My life is unique. It encompasses thousands of moments across the world and with multiple cultures. These moments include: Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, visiting relatives in Germany and Italy, the undisturbed wildlife in South Africa and the multicultural wonder that is Singapore. Most importantly, the factor that stands out for me is the people I connected with across the world. We are all unique, yet we are all connected with one another. This was clear during my first days of life in South-East Asia.
Indonesia was my first country and with it came my cultural upbringing in mutual respect and generosity. From the time I was born, I remember the locals saying “Apa kabar orang kecil!” or “Hello, Little Man!” as I took strolls with my parents. They always greeted us with a smile and guided us around our new surroundings. Indonesians are a naturally inclusive people. They are hardworking, kind, family oriented, and completely devoted to hospitality. They taught me to be open and ever curious about the world around me, a gift that served me well into adulthood.
As I learned to walk, they taught me to speak Bahasa, urged me to sing their national anthem, cooked me their favorite dishes (Rendang is still my favorite) and even took me into their houses of worship. I’m still amazed as an adult at the level of trust that they gave my family. My parents also matched that trust.
While Indonesia is a welcoming country it is also one of immense poverty. It’s often that medical care, education and even electricity are unattainable for many families. My parents decided to help. By linking cables to our generator for the community around us, our house provided electricity for 15-20 families. It was through this gift that their children had light to study their schoolwork with. In gratitude for our support, the young men promised to protect our home from thieves and kidnappers. What was clear to all involved is the belief that children are what make a community, a conviction that I hold very dearly to this day.
As my family left Indonesia for other countries and cultures, being involved in our community was always a high priority. It was through this example that kept me involved in Cub Scouts, Alpha Phi Omega and AmeriCorps. As my parents were unique in their new Indonesian community, they never forgot that they were connected to the village surrounding them. I will continue to carry this lesson for the rest of my life and instill it into my own children.