For Sarah De Ruyter, having the whole world in her hand means being drawn into the colourful functions of humans in the society. Her journey so far has helped her to acknowledge that understanding both the big bang theory and human behaviour are just as hard but equally important.

Sarah talks to BIS more about the latter part, and even more so about her epiphany moment in a conversation with IB History and Language and Literature teachers at Bali Island School during her school years. 

1.      Congratulations on completing your Master of Art in Comparative Cultural Analysis. What inspired you to take the subject? 

I’ve always been extremely interested in the way the world and societies function. So I got my bachelor’s in social sciences, where I could finally see things like art and politics put up to par with the natural sciences. In high school, I used to think understanding human behaviour is just as hard as quantum physics! And I found this exactly to be the case. Something as complex and intersectional like social behaviour is just impossible to map out that I have decided to spend more time just enjoying the poetics of these impossibilities rather than trying to untangle them. Donna Haraway calls it “staying with the trouble”. And where else than the graduate school of humanities!

2.      You are working for an American non-profit initiative organizing study abroad experiences for American university students in Amsterdam to promote intercultural dialogue. Can you tell us more about job scope on day-to-day basis? 

At CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) my role as the Student Life Coordinator means I am responsible for ensuring that students experience a seamless acclimatisation to new cultural landscapes, which entails a lot of heavy health and safety stuff on excel. On a theoretical level, CIEE’s mission is somewhat of a micro-scale intervention in international relations (everything starts from the interaction right, and intercultural exposure at a young age has a huge impact on personal development, laying the groundwork for meaningful global change). 

My main purpose is to facilitate students’ interactions with new foreign concepts, so actually I spend my days mostly scrolling through newsletters to keep up-to-date with the cultural happenings in Amsterdam, planning socially responsible activities and all the logistical nightmares that often accompany that. But this also means I get to visit places and do exciting things with students at least once a week!

3. Culturally, how do you think the world has shifted post (or during) the pandemic, and do you see that in your working force?  

The pandemic’s implications on culture are huge! It’s really impacted the most fundamental ways in which human beings are social, for instance driving us right into the arms of tech corporations utilising a crazy new form of psycho-politics (re: Facebook scandal). The vaccines in particular have also made visible a huge amount of polarization in society and all of this has definitely cast a light on how far and wide governments have their tendrils in everything. I need to stay on top of government regulations, having discussions with colleagues in academia, and of course the gradual move towards remote work/work from home. But to clarify, this is really particular to the West (Western Europe, at least).

4.      How has Bali Island School helped you with your career choice? 

Being exposed to socio-political issues at an early age at BIS really allowed me to think critically, and more importantly, question and unlearn, about what exactly “culture” entails. I remember this great epiphany I had in grade 9 Humanities when, through a thought exercise with teacher, I realised many things deemed natural are really just social constructions. 

Taking visual arts also allowed me to explore these things in an abstract sense – more realistically, I’d say – because nothing in the world is ever concrete! I’m really not exaggerating on the impact BIS had on me. I’m forever thankful for my IB History and Language and Literature teachers (Mr. Wood and Mr. Wilson, I miss you guys so much!), because it was through conversations with them that I had these pivotal moments which made me say, okay, I think I want to dedicate my life to understanding why and how things happen the way they do. That way, maybe I can have a heavier hand in how things can be shaped in the future.

5. What cultural part(s) of Indonesia, or Bali in particular, that you like the most and why?

I actually just wrote my master’s thesis on what I call the fiction of traditionalism in Indonesia, which I explored through a de-colonial perspective. I really wanted to dissect essentialist conceptions of culture in our country to show how fetishised certain cultural aspects are, especially in Bali where things like spirituality and philosophy are too often disassociated or detached from real historical conditions. I see even the smallest cultural traits as large amalgamations of various forces in the past and present, always shifting to produce what we see today. From Balinese hospitality and street food culture in Jakarta, to how motorcyclists refuse to follow traffic laws, for me, it comes as a beautiful unified package and I appreciate it all.

6.      If you’ve been given the privilege to live anywhere around the world, where would it be? Pick one and why? 

Bali. No question! Traveling across the world after leaving Bali has only strengthened my gratefulness for the island. I have developed a really pure and weirdly unintelligible love for Indonesia in general. All the hidden histories making up Bali and our people, it produces this intense, very resilient life-force – it’s absolutely magical. Of course, we all carry it with us as Indonesians no matter where we go, but physically being in Bali? I’ll definitely be back! But first I need to close one last chapter before being able to call the Island of the Gods my home again.