you’re with

by Tabitha Kidwell

With the exception of DC, I know Paris better than any city in the world. Though I never lived there, for a year and a half I lived a short train ride away, which meant that I passed through the city almost every time I traveled or met a visitor. I have probably visited Paris 20 times, and every time I go, I do something new. Paris is surprising, delightful, and scented with perfume and baking bread. Anyone who tells you that they “didn’t care for Paris” did it wrong.

Still, one of the worst weekends of my life was on my second visit to the city. During the spring of my sophomore year of college, I studied in Le Mans, a sleepy industrial town on the TGV line an hour west of Paris, at the intersection of Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley, with none of the charm of any of those regions. One of my first weekends, two fellow Americans in the same program invited me to Paris for the weekend, and I eagerly accepted. I can’t remember, 15 years later, what went so wrong that weekend. I think it may have had something to do with them wanting to drink a lot, talk loudly, and generally fulfill stereotypes of American tourists, while I wanted to blend in and have people think I was French (which no one ever will). What I do remember about that weekend is the realization that where you are isn’t nearly as important as who you are with.

I still live by that principle when planning my trips today – for instance, on my whirlwind tour through the Midwest a few weeks ago. I was back in Paris last week, but I did not go to any museums, see any sights, or stroll along the Seine. No, this time my “something new” was seeing the suburbs, where my friend Mike Diamond has lived since being transferred to Pizza Hut’s European division earlier this year. Mike and I were actually friends beginning in middle school, when an unhealthy obsession with the X-Men and an innate disposition to try hard at school meant that we were profoundly uncool. We figured it out by senior year of high school, but there were some pretty awkward years in there. Incidentally, Mike Diamond was with me for my first trip to Paris, on a high school exchange trip that included three magical but packed days in Paris before we headed out to Brittany. This time was a little different – I met Mike’s wife and kids, accompanied them to the market, had lunch on the patio, and beat his 5-year-old in Blokus (beginner’s luck).

I took the train to Dijon that evening, where Suzi, my friend from the Peace Corps, lives.  Suzi was being visited by Meghan, our other friend from the Peace Corps, who lives in Mumbai. Actually, Suzi, her husband, and two sons were being visited by Meghan, her husband, and daughter. We went to the pool, played on the playground, watched France lose the Europe cup, had dinner on the patio, and lived normal life with Suzi and her family. At least as normal as life can be when there are eight people staying in a house made for four. Suzi told her colleagues about what we had done and they admonished her for not taking us to do anything “French.” But that wasn’t really the point. Suzi, Meghan, and I have been friends for 12 years. In the Peace Corps, we wrote weekly letters, went on beach vacations, helped each other through homesickness, met up to cook American food, and watched season 2 of The OC in an overnight binge.  In the Peace Corps, your friends become like family, so meeting their families and spending time together was more important than all the tourist locations in France (and there are a lot). I’ve been lucky to travel a lot of places, but the more places I go, the more firmly I believe what I learned all those years ago in Paris: who you are with is more important than where you are.

 

June 23, 2016

The Passage of Time

by Tabitha Kidwell

Summer is a sentimental time for me because it is so often a time of transition. Five years ago, I was getting ready to leave for Indonesia. I spent the “summer of fun” visiting friends, playing pub trivia, and trying to calculate how much sunscreen I would need for a year in the tropics. I was excited to leave for Indonesia, but leaving my job teaching middle school French and Spanish was one of the hardest things I have ever done. After a couple of rough years (aren’t everyone’s first years of teaching rough?), I really hit the jackpot during my fourth year of teaching. I finally felt like an effective teacher, and I had great students who mispronounced “Mlle” to call me “Mel Kidwell” (which is totally incorrect, but endearing nonetheless) and who threw me a surprise going away party when I left. I made a “teacher facebook” so I could accept them as friends, and looking at it recently, I realized that the 7th graders I left in 2011 have now graduated from high school. I shut down my teacher facebook and posted that they could all be friends with the real “Mel Kidwell.” If anyone needs to worry about the content of their facebook pages, it’s probably the kids in college! Clicking through their photos from prom and graduation, I can’t believe how much time has passed, and how quickly. Five years is forever in middle school and high school, but it has felt like nothing to me.

Five years before I left those 7th grade students, I was returning home from Madagascar. Somehow, the five years that passed between Madagascar and Indonesia seem longer than the five years between Indonesia and now. One of those years was spent teaching in France, but it was clear to me then that that year, along with my two years in the Peace Corps, were temporary interludes –rumschprega of sorts – before returning home and “becoming an adult.” And that is what I tried to do – I moved back to Columbus, Ohio, and taught in the district I had graduated from for four years. Those years feel solid, grounded, connected to my youth. I lived with my sister, in the same city as my family. I worked with some of my former teachers. I had a strong community and my life was incredibly full.

The last five years feel different. I spent two years in Indonesia, one year selling Christmas sweaters, living in India, and hiking the Camino de Santiago (in succession, not concurrently), and then two years in grad school. My life is still full, but I’ve spent a lot more time alone. I’ve spent more time lonely. A lot of my relationships have been one-on-one rather than in interconnected communities. I’ve lived away from my family and a lot of my closest friends, and haven’t seen them more than every few months or years. The past five years feel unmoored, astray. Whatever they’re connected to hasn’t yet manifested itself, but I think they’re connected to something. That summer five years ago, was a turning point in my life. I think I had realized that becoming an adult wasn’t a simple process of settling down. At least not for me. For me, it was about letting go, accepting uncertainty, being open to surprises. Sometimes that has been hard, but mostly it has been thrilling. It’s scary to not be sure of the path your life is taking. But even scarier, for me, is not starting the journey. I know what is behind me. It was good, and it will always be there. But I believe that whatever is ahead of me will outstrip my wildest imaginings.