Meet the Ex­pat Cou­ple

Amanda and Joel are orig­i­nally from Michi­gan in the United States, and have spent 4.5 years liv­ing and work­ing in Jakarta. Amanda works as a pro­gramme man­ager of de­vel­op­ment projects in Asia with So­cial Im­pact Inc., and Joel is a lead se­nior school teache

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - To get in touch, please email: amanda.stek@ and

Amanda Stek and Joel Berends

When and where did you first meet?

JB: I thought my jour­ney ended upon our first meet­ing. Love struck me in the fourth grade when I first ran into Amanda at the drink­ing foun­tain out­side of our re­spec­tive class­rooms. She was with her best friend. I mus­tered the courage to say hello and, sadly, the girls didn't even ac­knowl­edge my ex­is­tence and they walked away. For­tu­nately, the jour­ney did not end there.

What qual­i­ties did you find in each other that you be­lieve are im­por­tant to have in a spouse?

AS: Joel is a glass half full (or al­ways full) kind of guy. He has tonnes of en­ergy that only in­creases through­out a busy day. He is funny and al­ways wears a smile. He is com­mit­ted to and pas­sion­ate about his job – teach­ing kids how lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture can help them un­der­stand the world and get to know peo­ple worlds or gen­er­a­tions away from them. Most of all, he is sup­port­ive, car­ing, com­pas­sion­ate to oth­ers, and loves God. How could I not marry him?

JB: What I ad­mire most about Amanda is her strength, com­mit­ment, and fo­cus. Amanda chal­lenges me, is pa­tient with me, and she makes me a bet­ter per­son. A com­mit­ment to make each other bet­ter is not all warm fuzzies, but is so im­por­tant.

What brought your lives over to Jakarta?

JB: To put a long story short, Amanda had re­search in­ter­ests here, and I landed a teach­ing job at a Chris­tian in­ter­na­tional school in Lippo Karawaci. We moved here two days af­ter our wed­ding, in 2009, and stayed through 2011. Af­ter a two-year stint back in the US, we re­turned to Jakarta in 2013. Amanda took a job with a US-based com­pany, and I re­turned to teach at the Ke­mang cam­pus in the same school sys­tem where I taught pre­vi­ously.

Amanda, you’re a pro­gramme man­ager at So­cial Im­pact, Inc. You and your team of lo­cal mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion spe­cial­ists eval­u­ated a US$30 mil­lion USAID gov­er­nance pro­gramme – can you tell us more about this?

AS: From 2013 to 2015, I worked as the team leader of a mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion team for a USAID pro­ject. The pro­ject fo­cused on im­prov­ing pub­lic ser­vices in 20 dis­tricts in In­done­sia – pub­lic ser­vices like health­care, education, and busi­ness li­cens­ing. To­gether with my ex­cel­lent team, we com­pleted two rig­or­ous im­pact eval­u­a­tions that al­lowed us to mea­sure the pro­gramme's pos­i­tive im­pact in treat­ment schools (or schools that re­ceived the de­vel­op­ment pro­ject's in­ter­ven­tion). I now work as a pro­gramme man­ager, man­ag­ing eval­u­a­tions of de­vel­op­ment projects in the Asia re­gion – all with the ul­ti­mate aim of mak­ing in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment projects and or­ga­ni­za­tions more ef­fec­tive.

Joel, you’re the lead se­nior school teacher at SPH in Ke­mang. What do you love most about teach­ing?

JB: My stu­dents fill me up with joy. There is noth­ing bet­ter than step­ping into an en­vi­ron­ment where mean­ing is dis­cov­ered and de­vel­oped in com­mu­nion, and I get to do this each day while work­ing along­side won­der­ful and deeply com­mit­ted teach­ers. I love my job.

You have a 10-month- old baby girl – how have you found par­ent­ing in Jakarta so far, es­pe­cially as you’re both busy pro­fes­sion­als? Do you have any ad­vice for other would-be par­ents in Jakarta?

Be­ing a first time par­ent in Jakarta is – well – prob­a­bly sim­i­lar to be­ing a first time par­ent any­where else in the world. It is full of sleep­less nights, wor­ries, bot­tles, cry­ing – but also amaze­ment, won­der, laugh­ter, and pure joy. Both of us have found that, though our work con­tin­ues to be busy, we lead a much more bal­anced life now that we have a lit­tle one to come home to, take care of, and love. She keeps us fo­cused on the here and now, and re­minds us about what is re­ally im­por­tant in life.

As for ad­vice for would-be par­ents in Jakarta, ask for help and re­ceive help, and find com­mu­ni­ties that you can turn to. That first fever or the first bump can be scary, and even scarier when you are in a for­eign place. But if you find fel­low par­ents that have gone be­fore you, lean on them. They leaned on oth­ers when they were in your shoes – and they can help ease your fears as you fly through the early days and months of your child's life. And if all else fails, get a mas­sage!

Amanda, in 2010 you wrote a let­ter that was pub­lished in the Jakarta Post ti­tled Child Health: the Time for Dis­re­gard is Over.

In it you said that “ad­vo­cacy for im­proved laws and com­mit­ments by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the govern­ment of In­done­sia are needed.” Since you wrote this let­ter, have you no­ticed any sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in child health in In­done­sia?

AS: In that ar­ti­cle, I was en­cour­ag­ing read­ers to learn about ma­ter­nal and child deaths in this coun­try and to do some­thing about it. In the last few years, I have seen coura­geous govern­ment of­fi­cials, health clinic work­ers, and ev­ery­day cit­i­zens work to ad­dress pre­ventable fa­tal­i­ties like ma­ter­nal death. For ex­am­ple, in a district in Aceh – Aceh Singkil – a donor-funded pro­gramme helped build part­ner­ships be­tween com­mu­nity health cen­tres, tra­di­tional birth at­ten­dants and mid­wives that re­sulted in more women choos­ing to give birth in health fa­cil­i­ties.

How does ex­pat life in Cam­bo­dia com­pare to In­done­sia?

We only lived in Cam­bo­dia for four months dur­ing Amanda's grad­u­ate school fel­low­ship. It is, there­fore, hard to com­pare to Jakarta where we have spent 4.5 years. We did love Ph­nom Penh, how­ever. You could eas­ily ride a mo­tor­bike from one end to the other – that is not the case in Jakarta, un­less you have a few days to com­mit to the task! In Jakarta, we have had enough time to es­tab­lish gen­uine com­mu­nity – in our church, where we live, and in our work places. Traf­fic or not, we have loved our time here.

How do you both usu­ally spend Valen­tine’s Day?

JB: We of­ten make a re­ally nice meal to­gether; how­ever, this usu­ally means pour­ing a glass of wine for Amanda while I do the cook­ing. For us, it's more about set­ting aside qual­ity time to be to­gether than it is choco­lates and flow­ers.

Joel, is your Ba­hasa as good as your wife’s?

JB: It's nowhere near hers. But I use what lit­tle I have, shame­lessly.

If you each had one wish for the world, what would it be?

AS: That those in power would use that power to im­prove lives and re­duce suf­fer­ing.

JB: That all of us would choose, each day, to love one an­other.

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