When a Brain Child Grows Up: The Bahasa Project

Throughout my first grant as an ETA, the best teachers I had as I tried to learn Bahasa Indonesia were my students.  I had bought and borrowed textbooks, I searched online for resources, but nothing was as effective as the enthusiasm and humor my students brought to my bumbling attempts to master their language.  I wished on more than one occasion that I could somehow bring my students to every Bahasa Indonesia learner.

This was the spark that brought me to head a project that stretched across the great archipelago of Indonesia, The Bahasa Project.  The aim of the project is to create a series of videos, and sometimes supporting materials, to help folks who may want to learn Bahasa Indonesia or one of the hundreds of local languages spoken throughout the country.  To do this, ETAs enlist the help of their students and other members of their school communities, the true experts in the field, as they talk, tease, and tell their stories in these languages each and every day.

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Almost a third of the 2015-15 ETA cohort created such videos with their students.  This is not the sort of project you can tackle on their own, and I was awed and thankful for the amount of support my crazy idea received after I pitched it to the cohort.  This project would not be what it is without them.

Facilitating the making the videos with my own students was an absolute joy.  I placed control of the project firmly in their hands, from selecting the topic and subsequent vocabulary, to writing and developing the script (I helped with editing a bit), to the directing and acting while the video was being filmed.  I supported them, but refused to tell them what to do with the project: it was they who were the teachers now.

My English Club girls rose to the task at hand, and created not one but two videos for the Bahasa Indonesia section of the project, both about describing people’s personalities.  The thoughtfully crafted skits for each vocabulary word, checking with me to make sure certain examples would make sense to someone outside of Indonesian culture, and adding cultural explanations where needed.  Their skits were effective, creative, and almost always hilarious.  While the filming was taking place, my job was generally limited to pressing the record button on my camera and making sure that everyone was in frame, while my girls tweaked parts of the script, determined whether or not they needed to retake a scene, and teased one another good-naturedly for forgotten lines or for laughing before the scene was over.

Plenty of fun was had by all, and more than once we all ended up on the floor in stitches.  At the same time, my girls treated the project with a seriousness that made me feel like I was on the set of a real movie on occasion.

Many of the students in my English Club were too shy to so much as say hello to me in English when I first started holding English Club meetings, but they stuck to it and kept trying, and their hard work really showed as they tacked this project.  Working with students in this way is one of the most wonderfully humbling experiences I think anyone can have, and I feel blessed to have been a part of this.

In the end, it was time that got in our way, as it always does.  While we had planned out the video for Bahasa Gorontalo, because school was repeatedly canceled we did not have enough English Club days to film it together.  I ended up filming it during my last week at site, and did far more directing than originally planned.  Even so, it was great fun to do, as it involved more students and even some of the teachers.

Due to time and the fact that my old laptop was on its last legs, editing the videos—something my students and I had planned to do together—had to wait until I returned to the states.  While I have at this point shared the completed videos in the English Club Facebook Group, but a large part of me still wishes we had been able to watch them for the first time together.  I comfort myself by knowing that waiting allowed me to create a much higher-quality video, to truly showcase the talent of my students.

Technology and time meant I was not the only ETA whose videos were not finished at the end of the grant, and a few tweaks needed to be made to several of the videos handed to me at our end-of-year conference.  I didn’t really mind one bit, as this meant I had the privilege of seeing the brilliant work made by other students and ETAs from across Indonesia before they were even posted to YouTube.  Though enough videos have been uploaded for the project to go live, there are more videos on the way, and I cannot wait to see what other schools have produced.

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The young people I get to meet and work with as an ETA impress me in a million ways each and every day, and this was just one more chance for them to blow me away.  I am incredibly proud of the work all of the students and ETAs have accomplished in The Bahasa Project, and humbled and blessed to have been a part of it.



