Thailand is the Place to Be

Whether Thailand is on your bucket list or not, there’s many reasons you should consider visiting it. Thanks to a gap between my Indonesian summer program and my fall semester in South Africa, I made a brief stop in Thailand to explore Bangkok, hit its beaches, and create this epic list of why Thailand is the place to be:

  • Thai food is to die for

I consider myself a first-rate foodie, so when I say Thai food is delicious, I 100% mean it! For noodle fans, there’s pad thai at nearly every street corner. If soup’s your thing, try tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup) or tom kha kai (chicken in coconut milk soup). I happen to love the curries as well as mango sticky rice, a slightly sweet white rice topped with sliced mangoes.  Other perks of buying Thai food are its ridiculous cheapness (a decent meal can cost <$1) and tropical fruits that I can never find in the US (like rambutan, manggis, and durian).

Amazing pad thai from Bangkok

Have you ever gone to a marketplace that is only accessible by boat? Go to Thailand’s floating markets, where food is sold by vendors on boats and boardwalks. I took a 30-minute boatride to reach a floating market, and was pleasantly surprised by its many marketstands and a local band playing traditional instruments.

Shopping at one of Bangkok’s floating markets was one of my favorite experiences in Thailand. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it is!

  • The Grand Palace is the perfect backdrop for updating your Insta profile

Set in the heart of Bangkok, the official residence of past Thai royalty is a top-notch location for pictures due to its intricate architecture and designs. Unfortunately, since my scarf, t-shirt, and capris were not conservative enough to enter the palace, I had to make a spur-the-moment shopping trip at a side shop! See my new clothes below…

Modeling my new outfit at the Grand Palace

  • Conversations with Thai locals challenge your communication skills

Even in touristy Bangkok, taxi drivers, waiters, and vendors understand close-to-nil English. Nevertheless, close-to-nil English is still some English, so your task is to communicate using the words people would know. Gestures and Google Translate come in handy too! To me, communicating with Thai people felt like a game, and I proudly beat my travel buddy Rohan at being understandable! Haha.

  • Thailand’s sandy beaches are a vacay paradise

Far from a tranquil beach getaway, Bangkok is a city that never sleeps. If you want to experience genuine vacation relaxation, then take a cheap plane from Bangkok to the southern regions. Rohan and I flew to Phuket, and from there we commuted to Phang Nga Bay (home of James Bond Island), Phi Phi Islands (touristy islands with turquoise water and sandy beaches), and Bangla Road (a road famous for its food and sprawling nightlife).

Going to Phi Phi Island required a 4-hour ferry ride each way. Minus my hair blowing, I absolutely loved the feeling of the ocean wind!

If you fail miserably at cross-cultural communication, you can recover your confidence by watching a Muay Thai match. As Thailand’s official sport, Muay Thai competitors use their knees, elbows, shins, and hands to fight. Contestants come from all over the world, and as their 3-minute rounds near completion the audience claps and cheers ferociously.

At Bangla Road, Rohan and I were caught in the spirit of a Muay Thai match.

  • Elephants!

  • Elephants are the national animal of Thailand, so its memorabilia is everywhere, from clothing to jewelry to décor. Elephants are also rich people’s pets. Just like Americans send their horses to top-notch trainers, so too do Thai people send their elephants to be entertained and improved. Desperate to find elephants, Rohan and I drove 30-kilometers on our scooter in the pouring rain to Phang Nga Elephant Park.
  • Thai massages make your body feel like it’s 16 again

I’m not typically a fan of massages because I’ve had too many that are more painful than relaxing. My Thai massage experience, however, was different. After stripping down and laying on my belly, my body was massaged with special oil that made my muscles feel better than they had the last 2 months! And my 30-minute massage only cost 200 baht (about $6)!

Phi Phi Island was not only where I got my Thai massage but also the home of this pool! My life is now complete after swimming here 🙂

  • Scooters allow you to travel like a local

My greatest joys in life include tropical fruit, Indian food, mountain hikes, and—you guessed it—bikes! Fortunately in Thailand, my friend and I were able to rent a motorized scooter. Costing a mere 200 baht per day, the scooter allowed us to enjoy areas of the countryside that Grab (Southeast Asian version of Uber) would have overcharged to see.

For anyone who has never been to Asia or particularly Southeast Asia, it’s hard to fully capture the essence of night markets. Typically set on a long street, night markets have informal vendors who sell items ranging from fresh fruit to fried quail eggs, sausages, and snacks whose ingredients you can only guess. When Rohan and I perused a Bangkok night market, we sampled an assortment of sausages, pad thai, and green tea ice cream (green tea is a very popular Southeast Asian flavor).

Night market snackie foods in the Phang Nga Bay area


Of course, there’s many more pictures and memories from my 6 days of Thailand, some of which are below:

Epic foods

Tom yum goong is a sweet and sour shrimp and veggie-based soup, typically served with white rice.

