Welcome to SMAN 10 Malang!

I have now been at my site for a little over a week, though time has flown and it feels only like a few days.  I have bounced from office to office with one of my co-teachers, the superhuman Bu Tri, in order to complete the paperwork which will allow me to work in the classrooms legally, and been introduced to more people then I can possibly keep track of.

I have not yet begun actually assisting in the classroom yet: the students are taking tests and preparing for their midterm exams next week, and I have been told I will be able to start in the classrooms once those are over.  Having studied education as an undergrad and volunteered in youth programs for years, I am of course impatient to be in the classroom working with young people again, but I have been trying to make the most of the time I have now to familiarize myself with the English curriculum, and, of course, the school itself.

SMAN 10, the school at which I will be working for the next eight months, has two campuses.  The ETA who was here last year only worked with campus two, but I have been told that I will work with tenth and eleventh graders at both campuses.

Campus one is within the city of Malang itself, and closely resembles what American’s might consider a traditional public school.  Any student can attend, and the student populous seems to have been determined largely by geographic location in relation to the school.  The classes at kampus satu are quite large: I have not observed a class there with fewer than thirty-four students, which is far larger than any class I have taught for any extended period of time.  As someone who prides herself in being able to learn student names quickly and swoop into a classroom in the second week having already built some solid relationships, the sheer number of students in my classes are going to be challenging, but the students seem really lovely and I am sure this will help me get to know them fairly soon.

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Campus two is located outside of the city’s limits, surrounded predominately by rice, corn, and sugar cane fields.  This campus is more selective, and students must pass an exam in order to attend.  Students who attend this campus are not limited to Malang, but come from all over Indonesia.  I have personally met students from Central and West Java, Bali, and even as far as Papua, and I know there are students from other parts of this vast archipelago as well.  A program through the Pertamina Foundation, run by one of the largest oil and natural gas companies in Indonesia, provides a scholarship to students from Papua to attend SMAN 10; from talking with students and teachers, there does not seem to be any scholarships in place for students from rest of Indonesia, and so the families of those from other parts of the country must be able to afford to send them here. In general, classes here are smaller, with the largest class I will work with having around twenty-five students.  Kampus dua is unlike any school I have ever worked with, and I am looking forward to taking a closer look at its inner workings.

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In part because many of them come from outside of Malang, and in part because the school wants to create a more encompassing and enriching academic experience for students, most of the students who attend classes on campus two live in one of the two dorms on campus.  I too, will live in beautiful Building A while I am here.

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I have been placed in a small apartment of my own within the dorm, complete with a small living room, efficiency kitchen, my own bathroom, and a bedroom complete with air conditioning.  Being able to take my belongings out of my suitcase and put them in an actual living space after two weeks of hotels and airports was immeasurably wonderful.  I hung my clothes in the closet, blew up my inflatable globe, and decided it was good enough to call home.

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My apartment also has a balcony, which offers a beautiful view of the farmland just beyond the walls of the school; every morning, I start my day with a cup of tea here, and I have therefore been privileged to watch the sugar cane harvest, happening right before my eyes.  It is new and exciting, as I have never seen a sugar cane field before, but also reassuring and familiar, as I know it is time for the corn harvest to begin at home.

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The best part of my placement, thus far, has been the people.  The teachers at my school have been more than welcoming, and are constantly ensuring that I do not feel lost or lonely: even those who do not speak English do their best to work with my limited Indonesian and get to know me.  They have laughed at my missteps, called my brown hair red (the Irish girl in me is secretly pleased), and fed me more food than I could stomach: Indonesian hospitality knows no limits.

The students, especially, have ensured that I could never feel homesick here.  At campus one, though I am not yet in the classroom, I try to spend time with the students during their free periods, talking about traveling and culture and the grand nature of what it means to merely be people.

On campus two, if I go to wander about campus after school has let out, they invite me to sit and talk with them, and I have more than once had students come knocking on my door asking, “Miss, can we talk to you about America?” which results in our sitting on the floor amongst the photographs I brought with me, swapping stories and enthusiasm.  Anytime I leave campus, either to go to campus one or the grocery store, students ask me, sometimes leaning out of their windows to do so, “Miss, where are you going?”