Website: thebahasaproject.wordpress.com

YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/channel/UC6MFZUgG58VZRkqyuFIJ4vA


Last Lines: The End of My Gorontalo Chapter

There are entire blogs, Tumblr accounts, etc. dedicated to the last lines of novels.  I myself wonder at the lack of attention given to the last lines of chapters: those few words that transition the reader out of one adventure and into the next.  These are often my favorite lines of a novel, some for their subtlety, others for their pomp and circumstance, and still others that somehow manage to be both at once.

If my time in Gorontalo was a chapter in a book, it’s last line would have been of that last sort, a perfect blend of quiet moments and full-scale productions.


It may have taken me until my last day at site to see the marching band perform, but that didn’t make it any less amazing.

I left site in the week after finals, which meant I had no more real responsibilities with my school: no classes to teach, no clubs to run, no meeting to attend.  I was thankful for this time and space to really say goodbye to the place I had come to call home; to finally learn how to make tinituan from my closest friend and her mother, after months of planning to do so; to ride my motorbike along my favorite roads one last time; to stop by my favorite martabak sellers and ask them to make me one last of my usual orders; to tell the folks at the internet café, who have become almost like family because I have spent so much time there, that they wouldn’t be seeing me around anymore… my job was done.


Coordinated costumes, giggles, and balloons…

But it was not all quiet goodbyes.  My final full day at site was an adventuresome one: it began with a jalan sehat (literally, “healthy walk”) in honor of my school’s birthday, which coincided with my leaving; I was finally able to see the school’s marching band perform, after passing by their practice for nine months; and as a themed costume contest was part of the parade, my last day was spent surrounded by the enthusiasm and creativity that I so love to celebrate in my brilliant students.  In the afternoon, my school held a perpisahan, or going-away party, for me, complete with speeches and singing: even I wrote a speech, and sang in front of a crowd for the first time since becoming an ETA in Indonesia (how I managed to escape this for so long is a mystery).  There was a stage, there was a banner, and there was more love than I could ever deserve.


One last sweaty, happy group photo with some of my students.

My final morning in Gorontalo was spent with some of my favorite teachers, packing up the last of my things and stopping to eat delicious ikan bakar, one last time.  We piled into cars, and headed off to the airport.  We laughed, we cried, we hugged, and said goodbye.

And then it was over.  I boarded the plane with my sitemates, every bit as important to my time here than anyone from my school or community, and headed to Jakarta for the End-of-Year Conference, to say goodbye to the cohort that was my extended family this grant period.


One of my Indonesian Moms.

Again and again throughout my last week at site, I told people: “It’s not just goodbye, it’s see you later.”  And as I am returning to Indonesia again, I know that I will see many of the wonderful people from that side of the globe again, and I do hope that I will cross paths in the future with the ETAs I have come to love.

But I will never again live in Gorontalo as the ETA at MAN Model.  That chapter of my life is over, and a new chapter is beginning.  The people and places will carry over—if not in my actual everyday existence, then in the cornerstones of my heart—because though this may be a new chapter, but it is still the same story.  But they will take on a new role, as the plot twists into a new shape.

I am sad and excited to turn the page.  I will miss the tale this chapter told.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.

The Streets of Gorontalo

Last week, I taught my final classes, something I will write about eventually, but not just yet.  This means my students are testing this week, and so after almost nine months of constantly working on various projects for school, I find myself with something like free time.  I still have several projects to put the finishing touches on, and plans to solidify in order to properly say goodbye to everyone here (I’m having a party at my house, and my school is planning an event at which I may even be expected to sing in front of the whole school, so there is still plenty to do for all of that).  Still, with no classes to attend and plan for, I’m much less crazy-busy than I have been.

And so, one morning before going to visit some dear friends who have been instrumental in making my time here wonderful, I set out on my motorbike, camera in hand to just take a short jaunt through the kota (city) that I have called home for the past nine months and take some photos, something I have always wanted to do, but never found the time for.


This is Patung Saronde, or Saronde Statue, which depicts two traditional Gorontalo dancers.  This stature is at a traffic circle downtown, and is regularly used as a reference point when people give me instructions to a small toko (shop) or rumah makan (restaurant).  It is also right around the corner from Coffee Toffee, where I do all of my internet work, and where the staff have essentially become extended family.  Even if I’m just passing by, I can’t help but smile.