Tom kha kai is a soup consisting of chicken and veggies in coconut milk, again accompanied by rice.

This is a fruit called rambutan, which I was excited to try in Thailand since I couldn’t find any in Indonesia. Fun fact: the fruit inside the rambutan’s hairy red shell has the color, shape, and size of an egg.

Beautiful seaside sights

This is James Bond Island, best known from the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.

Here’s a tranquil village alongside Phang Nga Bay that gets practically all its income from tourists on boat tours

Phang Nga Bay is the perfect place for some yoga!

Another epic photo of Phang Nga Bay. It has that Pirates of the Caribbean-type feel.

Rohan and I took a long tail boat ride along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to visit Wat Arun (iconic Buddhist temple) and shop at our floating market.

Unforgettable experiences

The Grand Palace is posh!!!

Another view of Grand Palace

Rohan and I did a boat trip around Phang Nga Bay, which included kayaking around water caverns!





Aku Rindu Indonesia

When we fall in love with a place but must leave it behind, we miss the most trifling things about it. After living in Indonesia 2 months, here’s my farewell to Indonesia and why I believe it may be the best country I’ve visited so far.

* Aku Rindu Indonesia= I long for/miss Indonesia

I’m waiting to board my Bangkok-bound flight for a one week mini-vacation before my South Africa study abroad, and at this moment I’m feeling sentimental. Yuck! Here I am, almost teary eyed, reflecting on how unconditionally loving my Indonesian friends have been, how my host ibus (Indonesian for “mothers”) always bantered “tambah” (“Have some more!”) during our meals, and how my language teachers’ never lost their patience when my brain could not keep up with their steady teaching rhythm. Since I’m a fan of lists, I’ve condensed my thoughts to a “Top 10 Things I Will (or Will Not) Miss About Indonesia”:

  1. Buy (almost) anything I want

    I took Ibu Katarina (right) and Ibu Rina (left) out to a special restaurant where we took family photos! As you can see, we are wearing batik, which is Indonesian traditional clothing.

If you’re a college student like me, budgeting life is a daily routine. However, after arriving in Indonesia, my measly wallet worked wonders! Grab (Indonesian Uber) rides are anywhere from cents to a few dollars, and you can certainly find quality warung (Indonesian outdoor restaurants) food for less than that. I also took my 2 ibus and a friend to a private candlelit hut at a riverside restaurant where we feasted for a mere $25.

  1. Knee pillows

    On the middle of each of these beds is a guling, a long and narrow pillow.

I can’t sleep without a knee pillow! Indonesians understand that too because they place special cylindrical pillows on the middle of their beds where their knees go! This pillow, called guling, originated from when the Dutch colonized Indonesia. Its purpose was to act as a barrier for men and women who slept on the same bed but had not yet married!

  1. “Hati-hati”

From studying in an intensive Indonesian language program, I’ve learned lots of words and phrases that can’t be translated literally. Like Hati-hati. While it simply means “be careful,” I’ve never met English speakers—besides overprotective parents—who use it the way Indonesians do. Whenever I go to class, home, or anywhere, my friends and host family say “hati-hati,” often while holding my hand affectionately. It’s yet another way Indonesians show they care.

  1. Squat toilets

Although I’ve sampled squat toilets in India, I was never a regular user until Indonesia.  What can I say, it’s been a culturally immersive experience! First, realizing that used toilet paper belongs in the waste basket. Second, learning from trial and error to perform hind end cleaning toilet-paper-free. And third, revising bucketing strategies for flushing if the bodily waste is particularly cumbersome.

  1. Being special

While it’s sometimes flattering to receive over-the-top treatment and selfie requests, it can also be annoying! A couple weeks ago, a student at my Indonesian university approached me in hopes of making me his foreigner girlfriend, which I confidently refused! However, the footage of our conversation was captured by another student and is featured on a YouTube Channel called Jomblo (single person searching for a partner) TV. On a similar note, I’m also given a special name whenever I go out walking: “Hey, mister! Mister!” Many Indonesians don’t understand that “mister” is the English title for males, not all white people!

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Evidence that my tutor Mbak Mei is an incredibly thoughtful human being: she made a calendar to record everything she did with me the last 60 days!

  1. No one to have a crush on

    Besides my tutors, Mas Gun has been my BFFFF in Indonesia. Not only have I taught him English, but he’s also taught me so much about music from his genius cello playing.

Since one of my required criteria for men is that he is at least my height, I’ve got slim pickings in Indonesia. This is the only country where I somewhat wish I was short!

  1. Hijabs that are not stereotyped

Because I haven’t spent much time in a Muslim majority country before, I began my Indonesian experience with many stereotypes about what Muslims are like.  From my language program’s hijab-clad leader dancing to Anaconda to the people I met whose families crossed religious boundaries, I grew to respect not only Islam but also how other religions worked together despite tremendous differences.

