Is a fancy Ivy League degree worth it? Some considerations…

I had pretty much decided 100% that I would be going to Goldsmiths, University of London next year to study Applied Anthropology and Community Development. Then on Sunday night, after spending all weekend drinking cocktails and riding jet skis, I came home to find out that I was accepted at Columbia University in New York to study International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees in their School of Social Work! That send me from feeling great, to feeling like the world was my oyster. I am beaming with pride in myself and I don’t feel like that’s un-called for. I’ve been accepted to study at an Ivy League school – one of the top universities in the world with a 7% acceptance rate, so I’m going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for this one. I worked crazy hard during my undergraduate and have tried to make the past two years out of school time on as opposed to time off and Columbia University has recognized that. I’m feeling pretty darn good. And torn as to what I should do.

Here are some considerations I have.

New York vs London

They are both awesome. I love New York, and I haven’t been to London yet, which makes them both super appealing.

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

They are both ideal places to study and work with immigrants and refugees. Both cities have a heavy pulse filled with culture, night life, and driven people. But in London, I could have all of Europe at my fingertips. Hello weekend trips to Spain, France, and Italy. Hello an international education that will allow me to work within a different framework of academia, which could help me stand out as I try to find work in an international arena. This is giving you major points, London. MAJOR points indeed.

This doesn’t look so bad…

Then there are these guys…

This how Dad knows that we love him.

This how we show our love for Dad.

As far as families go, I’m pretty sure that mine is the tops. I miss them and wish that I spent more time with them. New York isn’t exactly close to home, but it’s definitely closer than London. After spending a year about as far away as I could possibly be, being able to hop on a plane and hang out at home for a weekend is almost as tempting as hopping on a train and going to Paris. I’ve only talked to Mom and Dad once since I found out that I was admitted into Columbia. They are ecstatic and love the idea of my being stateside and at an Ivy League school, but they keep telling me that this is my education, not theirs, and so the decision is completely up to me, not them. I love them for that, but it would also be easier if they still told me what I had to do, as if I were a child. But we all know that’s not the case, so they’ve taken the route of being one hundred percent behind me and happy for me in whatever direction I take. And that means that I have to choose a direction to take.

Money Talks

Any one know where these grow?

Higher education isn’t cheap – especially at the post graduate level. Both options are expensive, but Columbia is REALLY expensive. That brings me to the question of whether or not a fancy Ivy League degree is really worth it. Goldsmiths is a one year program, which automatically makes it more affordable whereas Columbia is a two year program. In addition to the time frame thing, tuition costs are much lower in the UK, even with all the international expenses and visa fees. If money was truly doing all the talking here, Goldsmiths is the better value bar none. That being said, would a degree from Columbia nearly guarantee that I’ll get my dream job when I graduate? Is that worth the debt that I will build up while I study there? Is that worth turning down the opportunity to spend a year in Europe? I don’t know and I’m really glad that I cut off most of my hair last week, so I don’t have that to pull out.


So, I’ve spent this week distracted at work, having trouble sleeping, and when I fall asleep, I’ve been having really weird stressful dreams that leave me exhausted when I wake up to start the day. If you asked me right now, my heart says that I should go to Goldsmiths, but my mind tells me that I’m crazy for turning down the opportunity to study at Columbia.  My heart and my mind are working on deadlines, so they better come to an agreement soon.


Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do Drugs

Indonesia is pretty strict when it comes to drugs.

Yes, that is a real sign in the airport. People are thrown into jail ranging from 4 years to life to death for possession, using drugs, or trafficking and police are allowed to search and arrest you based on a tip, which happened to this poor British guy, who is waiting to hear how long he will be in jail for smoking a joint in his home. Yesterday, that article was shoved in Amy’s face and she was told “Don’t do drugs! This is why!” and then it was taped to the mirror in the staff room.

