Lade in Bali

Lade is a junior President’s Scholar majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering and mathematics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in art in Meadows School of the Arts. During summer 2013, she is participating in SMU-in-Bali.

The joy of discovery in Bali


My photography exhibit at Bali Arts Day on the final day of the program.

My last two weeks here in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia were very exciting. Bali upped the ante as it continued to show me things about its culture, resulting in the addition of a new layer to my global perspective. Bali showed me its heart, its core, and opened itself up to me through its kind people and especially through the classroom of its city streets.

At the beginning of my stay here in Bali, I wondered why Bali was so famous. I attempted to discover why so many people travel to Bali and what it is that can supposedly be found here. So, after three weeks of intensive culture lessons, excursions to numerous temples, many traditional dance performances, and a couple 6:30 a.m. photography class field trips to high schools and fishermen villages, I found some answers.


At the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubd, Bali, Indonesia.

Here in Bali, I experienced Macaque monkeys perching atop my back as if I were a limb of a tree; I experienced a relaxing facial and foot massage; and I ended up telling and exhibiting a photographic story about the cultural walls that divide foreigners and native people.

After these fresh experiences and many more just like them, I discovered why Bali is so famous. Because of such precious moments, I realized Bali holds the prowess to push people out of their comfort zones, to try something new and downright cool. The culture here in Bali is so unbelievably welcoming that it creates an atmosphere of boldness. It exists as a paradise, but is more of an environment to experience and try the things one couldn’t or wouldn’t do regularly, things one can’t find anywhere but here.

Although I had a short stay in Bali, I attempted to absorb as much as I could about Balinese culture and way of life. As I was not learning the language intensively this time while abroad, I had to pay more attention to the inherent cultural walls that exist between foreigners and native people, walls that are fortified by language differences.

Despite the language barrier that existed, the universally used ear-to-ear grin did not fail to work as a functional way of communication. The language of joy and expressive appreciation is one that the Balinese people truly understand. This language that the Balinese people speak effortlessly reiterates the strength, peace, and contentment that can be found in rooting oneself in faith, family and community.

Traveling to and from Bali also reminded me of the excitement of travel. The snapshot of an elderly Chinese man taking a selfie on the plane before takeoff in Hong Kong will frequently reverberate in my mind because it sums up what traveling is about; each time, a new documentable adventure awaits, a new culture anxiously wishes to greet foreigners and educate them about the throes of its past and the beauties of its heritage and language.

As I continue to travel and expand my horizons toward the goal of working internationally, I never want to forget the novelty that comes with a first introduction, with touching down on foreign soil for the first time. Yes, the cultural walls that exist and that must relentlessly be torn down with each new cultural experience can be exhausting and discouraging; but the joy that comes in discovering the answers to your burning questions is one the greatest treasure I feel one can gain.

Traveling to Bali reminded me of the vastness of the world and my part in the big picture. I look forward to getting to see many more parts of the world while getting to know and communicate with each culture I encounter on a greater level of cultural understanding and partnership.

A view of Seminyak Beach in Bali after the sunset.

A view of Seminyak Beach in Bali after the sunset.

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Continuous learning in Bali


Lade in Temple Danur Batur in Ubud, Bali.

My first week here on the Indonesian island of Bali has been packed with culture. From informative recounts of my teacher’s personal visits to Shamans during culture class to visits to multiple traditional temples, I have been exposed to much of Bali’s culture, history and language in these past few days.

The photography class I am taking has become just as, if even more, informative on Balinese culture, as it takes us on field trips to traditional events like village cock fights and gives us an avenue to boldly explore the traditional monuments and events we visit on our regular excursions.

In the same way that one is technically always in culture class here – venturing throughout the city, the market, into different restaurants – as a photography student, we too are always in class. This continued learning format makes one’s eyes and ears more attentive to things academically, philosophically and creatively.


Young Balinese dancers at a night Jegog performance.