This is the largest masjid (mosque) in Kota Gorontalo.  There is a mosque on every corner in Gorontalo, each one with its own personality, and I have come to orient myself in the city by which mosque I am passing.


In the city square stands a statue dedicated to Nani Wartabone, the local Gorontalo hero.  Historically, he is credited as being the leader who brought Gorontalo to independence, two whole years before the rest of the nation, fighting the Dutch with determination and bravery.  According to legend, he possessed powers such as teleportation, which helped him to defeat the colonizers.


This may not look like much, but crossing this jembatan (bridge) means you are headed out of the kota and onto a winding road that follows the shoreline, taking you past beautiful beaches and the bluest ocean you will ever see.  I have learned to be less afraid of the sea by heading out on this road and going snorkeling and swimming with friends, finding incredible beauty beneath the waves.  Next year, living in the concrete jungle that is Jakarta, I will miss the hot sand between my toes, and the peaceful silence you always find underwater.

Also pictured here is and angkot, one of the more popular forms of transportation in Indonesia.  Gorontalo doesn’t really have any angkot routes in the city, but there are several that go back and forth from the villages outside of the city.


One the subject of jembatan, this one holds a special place in my heart.  This marks the city limits in a different direction, on the way out to the village where one of my site mates lives, works, and just generally inspires me with all she does.  She has developed an amazing relationship with her community, and often shares this with other ETAs, myself included, and I cannot thank her enough for it.


This view was captured from yet another bridge, which also marks the edge of the city limits in yet another direction.  This road is by far my favorite for motorbike rides at the end of a stressful day: it leads up into the mountains, above the coast.  The road is steep and more than a little broken, but the views are incredible, the air cooler and fresher.  Nothing heals my soul faster than heading out this way.

While six photos and a little bit of babbling might be all that my computer, my schedule, and Gorontalo internet will allow, there is no way that these can encompass what the streets of Gorontalo have come to mean to me.  It can’t show how the sun bakes my skin if I am riding at midday, or the way the street of warungs (food stalls) smell of ikan bakar (grilled fish) and sate tuna every night.  It can’t express the insurmountable small joy of buying bensin (petrol) from a particularly sweet Ibu from one of the thousands of petrol stands you find on the side of the road, or the way riding through a downpour is simultaneously frustrating and and slightly dangerous, and one of the most fun and refreshing parts of living in Indonesia.

My time here has been defined by the ways and the reasons I have traversed these jalan (street): work, travel, weddings, shopping, the simple need to get on my motorbike and escape…  The better I know the city, the more it feels like home, and by this point I not only know the twists and turns and intersections, but many of them are embedded with memories of my adventures and misadventures.  Gorontalo no longer feels like home.  It is home.


A Mini Post on Mini Monkeys

On a recent Friday afternoon adventure with one of my site mates, we went hiking into the jungle near Gorontalo.  I love the jungles of Indonesia: there is just something so alive about them.

This particular jungle was special, because tucked into the heart of it were some of the cutest animals I have ever seen: tarsiers.

The tarsier is a tiny primate endemic to Sulawesi.  There are five or six different kinds, and the particular kind we got to see was a “new” species, tarsier ekor panjang, or long tailed tarsier.  Most people look for tarsiers in Northern Sulawesi, near Manado, but it turns out another one of Gorontalo’s big secrets is that it is also home to these adorable little buggers.

It’s days like this when I can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.  Because how many people get to see such wonderful creatures in person?


Meeting Whale Sharks: In Which I Am a Bad Tourist, and Learn Some Important Lessons

As my time in Gorontalo draws to a close, I have been trying to spend as much time as possible with the people who have made my time here such a positive experience, and this includes my students.  After English Club one day, a few students invited me to go with them that weekend to see whale sharks which had been congregating near a village just a little outside of the city.  The decision seemed easy: an opportunity to hang out with my kiddos outside of school and see whale sharks?  Yes, please.

