My Wish for You: MAN Model WORDS Competition 2016

Each year, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) hold English Speech Competition called WORDS at their respective schools, and the winner from that competition goes to Jakarta to compete nationally and participate in a number of activities with other WORDS winners from all over Indonesia.  Many ETAs refer to WORDS as one of their favorite parts of their grant year, myself among them.  After learning so much from my first WORDS competition last year, I couldn’t wait for WORDS to come around this year.

Due to the testing schedule for this year, and judge availability, and a slew of other factors that needed to somehow be juggled (typical ETA life, that), the WORDS Competition for this year had to be scheduled much earlier in the semester than it did last year, giving my students less time to prepare.  This only added to students’ nervousness, and so I decided to do away with the memorization requirement for this year, and spent far more time leading up to the completion simply telling students that mistakes were okay and that they shouldn’t be takut (scared), than I did actually helping students to write and practice their speeches.


This is the photo that was taken for the WORDS banner.  There are only fifteen students pictured here, and to be honest, I anticipated that even fewer would show up to the actual competition.  But my students perseverance surprised even me, and eighteen arrived on the day of the competition.


Each year, there is a different theme for the speeches, and this year’s was “Three Wishes.”  Students were asked to think about the question, “If you were given three wishes to change something about the world, Indonesia, or yourself, what would you wish for?” and structure their speech around that idea.  The students who participated in our competition wished for everything from the end of corruption in Indonesia, to becoming the best scout member at MAN Model, to ending war in the world, to being able to talk again with their parents who had passed away.

There were a number of students who were able to memorize their speeches even with the short time available to them, while others read their speeches from notebooks.  Some students demonstrated a talent, while for others simply giving the speech was all they had time to plan.  All of them were nervous, but all of them bravely took the stage.  Speaking on stage in a language that is not your own is no small feat, and I was proud of every one of my students.

Choosing the winner for the competition was no easy task for my judges, one of my site mates and my closest Indonesian friend, who was actually the WORDS winner from MAN Model two years ago.  I’m glad the final decision was out of my hands, because if I had my way I would be taking a whole group of students to Jakarta.


All of the students recognized with various awards, and the adults privileged to watch them perform.  From left to right: Ibu Tuti (English Teacher), Ibu Ike (English Teacher), me, Sidrah (Judge ), Indah (Third place), Ayu (Second place), Noni (First Place), Fani (Best Personality), Naafi (Best Talent), Akbar (Most Creative), Clare (Judge), Bu Cici (English Teacher), and Pak Mustain (English Teacher).

The winner ended up being a girl named Noni, who not only gave a thoughtful speech about how in order to change the world it is important to first gain the support for your family and change yourself, but also wrote a song (in English!) on that same theme.  Noni is also the reason many of the other participants even took the stage, as she spent much of her time prior to the competition convincing both her classmates and students from other classes to “Just try!” because “It is a good experience!”  I’m very excited to work with Noni over the course of the next month to improve her speech and prepare her for our adventures in Jakarta.

WORDS always takes a considerable amount of planning and work, but it is worth every minute of it.  Since the competition, my phone’s inbox has been full of texts from students saying things like, “Miss, after WORDS Competition I’ll be confident and run after my dream!” We may only be able to take one student to Jakarta for the national competition, but even our local competition is a great opportunity for all of our kids.

While as an ETA I am not permitted to prepare my own speech, if I were to take on the topic of three wishes, my hopes would center very much around my students: that they continue to work hard and find success in all they strive to achieve; that they see themselves as the amazing young people I know them to be; and that they continue to learn and grow as I have seen them do while I have been fortunate enough to be their teacher.


The whole crew.  I cannot express just how proud I am of all of these students.

Showering by Candlelight: Mati Lampu


Mati lampu.  It translates literally to “dead light,” and it is the Indonesian word for “blackout” or “power outage.”

It’s a word you are bound to hear quite often in Indonesia, probably every day if you are in a more remote place.  In Malang, I would usually have black outs two or three times every week.  In Gorontalo, even though I live within the city limits, I am lucky if I get two days a week without one.  Some ETAs in more remote areas have never experienced a full day of electricity.