  1. Patriotism

I’m not Indonesian but I’m patriotic for Indonesia! Why? Because Indonesians actually care about their country! Their Independence Day’s treated almost like an American Christmas, but instead of songs being played from late November to the end of December, they’re only played the week of August 17. Flags are hung up everywhere, everyone gets the day off work, and a number of special ceremonies commence. No jokes about the president, no side conversations that begin with “Big bad China…”

  1. Unparalleled beauty

    Mount Bromo is the most popular destination in the Malang area and probably one of the only local places where tourists can get away with being understood in English.

Indonesia’s jaw-dropping gorgeous! Just last week I went horse riding and climbing up Mount Bromo, an active volcano about 2 hours from Malang. As I gazed at the mountain skyline and turned my attention downward to the volcano’s crater, I was awestruck by the raw beauty of the natural surroundings. To think I only got a little sampling of Indonesia from one of its 18,000 islands!

  1. Genetically distinct cats

During my research presentation this week, I shared my findings from my Indonesian and American student interviews as well as my survey of Malang’s cats’ tails. Here’s a few interesting tidbits:

  • Indonesian cats are usually short-tailed-in fact, 70% of cats from my cat survey are short-tailed
  • Americans are more willing to adopt a short-tailed cat than Indonesians- 80% of Americans would be okay with owning one, compared to only 30% of Indonesians
    • Reasons for not owning a short-tailed cat- not as playful; long-tailed cat is ideal
    • Reasons to own a short-tailed cat- cats’ tail does not matter (1 respondent also said the cat would be cleaner after defecating)

My final presentation for my language immersion program involved a 12-minute PowerPoint about my research. Since I was going to talk about short-tailed cats, I decided to become a cat for the presentation! Here I am with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) after celebrating being finished!

As I conclude the Indonesian section of Fran’s Lands, I write as one who is passionately in love. I took a leap of faith choosing to study the Indonesian language, yet I have not only progressed in the the language but also in the way I see myself as a friend, family member, and individual. Though I’m headed to Thailand next, my rich Indonesian adventures compel me to return and live out my life goal to make a difference in a new, meaningful way.



Here’s a sampling of my adventures in Indonesia these last 3 weeks…

For the beauty of Bromo…

Due to the nature of roads, Mount Bromo excursions are reserved for Jeeps only.

Here I am ascending Bromo’s peak on my noble steed.


For the love of kids…

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At the Catholic high school where Ibu Rina works, I was interviewed by the journalism class for the school’s magazine.

To thank me for visiting the school’s journalism class, one of the students drew a portrait of me. Thank you, Alex!

Can you see me? I’m wearing the lavender hijab! I’m with a group of students at a pesantren, which is a private school for Muslims.

I won the election to become the menteri pendidikan (minister of education) in my Indonesian class’ mock election! I had to make a poster, give a speech, and do Q and A.

For the love of friendship…

I put my Indonesian skills to use by speaking with Indonesia’s regional public radio station about my experience learning Bahasa Indonesia. Definitely a program highlight!

Bonding with Mbak Mei (left) and Mbak Vita (center) by picking oranges.

Here I am with my host mom Ibu Rina on Indonesia’s Independence Day. At the high school where she works, I had to give a speech to the 1,200 students!

This is not a great picture, but it’s of me (pictured in black and gold traditional clothing at center) and my classmates playing the gamelan for my Indonesian program’s closing ceremony.

This t-shirt is a special parting gift I received from Pak Gatot, Ibu Rina’s BFF, who’s taken me out to dinner a few times. The red and white flag is for Indonesia.

When Learning Has No Limit

Who doesn’t wish they were 5-years-old again when everything came so easily?! By living in Indonesia, I’m reminded everyday that learning is a never-ending process.

Practicing Muay Thai is literally one of my highlights in life right now. I lack the coordination, but I desperately want to improve.

“Soak everything up like a sponge, sweetie! Once you’re my age, learning won’t be so easy anymore.”

Every old person teaches a version of “How to Prevent Young People from Messing Up in Life,” and I’m still considered a student of the course. Unbeknownst to the elderly generation, however, I’m afraid my sponge days are long past. My proof? Learning a new language is like understanding the opposite sex. It can be mastered, but only with lots of patience and persistence.

Thankfully, living in Indonesia means that I can improve my language and cultural skills not only in the classroom but everywhere in between. Let’s take a look at my favorite learning sites:

  • University

University life sounds boring but it’s not. From 8 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, I attend Malang State University to speak Bahasa Indonesia. If I speak English subconsciously (“like” happens to be among Francine’s greatest hits), my punishment comes in the form of making extra sentences.

Compared to many languages, Indonesian is not immensely difficult, probably because the alphabet is the same as English and verbs rarely need conjugation. However, pronunciation is a whole different game. I have to roll my “r”s and remember not to aspirate (or voice) “t” “p,” or “k.”