One my site mates regularly dives in Gorontalo, and had told me that the set-up for this whole operation was less than ideal, which is fairly typical for Indonesian tourist attractions (it is still a developing country, after all).  I assumed, therefore, that I would be walking into great disorganization and questionable safety practices.


My kiddos on their way to see whale sharks for the first time.

I was right.  A haphazard tent was set up for guests to pay for their boats, and while we were required to wear life vests, most of the life vests did not fasten correctly (I think I annoyed some people by insisting that they find ones that did for my kids who couldn’t swim, but I don’t mind annoying people at all when my kid’s safety is at stake).  The ocean looked pretty peaceful at first, which reassured me, but once we past some rocks jutting out into the water, we could see the entire operation, and the chaos was a little terrifying.  Dozens of boats were in the cordoned-off area, with the men rowing them banging on the sides of their vessels, and the folks in the boats taking selfies with one another.  I assumed we wouldn’t see any sharks at all, with everything that was going on, since most animals do not like crowds and noise.

But then a huge, dark shadow passed under my boat.  And then another.  I couldn’t believe it: even with all the commotion, there were still whale sharks.


A whale shark searching for food from a boat captain.

Of course, this was because they were being fed.  For an additional fee, people could have their boat driver bring a bag of shrimp along with them, to attract the whale sharks to come up close to their boat.  This led to a lot of people screaming when the peaceful giants swam to the surface, and gave people the opportunity to touch them as well. I admit, though I fought with my driver at first, telling him it wasn’t good to touch the sharks (not that I really knew if that was true, but it seemed a good rule), later when more and more people were telling me it was, in fact, fine, I reached out and touched the next one that surfaced on the nose.

There’s a whole lot wrong with this picture.  Even before talking to my site mate afterwards, who knows far more about ocean life than I, and doing a little research of my own, there were some things I knew were not okay.  But there were others I did not figure out until after the fact, and that it not good.


A young whale shark passing under my boat.

I do want to take a moment to appreciate the beautiful parts of this experience.  Because it really was incredible.  Even though the sharks near the surface were smaller, younger animals, they were still massive.  It will never cease to amazing me that creatures so big eat tiny shrimp and krill, and the way they glide so gently through the water.  To see them in person, and so close, was absolutely amazing.  My girls still talk about it every day: it really is a kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But a lot of mistakes were made too.  Some of the mistakes I made were arguably out of my control, and I could not have prevented engaging in them unless I did not go with my students at all (which, quite frankly, might have been something worth considering, but that would need to be weighed against how much my students gained from seeing these majestic creatures in person).  But others could have been prevented if I had been responsible and done research ahead of time.  Lesson learned.


Whale sharks are known for being incredibly gentle, but this level of comfort with humans could be potentially dangerous.

Do I feel that some improvements should be made to the operation as it stands, so that people can be informed at site as to how to act around these amazing animals, and so that the operation itself is more wildlife-friendly?  Yes, absolutely.  But I also learned, far later than I should have, that I shouldn’t rely on that being the case, and should always do my own research before I go somewhere.

My mother always told me, “Learn from my mistakes, so you can go off and make your own instead of making the same ones as me.”  I’ve always tried to take the same approach with my students, and so I’ve talked about all I’ve learned since going with my English Club, as well as with other students who have heard about our trip.  It doesn’t discourage students from going and seeing the whale sharks themselves, and in many ways I don’t want it to, but I do have students tell me that they won’t feed them, and won’t touch them.  And that’s a start: they’re doing better than I did.


For more information about what you should and should not do when going to see whale sharks, check out this site.

Hoping All Their Wishes Come True: National WORDS Competition 2016

April 10th-14th was the National WORDS Competition, an annual English Speech and Talent Competition held by the Indonesia ETA Program.  WORDS was one of the highlights of my experience last year, and it was again this year.


Noni performing her speech.

