A Little Bit of Everything

It has been quite a long time since I’ve last written a post… and I’m sorry to keep you all waiting! First it was because I was sick for a week, then it was because I was finally getting really busy with school, later it was because I had too much free time on my hands (and new Wi-Fi in my dorm) but finally I have struck a good balance of busyness and downtime that I can reflect on the last month of adventures… and what a whirlwind of adventures they have been!

From my week of being sick: Although it was a bummer to be sick, I also feel like I’ve had pretty good luck since I’ve been here and was surprised that it took me until my second month here for some part of Indonesia to hit my body. While it was a week of binge watching all of the Harry Potter movies and spending little time outside of my dorm, it also showed me that I have people in my corner that are looking out for me.

When I texted Miss Alisa, my counterpart and go-to person at my school while I’m here, she immediately responded and before I could object, she said Pak Jemmy, the principal of my school, and herself were on their way to my dorm to pick me up and drive me to the hospital. While I didn’t think I needed that level of care it was really beneficial in two ways: I knew that my school and my main (well, only) community here was ready to take care of me and I learned how to navigate the hospital system so that in the future if something more severe happens to me (knock on wood) that I know exactly where to go and what to do. It also made me more aware of how lucky I am in both the school I was placed in and the accessibility of healthcare in Manado; some ETA’s have only seen their principals a few times since they’ve been here and have to travel very far to get to any kind of hospital.

From Halloween at school: Halloween used to be an exciting holiday when I was little: I vividly remember going with Berit to Play Time to pick out felt and other materials to make my penguin and Christmas tree costumes that I would proudly wear Fayerweather’s Halloween celebration and then out to trick-or-treat. But the last few Halloweens I didn’t put a lot of time or energy into making anything homemade and instead looked forward to what part of Hamilton’s campus I would go to drink cheap liquor with my friends.

This past Halloween, however, was unexpectedly wonderful. Even though Indonesia does not celebrate the holiday, part of my role as an ETA is to bring American culture into my classroom. So the day before Halloween I went to the store and bought over 2,000 pieces of candy to bring into school. I didn’t exactly know how I would celebrate it—if I would give candy to only the classes I taught on Monday or to all of my classes throughout the week or to the entire school. So I decided to buy more so I wouldn’t be caught empty handed.

handing out treats to my students as they tell me what they’ve come dressed up as


I gave fun quizzes to the students where they would have to choose the correct Halloween-based answers to questions such as: A hollowed out pumpkin with a face cut in one side and a candle put inside is called a) Jack-o-lantern; b) Tom-o-lantern; c) Miss Pumpkin. Later, I sat in front of the classroom and told the students to imagine that the whiteboard behind me was my house. I then had them come up individually or in small groups to simulate trick-or-treating. Each student had to say, “trick-or-treat” and then tell me what (imaginary) costumes they were wearing before I let them pick out their treats. Many students came as Spiderman, other superheroes, witches, dogs, cats and characters from Halloween movies. It was really wonderful—the students had a lot of fun with the quiz and discussing with their friends what costumes they wanted to wear. I also had a really fun time seeing all of my students get excited about the activities. It reminded me of how I used to view the holiday and while my students are in high school, their unfamiliarity with the traditions made them view it as eagerly and innocently as I used to.


From the study tour with Benzar: Three weekends ago I went on a study tour (field trip) with all 300+ of the twelfth graders at my school as well as a dozen or so of the teachers. We visited a sulfurous lake, Bukit Kasih (The Hill of Love) and Lake Tondano, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) in North Sulawesi. It was at the same time one of the hottest, sweatiest days I’ve had so far here and also one of the most cultural and community building. I spent the day interacting with students, taking many selfies with them, and laughing and joking around with my co-teachers. I haven’t had a lot of chances to spend time with my students and teachers outside of school, so this was a wonderful and eye-opening experience as to how I can connect with my school’s community outside of the classroom.