Here are my classmates from my Indonesian class. Pictured from the right is me, Mbak Zayn, Mbak Camille, and Mas Austin.

Classroom culture here is relatively laid back, with my teachers connecting well with us due to their close ages, 3 ten-minute breaks occurring before lunch, and field trips and interviews happening every couple days. As for our learning format, we dig into grammar and culture while copying new vocabulary from the whiteboard. Topping off our language experience is good ol’ Susan (the catering company), who nourishes us with snacks and lunch. Due to the delicious and diverse nature of her treats, she’s made many students fear returning to the states a few sizes larger.

So far, my Indonesian studies are 5 out of 8 weeks complete, with each week getting harder. Besides quizzes every Friday and a midterm exam, I’ve got a final project. For the project, I’ll be focusing on cats’ tails by interviewing 20 Indonesians and 20 Americans and taking pictures of 50 cats to determine their tail size and type. More on that in future blogs!

  • Places to Eat

Every culture has something to teach from its food, and since I’m a particularly adventurous eater, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on Indonesian cuisine. My conclusion? I’m floored that there’s not more Indonesian restaurants in the US. The dishes here are rave-worthy, but then again, perhaps Americans can’t handle the zest!

This is bebek, or duck meat, served with rice and light vegetables, which I ordered on the island Madura.

I’m a little sick of having rice and kerupuk (Indonesian cracker) every meal, but other than that I like the spices, variations of nasi goreng (fried rice), and the use of salak (snake fruit) and quail eggs. I also enjoy checking out the fast food scene, with the mission of determining the place that serves the best fried chicken. KFC outdoes McDonald’s, but I have yet to try Miami Fried Chicken (MFC), Texas Fried Chicken (TFC), and California Fried Chicken (CFC). It cracks me up that these Indonesian fast food chains have American names but don’t even exist in the US!

  • Sites and Attractions

Food says a lot about a country’s culture, but exploring new areas can provide a wealth of information as well. This past weekend my friends and I traveled to Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. One of our first stops was the House of Sampuerna cigarette factory, where we learned that while men typically smoke the cigarettes, the women are the ones making them! Hmm…

Mbak Aja (left), me, and Mbak Vita went to the auditions for The Voice: Indonesia in Surabaya! Mbak Aja was so close to auditioning, but didn’t want to wait in line a lifetime.

Later on, my friends and I visited the Chinese section of Surabaya, where we devoted a good 20 minutes to gawk at an ornate mosque reminiscent of a Confucian temple. Lucky us, the president of that mosque’s board of directors invited us for dinner! That evening we met him for Chinese hotpot, which included the most scrumptious salmon, veggies, and seafood ever prepared in a dish!

Our adventure was topped off by a spontaneous trip to Madura, a still developing island connected to Surabaya by a 5-kilometer-long bridge. Since minimal public transportation goes there, we booked a Grab (Indonesian version of Uber) from Surabaya. Between observing the new buildings erected beside farm fields, stopping at a duck restaurant, and satisfying my new durian obsession, it almost felt like we were in another country.  Sidenote: while the Grab to Madura was expensive for Indonesian standards, our 3-hour trip only cost $15!


So there you have it! Although I still envy children’s ability to soak up information, I have the world at my doorstep. And as long as you and I apply ourselves by exploring, asking questions, and not fearing mistakes, who knows what age cap our learning must have!

Some pictures from the last 2 weeks:

This is manggis, a traditional Indonesian fruit originally from Malaysia.

In Surabaya, my friends and I tried some local seafood. Guess what this is? Stingray!

One of my guilty pleasures in life—besides Indian food—is ice cream, especially brownie sundaes. In Indonesia, however, the name is “brownie boat.” Sempurna!

Here I am with my tutors, Mbak Vita (right) and Mbak Mei (center). Mbak Mei had just submitted her thesis for the Bahasa Indonesia major, so this was a very special day for her.

Here I am with my tutors after having tried even more fried chicken at Ayam Nelongso, a local fast food restaurant.

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This weekend, my classmates and I went to Blitar to visit the grave of Pak Soekorno, Indonesia’s first president. While there, Mbak Camille (to my right) and I interviewed a group of school kids for our v-log (video blog)!










Waduh! Why Mistakes Matter

When something goes wrong, a common Indonesian response is “Waduh!” The word also means “Wow!” and may be the best way to describe my Indonesian experience.

Most people dwell too much on mistakes, myself included. These last 2 weeks in Indonesia, I questioned my academic choices, mourned someone’s death, and found countless cats whose tails appeared to have been ran over. But were these events mistakes? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s briefly swipe through my top “mistakes” in Indonesia so far:

  • Not Pushing Myself Enough

In class, we learned all the parts of the body, and 10 minutes later had to remember them! I taped all the body parts to their location on the body of my tutor, Mbak Mei!

