“Student” Life

Three carefree summer months have slipped by since my last post. The days were long, but the weeks short. I don’t know where the season went, but now everyone is back in the classroom, and I’m once again reminded that I’m no longer classified as a “student.”

Here’s what I mean by that: I don’t attend classes. I don’t get grades from professors. I don’t do homework. I don’t take exams or write term papers. I don’t do assigned readings.

Here’s what I don’t mean by that: I haven’t stopped learning. I haven’t stopped evaluating my own performance. I haven’t stopped setting goals and accomplishing them. I haven’t stopped challenging myself to try new things. I haven’t stopped reading articles and books.

Being a student was a wonderful thing, because it was a chance for everyone to remind us that we are still learning. But the fact that I no longer have the label doesn’t mean I’m not a student of life. As cliché and cheesy as that sounds, I mean it!

I loved being treated as someone whose mind was a sponge. As someone who was waiting for wisdom to be imparted. Now, I’m treated as a peer, as a colleague, as a friend, as a sister, as a daughter…but not as a student. So now, the burden is mine. It’s my responsibility to seek out teachers and mentors. To learn from others. To admit that there are things I don’t know. To work to change that.

So as the traditional students hit the books, I want to take a moment to remember the time I spent with students from around the world and reflect on what we learned together. Because whether or not the world sees me as a student, I will never stop learning.


At UNPAR’s International Student Conference, we learned as much from each other as we did from our professors.

The majority of the conference took place in a city called Bandung, but we also spent a significant amount of time in Yogyakarta, a city about 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Bandung. A flight between the two cities would take a little over an hour. But with 100 students, a charter bus was a more cost-effective option. So, we clambered aboard 4 buses and prepared for 12 hours of bumpy roads and erratic driving.

What might sound like torture actually turned out to be one of the best bonding experiences of the trip!

For the first few hours, spirits were high, and activities ranged from movies to karaoke. My entire bus was thrilled by the idea of watching Disney’s “Frozen.” It’s amazing how trends can transcend cultures with such force. During the film, Gail from the Philippines excitedly informed me that my voice sounded just like Anna’s. At first, I was flattered at the idea that someone was comparing me to Kristen Bell…but I quickly realized that my American accent was the only resemblance.

Though after a 12 hour bus ride, Gail had certainly heard a lot of my voice! She was the first and most loyal listener of “Politics and Pudding.” Confused?  I’ll start from the beginning.

Dónal from Sweden and I began chatting before our first bus trip together, and we discovered that we had a lot to talk about! We exchanged anecdotes, stories and full-fledged lessons on everything from the infinitely complex system of local politics in Sweden, to the various meanings of the word pudding in American English versus British English. (Pudding in the U.K. is used to refer to any sort of dessert, while pudding in the U.S. is a gelatinous creamy mixture. Don’t get me started on bread pudding, figgy pudding and rice pudding…)

During this bus trip, Gail from the Philippines happened to be sitting in front of us, and at one point, she turned to us and said – “I feel like I’m listening to the radio!” Dónal and I were endlessly amused and flattered by this analogy, and Gail christened our show “Politics and Pudding,” after two of our most kooky topics. For the remainder of the conference, we’d settle into our bus seats, and Gail would turn up the dial on her imaginary radio and tune in for another episode of our ridiculous banter!

We were all exhausted after our 12 hour bus ride to Yogyakarta, but by the next morning, we were rejuvenated and ready to explore our new city. Given a free day, we grouped up and set out to tour the Kraton, Jalan Malioboro and the local mall.

Yogyakarta has the look of a big city, with people and traffic jamming every street corner, but it has the feel of a small town, with kind people and hokey attractions.

Wandering the streets, we turned quite a few heads – a massive group of students from around the world. Caroline from Australia drew a lot of attention because of her height. We had to laugh as countless store owners waved and smiled at her reciting their favorite English phrase – “How are you?” in an overly excited tone. I even caught one man mimicking my accent. As I walked past his table of trinkets, marveling at the sheer volume, I heard him parrot my exclamation, “Oh my god!” in a shrill voice with overly accentuated long vowels. Of course I couldn’t live that one down with Caroline, the accent police!

The day was unbearably hot, so we stopped at an indoor ATM hub and drank in the air conditioning as a few others took out money. I took this opportunity to teach Gail from the Philippines and Caroline from Australia the most ridiculous part of American college culture – no, not beer pong or slack lining – the sorority squat! They found it hilarious, and insisted on posing for the following picture. Sorry, Alpha Beta Whatevers!

We made our way to the Kraton to continue our adventure…but we couldn’t resist stopping to pose in a rickshaw cart! We tipped the man for letting us take photos.

The Kraton itself – an ancient palace, wasn’t quite what we had expected.

It wasn’t nearly as regal as many palaces I had seen in Bali, but we enjoyed hearing about the customs of the King and his subjects. And of course, we took plenty of group photos. 🙂

The walk around the open-air palace had us pretty drained and over-heated, so we decided to head to the local mall for some lunch! A few of the Filipino students were craving some American cuisine – and we all welcomed a relief from what we had come to call “snack roulette,” the boxes of unidentifiable snacks we were given three times a day! Often, the results of trying a green sticky square were delightful, but other times, there wasn’t enough water in the world to make you forget the taste!