I have quickly learned that Bali is historically and continues to be a peaceful example to the entire nation of Indonesia as the Balinese have tendered a deep sense of community.  One of the strongest components of Balinese culture is the Banjar or the village community, which is managed and under the leadership of the Desa Pakraman, similar to a neighborhood association or committee that makes decisions on custom law, dress codes, behavioral codes and the use of village spaces.

All of these harmonious components are tied together by a strong emphasis on communication. For example, in the case of conflicts, Balinese do not believe in taking issues to the court, a tradition they have preserved in spite of Dutch colonization. It is absolutely impressive how traditional Bali remains, in spite of Dutch colonization and especially in spite of the influx of Western influence brought about by tourism. Post colonialism, Bali has preserved a traditional sense of what it is as a nation, as a unique set of peoples who proudly esteem their culture and heritage.

This essence of Bali, a strength and confidence exuded from staying true to an original identity, is an extremely positive message for all tourists who come to explore the paradise island. Bali illustrates that there is positive pride to be gained after an emergence from turmoil. In spite of oppression and an influx of various influences and culturally foreign pressures, Bali has thwarted one of the greatest issues that plague many people in different societies: a destructive lack of personal identity. With lack of personal definition comes being easily swayed by the nefarious pressure of one’s environment.

Bali’s sense of strong culture is a lesson to the tourists to whom it opens its doors: stay true to who you are, what you believe, your morals, your values, your views. And of course, yes, embrace change, because fulfillment often comes from discovery and improvement, but do so in a constructive way that maintains your values and morals as a human being. Bali has maintained strong historical roots, teaching visiting tourists and students alike a lesson on how to do the same as we live our lives, staying rooted in an acquired identity while embracing change for a cohesive and comprehensive life.


The view from my bungalow

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This time is different …

I just arrived here in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. I survived about a 24+ hour flight with connections in San Francisco and Hong Kong. I am excited for the journey ahead of me that began as I stepped off my final flight.

Traveling to my abroad destination has once again proved a learning and growing experience in itself. Seated in the gate lounge for my Hong Kong flight an hour before boarding, I quickly recognized I was now a minority among the majority. I admit I am unsure of the different languages I overhead in conversations – potentially Cantonese and maybe Mandarin Chinese.  Even though I have been a minority before, this is different, a different majority.

It’s interesting how a situation like this helps one put into perspective how many different cultures there are in the big wide world we live in. Not only that, but how one can be thrust into any different culture so easily when in an international airport. Sitting there and eavesdropping, to no avail, I realized and found contentment in the fact that this summer’s abroad experience would be a lot different from last summer’s in Tanzania.

Last summer, although by no means in my comfort zone, I found an element of security, automatic camaraderie, in a place filled with people who looked just like me. (You can read my blog here.) This fact made me realize I had to put even more work into learning the language that everyone around me automatically expected me to know! Accepting the challenge, I strapped myself with determination to achieve new heights of knowledge acquisition and learning concerning Tanzanian culture and the Swahili language.  This readily opened my mind to the culture around me – not only because of the pressures but also because of the natural human need to find a way to assimilate into the majority and my desire to truly appreciate the new culture and environment I had found myself in.

Fortunately, life isn’t always about staying in your comfort zone or even in the proximity of said zone. Life has a way of testing our ability of flexibility and comfort. It nudges one into the abyss of things foreign, in an attempt at testing our primal and acquired capabilities in assimilation, adaption, cultural appreciation, quick learning and maturity.

So, here I am in the continent of Asia, and to say I enjoyed this whole travelling/ flight experience that landed me here is quite an understatement. As odd as it may seem, I enjoy being stretched, because that’s the only way I’ve found I can experience meaningful, fulfilling change and growth.

Here’s to the next few weeks in a foreign region of the world where I will be the minority, where I will not be expected to know the language, and where people will not so readily call me their sister as they did in Tanzania.

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