Summer in Rwanda

July 30th marked the first day I visited a country in Africa. That is, Rwanda. Excluding, of course, the layovers I made in Ethiopia and Burundi, which I didn’t get to see much of except the airport. Mukama, staff member from the organization I’m interning with, Conservation Heritage-Turambe, picked me up from the airport. We rode a taxi together from Kigali (the capital) to Musanze.

The road was beautiful, with lush green mountains as far as you could see. People walked along the road, the women often seen carrying baskets on top of their heads (sometimes without even holding it)! Unlike in Indonesia, where the beauty of the land is occasionally tarnished by trash, I found not a speck of trash here. That is thanks to the government’s strict ban on plastic bags and littering. Even the trash can in my guest house right now does not have plastic. I found it a bit gross at first, but realized that as long as you wash it regularly then it is fine.

The most shocking thing to adjust to here was the way that people stare at you and stereotype you as just another tourist. Regarding the staring, I was more used to it than my friends because of my time in China. However, it is interesting how different the situation is for my white friends compared to me. When I am walking by myself, such as what I am doing now since they’ve both left, I am not hassled as much. At the market, the vendors give me cheaper prices in general. Also, I am not bothered as much by men as they were. One of my friends was approached by a man who asked if he could be their helper, then if he could be their boyfriend. Though I had people commenting that I was beautiful and whatever, I don’t think it was to the extent that my friends experienced it.


Climate Action Capacity Fellowship (2021-2022)

Final Reflection CACF

I am sitting here watching the rain, in humid Jakarta, now cooled by the rain and breeze.

I was brought to climate action work because of a culmination of things. I had watched and read a lot of things as a child that made me realize how grave today’s environmental problem is. In Jakarta, I grew up with smoky air and the sights of trash clogging up rivers or the sides of the street on my way to school. I saw the mountains being carved for mining in my grandmother’s village, like some giant monster wanted to take a large piece of a tumpeng rice, and so turned the mountain’s forests into gaping crumbling soils. Ever since college, my perspective has grown more sophisticated, and now I can say things like, “Indonesia’s palm oil plantation zone expansion is causing a modern-day case of primitive accumulation, causing landless peasants to become proletariats under the control of the ruling class.” Or “As in the case of the capital relocation, this mega-infrastructure project requires methods of access control and the creation of a frontier by powerful groups and could very likely lead to another case of primitive accumulation.”


1st Year at Middlebury College

Well, Ma, here is the blog post you wanted me to write, hahah…

I am sitting here outside of Atwater dining hall, having eaten breakfast. The sun is bright and yellow, a lemon in the sky. The breeze is soft, but crisp upon my skin. Everything is a garden salad, a burst of summer colors. It’s truly been a remarkable year to start college.

1st Semester

The first semester I had to take classes online because the US embassy in Indonesia was closed. Hard is an understatement to describe what it felt to begin your first year of college sitting in front of a laptop screen, zooming for 3 hours straight every night, wishing with every email describing upcoming activities that you were there too, in person, to meet people and stroll through campus grounds. At first I didn’t want to start college online. I desperately wanted to take a gap semester–learn coding, exercise, cook, play with my sisters, do the Global Citizen Academy program. But my parents pushed, nagged, and coaxed me to start online. They said, who knows what will happen in the future? What if next semester you wouldn’t be able to go again and you would take a gap year, graduate late, etc…


How to Be Healthy During Quarantine

The Turning Point

Throughout my life, I was never what you would consider a “fit” girl. I never joined a sports team. I only once joined a sports club. During school days, I relied on P.E. classes and walking for exercise. During holidays, I almost never exercised.

I grew to be a bit chubby during some parts of my life. I was never confident with my body. I thought I was too big, considering how I am a bit taller than the average Indonesian woman already. Moreover, everyone from my mom’s family is small. So whenever I visit her relatives, they always comment on how bongsor, big, I am. Once an old woman in my mom’s village even said that I should get married soon, even though I was only 13, because I was so big compared to my peers.