This summer as part of the US Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), I’m doing an 8-week Bahasa Indonesia language immersion program at Malang State University in Indonesia. Although I was thrilled to continue my Indonesian learning in Malang, my first in-country dilemma was realizing the class I was placed into was too easy. I seemed like a genius!

However, I liked my class. There were 4 students and 4 teachers (the perfect ratio!), and although the concepts initially were review for me, the coursework began moving fast. I decided to stay, which was the best decision! Between hosting a Rachel Ray-esque cooking show to debating Indonesia’s death penalties for narcotics possession to cruising around town in an angkot (local transportation), my classes are never boring.

  • Celebrating…Only to Mourn

 Besides my Indonesian class woes, I faced another predicament: learning how to celebrate and weep Indonesian-style. For starters, 4th of July in Malang was grander than any celebration I recall in America. My favorite moments of our special event at Malang State was singing the Indonesian national anthem with my American classmates, proudly standing as the Indonesian students performed the American national anthem, and pathetically attempting the “Wobble” and “Footloose” dances. Toward the end of the night, my fellow Americans and the Indonesian students gathered onstage to dance to Katy Perry’s “Firework” as balloons fell upon us from above and fireworks illuminated the sky.

Two days later, one of the Indonesian leaders of CLS unexpectedly died. I had just had a pleasant conversation with him on the 4th of July! After class, all CLS students, teachers, and tutors took angkots to his home to console his family and listen to what I believe was a Muslim prayer recited in Arabic. Indeed, there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, but I don’t ever remember them happening back-to-back.

  • Feeling Sorry for Myself and Cats’ Tails

Here I am congratulating an incoming freshman at the high school where Ibu Rina works. He’s doing the respectful forehead touch to my hand.

The next “mistake” of my Indonesian experience was not so serious as death but involved being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you know me well, you recognize that hand sanitizer is my longtime BFF. It then shouldn’t surprise you that my germ-hating feelings returned when I shook hands with 400 incoming freshmen at the Catholic high school where my host mom works.

During my tour of the school, we followed loud noises until we reached the auditorium. There an energetic group of freshman was playing their orientation games. Shortly after I found myself alongside the gurus (teachers) and priests shaking the students’ hands! I didn’t belong there, but there I was! My least favorite part was not shaking hands; it was the 1 in 10 students who, as a sign of deep respect, shook my hand while placing their forehead on it. Germs mixed with head sweat! Yikes! After mentally scheduling my journey to the cuci tangan (sink or literally “hand cleaner”), I made a point to enjoy congratulating the deserving students. How fun!

 Besides pitying my hands, I’ve also felt sorry for cats these last couple weeks. Their tails are dinky! So dinky, in fact, that I was convinced a motorcycle or car ran over their tails. However, after finding 20-30 cats with tails of comparable lengths, I reconsidered. It’s genetic!

Here’s one of my first subjects for “The Cat Tail Project.” See how short his tail is!

Thus started my hobby project: “Proyek Kucing Ekor” (“The Cat Tail Project”). I now take photos of every cat with a short tail (about 2/3 of cats). It’s an oddity for Indonesians to see anyone actively searching and meowing for felines, but I no longer mind.


While I just complained about recent “mistakes” or unfortunate events in my life, I also revealed the positives that happened because of them. The circumstances provided me experience, curiosity, and wisdom, and although I would certainly not choose someone’s death, everything served as an opportunity to learn through a culture unlike my own. And I’ve also had several no-strings-attached positives! I’ve made health a top priority by taking Muay Thai (Thai boxing) classes 2 hours a day 3 times a week and beginning training for a South Africa half marathon. I’ve also challenged my spice tolerance to its limits by eating Mie Setan (literally “Satan’s Noodles”) with the trusty aid of 5 bottles of water! On top of that, I’ve begun learning the gamelan (Indonesian percussion instrument) and teaching English to my new friend, Mas Gun. Most importantly, I’m improving my language skills while growing close to my Indonesian friends and family.

Life in Indonesia will be a constant struggle between mistakes and triumphs, but whatever happens, I’m facing it head on. Semangat!


Pictured below are some pictures to prove how fun (and delicious!) Indonesia is:

First is the food…

This is sate kelinci, which is grilled rabbit! Yum!

Nasi goreng, or fried rice, is one of the most-well known dishes in Indonesia and consists of rice fried with vegetables, spices, and egg. This dish was less than 1 USD!

Bakso, or meatballs, is one of the famous foods in Indonesia and in Malang specifically.

Now for everything else…

Here I am with Ibu Rina, my host mom. She is one of the most unconditionally loving people I know.

Me in my happy place, playing the gamelan. Gamelan is always played in an ensemble, so this is just one instrument of many drums and mallet instruments.

Here I am at Mie Setan pretending to be happy. I just ate the spiciest noodles of my life and had been crying uncontrollably. Pictured to the right are the 5 water bottles I drank.

After Mie Setan, my tutors and I soothed our taste buds by eating gelato. My flavor was durian! Pictured from the left are Mbak Vita, me, and Mbak Mei.

