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
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.