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This probably stems in part from Mau ke mana? (Where do you want to go?), the Indonesian equivalent of “How’s it going?”  And while I sometimes have a destination required of me, I am never happier than when I can answer their question with “Jalan-jalan” (Just out for a walk), and then ask them where they are going, and if I might be able to join.

The next eight months are going to be filled with more challenges than I can now fathom, but already I can see that, here, in this place half a world away from everything I know, I will be able to find friends, and maybe even a kind of family.

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Whirlwind Wandering: Pit Stops in Jakarta and Singapore

The members of our cohort have begun to go their separate ways at this point.  Due to complications in acquiring visas, a little less than half of the ETAs are going directly to their sites while still using their visas on arrival, and will soon go to Singapore to get their extended stay visas.  For those of us whose paperwork is finished, we have our bouncing back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore to do, and then it is off to our sites, not to see the whole group again until the Midyear Conference.

In Jakarta, we stayed in a hotel very near the airport, which meant that we did not have the opportunity to thoroughly explore the capital of Indonesia.  However, a few friends and I did explore the community near the hotel, which proved to be another bule experience.  In Bandung, though there were not many tourists out on the streets, we were not the sole foreigners; at our hotel, probably due to its very nature of being a hotel near the airport, I got the distinct impression that most travelers do not venture beyond hotel, or, if they do, do so by taxi.  The soundtrack to our short walk was a chorus of “Miss!” “Bule!” “White!” “Mister!” and the occasional “I like you!” from boys passing by on motorcycles.  The experience is still jarring and mostly uncomfortable, but I must admit, it is hard not to smile when being chased by small children on bicycles shouting “Mister! Mister!”

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Our short stop in Jakarta also reminded me that as unusual as some Indonesian customs may seem to me, I can be just as baffling to Indonesians.  While wandering the streets near our hotel, we came across some goats grazing along the side of the road.  Being a born and raised farm girl, and having showed cows and goats at the local fairs for years, I tend to get unreasonably excited whenever I come across familiar farm animals in other countries.  As I snapped a few pictures and my fellow ETAs challenged me to identify the breeds of kambing-kambing we were looking at, a group of boys playing nearby pointed and laughed at us.  I did not need my friend who is fluent in Indonesian to tell me that they were wondering why I was so excited about a few goats.  Of course, I did not have the Indonesian to explain myself.  Perhaps it is less of an issue of oddity and more an issue of communication.  I hope that as I learn more Indonesian and explore more of this varied nation, I will begin to better understand what for now leaves me feeling more than a bit lost.

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Acquiring our limited stay visas required us to spend a day in Singapore.  Going from Bandung and Jakarta, where, though they are some of the most developed cities in Indonesia, sidewalks end in giant holes filled with garbage and the air smells distinctly of exhaust, to Singapore, where the buildings look they belong in a Star Wars film and there is a fine of 500 Singaporean dollars for eating or drinking on the underground, was a bit like whiplash.

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A beautiful city to be sure, Singapore does not look or feel like it belongs to this century, or perhaps even this world.  With four national languages, one of which is my native tongue, and an organized underground system which very much reminded me of the Tube system in London, with which I am so familiar, our day there should have made me feel at home and at ease, and it some ways it did.  But in other ways it left me perhaps more confused than my time in Indonesia.  The city was too clean, and too devoid of the bustling crowds I have come to associate with urban areas around the world.  As we explored Marina Bay, including the Gardens by the Bay for which that part of Singapore is so famous, I kept expecting to reach out to touch the city and find that it was merely a digitally-altered photograph that had been placed there for me to look at, but never experience.

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At a recommendation from a woman with tourist information, the group I was with explored Haw Par Villa, a Singaporean cultural site which was simultaneously amazing and disturbing.  Haw Par Villa was built by two brothers famous for their Tiger Balm, and it opened in 1937, aiming, according to the plaque near its entrance, “to immortalize and share the moral values behind the various meaningful Chinese legends.”

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As we explored the grounds, we were introduced to various Chinese fables, and even entered a cave which led us through the ten courts of hell, complete with gruesome sculptures.  It was as though Tim Burton had set out to summarize Chinese culture: I was not sure if I was supposed to feel enlightened or terrified, but I knew for certain that my attention had been firmly grabbed.