Though most people in Indonesia are Muslim, there are some Hindus, and their temples are beautiful.

My class went to a museum to look at wayung kulit, which are puppets used for shadow plays.

Last weekend, my class took a field trip around the city of Malang in one of these buses! Just like in England!

Here’s my beautiful church! And yes, I’m still a part of the choir.






You Don’t Have to Know Everything

Regardless of which country you find yourself in, you only need to know a few things to get by. Here’s how I managed my first week in Indonesia.

Albert Einstein once said that if you can look something up, you don’t really need to know it by heart. That’s why I believe that being an expert does not mean understanding every minuscule detail or being the best at what you do. It’s about knowing what you need to know, and then just a snippet more.

This was my first breakfast in Indonesia. Enak sekali, ya?

I’ve lived in Indonesia about a week now and I’m far from an expert on the cultural norms of my host city, Malang. But you know what? I’ve gotten pretty darn good at getting by with limited language skills and common sense. Before arriving in Malang last week, I’d already taken one year of college-level Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language courses), but since I’m still a slow speaker, I’ve got my go-to phrases:

  1. “Saya kenyang” (“I’m full”)- Used when my host family eyes my plate, shortly after picking up a spoon to dish out my second helping
  2. “Baiklah” (“Okay” or “cool”)- When I’m not sure what was just said but want to keep the conversation rolling
  3. “Di mana kamar kecil?” (“Where’s the bathroom?”)- Perhaps the most useful phrase in my arsenal

I also have become accustomed to calling everyone by special names. I’m Mbak Francine, with Mbak being a term preceding young females’ names. My male peers are called Mas, middle-aged and older women are Ibu (mother), and middle-aged or older men are Bapak (father). It’s a blast referring to my American pals with these terms!

Every Sunday morning on one of Malang’s main roads is Car Free Day when many vendors, markets, and activities are open. For my first Care Free Day, I took a traditional wagon ride.

Besides becoming a semi-expert on Indonesian language survival, I’m also living on a new time schedule. Indonesians are extreme morning people, but I’ve always preferred sleeping til 8 or 9! That can never happen anymore because come 5 every morning the neighboring mosque’s call to prayer becomes my 10-minute “unsnoozeable” alarm. That, plus my host family is out and about by 4!

Throughout my brief time in Malang, understanding my host family has become a necessary ingredient of my immersion. My family includes Ibu Katarina, a young-looking, boisterous 78 year-old, and her daughter Ibu Rina. They’re kind-hearted individuals, exceptional cooks, and fervent Catholics. In fact, they’ve taken me to church and—to my shock—had me join the church choir. Life is overflowing with surprises!

Other than learning a lot about language, family vibes, and Indonesia’s religious diversity, what capped off my Indonesian learning this week is sanitation basics. Apparently, the trash can next to the toilet is not simply for aesthetic purposes. It’s for used toilet paper! Glad someone had the humility to explain.

I’ve talked about how I could get by in Indonesia, but to be considered an expert (even though I’m not), I need some local knowledge. That requires experiences, which this week have been numerous. At Kampung Warna-Warni, I admired a wide array of colors painted on village buildings. I could hardly believe I was in Indonesia because the colors and landscape seemed reminiscent of National Geographic’s Rio or Morocco snapshots. Then there was Car Free Day, when I joined friends to ride a horse-drawn wagon, shop at a local market, and meet a rabbit breeder. My childhood consisted of rabbits, so he and I became quick friends!

Here I am with my 3 spectacular new friends at Kampung Warna-Warni. From the left is myself, Mbak Vita, Mbak Qiqi, and Mbak Mei.

Kampung Warna-Warni is so scenic, I could sit there for hours just gazing at the view!

At Kampung Warna-Warni.

Of course, I also had to test local cuisine, which included not only hanging out at a warung (local stall selling cheap food and beverages) but also comparing American fast food places like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut with Indonesian versions. At McDonald’s, affectionately called “McDee’s” here, I sampled banana apple pie, white rice bound in a wrapper as if it were a burger, and spicy chicken, while at Pizza Hut I was most amused by its beef fettuccine (isn’t chicken for fettuccine?).

My McDonald’s dinner: plain white rice (in wrapper), fried spicy chicken, and scrambled eggs

I also cannot forget my wonderful friends who have already helped define my Indonesian experience. They include my language tutors, Mbak Vita and Mbak Mei, who are serving as my personal language assistants this summer. I also have Mbak Qiqi, who I befriended at a Taiwan food conference last September. Since she lives in Malang, we have been able to meet up several times. The four of us have been inseparable this last week, and even conjectured up a reality TV show called “Husbandable” to find the man of my wildest dreams. When we discussed our show, one idea led to another and we laughed so hard that we shed tears!

I have continued my tradition of watching a foreign film in every host country I live in. This time it was an Indonesian comedy, and thankfully it had subtitles!