a view of Bukit Kasih with two faces on the side of the mountain
eating delicious corn-on-the-cob at Tondano lake with Megan and teachers from Eben Haezar
Sitting on a boat looking out on the beautiful Tondano Lake


From playing soccer with my teachers: Two weeks ago I went to an indoor futsal place to play soccer with some of the teachers from my school. Two of my co-teachers were there, as well as both of the sports teachers at the school, and three or four other teachers. All of the men wore their official indoor cleats and high socks with jerseys, while my co-teacher wore a long sleeve shirt and I had sneakers on. The first half an hour while we were waiting for everyone to show up, I passed and took shots with Miss Alisa and the sports teachers. One of them looked very professional, warming up by doing stretches along the sidelines, while I was so hot before I even started that I simply drank water as my warm-up.

mid-game selfie (Miss Alisa is on the left, Miss JC in the middle, two of my co-teachers)

When more teachers and a few students showed up, we split up into teams and began playing. It was such a wonderful way to laugh, joke, and exercise with my fellow teachers. Sometimes the ball would go right between Miss Alisa’s legs, or Mr. Farley would get super close to the net and then trip over the ball. Most of them were really good at the sport, which made it even more fun, adding a bit of playful competition into the mix. While the goals were pretty even during the first part of the match, soon my team started scoring left and right. It reminded me of how fun it is to play soccer on a team and that it’s one of the things that can transcend language barriers. I think the final score was something like 28-8 where I scored at least ten of them haha!

post-game photoshoot


From living minutes away from island paradise: Two out of the last three weeks I’ve gone to Bunaken Island where Ive been snorkeling, fishing, and soaking in the beauty of the place I get to call home for the next six months. Since I’ve passed the three-month mark I sometimes forget that I can still be a tourist and do exciting things that are out of my usual routine. So a few weeks ago after making friends with some Indonesians, Megan and I took a boat out on the water to go fishing for the first time. I forgot what it felt like to feel those first little nibbles at the end of the line and then to feel the weight of the line tense as a fish hooks on. I caught a beautiful fish (I forget the kind) with yellow, red, and orange fins. The shape reminded me of an angelfish. I excitedly reeled it in as it put up more of a fight than I thought it would, and then proudly held the rod as one of the guys on the boat captured the moment. Later in the day I used a hand line to catch a few smaller fish, although I don’t think it was very fair because they brought us to a place that was better for snorkeling, where you could see the fish through the clear water and simply had to drop some bait in the pool of fish.

fishing in the ocean near Bunaken


Me and Megan in our fashionable swimming outfits before snorkelling


Yesterday, Megan and I had a friend from our program visit us in Manado who is teaching in Malang, Java. We all rented a private boat for the day from the same guys from the last adventure and they took us to three or four different places for snorkeling. All of them were so amazing: the deep shades of blue and the lines of teal in the water were stunning even before we dipped our heads underneath the water. I saw hundreds of fish of many different species, shapes, sizes, and colors. Best of all, I swam with seven or eight sea turtles at different times, each one with a unique shell; one had a large barnacle on its back, while another had two small fish swimming underneath it the entire time. It was such a magical experience to follow the turtles in the water, diving down a little to swim right by their side with no sound coming from above and only blue water in between.

Swimming with turtles!!


We then headed to Siladen Island, but a different part of the island than I had been to before. It reminded me of the islands that contestants of Survivor are put on: nothing there besides beautiful twining trees, some shells and hermit crabs and a surreal view of the water. I felt like I was on my own private island for a little while, playing in the waves and relaxing on the flour-like sand. It really was a wonderful experience that restored my travel-bug a bit, pushing me to want to explore new parts of Manado that I’ve never been to before.

On beautiful Siladen Island with no one around


To moving forward: So yeah, tomorrow is my last day teaching this semester. It hardly seems real that I’ll have completed an entire semester of teaching already. While my classes got off to a slow start, they picked up considerably these last few weeks and I really enjoyed getting more time in the classroom and more one-on-one time with many of my students. While I’m a bit sad that I won’t be back in the classroom until mid-January, I’m excited to devote more time and energy after I have a (hopefully) relaxing and exciting month+ off , spending two weeks in Thailand and exploring more of Manado and North Sulawesi.