In UWC, we follow the IB curriculum, which does not have a mandatory P.E. class. All it requires is that you take one club that is “Activity” related. However not all the clubs listed as “Activity” are rigorous enough to make you sweat. In my case, I took Dragon Boat and Balinese Dance, both of which are low-intensity activities. And I only took these for two semesters. Besides these, I almost never exercised.

What can I say? The IB is so demanding that it leaves little room for other things. School is always my priority. So for someone who is not used to exercising, and does not prioritize it, it means there will be no exercise. So in terms of my health, UWC was both hell and heaven. Hell because I wasn’t exercising, so my body was not the healthiest. Heaven, because I didn’t like exercising, so not being required to exercise was great.

However, at least I was walking (sometimes running) from class to class.

Then, something happened. It is amazing how impactful someone’s words might be for you, even though they might never realize its impact. The life-changing moment for me came during one groggy morning of Biology class. I usually come early, because I have breakfast early and then go immediately to class, so I have a little bit of time to chat with my teacher.

My teacher asked, “Sophia, what kind of exercise do you like?”

“I… don’t really exercise,” I answered sheepishly.

He stared. “What? But… you’re not gonna be young forever.”


Papuan Lives (Also) Matter

Here is an article I wrote that was published on The Jakarta Post, on June 4th, 2020. It is about the recent tragedy regarding George Floyd, and the Black Lives Movement that grew stronger as a result.

Please look at these links if you are interested in learning more, signing petitions for the Black Lives Matter cause, or donating to organizations that work for this goal:

And here are some resources to learn, petition, or donate towards the Papuan Lives Matter movement:

There are often mean jokes made about Papuans. One day, someone told me, “You’re beautiful, like a Papuan!” and then laughed hysterically. What he implied was that Papuan people are not beautiful.

It is common for someone to equate beauty with having light skin and a pointed nose, like Europeans. What has shaped such a mindset? Was it the years of colonialism in our past? Has it been instilled in us that Caucasian features are superior because of the hundreds of years that they forced us to crane our heads up toward them, belittled and ashamed?

Sadly, this is a mindset ingrained into many people in Indonesia, perhaps even throughout Asia. Is it not true that saying to someone, “Oh, you’ve gotten whiter!” is a compliment in this country? And isn’t saying, “Oh, you’ve gotten darker!” offensive to us? The “well-intentioned” commenter of your darkening skin color would then recommend you some whitening products, or to stay out of the sun.


The Importance of Self-Love

I have learned that confidence is not thinking you’re better than others. Instead, confidence is about believing in yourself. It stems from self-respect—which can only blossom from self-love. But self-love is not always easy, I know. It is much easier to be critical of yourself. It is easier to feed your insecurities. To wallow in self-doubt.

Of course, I’m not against self-criticism. In moderate doses it is necessary to improve ourselves. The problem is that without self-love, self-criticism can often look like a monster, lurking inside you, waiting to pounce at every opportunity. It easily becomes too harsh.

Yet it is easier to be harsh on yourself. I know this well. It is easier to wonder what you did wrong or berate yourself for not working hard enough. As if luck didn’t have anything to do with the outcome. It is easier to compare yourself to others and wonder why you’re not enough. As if you aren’t already much, much more than enough.

Which is why we must work, day and night, to nurture ourselves. For self-love is a seedling in your mind that will only sprout if planted in fertile soil. That soil, my friends, is how we talk to ourselves. If we speak kindly and encouragingly to ourselves, that seed will grow into a shoot. For example, imagine that you have a fear of public speaking and you just delivered a speech to your classmates at school. Your knees shook, your voice trembled, but you still did it. Afterward, instead of thinking, “I’m sure everyone will mock me for that speech! I did horrible!” try saying, “I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to try!”

