A Universal Interaction

“I am thankful I can see much to admire in all religions.” – Alfred Russel Wallace,

in a letter from the field for his brother-in-law, 1861

Indonesian Pattern I Made Today

When Wallace wrote his famous “Malay Archipelago”, he divided his manuscript of every place he went into three parts; the place, the species, and the culture. That was the first time I fell in love deeply with a book when he brilliantly combined the sense of space, where the science, never – and should not be apart from its living beings and interacting to each other. We give many interpretations of everything we’ve met even since we are on our mom’s womb. For example, in my tribe (Javanese), we have ritual for 7-months pregnancy, birth, after birth, first step, circumcision, wedding, and death. All things we had in life, along with our psychosocial development stages, affect us to form a value of how to see and perceive this world. That thing do involve in many problem from small to a bigger one. So science, should never forget the “human” itself as a part of central stakeholder, and how we can see many same things in a different way. In this YSEALI program I have attended many class to talk about the science behind climate change and how to deal with it, but let me share my perspective of our shared and non-shared values that I had observed through last 22 days. My minor was Cross-cultural Psychology back in the college, so I hope we can conclude together how that science can deal with our differences (or vice versa), after you read this writing.

There are many reasons for people to travel. In ancient era, people travel to trade and conquer another nations. In this modern era, we travel to escape, to see things, to learn, to understand, to spend time with beloved one, you name it. For YSEALI members, I am sure that we travel to United States to learn – which is a really good one reason. For my own, I travel to understand people. I want to see what they are doing with their life and spaces. I have fortunate in getting chance to go to see many Indonesian culture and places, and I learn them one by one. But when I arrived here in Missoula, I was faced with another seven countries’ custom and the US itself. It is like a Pandora box when you never know what you get after you do something common in your hometown. In addition, we have to get used to it for less than few days so we can do activities in five weeks smoothly. This Pandora box contains many things that I hardly to pick to write, but there are some interesting things to write for. The first one is about equality.

Terry, Mon, Kari

Our first weekend was well spent in our homestay family. For my own I stayed with two stunning professors, and I learned how they teach and treat people equally. We spent our first night with discussion and share how my country looks like. They have a strong belief that everyone should have a same opportunity to get what s/he dreamed of. I am impressed how they let their lovely daughter, Ming, to choose kind of activities she want and figure out by herself what to do after finishing school. They give a freedom to Ming to do what she has to do on the weekend and with her room. It’s no matter who cook in the house, or who has to do domestic works. I ever read a paper of research that proved that marriage will be happier if there is a same proportion of responsibility in the house and I thought I just saw the real proof of that research’s finding. I also learned about positive reinforcement that is used in the US, something that I learn only by theory in my campus. When Kari (my homestay mother) taught Mon (my homestay mate) how to bike, I saw her gave many positive reinforcement like “you’re doing great Mon!” or “you’re awesome!” and Mon then can bike only in a few hours. Such a fantastic achievement! When I went to classes in University of Montana, I also saw this kind of reinforcement, but home – I believe, is the very first educational place that someone attend. In Indonesia, we don’t have many positive reinforcement, mostly to compare between siblings, for example the smaller child will be compared to older sibling’s achievement and then were asked whether s/he can do the same way or not. I will explain my opinion toward this different culture later in the end of this writing.

Mon, Me, Ming (©Khin Myat Mon)

Another thing which is related to education, today we went to Lewis and Clark Elementary school. We shared to our third grades fellas about our country and customs. Indonesia team and Thailand team were together and when we presented our traditional clothes, some children raised their hands to ask. I learned that the freedom of opinion here in the US is started from really early age. They asked random questions and good questions as well, and I adored that. When we were going outside to play two Thai traditional games, some kids also approached me to share their connections with Southeast Asian countries. One girl told me that her brother have lived in Indonesia and Thailand, and to do some work there. In Indonesia, we are very shy when we are young. We don’t have custom to approach stranger. I don’t know whether it is related to safety issue or not, but here in Missoula elementary school, we don’t have to ask “is there any question?” compared to my previous experiences in teaching kids in school.

Max from Laos was Explaining to Kids (©Oulathai Souphileuth)

The equality and freedom of opinion was also shown by my best story teller and reminder, Dr. Len Broberg. Today in our group meeting project, he proved to me that he had read the story I made for the project and retold the story to the group. Sure, I want to sleep after listening that bedtime story, Dr. Len. But what made me impressed about him, that he showed from the very first time that it is okay to be different. I applied this program with my background in animal welfare issue, and he understood it is hard if you just want to adjust your opinion to others (I am little bit crying right now – no joke). I had experiences of being different, many times. I stood for cultural performance that was prohibited by school when I was in High School, I stood for different idea of group project in college, I had never been in campus to join any campus club to commit as volunteer outside campus, I stood for animal rights in campus, I worked in an industry which is not attractive for psychology students, and so on – all first response for me was a no. The brainstorming in the early days here with him was the first time that somebody say “yes” to my idea. The reflection of freedom of opinion and equality was real, not only in the presentation of US culture. In my country – as a collectivistic and highly following order country, being different is not desirable. We tend to seek out for our family’s opinion and follow the order.

