26 September 2010


In my opinion, the biggest cultural difference between America and Indonesia is the idea of boundaries. Indonesian society has a very communal nature and therefore there isn't really a concept of boundaries or personal space. Being from America--the land of individualism--this takes some getting used to. Now since this is my third time living in Indonesia, I'm largely used to it. However, there are a few occasions when I'm still caught off guard. These examples all come from a good place but...

  • One of my co-teachers insisted on living at my home in Toraja for the first two nights because she thought I'd be scared. It became a problem when on day three she was still planning on sleeping over. That's when I knew it was time to be blunt and set boundaries. 
  • The students often ask me for my phone number, address, facebook and email. They also ask my religion, marital status, who I live with, what I wear when I get home from school, what I do just before going to bed and why I don't go to church.
  • Yesterday six of my male students surprised me at my house and asked if they could come in to practice their English. 1. This is a major boundary issue and 2. A major cultural taboo given the gender breakdown. I didn't want to be rude so I agreed to spend some time with them practicing English if it was a public place. The only option really available was to hang out in the rice paddies. I thought I had handled the situation appropriately until a neighbor joked in the Torajan language: "Are you boys trying to marry her?" Yikes. I suggested they bring some female friends next time they decide to knock on my door. 
  • Ooh recent update: I'm sitting in an internet cafe in a little cubbie where you sit on the floor. A boy just peered over into my cubbie. He then came back a few minutes later and stepped into my cubbie to take a look at my computer screen. No words. Hello cultural understanding 

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