How Passages Prepared Me for Living in Indonesia

For the better part of my life, I was either a camper or staff member at Passages Adventure Camp in Richmond, Virginia. Passages is a day camp with rock-climbing, kayaking, zip-lining, rappelling, swimming, and more. For campers and staff alike every week is long, full, and the time of our lives. Although I haven’t worked at Passages since 2014, 8 years on staff and 4/5 years as a camper taught me the most valuable lessons I have yet to learn and introduced me to some of favorite people.

Gushing aside, I’ve realized over the course of the past few months that there are numerous ways Passages prepared me for moving to a new country in the Tropics:

Hydrate or die!!!

Whether it is humid and hot because it July in Virginia or dry season in Indonesia, staying hydrated is necessary for health and energy. At Passages, we somewhat jokingly repeated to campers to stay “hydrated or die,” but staying hydrated is the easiest way to avoid overheating, headaches, or passing out (all of which I have experience with). Just as it is necessary to carry around (and drink from) a water bottle all day at Passages, it is necessary that I carry a water bottle to/around school and the city.

Exploring Manado, North Sulawesi… I visited my friends and fellow ETAs Megan and Mei Lin at their site. It was a great trip with lots of good food and incredible views.
Mystery Meat

When I was a camper at Passages, Thursday lunches included a choice of “mystery meat.” It was always a nerve-wracking affair, involving closed eyes, open palms, and the highest level of trust placed in our camp director. But every time, the mystery meat turned out to be less disgusting than we feared, even tasty. Our small, culinary leaps of faith helped us practice how to seize the day and try new things.

In the same way, I probably eat something unfamiliar here every other day or every couple of days. And while I’ve realized that I don’t like tropical fruit here any more in Indonesia than I did in the States, I’ve discovered a lot of new food that I absolutely love. More importantly, I continue to practice having open palms and an open mind to trying new things.

For example: tahu isi, fried tofu stuffed with spicy noodles
Adaptability and flexibility  

During any given day at camp, the suddenness of a change in weather (e.g. storms), an injury or emergency, lunch meat shortages, or a surprise hour of downtime necessitates patience, creativity, and of course adaptability and flexibility. Taken together, having both adaptability and flexibility means being able to change plans on the fly and then a willingness to accept a change of plans on the fly.

At Passages, we try to roll with the punches: if there’s a downpour, we go on a nature hike and play games (mafia anyone??); if there’s a lunch meat shortage we (the staff, not the campers) make all manner of sandwiches or wraps with whatever remaining lettuce, pretzels, and marshmallow fluff we can find.

In Indonesia, jam karet, meaning “rubber time,” means that the schedule is always changing. Waiting an extra thirty minutes or an hour for something to begin or to go somewhere is standard. With jam karet, being flexible when the schedule (inevitably) changes makes life a whole lot easier and smoother.

Similarly, educators all over the world can attest that real-life lessons rarely go according to (even the best) lesson plans. Attempting to address the learning needs of give or take thirty students often means adapting the lesson plan on the spot, which builds a more supportive, dynamic classroom.

Passages also made me unafraid of heights…so I was the first to climb the ladder
Chacos or bust

Passages staffers swear by Chacos. Chacos, z-strapped sandals that were originally made for rafting, are perfect for a day of Passages because they transition easily from running around Belle Isle to swimming in the James River to zip-lining across the Quarry Pond. Since it’s officially rainy season here in Malang, a pair of durable shoes that can not only withstand puddles and mud, but also create traction on slippery sidewalks are indispensable.

Just outside of the city are ample views similar to this one with lush greenery, rice paddies, and mountains
 Early mornings

To this day I’m not sure what time Passages campers arrive in the mornings. However, I know with certainty Monday staff meetings start at 7:30 am and every subsequent day at 7:45 am. My boss has a saying, “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Because I ran cross country as long as I worked at Passages, I usually woke up around 6 am to fit in training runs before camp, even if it usually meant adding an extra sprint from my car to the meeting, my coffee cup sloshing in hand. This is all to say that waking up early in Indonesia is strongly reminiscent of my Passages days.

Indonesians wake up early. For several reasons: morning is the coolest time of the day, the early morning call-to-prayer is usually around 3:30- 4:30 am, so many people are already awake by the time the sun is rising, schools start classes at 6:45 am or 7:00 am, and Indonesians like to eat rice three times a day, which takes some time to cook. For my schedule, to run before school, to go to school, or to meet up with people on the weekends means not hitting snooze and sometimes being up before the sun rises. Nowadays, waking up at 8:00 am is sleeping in…

A box of Dunkin Donuts makes early mornings worth the effort
 The value of experiences

I remember once my boss telling us about campers who asked for a week at Passages for Christmas instead of presents. These children understood the value of “experiences” over toys. I am thankful that during my own time at Passages, I learned at an early age that experiences, and especially the people you share them with, are of the utmost value.  As I go through this year, while I am dealing with culture shock or the disappointment of not being home for the holidays, I recognize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I would not trade for the material comforts of being in the States this year. So as I conclude this post, I’d like to extend gratitude to the people and memories that have made this an incredible experience so far!

Island paradise in Manado
NB 1: To find out more about Passages:

NB 2: I’ve updated the pages on this blog. One with links to the blogs of my fellow ETAs ( and another for “Indonesia in the news” (  The purpose of this latter page is to share news articles I find on various news sources about Indonesia. I’m always on the lookout for more, so please send articles/videos/etc. my way if you find anything!

PS: My friend and fellow ETA Kelly keeps a blog as well. Both she and her writing are hilarious. Recently she and her sitemate, Krupa, visited Shreya and I in Malang. We had a wild day, and here is the link if you want to read more about it:

Cheesin’ in front of a waterfall with the ETAs of Jawa Timur (from left to right): me, Krupa, Kelly, and Shreya

One thought on “How Passages Prepared Me for Living in Indonesia

  1. We could not possibly be prouder of the person you’ve become and the positive and lasting impacts you made here at Passages. Here at Passages there are REALLY good people teaching other REALLY good little people stuff YOU taught them to do. Thank you for sharing these sentiments with us. It is a further reminder that the ripples of the adventures and planned adversities we provide children are strong and sustained – so we better so it right! Love, Tobin


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