I arrived in Bali, Indonesia on 27th of March, 2015 and stayed there until 20th of June, 2015, exactly for 12 weeks in total. The three-months long journey turned out to be a surprise gift, like the one my students lovingly gave me on my last day. I expected A but instead was given A, B, and C. The original purpose of the trip was to learn how the people in the "third world country" lived differently from the people in the "first world." Not only have I learned the Balinese lifestyle but I also experienced something new, something of which I had been wholly ignorant before: that a human community can be a rich blessing to an individual and that kids are indeed the manifestation of human goodness. In short, my stay at a small Tianyar village turned out to be a rare opportunity that actually made a lasting impact on my perspective and my future course of life.
Growing up in the developed countries like South Korea and the United States, my perspective of life and the world naturally had been limited to that of people with similar background. Life, for me and for others, consisted of constant competitions one after another, and the "winner" was whoever could stay longest on the treadmill of the 21st century version of Hunger Game. Like many of my generation I felt disgust on this notion of life and felt strongly for doing something against this momentum of the first world life. I'd been thirsty for a chance to explore the other world, different than my own.
An occasion turned my vague feeling into a specific idea. Five years ago I heard in one of the sermons that the lives of great people, like Tolstoy or Gandhi, were transformed when they encountered the reality of the people in drastically different living-condition and lifestyle. "Go!" the pastor said, "meet these people yourself. See their reality with your own eyes. You'll never be the same." Since then I had felt a strong need to go to countries like India, or just any countries generally considered "third world", and meet the harsh reality of the people there.
With such aspirations I came to Indonesia. But I encountered something I did not anticipate. I expected the shocking poverty or the abysmal misery of the people. Instead I saw people living more or less contently with the small possession they had. Hardly anyone was miserable. I could easily think of more miserable people back home. Don't get me wrong; people in Indonesia are poor, at least money-wise. Many live in hut-looking houses; hardly any families own cars; students cannot afford college education; many have to buy water for everyday use; for most, traveling other countries sounds like an impossible dream.
However, they were hardly in abject condition by any standards. What I saw in general in the poor fisherman village and elsewhere in Bali and Indonesia was the cheerful people who seemed to be way happier than their counterparts with hundredfold income on the other side of the globe. "It is not the man who has too little who is poor," said Seneca, "but the one who hankers after more." The poor was not they as much as we. I went to Indonesia ready to feel pity on the local people, but ironically I couldn't help feel pity on the people in South Korea and America for their comparatively too competitive and stressful lifestyle.
Sure, Balinese people have very few by our standard - no fancy vacations or new iPhones - but they still retain what we also had had long time ago: the spirit of community. Even more, they are blessed with the privilege of truly enjoying every moment, with friends and families (the distinction is blurred in Bali), not having to incessantly worry about their tomorrows or some distant future - the fundamental ingredient of everyday happiness. Unfortunately, we in the first world countries have lost the ability of enjoying the moment for its own sake and of truly appreciating and be satisfied with the few most important things in life, like family, fresh air, and exchange of innocent smiles. We somehow transformed our society into Hobbes' "war of all against all." I'm in awe of this village that still retains the spirit of community, which unites everyone and builds a strong trust and bondage between each other.
In this peaceful village, time seems to matter less. People are not caught up with set schedules or personal pursuits. The kids seem to really enjoy their childhood, following their innate desires to be with friends, run barefoot, swim in the beach, play soccer and games, etc., without any constraints on their natural passion from either their parents or society. There is no doubt that they were much happier than their counterparts in South Korea and other developed countries. Of course, the kids I am talking about are from seven to fifteen years old, and they may get stuck in reality of life as they get older. Still, I feel happy as I see them so happy. I only wish Korean kids could enjoy their right of childhood as well.
During the three months of stay, I've grown so much as a person and extended my personal horizon, mainly thanks to the unique circumstance I was in where I was forced to socialize with other people, whether co-volunteers or students. As a natural introvert, who finds comfort and energy when being alone in a quiet place, it was initially a serious challenge, both mentally and physically. But I took this time as an opportunity to outgrow my former self and get out of my comfort-zone. After some initial struggle I think I achieved some success in this endeavor, or so people have told me.
Teaching is an art, a craft in it self that requires a series of failures and endless endeavor to master. I was a novice in this art and had to go through strings of failures in the beginning. As I had never taught kids so young as these before, the job was as daunting as it could get. When doing worksheets, ten students call my name for help all at the same time every two seconds. When I am helping one, another keeps insisting I should come to her now, and I tell her to wait just to be called by another. Some students can be rowdy talking to friends while I teach. Imagine a novice introvert teacher struggling to keep the class organized and under control. Yes, it was demanding job, at least initially. To my great relief, teaching gradually became manageable and I grew more confident everyday. After a while, I began to enjoy teaching, not only because it could be fun and meaningful but also the kids were so responsive and adorable to interact with. Once the kids open their minds and trust their teachers, they are the most respectful and enthusiastic students you can imagine. I'd even say It's a privilege to teach such bright and good-natured kids.
I still vividly remember my first day at Yayasan Widya Sari. Everything was so exotic. Three hut-looking classrooms among the tall palm trees and tiny kids with big eyes crowding around a whiteboard eagerly listening to their foreign teachers. I was so excited that I was here so different from everything I had experienced all my life but at the same time so nervous not knowing what to do other than just looking at their innocent faces. At that time, several kids came to me, no, ran towards me, with biggest smiles you've seen, asking my name and where I came from. In turn, I asked their names and they were some of the cutest names I know: Tri, Puspita, Ayu, etc. They instantly suggested me to play games together and taught me some of the games they know right then. Then I taught them the games I know and they were so happy to learn and play new games. In the very first encounter, I was accepted into their group and we were friends by the end. How can I forget such a moment? I've had numerous such moments in the last three months. They are the greatest gifts the kids at Yayasan gave me, which I will be remembering even in my grave.