No two mati lampu are created equal.  There are the little blips in your day, the mati lampu that last only an hour or two.  There are the more annoying mati lampu, which last up to four or five hours, and send you seeking the cafes with generators so that you can finish your lesson for the next day.  And then there are the mati lampu that last eight, nine, ten, eleven hours… and those are the ones that make you begin to wonder if the electricity will ever turn back on.

IMG_2137After well over a year in Indonesia, I have learned how to deal with mati lampu, at least to some extent.  I try to keep all of my electronics—laptop, kindle, iPod, mobile phones—charged at all times, and my power bank was probably one of the best purchases I made prior to this second grant.  I have a small lantern bright enough to journal by, and candles placed strategically about my house that I can quickly light when mati lampu arrives after nightfall, so that I can still cook and work out and potentially even do laundry (and also so that I don’t injure myself stumbling around in the dark).  There are old tin cans full of ice in my freezer, for those mati lampu that go on for so long that I start to worry about my food spoiling. And, perhaps most importantly, I always keep the plastic trash can that acts as my bak mandi[1] full of water.  No electricity means no water in the pipes, and at the end of a long day sweating in crowded classrooms, I want to know that I can shower, even if it is by candlelight.

But even with all the preparation I try to have, there are still times when the electricity goes out and I am left with a dead phone and laptop, e-mails I was supposed to send, and a blog I wanted to write.  It is then I have to utilize what is probably my greatest tool for dealing with mati lampu: acceptance.  I set a candle on the table and try to do as much as I can with good old pen and paper.  I go to bed early, my thin sheet tossed aside as I try to stay as cool as possible.  There is nothing I can do, so I keep on doing what I can.

If it is still daylight, mati lampu can sometimes result in an enjoyable few hours.  Step outside during mati lampu and you are bound to find everyone else in the neighborhood doing the same.  Some of my longest chats with my neighbors have happened because mati lampu took away our ability to be productive, and so we were forced to spend time with one another.

I recently talked to a friend who was an ETA last year, and she mentioned that she found IMG_2173herself strangely missing mati lampu some days, mostly because of that very reason.  Mati lampu forces you unplug, to slow down, to step outside.  It is endearing in that way.

This is not to say that I necessarily enjoy mati lampu, and don’t regularly wish I was in a place with more consistent electricity.  But I have come to accept mati lampu for what it is, the good and the bad, the frustrating and the endearing.

[1] Shower heads are not all that common in Indonesia.  Much more popular is the bak mandi, a large basin, often tiled, that is kept full of water, which you then scoop on to your body in order to bathe, and into the toilet to flush.  My bathroom does not have a proper bak mandi, because there is a showerhead which I’m supposed to be able to use, and because I have a western toilet.  But because the water pressure is not strong enough to reach the shower head most days, and the toilet does not flush, I use a bright pink plastic bin that was in my bathroom when I arrived as a make-shift bak mandi.  It does the trick.

A Happy Teacher Gets an English Corner

MAN Model is a big school.  I teach ten classes every week, and that doesn’t cover even the entirety of the tenth grade.  Trying to reach the larger student population and offer my services as an ETA is a daunting task.  Fortunately, generations of ETAs before me have been fighting the same battle, and I had numerous ideas I could attempt to implement.  A friend from last year’s co-hort had waxed rhapsodic about her “English Corner,” a white board in the school courtyard on which she could put up information about English Club and other English-related activities, facts and figures about American Culture, and short English challenges for students to try.

I seemed to remember that the ETA who was at my school last year—a fabulous individual very much missed by her students—had also had an English Corner (I was right).  So in mid-October I approached the English teachers to ask if it might be possible if I could set up an English Corner as well.  They were completely on board, and one week later there was a shiny new white board at my disposal.


The English Corner when it first began.

The middle school teacher in me was thrilled.  I love bulletin boards, but I haven’t had too many opportunities to work with them, since I have yet to have my own classroom. I bought copious amounts of colored paper, foam, and patterned tape, and set to work.