All of the performances were fantastic.  The topic was “Three Wishes,” and the range of speeches that came out of that idea were inspiring.  Students spoke about personal wishes, and global wishes, and everything in between.  Their talents were just as incredible as their speeches.  Students sang, danced, performed screen printing on stage… I don’t think I ever smile so broadly as I do when I am at WORDS.  Part of me hopes that if I am ever in Indonesia outside of the Fulbright Program that I will be asked to be a judge, so that I can have the privilege of witnessing such talent, and hope that I never end up being assigned to that task, because I have no idea how the judges are able to select on winner from so many fabulous students.


New friends.

In the evenings, there were planned activities for the students and the ETAs.  The first night was Laser Tag and Glow-in-the-Dark Mini Golf.  It was even my first time playing laser tag, and I’m fairly certain everyone involved had a blast.  The second night’s activity was ice skating, but due to traffic only about half of the students were able to get to the rink before it closed for hockey practice.  Sadly, the girls from Gorontalo were among those who weren’t able to make it in time, but they headed off to supper with their new friends, and seemed to have a grand time nonetheless. To me, the time the students spend with one another reflects what is really so magical about WORDS: that it is an opportunity for students from all across this diverse archipelago to meet and exchange their own unique cultures, and develop friendships with people they might never have had the chance to meet otherwise.


The MAN Model girls.

My student from MAN Model, Noni, was extremely nervous about speaking in front of such a large crowd, and meeting so many new people, but she performed her speech bravely and beautifully, and warmed up to students who would become new friends rather quickly.  I was very proud of her, and I’m so glad she got to have this experience.

I may have mixed feelings about coming back to live in Jakarta next year, but there is one part of returning with this program that I know will be 100% amazing, and that is WORDS. No words can adequately express the privilege it has been to attend not one, but two WORDS competitions, and I look forward to the undeserved honor of being present for a third.


The whole crew of ETAs and Students.  So much talent.  So much love.

(Note: The only photo that is mine is that of myself and Noni together.  Thank you to AMINEF for the rest of them!)


Not Done Yet: I’m Coming Back to Indonesia


“Something like a team…”

I have just under a month left in this grant, my second as an ETA in Indonesia.  That brings on all kinds of mixed emotions, which I’m sure I’ll address further in a future blog, but it also leads to the question: What’s next?

What’s next is that I am returning to Indonesia yet again, though in a different position, and in a very different place.

I will be working as the RC (Researcher/Coordinator) of the Indonesia ETA Program.  As the Coordinator, I will work with the AMINEF Team[1] and the new SETAs (Senior ETAS, the new name for Returners, the position I held this year), to develop programming for the Pre-Departure and In-Country Orientations, the Mid-Year Conference, and the ever-delightful WORDS.  As the Researcher, I will be conducting research on the program itself, in order to help the program to continue to improve[2].  My research (provided it passes the Visa process) will focus on the relationship between ETAs and their Counterparts/Co-teachers: how that relationship contributes to the success of extracurricular programming, and how that relationship can best be supported through programming developed by our supporting commission, AMINEF.

Some of the initial planning and preparation for the next cohort, and for my research, has already begun, and I am both excited and terrified for the day I take on these responsibilities full-time.  After two years as an ETA, I feel I have a wealth of experiences and lessons learned from both of my cohorts that will allow me to be of service to the new batch of ETAs, and I am glad my time spent here will be so directly useful for others.  Are there moments when I panic a little and am convinced I am the worst person for the job?  Most certainly.  But I feel that way about teaching some days as well, and I feel I’ve done a pretty good job in the various classrooms I’ve been in here.    And while I’ve never before identified as a researcher (I’m a teacher, through and through), I’m looking forward to (with a little trepidation, to be sure), trying on a new hat.  And through it all, I won’t be alone.  I have a great team of SETAs, the support of past ETAs/RCs, and, perhaps most importantly, I’ll be sitting right in the middle of the AMINEF American Team, who have seen many cohorts come and go, and have endless insight.

As the RC, I will work and live in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.  Jakarta is a huge, sprawling, metropolis, and while this will not be my first time living in a capital city (I did a semester abroad in London my sophomore year of college), Jakarta is a special kind of crazy, and this farm girl is still rather intimidated by the prospect of living there.  But the more time I spend there (we are in and out all the time as ETAs), the more manageable the city seems to be, and complete with all the events, opportunities, and distractions any large city has, I know for certain that I will never be bored.

