By Gabi Hunt
After graduating a semester early last year, School of Diplomacy alumna Zoe Sellers (’17) headed off in March to serve in the Peace Corps as a secondary education English teacher in East Java, Indonesia.
During her time at Seton Hall, Sellers majored in Diplomacy and International Relations, and minored in French. Before graduating, Sellers was a sister of Alpha Gamma Delta, served as a representative to College Panhellenic Council and the Greek Municipal Assembly, and was a volunteer for Seton Hall’s Division of Volunteer Efforts. She graduated cum laude, and plans to attend law school after her Peace Corps service ends in 2019.
Originally wanting to serve in West Africa, she found herself in Indonesia, after selecting the “Send Me Anywhere” option on her application. Though West Africa was her dream, rooted in her French-speaking background, she is more than happy to have ended up in Southeast Asia because she “wanted to serve in the Peace Corps however [she] was needed.”
Not only are many surprised to hear of Sellers’ decision to join the Peace Corps, as it was slightly spur of the moment, but that moving to Indonesia was her first time out of the country. Although she acknowledges the undoubtedly different cultures between Indonesia and the U.S., Sellers does not think the adjustment was too difficult because of shared foods and experiences, like McDonald’s, movie theaters, and malls.
However, her daily schedule does involve a few things remarkably different then her life in America: bucket showers, nasi pecel (a traditional Javanese salad she considers her favorite Indonesian food), and the Indonesia soap operas she gets to watch with her host mother.
In addition to teaching three English classes a day to eighth and ninth graders, she helps with her school’s English Club and coaches a girls’ basketball team. To decompress, she enjoys running, cooking herself vegan dinners, and riding her bike (in spite of a few minor accidents acclimating to the street traffic).
Though she considers most days to be fairly “mundane,” Sellers has already experienced a few unique experiences, including; observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and celebrating various other holidays. Indonesia, which is the highest populated Muslim country in the world, celebrates holy days and holidays with huge festivities made possible by immense community involvement.
Sellers detailed fasting with her host family and reminisced on Eid Al-Adha celebrations, which she considered her most memorable experience. She explained that the community celebratory effort, citing the example of animal sacrifice during Eid Al-Adha, was amazing to witness and be welcomed into.
It is important to note, though, that Sellers’ experience has not always been easy. She often feels uncomfortable looking so starkly different from those around her—she travels a lot, and explained she’s not just the “only white person,” but also usually the only one wearing short sleeves, no hijab, and bearing tattoos—and the unwanted attention is often difficult to cope with. However, she does not consider sticking out to be a negative thing, she acknowledges that most people are simply fascinated by her.
Despite sometimes feeling worn out from taking endless pictures and being called “bule” (foreigner), she emphasized that she has never felt afraid or unsafe. She cites that speaking a shared language (in just a few months, Sellers is at an advanced level in Bahasa Indonesian) and having community allies in combatting unwanted attention has kept that feeling of security. As time has gone on, she has felt more comfortable advocating for herself as she has assimilated and fostered a greater understanding of the culture.
Moving forward, Sellers hopes to employ more “gender equitable teaching practices” and engage in a dialogue with her students about respect.