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Expat Living

Java Is My Home

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Travel can be so transformative. It can –

  • rejuvenate you from your 9-5 job or your online work
  • expose you to behaviors and thoughts different from what you know at home
  • stimulate you to imagine how you can make your life better
  • check
    help your spirit rise above your usual routine
  • check
    even help you find a place where you belong - a place you can call home

Over the years, I’ve experienced lots of transformative travel. In fact, I experienced the biggest transformation on the island of Java, where I’ve been living since late 1982.

That was the year I had come to Indonesia, ostensibly to work for three months. But I didn’t know what was waiting for me in Jakarta – a series of experiences that transformed me and helped me recognize that this crowded island was my home.

You’ve probably heard about Bali, which is also in Indonesia. People call it a paradise. But I wasn’t there. I was on a crowded island that many other Americans don’t like at all. But I’m still here 36 years later. Why?

Well, it’s kind of hard to understand, especially when you realize that Java –

  • is the most densely populated island on earth with 2070 people per square mile
  • check
    has a population of around 130 million people out of Indonesia's 250 million
  • has close to 60% of Indonesia’s total population on only about 7% of its land
  • has 121 active volcanoes - and I now live on the most active one

Those statistics would scare away a lot of people. Yet, I’m not the only visitor to Java who ended up staying. Yes, I’ve stayed. I spent around eight years in Jakarta and the rest of the time in Yogyakarta (around 300 miles away). Having been here such a long time means that Java has become my home.

Wandering vendor of household supplies Jakarta indonesia

I had never felt ‘at home’ in the U.S. In fact, I felt like a misfit – misunderstood by family and friends, the very people who supposedly knew me best. I’d always known that I didn’t belong there.

I’m sure a lot of people don’t feel like the place they grew up in is home, but they don’t necessarily go halfway around the world to find their true home. A lot of people who feel ‘out of place’ just stuff down that bad feeling instead of searching for a place they can feel at home. 

To be honest, I wasn’t in search of a place that I’d feel at home. I just wanted to wander the world. Finding my true home was just a happy accident.

Even now, I often think about the moment when I recognized that Indonesia was my home. I don’t remember the exact year, but I guess the memory is still clear in my mind because I’d never had a feeling of home before.

It was approximately 1985, and I was teaching English in Jakarta. I’d just had a visit ‘home’ to the U.S. to see family and friends but had returned to Indonesia and arrived at Jakarta’s airport. When I plopped my body down in the taxi for the ride into the city, I thought, ‘It’s so great to be home.’

When I had that thought, my mouth fell open, and I almost fell out of my seat. I had never thought of any place as home before even though I’d used the word in many contexts. But now, yes, Java was my home.  

Having the feeling that I had a true home was glorious. I didn’t care that Jakarta was a crowded city that most American expats dislike. I was home.

Pink lotus flower

And I wanted to understand why it had taken me so long to have a home. I was already in my early 40’s, and I’d had both great and horrible experiences while living in Jakarta. Did other people have similar experiences?

Author Michael Crichton said something that resonated really well with me:

“Often I feel I need to go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am.  There is no mystery about why this should be so.  Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes – with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience.  Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience.  That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

He said it so well. I had already changed a lot. Being in an environment where I was a stranger and didn’t blend in made my actions and attitudes stand out, often looking strange – even to me. Once my behaviors and beliefs were not hidden in plain sight any longer among all the kindred behaviors of friends and family, I’d changed more like the person I really wanted to be.

In other words, I had no longer accepted my previous programming. I didn’t have to act that way any longer. I could get rid of the parts of myself that I didn’t like. What I liked about myself could stay, and I could dump the rest in the trash. I could reinvent myself as the person I preferred being. I’d already been doing that but hadn’t realized it.

So, Java had become the kind of home I wanted – a place where I was able to be the person I liked. Would I have been able to make these changes somewhere else? Maybe. I’ll never know because I didn’t need to look further. Java is my home.


Hi – I’m Kate – shoestring traveler to Indonesia, Nepal, India, Tibet, Malaysia, Thailand, Spain, Russia, Siberia, and more – well-trained and loyal servant to 5 whippets and 2 Dalmatians – blogger about all things travel and dogs. Join me to explore the amazing adventure that can give you location independence.

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  1. Wow! What an from heart…lovely way of describing..many times it is that feeling of homesickness and being with different people who do not understand you bring us a lot of stress.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks for your kind words. Nice that in our modern world we can choose our home.

  2. We left “home” to make a new one in Australia only intending to stay 5 years. We’ve been here 8 years now. My husband and I will always have a connection back to God Zone New Zealand but I can see our children settling in Western Australia.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Huia. Yes, home is wherever you make it.

  3. I loved reading your article. Having not done must travelling out of my own country it was lovely to read about your adventures.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Laura. And it was lovely to live my adventures – at least most of the time.

  4. What a great piece on the power of belonging. I appreciate how you recognize there are positive and negatives of Java, yet it’s still the right fit for you. I feel similarly about my move to Montana from the East Coast. I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Ramona. Glad you found your home – doesn’t it feel great?

  5. What a great story! I have always wanted to go to Indonesia (Bali, like you mentioned).

    I love traveling and never got further east of France, or West of Hawaii. There is a whole world waiting for me to explore (well, part of the world)!

    Thanks for sharing, Kate!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Paul. There’s a lot more to Indonesia than Bali so if you ever make it to Bali, be sure to check out some other parts. If you come to Yogyakarta, I’ll be your guide!

  6. Such a great read, thank you!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Mary. Happy you liked it.

  7. Nice article, I also left the area I grew up in years ago and moved across the country. I would love to visit some other places.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Anita. Isn’t it great to find a place that you love?

  8. What a great blot Kate! The saying goes, “home is where your heart is” and it sounds like you found the perfect place for your heart! I love the pink flower!!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Martha. Very true – home is definitely where your heart is. The pink flower is a lotus blossom.

  9. Jyll Hoyrup says:

    This article hit close to home (ha, pun intended) as I recently took a leap from Seattle to Belize 3.5 years ago. While I do not feel Belize is my ‘home’, I feel it has been an intricate part of my Journey to find and BE my Authentic Self. Very inspiring article Kate. We’d probably have a lot to talk about!

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, Jyll. Yes, you and I could talk well into the wee hours of any morning. Belize has been on my radar for many years. I’m a diver and hear that Belize has great diving.

  10. What a great article. I had tears in my eyes reading this because I can understand your feeling of not feeling like you belong. I plan to travel with my son in the future and I feel like this is going to be us – we plan to only travel a year, but I’m hoping that we’ll find a place we can call home.

    1. Kate says:

      Thanks, April. I’m sure your year of travel will be wonderful. If you don’t find your home in that time, just keep going.

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