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It was not until we went to Chinatown that Singapore began to lose its fantastical quality.  Chinatown’s streets were decorated with beautiful fabric flowers, but it also had the low growl of motorcycles, courts of food stalls that felt very similar to the warung-warung I had become so accustomed to seeing in Indonesia, and even the occasional piece of litter, a site I strangely found more comforting than disappointing.

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Our day trip to Singapore was an amazing experience, and I am incredibly grateful to have been able to briefly explore a place I never dreamed I would be able to go to.  Still, I found myself missing Indonesia, even though I had only been there for such a short time, and in such a controlled setting.  There is an earthy feel to Indonesia that I can see eventually feeling like home, and that was not present in Singapore.

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At the end of the day, Singapore did serve its main purpose, and we had our limited stay visas, which will allow us to acquire our permits at our sites and work in Indonesian classrooms for the slightly over eight months we have left in our grants.  And so we waved goodbye to the city of the distant future, and waved hello to our own immediate futures in Indonesia.

Navigating Volcanoes, Drinking Coffee, Playing Futsal, and Being Bule: Orientation Part Two

As orientation progresses, we have had more opportunities to engage in more authentic experiences in this amazing country in which we have found ourselves.

As part of our Bahasa training, we went to a pasar (market).  ITC, the market we explored, was not a traditional market, as it was an indoor space where vendors could rent space, but it was an opportunity to utilize our Bahasa in a real setting.  Though I stumbled over every sentence I attempted to utter, I did manage to communicate with the vendors to complete my purchases, as I expanded my ever-more-colorful teaching wardrobe.

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Going to the market was also my first proper experience as a bule (a foreigner, usually Caucasian).  The word was whispered or, more often, called out, by almost every vender we passed.  Many even asked to have their pictures taken with us.  Sometimes, the reaction of those we passed was to simply yell “Beautiful!”

As bule, it seems we have attained a sort of celebrity status, a position I find baffling and more than slightly uncomfortable.  Though my privilege as a white American is something of which I am aware, I have never felt the need to be mindful of it more than here, where camera flashes are a constant reminder that I wear a face that mirrors those who colonized these islands for more than two hundred years.  Since most of my time has been spent in the bubble of the hotel with my fellow ETAs, I have not yet had an excess of experience navigating the bule phenomenon, but will continue to reflect upon it throughout my grant, and hopefully have open conversations about it at my site.

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On our free day during orientation, I and many of the ETAs visited tangupan perahu, a volcano outside of Bandung.  The name means “up-turned boat” in Sudanese, in reference to the shape the volcano seems to have when viewed from the city.

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In the crater of the volcano, there are natural hot springs, at which you can receive a sort of mud massage is you so choose.  Looking around, breathing in the distinct smell of sulfur, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I was standing in a place where the land had once breathed fire, even as recently as 1983.  The waves of heat coming from the springs seemed to me to be Mother Nature’s reminder that she will always hold unfathomable power beneath my feet.

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As incredible as the volcano was, I believe the hike to and from the crater was my favorite part of the trek.  There was something reminiscent of home in walking through the forest and hearing the calls of birds and chirping of crickets that remained carefully out of sight.  And yet, it was also very different.  The trees and other flora are entirely unfamiliar to me, coming from a temperate climate; even the green here is one I have never quite seen before.  Unfamiliar though it may be, it is undeniably beautiful.

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Following the hike at the volcano, our bus driver—ever patient with his American passengers, most of whom speak very little Bahasa—took us to what he claimed was a traditional Sudanese restaurant, and which turned out to be so much more.  Tucked away in a smaller town outside of Bandung, down narrow streets filled with chickens and children, this restaurant was famous for serving kopi luwat, or civet coffee, a specialty coffee made in the digestive tract of the civet, a cat-like creature native to Southeast Asia.  The civets themselves seemed to have free range of the restaurant, and weaved in and out of our feet while we ate our meal.