Being the RC in Jakarta…  It’s all a little familiar, and completely new.  It’s thrilling in all kinds of way, the good, the bad, and the fantastic.  And it’s what’s next.

[1] AMINEF, or the American Indonesian Education Foundation, is the commission in charge of all Fulbright Programs in Indonesia.

[2] To clarify, this does not make me a Fulbright Researcher.  My research position comes through AMINEF, not through Fulbright. In fact, in this new position I am technically not even a Fulbrighter, though I am still working directly with the Fulbright Program.

Unexpected Solo Trip (That Was Not Solo At All)

During the Ujian Nasional (National Exam), I had made plans with several friends from my program to go to Tanjung Puting, a Natural Park in Central Kalimantan.  But on the day we were to head out of Jakarta, our first meeting point, and into the hutan (jungle) of Borneo, we learned our flight was at first delayed, and then later canceled because the plane was broken, and the trip had to be postponed.  Thankfully, most people were still able to make the trip happen, by flying into a different city in Kalimantan first and then flying from there to Pankalan Bun.  But for two friends and I, this was not possible because of when our schools would re-start classes.  So we collected our refunds, and went looking for the fastest and cheapest ticket out of the Jakarta airport (we had been there for almost eight hours at that point, and were ready to be moving again).

That ticket turned out to be to Solo, or Surakarta, a small city in Central Java.  We didn’t know all that much about Solo, except that there were a few keraton (palaces) and that it is famous for its batik.  That was good enough for the three of us, so we hopped on the next available flight, found ourselves a hotel when we got there, and made plans to explore our unplanned destination.  Fortunately for us, one of the good people of the AMINEF[1] team was born and raised in Solo, so we sent him a WhatsApp message asking where we ought to go, and he gave us a whole list of places to check out.


The dining room of Keraton Mangkunegaran

Our first day, we allowed ourselves a somewhat late start after our harried journey the day before, and stayed within the city limits.  Our first stop was to Keraton Mangkunegaran, one of the two main palaces in Solo.  Our guide was charming and informative, and while the palace grounds were lovely, perhaps even more interesting was the collection of gifts from various countries inside the main chamber.


One of the many stalls at the Antique Market.

Just down the street from Mangkunegaran was Solo’s famous antique market.  Haphazardly-organized and full of surprises, I could have spent hours exploring its hidden gems.  My favourite find, though, was a stack of old photographs: pictures of children going to school, farmers working their fields, young couples rowing boats together, old women telling stories; pictures of weddings, funerals, graduations, and military parades; snapshots into the recent history of Indonesia, the sort that don’t make it into the history books I pour over, but which tell arguably a more poignant story.  I didn’t buy any, but it was sorely tempting.


Trying my hand at batik cat.  (It was fun, but I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon.)

We ended our explorations at the Batik Museum of Danar Hadi, which was by far the best museum I have been to yet in Indonesia, and probably one of my personal favorites ever.  Danar Hadi is one of the most popular brands of batik in Indonesia, and their founder has a private collection of over one thousand pieces of batik.  A few hundred of these are displayed in the museum behind their main shop, and with the help of a well-informed guide, you can explore batik from throughout the history of Indonesia, and from various regions.  There was even one section of the tour which allowed us to watch the process of batik being made, and try out hand at some batik cat (batik made with a special stamp).  I have always loved batik, and while I’ve learned quite a bit about it since coming to Indonesia, especially when I lived on Java, but this museum showed me I had only begun to scratch the surface of all there is to know of this beautiful fabric.

Our second day, we headed outside of Solo to see what the surrounding countryside had to offer.  We started at Candi Cetho, a Hindu Temple in the mountains surrounding Solo, one of the last Hindu temples still in use on Java.  Candi Cetho might be the most beautiful temple I have seen thus far in Indonesia, with the way it’s various levels climb gently up the hillside, and because we went on a morning when the fog pervaded everything around us, it only seemed more magical than it already was.