Indonesia and Thailand Team (minus Dhimas)

We can pass the differences now, I will write about playing. Few days ago we played two Native Indian games and I learned that playing is universal. To play is to gain joy. This is what I called as universal interaction. We shared same need of happiness and joy, to be close to each other, to laugh and to enjoy some time together. Everyone, no matter from where they came from, can recognize what they have to do or must not do in a game, we are happy when we win, we are upset when we lose. But to play is to learn about life. We have to learn to cooperate, follow rules, struggle, express what we feel after win or lose, and do introspection after the result. I think that is the main reason of why we have to play and it is well shared among all culture. I also liked the way Native Indian games taught us about respect to woman (of course it is not because I am a woman). So when men play with women, they can’t push, pull, or even touch a woman. It teaches men to put respect on woman because they are bigger, stronger, and meant to be the protector of their woman and kids. But if a woman hit, push, or pull a man, the man can’t do a payback to teach the men a self-control. I learned about self-control in college, but that was the first time I saw the concept of self-control is obviously taught through a game. Basically all game is teaching about self-control; not to cheat, not to steal – but the game perfectly relates it to cultural context of family responsibility.

Like Life, Play Teaches about Winning and Losing (© Shanti Johnson)

Talking about respect, I am surprised about how Missoulians respect the right to pray. As a Moslem to stay in a city without Mosque, everybody helps me to look for a room for praying. I think this culture is strongly related with freedom of opinion and equality in US culture. However, respect to the older is one thing that I found pretty similar in eight Southeast Asian countries. I heard every time Queenie (YSEALI member from The Philippines) called Cla (another member from same country) with “Ate”, a term that used to address an elder sister as a sign of respect. This term also present in Vietnam, when I should call Lucia (YSEALI member from Vietnam) with “Chi” because she is older than me. One of Indonesia member, Ricky, always call me with “Mbak”, or a term to call an elder woman in Javanese custom (okay I feel old now). When I had dinner with my Myanmar mate for homestay, she let the elder took the food first until in order by age until the youngest one. In my tribe I originally have this custom as well. Asian people put a big concern on family, and I think that is why birth order is important. I can’t find many terms to call elder people (except family member) or take food order in the US. To respect, is also a universal interaction to me and we just react to it differently, when the US people show their respect with listening carefully when the others is speaking, or follow the schedule on time.

Altruistic is a Universal Expression Indeed

One last universal interaction that I want to share is to help. Altruistic is already found in all cultures and customs. In last few days we went to PEAS Farm, Missoula Food Bank, and Hybrid Poplar Water Reclamation Project to do something and felt nice after that. We want to help, we want to do something. Today, I went to Fall Volunteer Fair in UC Atrium and it was awesome. I asked Montana Wilderness Club, Montana Natural History Center, and spent time to draw bookmark with Indonesian pattern in the Art Booth. It was lovely to see that people in Missoula give a big spaces for people to volunteer – or seek vacancy to be volunteer in. I always believe (not a scientific one, actually) that helping and volunteering are like filling an empty hole in our heart – but we don’t know exactly what is the hole actually is. Not everyone can be rich or be on the top, but the point is how we can make same opportunity and spaces so we can be on a better place together. That universal interaction filled my stomach with butterflies.

Today four YSEALI members shared about each countries’ problem that is related to climate change issue. Our universal interaction to solve problem came up at that moment. Everyone feels that change must to be started – I could feel that. But I just want to highlight that there are non-shared values that makes us different and the solution adaptation can be very hard. Understanding the differences is a really good step toward it. My opinion, there is nothing wrong with any culture. I love how my tribe reflect a good respect with parents and it turned me to a big fan of my father – but it makes me can do many things that I can do now. However, the equality concept in the US is very good to be implemented for climate change rights – that people who emit carbon footprint, do have responsibility to pay it back. I believe the optimum solution is take the good values and customs, and adapt it to Southeast Asian customs. Acculturation and assimilation are part of culture forming, so it does take a long time – but I know it is worth to try. Understanding all differences – like Wallace did when he explored my archipelago, is our guidance to form universal interaction where science and social to be in harmony and make the Earth to be a better place to live.

Missoula, September 15th 2015

Puspita Insan Kamil


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s