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The owner of the restaurant very kindly showed us around his facilities and explained the process of making kopi luwat.  The civets are fed a special diet of papaya, banana, honey, milk, eggs, and coffee fruits.  The feces of the civet is then collected, and as the coffee beans are not digested by the animal and therefore retain their shape and inner coating, they are then washed and sorted for quality.  I am no coffee connoisseur, but I found that the coffee itself did not have the bitter aftertaste that other coffees seem to, though I was not able to taste any other significant differences.  I must say I personally preferred playing with the civet to drinking the coffee it helped produce.

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Recently, we also had an opportunity to play futsal (indoor soccer) against the hotel staff.  The satisfaction of being completely owned by those who have waited on me hand and foot is indescribable.  It was also simply wonderful to step onto an indoor soccer field—something I have not done since high school—and kick around a ball with my fellow ETAs.

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Though I am excited to finally go to my site and meet my co-teacher, students, and community members, I will miss being surrounded by my cohort.  Already, it feels like a sort of family unit, one I wish I could take with me on the next part of this adventure.

Welcome to Six Star Bahasa Babbling: Orientation Part Two

After almost two full days on planes and in airports, we arrived in Indonesia.  Walking out of the airport, I and  my fellow English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) were greeted by palm trees, humidity, hordes of men eagerly offering their taxi services, and American-Indonesian Exchange Foundation (AMINEF) staff bearing gifts of bottled water and donuts.  It was the welcoming of a lifetime.

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Our orientation is taking place in Bandung, a city in Western Java about 87 miles south of Jakarta.  We were bussed there from the airport in Jakarta, past tiered rice paddies, mountains, mosques, and gas stations.  The city itself initially seemed to consist mostly of motorcycles, though I am beginning to experience the liveliness beyond the busy streets.

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We are staying in the most luxurious hotel I have ever stepped foot in for orientation; the manager informed our group it is a six star hotel, something I was not aware existed until now.   Due to a combination of fighting jet lag and having orientation classes all day, I have had few opportunities to venture past the hotel and attached mall and truly explore the “Paris of Indonesia,” but at least I have a room with a view of the bustling city below.

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Orientation itself consists predominately of sessions focusing on teaching, navigating Indonesian culture, and Bahasa Indonesia.  Bahasa is by far my favorite part of each day, in part because my animated classmates are so enjoyable to be around, and because I can see this training being most useful for me, personally.  Having just acquired my New York State 7-12 ELA certification, I do have some experience teaching, and though I know my classes in Malang will be completely different from any classes I have had the opportunity to teach thus far, I have floundered in the classroom before and survived, and so I am confident I can do so again with only a reasonable number of tears shed.  And though the advice from returning ETAs is honest and practical, I know no session will keep me from being hit over the head with culture shock—again and again and again—during my nine months in Indonesia.  I must simply embrace it—and a few more tears—as part of the experience.  I do believe, however, that learning the language will help make everything else about my grant just a little bit easier.

The little Bahasa Indonesia I learned during my lunch breaks over the summer was not sufficient to place me any higher than the lowest level of Indonesian classes, but having even some exposure to the language has at least saved me the frustration of being entirely lost.  The Bahasa instructor for my group is a wonderfully amusing man who goes beyond the text to provide us with regional nuances in Indonesia’s national language and answer our never-ending questions about everything from handshakes to motorcycles.   I hope that by the end of orientation I will have enough rudimentary Indonesian tucked up my sleeve to navigate necessary interactions at my site, but for now I still struggle to order my kopi (coffee) in the afternoon or acquire nasi goreng (fried rice) from a warung (food stall) for dinner.

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Perhaps most importantly, orientation has given me the opportunity to get to know my fellow ETAs.  They are from all over the United States, and many have traveled to and lived in more places than I could ever hope to see.  Intelligent and accomplished, I confess I was a bit intimidated by them at first, but they are far too welcoming for me to have remained that way for long.  I don’t know that I have ever before enjoyed the company of such a large group as much as I do this one.  The sound of laughter bubbling over from my fellow ETA’s is becoming just as familiar as the call to prayer from the mosque across the street from our hotel, and just as intertwined with my first impressions of Indonesia.  It sounds a little bit like a new adventure, a little bit like a new place to call home.

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