So naturally, we chose Pizza Hut! We were glad to see that this particular franchise had a “local” vibe – with Pizza Hut brand Sambal sauce!

When our food came, we were stunned by the difference in portion size. The small sized pizzas were smaller than personal pizzas in the US! The waiter gave us a funny look when we ordered a second round before even digging in to the first. I’m sure I didn’t help debunk any stereotypes about Americans with that meal…

Feeling moderately full, we returned to the hotel for some down time. A few of the Westerners weren’t feeling great, and we later learned that they had come down with the stomach virus I had gotten earlier in my trip. It seemed like no matter how careful we were, no one was safe from Bali Belly (as the Aussies call it)!

Dónal from Sweden and Georgia from Australia stayed at the hotel to rest, but Caroline and Sam from Australia decided we should visit the Rainbow Park we had heard about. A quick taxi ride, and we were whisked into a magical world of…knockoff American cartoon characters! Taman Pelangi had everything from Disgruntled Avians (Angry Birds)…

to Arachnid Male (Spider Man)!

Greetings Feline (Hello Kitty) and Mikey Rodent (Mickey Mouse) also made appearances. (I don’t actually know what the characters were called, but I can only assume due to copyright infringement that they couldn’t be called by their original names.)

On our quick tour of the gardens, we had strange encounter with a man who asked us to hold up a white poster board and smile for a photo. He informed us that he was going to photoshop the words “Happy Birthday!” on the poster for his girlfriend…but in hindsight, we could now be the poster children for anything from a charity to save the elephants to the ranch dressing sales campaign. Either way, not your average request!
But that doesn’t even hold a candle to the bizarre phenomenon that is BOLA AIR! Bola Air is as dangerous as it is exhilarating. The premise? Giant, zipper-sealed beach balls filled with air, floating on a man-made lake. The goal? Run around the lake and don’t fall down or spring a leak! Against our better judgement, we coughed up two dollars, handed off our valuables, and prepared for a round of BOLA AIR!
We were a little suspicious when the attendants seemed to have trouble inflating the balls…but they solved the hiccup without electrocuting anyone, and we climbed into the hamster balls and were pushed off the pier into the lake.

It was surprisingly challenging to stay standing up, so we wobbled and crashed around for a good 5 minutes, and by the end, we were all gasping for air – partly from laughing, and partly because we had been inhaling and exhaling the same air for 5 minutes. The inside of the ball was so foggy I could barely tell where the pier was!

Miraculously, we emerged from our hamster balls safe – if not a little sweaty, damp (from water leakage), frizzy-haired, brush-burned and light-headed.

I have no hesitations in saying that was easily one of the top 10 sketchiest things I’ve ever done in my life!

After our bout of Bola Air, we were clearly up for some more unhealthy decisions, and Caroline suggested stopping at McDonald’s (or what she kept calling “Macker’s”) to compare the burgers in Indonesia to the ones back home!

The place looked pretty familiar – and now having been in McDonald’s in 4 countries (not something I take pride in) – I can honestly say they’ve pretty much preserved the landmark brand of the golden arches across cultures, aside from a few variations here and there. (Macarons in France, Rice Porridge in Indonesia and Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica). Oh – and based on the size of the ketchup containers in Indonesia, Indonesians don’t care much for ketchup!

But comparing food wasn’t the only thing we did. I mentioned “Mackers” earlier… It only took me until this week to figure out that Caroline and Sam from Australia were actually calling McDonald’s Maccas!

Caroline and I joked several times that we could literally write a BOOK with all of the differences in colloquial phrases between Americans and Aussies (and Brits!)! I’ll try to sum up a few main ones here:

An Aussie might say: “How you goingmate? I’m keen to go and get heaps of burgers from Maccas, but then I reckon I’d have to use the toilet afterwards! Jokes! I’ll just throw this rubbish in the bin and then hop in the queue. Would you mind taking a photo for me?”

An American might say: “What’s up, man? I want to go and get a bunch of burgers from Mickey D’s, but then I bet I’d have to use the bathroom afterwards! Just kidding! I’ll just throw this trash in the trash can and then get in line. Would you mind taking a picture for me?”

Now, I didn’t get this pre-approved by any of my Aussie friends, but I think it’s pretty accurate! My favorite difference, though, has to be the pronunciation of Adidas. We were sitting next to each other discussing Aussie-isms, and Caroline suddenly turned to me and said, with a look of utter disappointment on her face, “You say “Uh-DEE-dus,” don’t you.” I was caught off guard! There’s another way to say Adidas?! Apparently, the Aussies call it “Ah-dee-DAS!” The more you know. 🙂

[[© Lani Furbank and Lani’s Cup of Tea, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photos or written material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. The site may be referenced, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lani Furbank and Lani’s Cup of Tea with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.]]

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