Candi Cetho.

After Candi Cetho, we went to our second temple, Candi Sukuh.  Candi Sukuh is most famous for its somewhat scandalous carvings, and while the temple itself was under construction when we went, we still had plenty of fun making up stories for the effigies that had been carefully placed beside the temple, waiting for when they could be returned to their rightful place.

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Candi Sukuh.


Good travel companions are just as important as the destination.

It began to rain rather hard while we were at Candi Sukuh, so we stopped for lunch at Ndoro Donker Tea Plantation, where the food was not so important as the delicious tea we were able to sample.  While most of my favourite Indonesian dishes come from Sulawesi, where I am placed now, I do often miss Javanese Tea.  As the rain came pouring down, we wrapped our hands around warm mugs of tea and found perfect contentment.


So. Much. Green.

Nearby there was also a waterfall, which we clambered down over three hundred steps through lush jungle to reach.  The penjual sayur (vegetable sellers) have told me that Gorontalo has been even drier than usual this year, and everything has been a dry kind of yellow for some time now.  Seeing so much green while in Solo filled my soul with gladness.

We only had two days in Solo, and then had to return to our sites, and I hope that I will be able to return someday, but nonetheless, if a plane is grounded and your original plans for travel tidak jadi (don’t end up happening)… I have to tell you, Solo makes for an excellent unexpected trip.


[1] AMINEF is the American Indonesian Education Foundation, the commission that runs the Fulbright Program in Indonesia, for those who may not know.

Benteng Otanaha


One of the watch towers at Benteng Otanaha.

One of the few tourist sites listed in the Lonely Planet for Gorontalo is a place called “Benteng Otanaha” (benteng being the Indonesian word for fort).  I have passed the entrance to this tempat wisata (tourist site) many times on my way to visit one of my sitemates, but have never found the time to actually stop and see what the fuss is all about.

So when my school canceled classes the Friday before the national exam, and the other English teachers asked if I had time to jalan-jalan (travel around[1]) with them, and maybe go to Benteng Otanaha, I most assuredly said yes.


The co-teachers on some of the stairs we did actually climb.

We left in the morning, so that we could be there before it became too hot—and it is sweltering by about ten o’clock in Gorontalo—in the car of one of the teachers.  There are over three hundred stairs leading up to Benteng Otanaha, where it overlooks the surrounding area.  But, in part because we had limited time (there is a special Muslim midday prayer on Fridays, and my teachers did not want to miss it), and in part because the idea of willingly making yourself sticky and gross from sweat is a somewhat baffling idea for most grown Indonesians, we bypassed all of those stairs and drove to the top.  I’ll have to go back and count the stairs at a later date.

The fort, believed to have been built by the Portuguese, itself is not very big, and is essentially made up of three watch towers.  But the stone walls are simultaneously sturdy and crumbling, the way any historical site should be, and scrambling up and down them with my co-teachers (taking plenty of photos along the way, of course), made for quite the enjoyable excursion.


Taking in the view.

It also gave my teachers the opportunity to regale me with tales of the bravery of Nani Wartebone, the local hero who was instrumental in helping Gorontalo gain independence from the Dutch[2].  I have heard all kinds of stories about Nani Wartebone since coming here, from the believable (he was born and raised in a desa right near one of my sitemate’s schools), to the not-so-believable (some say he was able to teleport, and that’s how he was able to beat the Dutch).  The man who has become a legend here did much of his fighting in the area around Benteng Otanaha, so the site is especially significant for a place that has been free from colonial rule for less than one hundred years.


Danau Limboto, as seen from Benteng Otanaha.

Because Benteng Otanaha is so high up on the hills, it offers a wonderful view of the surrounding areas, including Danau (Lake) Limboto.  The lake used to be much larger than it is now, and from Otanaha my teachers pointed out the old boundaries; in many cases, there are now whole neighborhoods where there used to be water, because those areas have been dry for so long.  It was a sad reminder as to the damage humans can do to their environment.  Nonetheless, what remains of the lake is still beautiful.

