I arrived in England a few days ago, and while I haven’t experienced reverse culture shock in coming back to the western world, I’ve been intensely aware of the differences here.

My year in Indonesia by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. I learned so much and I have so many takeaways from the year, many of which I’m only starting to realize after leaving it.

For starters, I’ve never been more aware at how fortunate I am to have been born in a developed country like the United States. My country has its share of problems, but none of them come close to the issues that plague most of the people in Indonesia.

I’m sure these issues are everyday things that a lot of you don’t think about. (If you’re able to read this post, that’s already something that most Indonesians don’t have access to.) I used to never think about them either, but Indonesia was an eye-opener for me. So here comes a pretty detailed list of the things that I’m slowly being re-introduced to now that I’m back in the western world.


Some of the things I can finally do again:

Not worry about how to get drinking water. I can drink it STRAIGHT FROM THE TAP! And it won’t give me typhoid fever or hepatitis or diarrhea. The minute I arrived at my friend Molly’s house, I ran into her kitchen, found the nearest cup, and filled it to the brim with water from the kitchen sink. “It’s happening!” I yelled to Molly and Josh before gulping down all of the water.

Go to a supermarket where everything is reasonably priced, involves no haggling or “tourist tax,” and all food is clearly labelled in English so that I can easily determine if it is vegetarian.

Monas, the National Monument

Look up and see a gray sky that has nothing to do with pollution. Instead, the clouds are textured and beautiful and hint at rain that won’t cause most of the country to experience deadly floods that will drive people out of their homes and encourage giant pythons to take up residence instead.

Get bitten by a mosquito and not worry that I’ll contract dengue fever, malaria, or Japanese encephalitis.


Flush toilet paper straight down the toilet. Any toilet. Including the amazing abundance of public toilets, which means that I can go out whenever I want, even after I’ve just finished several cups of tea, without worrying that there will be nowhere for me to answer nature’s call.

Go on a walk, knowing that there are sidewalks everywhere and that everything is well-paved. There is nowhere here that I could walk with the risk of falling into a sewer, which was an everyday reality for me in Indonesia.


Go to a doctor whose culture allows him or her to ask whatever questions are necessary to help me get better. After all, I think being deathly ill trumps modesty, and it doesn’t seem out of place for a doctor to ask something like, “Are you menstruating? And is your bleeding heavier than normal? We’re very concerned that the dengue might cause hemorrhaging, and it would help us to know how much you’re already bleeding.” That kind of direct communication seems easier than ordering expensive daily urine tests just to check my endometrial cell count.

Be surrounded by people who speak my language. Need directions? I’ll just ask this person over here. Grocery shopping? I get to carry out this entire transaction in English with neither of us stumbling over a foreign language. Ordering at a restaurant? I can easily communicate my dietary needs and ask for recommendations.

Look for driving directions online and know that the actual driving time won’t be two or three or four times longer because of traffic.

One of the rare times we saw drivers heed a command to stop.

Give Josh a quick kiss while we’re out, now that we’re not in a place where that’s illegal.

Do my own laundry. I appreciate this one on so many levels. There is no maid to ruin my dressy clothing because she’d never owned anything more than old t-shirts and shorts. I get to use a machine that runs on electricity and doesn’t need to be hand-pumped for an hour. It is effective enough that it doesn’t leave my underwear crunchier than before their wash. (Too much information? Yeah, I’m not too happy about a year of wearing dirty underwear, either.) I can use hypo-allergenic detergent, which means no more perpetual rashes in every place my clothing touches, and no more asthma attacks from the strong fragrance of the laundry spray that got squirted on the clothes to cover up the smell of mold that accumulated on them during the days it took for them to dry in Indonesia’s hot, humid weather.

Buy makeup, sunscreen, lotion, shampoo, soap, deodorant and other products that contain no toxic skin-whitening agents.

Indonesian train

Ride in a crowded train without being sexually harassed. And with the knowledge that if I do happen to be groped or worse, I can report it to the authorities without all of the blame being placed on me: “You should have ridden in the women’s train car. That’s why we have them. You can’t expect men to control their urges when they see a bule woman.”

Walk around with as much or as little of my pale skin showing and not attract stares or calls of “Bule!” from every single stranger I pass. Similarly, I can walk on my own without feeling uncomfortable now that there are no men who feel the need to yell, “Hello, Miss! Hello, babe! Hello, bule!” until after I’m out of sight.

Meet people and not have them ask me almost immediately what religion I am. If asked, though, I can admit to being atheist without the fear that I’ll be arrested.

Jakarta Cathedral

Have lights that tell me when it is safe to cross the road. No more real-life games of Frogger where I have to walk into traffic and make eye contact with the oncoming drivers in hopes that they slow down to let me cross.

Use fast internet. We’re talking multiple tabs and windows–some of them streaming videos or uploading files–and nothing has crashed or refused to load, and there’s no chance of losing the connection for hours or days at a time. With this fast, unlimited internet, I also don’t need to avoid certain websites anymore in fears that they’ll use up all our data. Plus, I can finally make a phone call to my family, or even Skype them!

These are just some of the changes that I’m adjusting to, and I’m glad to have had an experience that makes me appreciate all of these western conveniences more than ever!

Love, Elizabeth

 *All photos were taken by Josh.

How many of these things are you able to do without thinking about?