Teresa Tippens '15: Indonesia, With Love

Teresa Tippens was the 2015-2017 Shansi Fellow at Gadjah Mada University. This is her second year narrative.

I’m not sure where to begin when talking about the end of my fellowship. On one hand, I’m exhausted from two years of working a job that’s been more than a little chaotic and living in a place that’s tested the limits of my body and mind. On the other, I want to hold onto the tiny moments of perfection that suddenly crest to the surface and never let them go. But they are water, and they will not be held.

The past two years have been very, very hard. I have been indescribably lonely at points, painfully lost friends, and done an awful lot of growing in a short period of time. Parts of me have burned away and left fragile pieces raw and exposed. However, cut against the cloth of this country I have become sharper and more defined. My relationships, my interests, and the general fabric of my life have been completely reshaped: some things have become brighter while others have faded away. While I’m glad for all of it, I’m also left reeling from the breakneck speed at which all of these changes have occurred.

Next year I’ll be back in the warm embrace of Oberlin, and I look forward to having the time and space to decompress and parse through this experience. I’m also excited to start the next part of my life: looking at grad schools, studying in-depth the interests Indonesia has brought to life for me, and working towards the suddenly clearer future I see for myself. Moving forward I feel new strength and confidence and I have Jogja and Shansi to thank for that.

That being said, given my lack of sorrow over leaving many people seem a bit alarmed. “Don’t you like it there?” they say.  “Aren’t you going to miss it?”

For a long time, Indonesia and I existed separately. I felt like oil floating on water; I lived on the land but could never truly be part of it. Still, I made friends and traveled and tried my best to learn the language and various aspects of culture. But then, very near the end of my fellowship, something happened. I was gifted a bespoke kebaya, a traditional Indonesian garment, by some of my dearest friends here. It felt so fragile that I had to ask for help getting into it, which they found amusing. But help they did, and at last we all turned to face the mirror. My breath caught in my throat and time stood still. Surrounded by my adopted family, wearing Indonesia on my skin, I stopped simply existing here and felt something new take shape.

I have loved so much about my time here. I will miss my friends, the communities I’ve become a part of, the food, the art, the many cultures. But leaving Indonesia doesn’t mean leaving the person I’ve become here, and it doesn’t mean losing the relationships and knowledge I’ve gained. These places and these people are woven into the fabric of my life with threads that cannot be cut.

Of course I will miss Indonesia. Of course I will. But more than that, I look forward to seeing how these threads that connect us will grow thicker, richer, and more vibrant in the years to come.

Mr. Silk Center, driver, Teresa Tippens and mom. Mr. Silk's batik

   Batik textiles drying                                                                     Array of batik textiles

Mr. Silk Center, driver, Teresa Tippens and mom. Mr. Silk's batik
batik textiles drying
array of batik textiles