With all the strict penalties for drugs, however, drug use still exists. Heroine was never on my radar until I came here. Conversations about heroine use that I’ve had here have varied from people sharing stories of their past addiction and how they overcame it to people asking me I need any because they know a guy who will give me a good price. The answer to the latter is obviously a very confident NO. People are getting around the system and drugs are in Indonesia, that I am sure of. And that makes me question the effectiveness of these punishments as well as the Indonesian government’s ability to enforce these laws — remember, 400 million people live on Indonesia’s 13,000 islands. 

So why shouldn’t you do drugs in Indonesia, or anywhere in the world, really? I think answering that question with a list of punishments that you will receive if you get caught is ineffective, especially here. I’ve already told you of the population, but the police are a whole different story. Indonesia’s police system is known throughout the country as being incompetent and corrupt, and the little experience that I’ve had with them has been enough to confirm those opinions. But still, when I hear people talking about drug use, they talk about the risk of getting caught. They leave out the health effects, the brain damage, the addiction, the expense, and danger of the drug business.

Throwing someone in prison for a decade because they were smoking a joint isn’t solving the drug problem in Indonesia and it never will. Drugs need to be understood and talked about by everyone, so they understand that the risk of getting involved with drugs is much higher than jail time.


“No Forks in the Toilet” and Other Bathroom Guidelines

Going to the bathroom in Indonesia brings up endless questions. However the question that I most frequently ask myself is why people have to be told not to do the following:IMG_2346Does this sign imply that people need to be instructed that the toilet is for one life function only and not for others, eating and bathing?

I like to look at this from left to right and empathize with the person in the pictures. I guess if you were standing on the toilet while you were eating lunch, it would be much easier to throw all your cutlery, plates, and glasses in the toilet as opposed to carry it to a trash can. I mean, if you were holding onto all those things, you would probably drop it all in the toilet anyway while you were trying to keep your balance and step off the toilet seat. After that, let’s say some sauce dripped on your foot… how convenient to have a hose right there to wash off with!

Being that everything one does in the bathroom is behind closed doors, while I’ve never found myself with this urges I can’t speak for everyone. What you do in a bathroom stall is your business, but follow a few simple rules.

“I’d like a large latte with an extra shot of motivation, please.”

My go-to answer for “What are you going to do when you contract finishes in Indonesia” has always been “go to grad school.” After finishing my applications, when people asked me what I was going to do, I would bury my face in my hands and say “I have no idea” because once my applications were submitted, my say in the matter was taken away and it was up to Goldsmiths University of London, University of Chicago, and Columbia University as to what I was going to do next year. I applied to University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration to study International Social Welfare and specialize in Services to Refugees and Immigrants, University of Columbia’s School of Social Work for the same thing, and Goldsmiths University of London to study Applied Anthropology and Community Development. So far, I’ve heard back from Goldsmiths and YAY I’ve been accepted! Now comes applying for funding…

IMG_2276This brings me to coffee shops. Applying for grad school, and now for funding, involves filling out a sizable amount of forms and doing lots of writing. There are few things that I hate more than paperwork, and there are few places where I am more productive than a coffee shop. The comfortable chairs. The soft indie music. The never failing wifi. The highly caffeinated drinks, which with a little bit of luck, are bottomless. And the patrons reading, writing, or doing other quiet activities. These things combined make for my most productive environment and I take full advantage of every moment in them, sometimes for a full working day. At this critical time of forms and essays, I need a coffee shop bad.

There are a few places here that call themselves coffee shops, but making my rounds (and trying to get work done there) I can say with one hundred percent certainty that they are not what I’m looking for. They are restaurants that also serve coffee. This is why I’m not particularly pleased:


I love coffee shops for their hours. When it’s 8 or 9 am and I am barely human, I can mosey into a local coffee shop and be given something magical that makes me come alive and gets me going. By the time lunch time comes around, there’s a soup and salad special or a bagel sandwich with my name on it packed with fuel to keep my brain working and fingers typing until my Goal List for the day is all crossed off. Coffee shops, save Starbucks, Bloomington’s Soma, and a hand full of others I’ve sat at, also close early. Like between 6 – 9pm early and on a rare occasion, 10 or 11. This is good because it forces me to get everything done in a limited time frame and then get out of there with my entire evening to enjoy.

