Arik Burakovsky is about to Leave for Russia!

Tomorrow I will be leaving for Russia, embarking on an exciting nine-month-long cultural and linguistic immersion. While this summer was a time for me to unwind with my family, take my GRE, and start on graduate school application forms, it also included preparations for my upcoming trip. There were numerous forms to be filled out, items to purchase, and logistics to work out.

The Fulbright program requires that each grantee complete many forms, providing information about their health, emergency contacts, travel itinerary, host country contacts, and bank account. In addition, final college transcripts must be sent to the IIE to confirm one’s graduation. [Note from FPA: IIE is the Institute of International Education, the private company that manages the US Student Fulbright Program for the US Department of State.]  Luckily, I had few problems completing these requests. Nonetheless, I needed to expedite my graduation from UCSD to send my final transcript on time. [FPA explains: If you complete your bachelor’s degree the June before your departure, you have to submit a request to get your degree confirmation earlier than the other graduates.  This can be a bit complicated.]

Furthermore, I got to correspond with my contacts in Omsk to figure out where I will be staying and what I may need to bring. I found out that will be living in a dorm for foreign students, providing me with most of the necessary amenities like bedding and cable Internet. Understanding that Western Siberia sometimes has extreme winter weather, I knew I had to pack multiple pairs of long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, parkas, and boots. I had some of these things already, but many of them I had to hunt for in New Mexico department stores filled mostly with summer clothing. Other logistical issues included purchasing flight tickets that comply with the Fly America Act, choosing a bank and credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, buying an international SIM card, and exchanging some rubles before my departure.

I also had to apply for my Russian visa. Anyone who has ever done it knows that it is not an easy process. I waited for about two months for my invitation letter from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon receiving it, I filled out an application form, took an HIV test, sent these documents to a visa outsourcing company called Travisa, and crossed my fingers. Everything seemed fine, but there were a few surprises in store for me. The Russian consulate in San Francisco requested initially that the rector of my host institution send an additional letter confirming my stay and later that I send my final university transcript. Ultimately, it took another month for my Russian visa to be ready. After several days of packing my entire luggage – including a camcorder and tripod, a few New Mexican souvenirs, and an Apples to Apples board game box – I am finally all set to go!

Introduction to Christina Aguila

[Note from FPA: Christina just started an ETA grant in Indonesia.]

Adapting to Jam Karet – Indonesian time.

I finally received my flight itinerary 5 days ago for my flight to Jakarta, Indonesia. This is thrilling news! Suddenly, the reality is setting in that in 7 days I will be at my site in Manado, North Sulawesi, where I will teach English to Indonesian high school students. As of now, I have no visa for Indonesia, as all visas for my program have been delayed. I am told that I will apply for my visa in Singapore just before arriving in Jakarta. I would be writing from Jakarta and finishing my first week in Indonesia if visas were not delayed. Despite this situation, I haven’t lost any enthusiasm about starting my ETA program. I’m told there’s nothing to worry about the delays; it’s just another aspect of life in Indonesia, jam karet. In my Indonesian class earlier this summer, my Bahasa instructor made the class aware early on about jam karet (elastic or rubber time). After the first few classes, it became clear that class starts about 10 minutes later than the published start time, nothing compared to the 15 minutes or more delay in Indonesia.

It seems that most people would have freaked out by now, wondering why they hadn’t received their itinerary or an address where they would be staying. The Fulbright Commission in Indonesia has done a fantastic job of handling this situation. Several of last year’s Indonesia ETAs have connected with the 2013-2014 grantees to offer a wealth of information and advice. Several of these ETA alumni have welcomed my contact via Skype chats and Facebook to answer any questions that I have. This has given me a lot of comfort and has really helped me to prepare for my ETA experience in Indonesia. The fact that the ETA program is relatively large in Indonesia has been very helpful because it has offered a supportive network of people before I have even arrived in country.

Now that I have all this great advice on packing, travel, and logistics from former ETAs, I can focus on more substantial things like ideas for teaching, learning more about Indonesia and its diverse cultures, and learning to speak Bahasa Indonesia. A constant reminder from former ETAs is the importance of flexibility. Indonesia has very diverse cultures across its 17,000 something islands, and life on each of these islands can be very distinct. A popular answer to many ETA questions, regarding almost anything from what is appropriate to wear to what kind of toilet will I have in my home, is, “It depends on your site.” This is the answer to many questions due to the range of different lifestyles in Indonesia. My site in Manado is one of the few dominantly Christian regions in Muslim majority Indonesia. What is considered appropriate in Manado is more moderate than other regions, at least I am told. [Note from FPA: I don’t know what she means by “more moderate.”]  The diversity of this country is captured in the national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (unity in diversity). There is surely a proud sense of diversity in this country. I’m quickly learning that flexibility is key to adjusting to the diverse lifestyle and pace in Indonesia.