Am I an expert in Indonesian language or culture yet? Absolutely not! But after 20 hours of language classes and many more of cultural immersion, I’m on my way. While you may be wondering what my academics and no-English policy is like or what it means to represent the US government internationally, I’ve got more posts to go! Next week I’m also starting yoga, dangdut (Indonesian pop music), and gamelan (Indonesian drum) classes, not to mention having a field trip. But remember: you don’t have to know everything!

…Extra photos (and captions!) are below:

Mbak Qiqi and I reuniting in Malang after having met in Taiwan last year. We did it through the best way possible: ice cream! In Indonesia, McDonald’s has special shops that just sell ice cream!

I tried my first durian this week! While the smell is not pleasant, it’s quite tasty. The fruit’s texture is somewhat like banana, but the flavor differs.

Mei Setan is a restaurant in Malang famous for devilishly spicy noodles. While I haven’t tried those yet, I got the full dim sum experience there.

Since one of my homework assignments involved bargaining, I went to a flower market to buy a cactus. Here I am standing my ground (my tutor Mbak Mei is dressed in red to the right). I succeeded!


Traveling Abroad and Growing Up Are More Alike Than You Think

Traveling should not just be getting away to relax under a tropical sun. It also can help define who you are. This is blog #1 of my soon-to-begin 7-month global adventure.

When do we become adults? 

As my 4-year-old self entered my brother’s 2nd grade classroom, the only thing I could do was stare. There they were. Towering. Responsible. Infinitely intelligent. My brother and his classmates were reading, writing, and discussing topics with their teacher I only dreamed of comprehending.

Four years later, I started 2nd grade only to discover that I was still a little kid. Now the 6th graders were the mature ones. They swished the basketball into the hoop like NBA stars, sang and played instruments with real flair, and—thanks to my existence—earned plenty of cash babysitting.

Now at 20-years-old, I’m still debating what a grownup is. I no longer play the “guess how old I am” game because I’ve learned that over or under-estimating anyone’s age is as much a crime as calling them fat, hideous, or dim-witted.

But what if adulthood is not really about age?

Over the last couple years I’ve journeyed across North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, visiting 14 countries. I’ve traveled to 8 of them alone and lived in 2 for 2 months or longer. When I made my first major international trip, I was a little girl on the inside. Two years later, I dare say I am a woman. Traveling did that to me.

Right after graduating high school, I was selected to go to India for a food security-related internship. Since I passionately dreamed of making a difference, I was ecstatic about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As soon as I landed in India, reality kicked in. Not only was my check-in luggage misplaced, but once I reached my lodging I also could barely understand anyone’s accents. Worst of all, the wi-fi wasn’t working… and I couldn’t figure out how to call my parents to tell them I was okay!

I cried so hard that first night. How idiotic and naïve I felt for wanting to change the world when I couldn’t even solve my own problems! It was in that moment—that pitiable realization—that I began to grow up.

Traveling matured me not by making me a pessimist, but a realist. After witnessing such sweeping inequalities abroad, I want to change the world now more than ever, but to do that I first had to grasp how the world works. I needed experiences to learn, adapt, and discover the aspects of life I can and can’t change.

While abroad, I learned what it meant to be a woman, white, American, and all 3 at once. As a woman, I had to be confident but cautious and aggressive when necessary. As a white person, I had to understand privilege and acknowledge that some of my ancestors had deprived these people of their land and rights. As an American, I needed to recognize that what people saw in movies and the news was often how they viewed me: rich, carefree, and a Christian without morals.  Ultimately, as a white American woman, I had to compare the luxuries I savored abroad with the injustices many native women endured, all because I held the right nationality and race cards.

Becoming a grown up overseas was not just about my own identity. It’s been every bit as much about relating to people, especially when they differ from me. I will always be a white American woman, but I argue that my best qualities came from experiences. After all, respect and empathy are learned.

Wearing sarees and drinking tea with Indian villagers. Learning survival Chinese phrases at Taiwan’s temples. Working around prayer schedules in Muslim Somali communities. It’s all been a matter of meeting people where they are and engaging with them despite and because of our differences.

I think one of the signs I’m growing up is that I’m noticing immature adults now. I’m saddened to see people who have become so rigid in their ways that they refuse to accept what is unfamiliar. Whether it’s hearing alternative viewpoints, exploring new places, or recovering from past events, they are stifling their own growth and have become the devil behind their own demise. But is it entirely their fault that they haven’t grown? Perhaps they need a good enough reason!