In many ways, the English Corner was an immediate success.  Students flocked to it between classes, and all I had to do was sit on a nearby ledge during breaks in order to have the opportunity to talk to the eleventh and twelfth grade students who wanted to practice their conversational English.  My own students asked about and commented on parts of it after class, and even the teachers got excited when something new popped up.


Students interacting with the English Corner during a break in-between classes.

But it wasn’t perfect.  My English Corner throughout the first semester a little too ambitious.  I created six different sections of the English board: “Daily Word,” “Weekly Idiom,” “Weekly Challenge,” “Monthly Project,” “News,” and a section which I intentionally left blank, so that I could use it in any way I needed.  I vowed to change out these various parts of the English Corner accordingly.  I thought that was completely doable.

I was wrong.  I had ten classes which I co-taught with four different teachers, English Club, Bahasa Indonesia lessons, various off-campus commitments, and my responsibilities as a returning ETA.  I often found myself overwhelmingly busy, and when I had to cut drop something from my daily to-do list, it was often my English Corner.  The “Daily Word” section would stay the same for three or four days in a row, the “Weekly Challenge” wouldn’t be updated until Wednesday.  I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew.


The completed “Thankfulness Tree” at the end of November.

I was also continually fighting the location of my English Corner.  The wind would steal the sticky notes on which my students had written their favorite hobbies.  Elementary school children who would play in the courtyard after school would take the leaves I had painstakingly cut out for the Thankfulness Tree (I don’t really blame the kiddos—they had no idea what they were for, and who wouldn’t want a bright red leaf to take home with them?—but the amount of time I spent cutting out leaves in the month of November was a bit ridiculous).

All of this, while somewhat frustrating at the time, was an opportunity to learn, and improve.  When I came back from my December travels and the new semester began, I made some pretty significant changes to my English Corner.  I decreased the number of sections, and I completely eliminated anything that required me to change a section daily or weekly.


One student’s contribution to the “New Year’s Resolution” project.

Meanwhile, I kept the elements of the English Corner that had already proven to be really successful.  The students love interacting with the English Corner and filling it with their own words (and if I’m honest, I’m really fond of that as well), and so I am always certain to include elements of that.  But this time, instead of using sticky notes, I tape a whiteboard marker to the side of the English Board, and have students write their responses.  I also make sure to include lots of culture, for my ever-inquisitive students whose curiosity is absolutely insatiable.

And since then, my English Corner has bloomed.  My most recent English Board included multiple sections related to Black History Month, including a focus on Black American Heroes, a timeline of important dates in Black American History, and a word bank full of vocabulary they need to understand those other sections.  The other sections were an interactive section in which students could write about their own heroes, and information about an upcoming English speech competition.  A crowd of students helped me to put it together; they were so impatient to see what the updates would bring.


The most recent English Corner.  A little faded, but still going strong.

I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to learn from my past attempts in order to create something more useful for my students.  At some point during my time as an undergraduate education major, I remember a professor explaining what she felt the difference was between the lessons from a new teacher and an experienced one: the lessons of the experienced teacher are less flashy.  While the young teacher is determined to be bold and exciting, the experienced teacher doesn’t want anything to do with bells and whistles.  The experienced teacher wants tried and true, she wants what she knows will help students learn. This is not to say the experienced teacher is boring, or that the new teacher is not in any way effective.  But the experienced teacher has had time to tweak lessons and classroom elements, fiddling with its wires and gearboxes, so that even if the paint isn’t quite as bright, it runs like a dream.

As I take in my new English Corner, with its faded lettering and slightly-dusty edging, I can’t help but feel this is true.  My English Corner no longer looks as flashy as I might have once dreamed it would, but that’s okay: it’s more effective as it is.




I Made It to Manado

I have been intending to travel outside of Gorontalo and explore more of Sulawesi since I started this grant, but until this past weekend, I hadn’t yet found the time.  But there was a three-day weekend on my calendar, and I was determined to use it.  A few other ETAs from Sulawesi were on the same page, and we decided to hit up Manado, the Ibu Kota (capital) of North Sulawesi, where two ETAs are placed, and who were able to show us about the city and help us find accommodation (here’s to local insight).  My excitement leading up to the trip had me bouncing about like a three-year-old waiting for their birthday party to begin.

