Halloween at SMAN 10 Malang

As an ETA, I spend a lot of my time in classrooms fulfilling my role as a Teaching Assistant: planning activities to help students actually use English in realistic ways, working one-on-one with students to help them improve their English writing and speaking skills, and explaining the pain-in-the-bum subtleties of the English Language that sometimes puzzle even my co-teachers, not to mention native speakers.

However, the other part of my role as an ETA is that of a cultural ambassador.  This role has led me to share some of my personal experiences with the small cultural anecdotes found in the student’s textbooks, to have long conversations with students over plates of nasi or mie about the similarities and differences between America and Indonesia that I have noticed thus far, and to give presentations to entire campuses about diversity in America.

One of the aspects of American culture my students seem to be most interested in is the holidays that are somewhat unique to America.  I have probably answered hundreds of questions about Independence Day and Thanksgiving, but the holiday with which my students seem most fascinated is Halloween.  So when October came around, I decided I needed to find a way to bring Halloween to my students.

It is important to note that my even being permitted to plan any kind of event for Halloween is a testament to how privileged I am in my placement.  Many ETAs were not permitted to introduce their students to Halloween, because it was perceived as contradictory to the standards of their area’s most prominent religion, be that a form of Islam or of Christianity.  This is not limited to Indonesia, of course, and I had a number of wonderful conversations with various students and teachers throughout the month of October about how, due to the diversity of religions and other belief systems in America, not all Americans celebrate Halloween, and those who do celebrate Halloween do not do so in the same way.

Because I was initially worried about how Halloween would be perceived here, I merely proposed the idea of carving Jack O’ Lanterns with students.  However, when I brought my idea forward, the students, as well as the adults, who are part of the dorm committee begged to be able to have costumes and scary stories as well.  Though I worried I would not be able to put together such additions in time, I could not bear to tell them no.  And so my small Halloween celebration grew.

The day of the Halloween Party came.  I had not had time to shop for a particularly complicated costume, so I dug into my closet for ideas, and eventually utilized the many scarves I had brought with me, as well as a deck of Harry Potter playing cards, to become a fortune teller.  It is not the best costume I have ever developed, but considering the tiny size of my wardrobe here, I’m quite proud of how it turned out.  I quickly practiced a favourite scary story from my childhood, grabbed my shopping bag full of candy for trick-or-treating, and headed to the party.

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Of course, our Halloween celebration was not identical to those found in the United States, but the spirit of Halloween still permeated the event.  We were unable to acquire pumpkins to carve, and so used watermelons as an alternative, and my students’ artistic abilities were able to shine, quite literally, though the Jack O’ Lantern carving.  I was secretly quite glad that I was unable to carve my own in between helping groups of students, for my haphazard carving skills usually produce a terrifying result, even if I’m aiming for adorable.  I would have been embarrassed to place such a disaster next to the work of my students.  It was hard to believe that they had never carved a Jack O’ Lantern before, the way they expertly sketched and carved out classic Halloween faces.

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Those students who dressed up had costumes that put mine to shame.  They had put together amazing outfits, and even used home-made face paint and marker to create scars, hollow eyes, and even dripping blood.  While many students came to the festivities dressed as vampires and zombies, a number of them also came as traditional Indonesian ghosts, such as Pocong (pronounced “Poh chong”), which I have often heard called the Indonesia jumping ghost.  Some costumes were adorable, and some were terrifying.  Many of the students also utilized their costumes later on, while they were telling scary stories, most of which were original compositions that combined Eastern and Western influences.

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I had managed to create enough activities to include the entirety of my second campus, and my site mate even came to the party, and I found myself more than once just standing with a stupid smile on my face, so grateful that my students’ eagerness to participate in Halloween was able to create a magical experience out of what—due to various complications, changes, and setbacks—was mostly last-minute planning on my part.  Throughout the night, students thanked me again and again for their “first Halloween Party!” but I told them honestly that is was they who needed to be thanked.  I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of wonderful Halloween celebrations in America, full of fright and fun and in the company of friends that I love; but I have never before seen the kind of enthusiasm for Halloween night that I saw from my students, and they may have managed to do Halloween better than many Americans.  I will never again be able to go into the Halloween season without thinking of my incredible students here, and the greatest Halloween experience anyone could have asked for.

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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.

Welcome to Six Star Bahasa Babbling: Orientation Part One

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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