Letters from Abroad: A Study Adventure in Bali

Rachel Melikian

What is it like to be in a tropical paradise known as the “island of gods and artists?” Over four weeks during the summer of 2000, 33 GCC students and accompanying faculty discovered the answer to this on the island of Bali in Indonesia. We explored and discovered the unique and distinct culture of the Balinese people while earning transferable college credits.

The trip was led by Professor Darren Leaver, Chair of the Geography Department, who fashioned academic courses specific to our destination, which made our exploration and adventure more meaningful.

Leaver taught Cultural Geography, which compared Balinese and other traditional cultures to Western culture.

Dr. Lina Gupta taught International Field Studies and Comparative Religions of the Far East.

The professors dashed our hopes of a leisurely flight by providing assignments to keep us busy during the 20-hour plane ride. With stops in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, we stayed one night at Pan-Pacific KLIA, the airport in Malaysia. We could instantly see that each student had different expectations and priorities — some of us staying awake late to finish our homework, some sleeping, and others exploring the local nightlife.

The geography of Bali inspires a grand mystique. The rainforest island is only eight degrees south of the Equator and is filled with giant, dense vegetation and layered with rice fields. Volcanic mountains populate the island reaching toward the heavens, perhaps the footstools of the gods.

A visit to the Twelve-Hundred Steps Temple was a wonderful way to first discover the beautiful rainforest. While descending the simple and often precarious steps, the rainforest speaks to the penitent and the beauty of the earth is supreme. Despite the physical exertion, the sheer magnificence makes the fatigue disappear.

Classes were conducted without the technology we are used to on campus, often set in gardens or poolside at our hotels. Transparencies were used without an overhead projector. Classes, along with excursions, were scheduled to make the most of our time.

On each excursion we became part of the jungle and interacted with the inhabitants, beginning to use Bahasa Balinese greetings: Selamat pagi. Apa Kabar? Kabar baik. Terima kasih…(Good Morning. How are you? I’m Fine. Thank you.)

Custom forbade men and women to enter holy places without sarongs, and there seemed to be a temple on every corner. We encountered offerings everywhere, placed for a multitude of reasons. Some were made in restaurants as thanksgiving for sustenance as well as blessing and protection. Some were made in holy places, and others were simply made in the streets to appease evil spirits.

Offerings were largely made up of decorated objects, fruits and vegetables, but many were nothing more than trays of flowers folded within banana leaves. A member of every Balinese family dedicates each day to preparing offerings, and the whole family spends time together in the temples. In Aga Villages, a typical Balinese town, the residents live as a large family sharing everything and moving about in perfect safety.

Seeing this peace and harmony made us feel that our home might be the less civilized.

Rachel Melikian is a continuing student at GCC.
She was named GCC?s Woman of the Year for 2000.

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