Then I almost didn’t make the trip.  Due to various things going on at site, I wasn’t able to buy my tickets until very last minute.  And then I thought I had bought tickets, but it turned out the booking confirmation I had received was a lie, and so the day before I was supposed to leave I found myself talking to various travel agencies, and learning that every flight to Manado was already fully booked.  Aduh[1].

Fortunately, some teachers from my school came to my rescue, and showed me how to take a mobil (car) from Gorontalo to Manado.  I bought my ticket, packed more quickly than I ever have in my life, and hopped in.

It was quite the adventure.  I was in the very center seat of the van, which was driving far too quickly on the roads that wind through the mountains on the way to Manado, and was full of chain-smoking bapak-bapak.  I had gotten into the car with the optimistic intention of continuing to edit an application that was due that Monday, but I realized very quickly that was not going to happen.  At one point during the ten-hour journey, a friend checked in to see how I was doing, and I hastily typed back on my phone, trying very hard not to look at the screen too long: “There is no application work happening.  No sleeping happening either.  The only thing that is happening is concentrating on not vomiting.”

But the driver was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met, who made sure I was always aware of what was happening when we stopped for food or toilets, and who waited with me at three o’clock in the morning on an empty Manado street as I tried to locate my friends’ kos (boarding house), refusing to leave until he knew I would be safe.  And even if they smoked too many cigarettes, the other passengers were friendly, and we were almost strangely attached to one another by the time the journey was over: we had bonded over our survival of the trip.

And though I highly recommend flying rather than taking a car to Manado, the ride was totally worth it.  At the end of it all were several members of the Sulawesi ETA Family, as well as a relaxing weekend in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.


Those of us from out of town ended up staying in Pulisan, about an hour outside of the city of Manado, at the Pulisan Jungle Beach Resort.  The location was absolutely beautiful, and because February is the off-season for tourism, we had the entire place to ourselves.  Our days were spent snorkeling in gorgeous reefs teeming with life, and hiking up the surrounding hills to take in the view.  Our nights were spent chatting and laughing in great company.


It was this company that really made this trip special, for me.  To be sure, Pulisan was absolutely breathtaking, a reminder that I am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  But it would not have been nearly and memorable if I hadn’t been able to share the excitement of seeing my first puffer fish, or if I had scaled the steep hill behind the resort, dripping with sweat, and taken in the absolutely amazing view alone.  It is always the people that make the trip.


Though most of time was spent soaking in the natural beauty of Indonesia, something Manado and the surrounding areas lends itself well to, with its lush jungles and pristine beaches, we were able to spend a little time in the city of Manado itself[2].

Manado was fascinating for me, coming from Gorontalo, as it is majority Christian.  North Sulawesi and my own province, Gorontalo, actually used to be one province, but they split into two predominately because while the northern part of the original North Sulawesi is majority Christian, the part that is now Provinsi Gorontalo is majority Muslim.   There were churches everywhere, instead of the mosques I am now so accustomed to seeing.   At one point, we passed a woman outside of the mall who was trying to sell crucifixes; it was then I realized that I was very much not in Gorontalo anymore.

Manado is also a significantly larger city than Gorontalo: a little more western, a little less conservative.  But still very much an Indonesian city, with the streets crowded with angkots and sepeda motor (motorcycles), and bright colors everywhere.  The Manado ETAs took us to eat tinituan (a sort of porridge made from rice, pumpkin, and lots of vegetables, which is originally from Manado), at their favorite place, and confidently navigated the streets so unfamiliar to us as visitors.

I boarded a plane out of Manado (I was able to procure a ticket home at least, with the help of one of the ETAs from Makassar) a mere 60 hours after I had stumbled out of the van that brought me there.  It was not enough time, but I loved every minute that I had there.

[1] Aduh is generally translated to “Oh my!” or “Oh dear!”  It is essentially an exclamation of frustrated surprise, and I find it to be one of the most satisfying expressions I have learned in Indonesian.

[2] But, regretfully, I did not have ready access to a camera at the time.  My bad, folks.