Here’s the problem with Indonesian “coffee shop” hours. Waroeng Kopi (literally, Coffee Shop) is my obvious go to because it is less than a minute’s walk from my house. Unfortunately, it opens at noon and closes at 11pm, midnight on Saturdays. NOON? NO! In an ideal situation, I am OUT of the coffee shop, or almost ready to leave, by noon, not just getting in!


Dining at Waroeng Kopi, or the other options, such as The Coffee, is heavy. Literally. We’re talking greasy burgers, fried rice, huge french fries, creamy pastas, and special at Waroeng Kopi, weird bread dishes. The weird bread dishes are composed of white bread with fillings and toppings ranging from fruit and cream to bolognese sauce and then DEEP FRIED. Where is my seasonal salad? Where is my soup? Where are my bagels and muffins? A deep fried bolognese sandwich makes me want to do nothing except curl into the fetal position, sleep the rest of the day, and snap at Monty when he lays on my stomach, which I normally beg him to do, but now it’s sore. The polar opposite of taking care of business.


I’ve been at Waroeng Kopi for an hour and half. So far, I have been forced to listen to Maroon 5 remixes, Christmas music, Carlie Rae Jepson, one Michael Buble song, and half of a Frank Sinatra tune. I don’t know the current artist is, but she is bumpin’ and bumpin’ is not what I need right now. Where are you Neko Case, Sufjan Stevens, Billie Holiday, and The Avett Brothers? I need you bad.

Other Patrons

Besides the music, Waroeng Kopi is quiet. Quiet because there are rarely other people there.

Other people are a key factor in my equation to being productive because if Mr. Wire Glasses and a Vest looks up from his book to see me laughing out loud at Tumblr, I’m sure that he’s thinking “why is she wasting that $6 latte on Tumblr when she could be writing a paper that will change the field of Anthropology forever?” I also am sure — because I do this — that when the person who has been at the coffee shop all day working’s computer is about to die, they are enraged if they see me hogging an electrical outlet to power my Facebook machine. Their disapproving glares keep me in line and I need them.

Outdoor seating at Waroeng Kopi

A typical afternoon at Waroeng Kopi

The other problem with the patrons at coffee shops here stems from the fact that coffee shops are restaurants, not coffee shops. How am I supposed to work next to a table of loud people who want to know where I’m from, why I’m in Lampung, what I’m doing, where I’m going after the coffee shop, where I was before coming to the coffee shop, and if they can take my picture? Or if I’m at The Coffee, there’s way too high of a chance that the table next to me has a tower of beer. That’s right, in a city where there are exactly 4 bars — none of which are popular hang out joints — you can find beer at “coffee shops”. NO NO NO! The last thing that I need distracting me is alcohol. I want to get my stuff done at the coffee shop, and then move somewhere else to reward myself with beer.

So that’s where we are. I’ve been Waroeng Kopi for nearly three hours, and now it’s storming, so I have even less motivation to walk home as I do to search for and complete scholarship applications. Fortunately, they just put on a acoustic song. Please be an entire album.

Pour House in Bloomington, Indiana, I miss you more than you know. I miss that your baristas knew if I needed an extra shot in my Cafe Miel by the look on my face when I walked through the door. I miss your chocolate chip cookies, made daily from scratch. I miss your chili and white bean soup. I your soft music, soft sofas, and soft lights. And I miss knowing that your profits and my tips always went to a good cause. Please consider opening up a location in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia. I promise that, if you do, I will personally keep you in business.

Myanmar Holiday Part 1: An Introduction

I’m back in Bandar Lampung after my two week holiday in Myanmar. I’ll only be blogging about Myanmar for the next few days, but unfortunately, there is no way to give justice to the experiences that I had there with pictures and short writings.

When I talk about Myanmar, a lot of people ask me where I’m referring to. Hopefully J. Peterman, from Seinfeld, can help clear things up. He decided to move there in a very hilarious episode.

"You may know it as Myanmar, Elaine, but it will always be Burma to me."

“You may know it as Myanmar, Elaine, but it will always be Burma to me.”