We finished our jalan-jalan in time to enjoy a delicious lunch of ikan bakar (grilled fish) together, before heading back to our respective homes.  My co-teachers have become something like family here, and it was fabulous to spend a morning with them outside of school.


The fam.  A little sweaty, but still happy as can be.

[1] Jalan is the word for “walk,” but when it is doubled like this, it can mean almost any activity that can be done outdoors: going for a walk, wandering around, traveling…

[2] Gorontalo was actually independent from Dutch control two years before the rest of Indonesia, and there was even a still-often-talked-about visit from Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, to make sure that Gorontalo was actually going to become part of the rest of the nation.

Teaching, Learning, Growing: The ELF Workshop

One of the new initiatives for the ETA program this year is a required Teaching Workshop, preferably in collaboration with an English Language Fellow (ELF).  In Indonesia, ELFs are associated with the Regional English Language Office (RELO), and their primary job is to teach in various tertiary educational institutions (most of the ELFs in Indonesia are in universities, but there are also those in Police Academies and the like).  But while most of their time is spent at their host institution, schools and such can also request a workshop held by an ELF in their Region.


Listening as my kepala sekolah (headmaster) gives an opening speech.

There is no ELF in Gorontalo, but there is one in Manado: Jeremy, who has been in and out of Indonesia for years now, has taught in all sorts of contexts, and is all-around the kind of awesome I can only dream of being.  Jeremy was also at our Mid-Year Enrichment Conference (MYEC) during my first grant, so I already had some idea as to how great he is, and it was a pleasure to work with him again.

I’ve assisted in the implementation of various conferences before, but I’ve never been anywhere close to heading one, and so as my two sitemates and I planned the conference together, there were certainly quite a few learning curves.  But I think we all gained a lot from the experience, and the workshop ended up being really helpful for all the teachers who attended.


Teachers listen as Jeremy describes a speaking activity.

Because my school is most centrally located, we held the workshop there.  My teachers helped to plan much of the details, including when the workshop should be held, food (you simply cannot have an event in Indonesia without food), and inviting teachers from other schools to attend the workshop.  My sitemates and I chose incorporating speaking into the classroom as the subject of the workshop, and communicated with Jeremy to plan what we wanted out of sessions.  Our workshop, cleverly entitled “Teaching Dynamic Effective Speaking” (courtesy of Jeremy), was well on the road to fruition.

There were plenty of bumps along the way: many of elements we thought had been planned well ahead had actually been forgotten on the wayside by various parties and ended up being completed last minute (to an extent, this happens when planning any kind of event, but I do feel jam karet was somewhat to blame[1]), and only about two-thirds of the teachers whom we had been told were coming actually came to the event.



Jeremy looks on as teachers try one of the activities he had explained.

Nevertheless, through some heroic efforts of everyone involved, everything managed to jalan dengan lacar (this literally means “walk with fluency,” and means “to go well”; it’s one of my favorite phrases in Indoensian). We had twenty-six teachers at the workshop, from fifteen different schools. Jeremy’s sessions—which, while they also talked about some of the more theoretical reasons as to why speaking should be incorporated into the language classrooms and what a speaking objective looks like, mostly focused on practical ways to incorporate speaking into the classroom (and having the teachers actually try the activities, a hands-on approach that is certainly effective)—were an absolute hit.  While I cannot speak for all the teachers who attended, I can certainly say that my own teachers were very excited to change various things that we do in class in order to further encourage speaking.

All in all, the Teachers Workshop was probably one of the coolest things I’ve been part of since becoming an ETA.  As hard as we strive to do so, times when I truly feel I’ve been able to benefit those I am working with are rare indeed.  This workshop was one of those moments.

[1] Jam karet means “rubber time,” and it the idea that time is flexible.  Sometimes I can find jam karet somewhat positive, as it means people here are much more forgiving if a person is, say, caught in traffic and might be late for a meeting, than the average American might be.  But most of the time, jam karet  means that pretty much nothing starts on time, and makes planning anything an exercise in patience.