From June 2018 to January 2019, I’ll be highlighting my life in 10 African and Asian countries (with possible revisions), including:

1. IndonesiaTea_plantation_in_Ciwidey,_Bandung_2014-08-21

2. Thailandthailand-1451382_960_720

3. South AfricaJohannesburg

4. SwazilandSwazi

5. MozambiqueMoz

6. ZambiaZambia

7. ZimbabweZim

8. Botswana


9. IndiaIndia Wedding

10. Myanmar (Burma)myanmar

I’m a college student so I will not only be studying abroad but also doing language immersion, research, and thankfully some vacation! Whether you think you have or haven’t grown up, dream of traveling, or are simply curious about what tales a 20-year-old college student can tell, I invite you to join me on 7 months of Fran’s Lands. It’s about time we grow up, together this time.




Fran’s Lands Begins

Thanks for joining me!

You may know me and you may not. Regardless, I’d say it’s time for a grand introduction, where you learn all the sappy details about my life and travels. Just kidding. I’ll keep it somewhat short and to the point.


Hometown: Benton Harbor, Michigan, USA

Education: junior at Cornell University with double major (International Agriculture and Rural Development, Development Sociology) and triple minor (Southeast Asian Studies, Leadership, International Trade and Development)

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 8.53.42 PM.jpg

Favorite Entree: paneer tikka masala (not out of a box!)

Family Life: grew up with 2 amazing parents, including a UPS driver dad and stay-at-home mom; also put up with an overachieving but highly motivational older brother

Image (162)
Here I am finishing the final pieces of my pancake at my pancake eating competition.


Fun Facts (I’ll share 3 for kicks):

  1. Only drank water entire life (except as a baby)
  2. Won a restaurant’s pancake eating contest
  3. Graduated high school in a class of 13 students


Hobbies: writing, bicycling, weight lifting, playing piano and accordion

What Excites Me: my faith in Jesus Christ, ensuring everyone has access to quality food, anything related to India, muffins, Trevor Noah

3 words I want to be:

  1. Passionate
  2. Driven
  3. Authentic

Now that that’s all over, the more exciting part of my post is to come… But first, I do want to make something abundantly clear: I’m not rich at all. I just apply for academic programs and grants and save some spending money for excursions. 

Fran’s Land’s 7-Month Itinerary

Note that my plans are subject to revision. After all, life is full of surprises!

Nation 1

Malang, Indonesiamid-June to mid-August 2018

Gamelan 2
Indonesia’s traditional gamelan

  • Purpose: US Critical Language Scholarship Program (means speaking 0 English for 2 months), living with host family, cultural trips, studying at one of the country’s oldest universities
  • Goal: learn a traditional instrument called the gamelan (check it out here)


Nation 2

Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand – mid to late August 2018

Southeast Asia Bangkok Thailand Road Traffic
Bangkok’s scooter scene

  • Purpose: taste epic pad thai, enjoy Thai massage, rent scooter, see ancient sites with friend
  • Goal: ride an elephant


Nation 3

Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, South Africa –  late August to early December 2018

The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa


  • Purpose: study abroad through the School for International Training, living with 3 host families, learning Zulu, and submitting journalism piece for media group
  • Goal: get published in a national periodical


Nation 4

Swaziland a few days between September and December 2018

Tribal women in Swaziland

  • Purpose: study abroad educational trip
  • Goal: come back with exciting report for Swaziland-obsessed friend


Nation 5

Mozambique8 days between September and December 2018

Seafood Moz
Mozambique is well known for its seafood sensations

  • Purpose: another study abroad educational trip to learn the country’s role in South Africa’s anti-apartheid independence
  • Goal: eat authentic African seafood


Nation 6

Victoria Falls, Zimbabweearly December 2018

The Fall of the Angels is a 13-minute helicopter ride over the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls

  • Purpose: take a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls promised by my friend (it’s called the “Flight of Angels”)
  • Goal: take too many pictures


Nation 7

Kazungula, Botswanaearly December 2018

Kazungula is a river crossing involving the borders of 4 countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.

  • Purpose: ride a ferry, see wildlife
  • Goal: see lots of elephants


Nation 8

Livingstone and Lusaka, Zambiaearly to late December 2018

My Zambian church’s vision is to plant a church in every capital city of Africa by 2025.

  • Purpose: reunite with host mother, adopted church, and friends
  • Goal: go to Lusaka National Park, perfect my atrocious African dancing skills


Nation 9

Hyderabad, Indialate December 2018 to mid-January 2019

Two years ago, I did my first research project at ICRISAT in Hyderabad.

  • Purpose: perform senior honors thesis research (if I receive funds that I applied for), reuniting with old friends
  • Goal: generate a peer review research article, maybe see Taj Mahal (bucket list goal!)

Nation 10

Myanmar (Burma)mid to late January 2019 

rice field myanmar
Paddy farmers in Myanmar

  • Purpose: take a Cornell agriculture and development course (contingent on class itinerary)
  • Goal: carry on a decent Burmese conversation, under Rohingya crisis

Well, that does it! I plan to publish on a bi-weekly basis beginning in mid-June. My journey officially begins June 17 at the US Department of State in Washington DC, where I will post my final pre-international update before heading to Indonesia! Thanks for reading and until next time on Fran’s Lands!