Myanmar, or Burma, having only recently opened up to the world is developing rapidly. Things that we have always had and taken for granted are very new there. For example, Coca-Cola was just introduced to Myanmar two months ago. Now, North Korea is the last country without Coke. There still aren’t McDonald’s, and my friends living there are counting down the days until they can have a Big Mac. ATMs that accept Mastercard are starting to pop up, but there aren’t many (and I don’t have a Mastercard) and it remains a total cash economy. Internet is very very slow. Cell phone sim cards are very very expensive, and landlines work inconsistently. I had a great New Years in Yangon at a big New Year’s Eve bash… it was Myanmar’s first New Year’s Eve party in 24 years.

I can only talk about my experience in Myanmar as a tourist, which means I can barely scratch the surface of what is happening there right now. There is definitely an ethical dilemma in traveling to Myanmar under their current authoritarian government, and no matter how conscientious you are, some of your money is going to their pockets. I am still glad that I went, though, as it was eye opening and humbling more ways than I can count.

Prior awareness of the current political climate in Myanmar is important when traveling to Myanmar, because as a tourist, you likely won’t see conflict or blatant government control. As a tourist, I saw the areas that the government has approved for tourism and are conflict free. Once in the country, I needed no permits to visit these areas and I easily came and went. Meanwhile, other areas where there is high conflict are completely inaccessible. The areas that I visited were clean, safe, and orderly. Everyone there extremely helpful and welcoming, though that could have been because they were being told to be…

these signs and billboards were everywhere

these signs and billboards are everywhere

We also didn’t see an abnormal police presence, which I expected, and this is what the police stations looked like.


I felt very controlled while I was traveling in Myanmar, like there was a puppet master ushering me around the country and directing me to where I could visit, who I could stay with, what I could see, and what information about contemporary Myanmar I’d be given. I have never been somewhere with such heavy censorship and government control.

But the people living there are filled with the joy of life, and optimistic about Myanmar’s future. Knowledge of the current government and conflict juxtaposed with the people I met and stayed with made Myanmar the most captivating country that I’ve visited. I’m excited to watch and see what happens with Myanmar in the coming years and I very much hope to go back.

Monks and others playing a game of chin lone. It's played everywhere all the time and impossible to play without laughing hysterically.

Monks and others playing a game of chin lone. It’s played everywhere all the time and impossible to play without laughing hysterically.

Stay tuned…

Say What?! – The reason behind my blog’s new name.

In anthropology school — can I say that the same way people say ‘art school’ or ‘med school’? — we were taught to interpret what we observe systematically, objectively, and completely. So I signed a contract to teach in Indonesia for a year, packed my bags, and set off for the Far East confident that this would be the best year of my life and full of victories.

What anthropology school didn’t stress enough was that trying to navigate a foreign culture, learn a language, and get job done is equal parts shocking, amazing, confusing, and frustrating. As an American twentysomething, kitten mom, ESL teacher, anthropologist, Bahasa Indonesia student, Atheist, and environmentalist trying to fully experience culture, learn, fit in, and make a difference — whatever that means — in a Muslim country and in a city with less than 10 expat residents, I find myself crinkling my forehead, raising my eyebrows, and saying “say what?!” more than I ever have in my entire life. I say it here much more than I did in Latin America. Maybe I just don’t remember my confusion… or maybe I was just more prepared to live there… or maybe I spent too much time in the discotecas with my buddies rum and cerveza to let myself reach the level of confusion that I operate under in Indonesia.

I’ve shared bits of confusion so far, such as in my posts about basa basi and how to use toilets, but I really haven’t given it justice. And there’s a ton of blogging material that comes from my daily “say what?!” moments. Don’t worry, I’m not turning by blog into an arena where I complain about being confused abroad and how frustrating that is. Amazing and heartwarming experiences can leave one dumbfounded and speechless too. I think that our “say what?!” experiences are the ones that challenge us and give our life flavor (in Sumatra, that flavor happens to be spicy), and this blog is my place where I try to make sense of my shocking, amazing, and confusing experiences and let you get a taste of them too.