Then, our sprout must be watered daily. We must nourish it by treating ourselves the way we would treat a friend. This step is harder to do. It requires you to say “no” even when you feel pressured to say “yes.” It requires you to stand up for yourself when someone has pushed you down with their words (or actions.) Michelle Obama, for example, was told by her college counselor that she wasn’t eligible for Princeton. And yet! She applied anyway, and was accepted, because she believed in herself. Because her self-love was on the verge of blooming into roses. She wouldn’t let someone’s doubt tramp it down! She knew her worth.

Self-love also means prioritizing yourself. It is realizing that you can’t help your friend edit her assignment because you are already in over your head with deadlines. It is choosing to read a book on a Saturday night rather than going out with friends because you know you need time to relax. It is eating healthy, exercising, (and maybe creating a skin-care routine) because you know your body will appreciate you for it. This all might sound selfish, but it is necessary. After all, who knows you better than yourself? Who will you live with until death, other than your very own self? How could others understand that you have those deadlines or need that time to destress?

Most importantly, how can you care for others when you don’t care for yourself? Only when you are in shape, both physically and mentally, can you be there to support others. You must do the ones you love a favor by being the best version of yourself around them. And you can only become the best version of yourself when that little plant inside your mind is alive and healthy, radiating confidence and light from within.


Take care of yourself during these strange times.




Thank You, CSC

I never knew this day would come so soon.

And yet here I am, pondering the symbolism of my white kebaya, my graduation dress. The white of its laces represents the light of hope which still kindled within me, only a few weeks prior. Then, email after email came. Bombarding us with their false promises. Turning eyes to trembling glass. Now my kebaya is stuffed deep inside the dark folds of the closet. Its light is unreachable.

I never knew that the closure would happen like this. So suddenly, without the comfort of a prepared heart. Alone in my room, as the sky sheds its tears. Unlike the sky, I cannot cry anymore. Neither was I able to fully comprehend the emotions I felt—they seemed to wash over me like the waves of time that will soon separate us, my dear friends. It will inevitably make each of us less and less relevant to each other as our lives become busier and busier.

But this is the truth of time.


World Hijab Day (2019)

Hi internet explorers!

I hope that wherever you’re reading this from, you are healthy and safe. I am sure most of us are still trying to comprehend the fact that we’re living through one of the most historical moments in our lifetime, or maybe even the century. And all of us, from the richest to the poorest, are affected by the coronavirus, to varying degrees. But during challenging times like these, we have to stay positive!

So for those of us blessed with the ability to stay at home, I want to share my writing. I hope that these words can bring a moment of reflection for both you and me.

Because on Friday Ramadhan will start, I want to share an essay I wrote about World Hijab Day, which is on February 1st every year. 🙂


Land of Dragons and Mooncakes

Coming home to Indonesia after six months, inevitably I always get asked *the* question: “Cina itu gimana? How is China?” And I think, where do I begin to describe its richness? In culture, history, beauty. I ask them what they most want to know and if they say, “Oh, anything!”I look in their eyes and give them the story I think they’d like to hear most. Whether it’s funny, enticing, gross, or beautiful, I spin words from the chambers of my memories, though not quite as eloquently as on paper.

I tell them that China is a special country, claiming to be the oldest civilization in the world. But if you want to know about its history, there are various other more credible sources you can delve into. So let me recount it from my own eyes. China is the cliched metaphor of an onion, with so many layers to uncover and explore.

Red as their lucky color, the Chinese people breathe fire as they talk. What I mean is that even when talking regularly they sound a bit angry, but this is because of the tones of Chinese language. There are four: the uptone, the downtone, the neutral tone, and the “slanted” tone. The tone is a crucial part of the language, because if it’s incorrect then what you’re saying could have a different meaning altogether! For example, the Chinese word for “is” is shì, with a downtone, whereas the word for “ten” is shí with an uptone. A more dire example is the word for “breast” which sounds similar to another word which I had meant to say (though I forget now what word it was I’d meant to say). This confusion happened in a restaurant when I was having dinner with my best friend’s larger family. That was embarrassing, to say the least. :’)