November 16, 2021
My name is Edwina, I’m a Sociology major and I participated in the AFS Intercultural Exchange Program in Indonesia. Studying abroad as a Panamanian female from a low-income background was eye-opening. Since I was a little girl I have been interested in learning new languages and exploring new places, but having the opportunity to study abroad in Asia was a transformative journey. Before going to Indonesia, I felt extremely grateful that I was awarded this scholarship because my family didn’t have the means to afford a program like this. However, my family was nervous because I was going far away to a country that was not familiar to them at all. Still, for me, the idea of exploring the other side of the world made me so excited and proud of myself for taking a risk.
Once in Indonesia, I realized that the other exchange students in my program were mostly White Europeans from wealthy backgrounds. I was one of the few Brown students and the only one from Latin America. Being in a space like this made me aware that White folx were treated very differently in a culture that also struggles with colorism. Because of this, I began to feel pressure and a fear that I was missing out on some of the experiences my White peers were having. I felt very different for the first time and worked hard on overcoming feelings of insecurity. I became conscious of how my identity was perceived but this allowed me to reflect more deeply on what it means to be Brown.
One of the things that helped me navigate this challenge was the love of my host family. My host parents were thoughtful and loving and made me feel comfortable in their humble home. Living with a family from a very different culture was incredible because it helped me learn about things in the world that I had no idea about. I enjoyed visiting Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples, rice fields, and eating spicy food. But it was challenging to navigate this new environment because my host family and other locals didn’t speak Spanish or English well, and they weren’t used to interacting with a person from a different country. Nevertheless, this language barrier made my experience even more unique. My host parents worked very hard in helping me learn Bahasa Indonesia and I was able to communicate a little bit better every day.
Learning that it was necessary to open myself to this new culture was important but being compassionate with myself was the key through the good and bad moments of my journey abroad. Being away from my family and friends was not easy all the time but having the chance to learn about the world and myself was truly life-changing. My time in Indonesia allowed me to discover a passion for studying the social world, explore my identity as a Brown woman, and value the importance of self-love. This experience definitely shaped the person I am today and I couldn’t be more grateful for all of it.