Coming to Bali I had little expectations and ideas of everything I was about to experience – aside from the fact that I knew I wanted open myself up to a culture and ideas different to my norm. The calm, welcoming, and warm environment was showered upon me from the moment I landed, being picked up at the airport by Kadek (the son of the homestay family) and meeting my roommate in the car, who by the time we arrived at our temporary home felt like a long time friend.
Arriving to the homestay was different than any other living space I’ve experienced, emphasizing the Balinese appreciation for outdoor space and community living. Waking up to the sounds of the birds and the gleaming sunshine rather than my beeping alarm clock was refreshing. Bali instantly feels like home in an unexplainably familiar way.
By Monday morning, after only being in Bali for 24 hours, us volunteers were convinced we must have known each other for longer than a day. Each of us came alone and not a single one from the same city, or even the same age, but we were instantly able to connect on a shared desire to learn from one another. In no time we felt like one big, awkward, and hilarious family.
The travel jitters kicked back in as we got picked up to go to our first day of school. There is no better feeling in the world than the students running towards the car as you walk out with smiles on their face larger than life. The kids make you light up, and make you remember the fun of learning. They make you eager to share, to laugh, to play, and to even learn something new from them. I read many reviews before arriving exclaiming that volunteers learned more than they taught, but I could not understand the capacity of that until I experienced the givingness of the students myself. Whether it be a high five, a flower, or once even a pet fish, the students were always looking for ways to show their excitement and love. They shared an endless stream of kindness. VP Bali reminded me how empowering education can be, and how refreshing it is to do it in a fun and exciting way. From my personal experience in the US, we often associate learning with seriousness. Kimberley, the founder, taught us from early on to make noise, dance, color, and think beyond the parameters of the classroom. There was no teaching handbook, but rather a framework that allows you to improvise and feed off what works best for your students.
One of my favorite memories of my time in Bali was the cultural exchanges we would have every Wednesday. Whether it was trying (and failing) traditional Balinese dance, or learning the meaning behind offerings as our students taught us to make them, each experience connected us to the beautiful and rooted Balinese culture.
Even after weekends away exploring other parts of Bali, the volunteers always returned Sunday afternoons excited to be back ‘home.’ When I left my home, I did not realize that I would grow such an appreciation for the smallest moments – the slow mornings, the meaningful late night talks, connecting with people from different places, and being immersed in a culture so different from mine. Coming back to the fast paced New York life, I am reminded of the beauty of what it means to be connected to what is around you. To live in the moment and to veer from the plan. Bali was the first time I travelled alone, but I never for one moment felt alone.