Back in the Classroom


I remember saying to myself a few years ago that I would never want to teach high school students. I’ve always enjoyed being around young children, but I didn’t think I would have the strength or temperament to teach fourteen and fifteen year olds. This is mostly due to the fact that I was not always the most well behaved high school student and I would not have wanted to put up my sixteen-year old self as a twenty-two year old or any aged teacher. However, now that I’ve been in the classroom for two weeks now, I officially take it back!! Each class that I find myself teaching is full of enthusiastic, energetic, hilarious and bright young adults that remind me that even though they can be a lot sometimes, they’re all students that deserve my full attention and commitment to them as a teacher and at the bottom of any high schoolers are young adults who are trying to figure themselves out. Or at least that’s what high school was for me.

I finally got a chance to sit down and read some of the 100+ cards that I had students write with facts about themselves. Although I gave them examples to list such as family members, hobbies, favorite foods, places in Manado and goals for English class this year, many of them wrote even more personal things that surprised me and put many smiles on my face. I advertised the activity as a way for me to learn their names but I’m so happy that they wrote what they did because it makes me a lot more motivated to form relationships with as many individuals as I can: they’re all so wonderfully different, full of different goals, worries and senses of humor. Although not everyone’s English is correct all of the time (and I’m starting to notice more that mine is not either!!) their ideas are getting across and reading their ideas with some errors makes their writing more endearing.

Some of my other favorites:

  • As a teenager I don’t like to socialize with people, antisocial teenager, you can say. I just don’t want to blend with society, so forgive me if I’m too shy
  • I love playing basketball, I’m not arrogant, care to each other. My favorite food is fried chicken
  • I can speak English in American, Australian, and British accent
  • I’m 16, healthy, and alive. I don’t like veggies, unless one day it will taste like chicken then I’ll eat those green things. I’m 5”1 (I’m not short, I’m just a packaged size of fun)

These responses are only from the first activity I did with six of my classes so I still have over 100 more cards to read…I can’t wait!

Some of my students posing with their name cards


Taking a selfie with some of my students after class

Last night I went to the senior high school’s choir concert, which was one of their performances before thirty-two of the members go to Korea in two weeks to compete in the international competition there. Although I had little idea of what the concert would be like, I did have some expectations because they have apparently gotten first place the last five years. Seeing as it’s an international competition, I figured they had to be pretty good… but they weren’t just good or great, they were exceptional.

They began with a few songs in Indonesian that I was mesmerized by but then also sang many songs in English. Since my school is first and foremost Christian, at least 90% of the songs were somehow related to Jesus. All of the members were dressed in red outfits and most of the girls were wearing high heels (according to Megan who has been in choirs all throughout her life, this is a big no-no). From the moment they sang their first note, emotions welled up inside me. Even though I’ve only been apart of this community for a month, I felt so joyful and thankful listening to the students (some of whom I teach) singing so expressively and beautifully. I think I felt more emotional because I was so happy to not just be a guest at the event, but to feel like I was somehow a part of it.

While all of the singers were great, one girl who is in twelfth grade had the most jaw-dropping voice I think I’ve ever heard in my entire life. She sang most of the songs in a register I didn’t know was possible and at the end of the second to last song she hit five notes, all of which I’m pretty sure could have literally blown the roof off of the place. It was truly a sound I cannot put into words, but that’s okay. I felt like the whole concert was something I could have only fully captured in the moment with each note lasting in its own magical eternity.

The Senior High School Choir about to take a bow (I had a front row seat, how lucky am I!)


After the concert was over, all of the teachers who were at the concert joined the students on stage for a picture (I’m on the far left in the white top). The student with the incredible voice is the only girl standing on the floor in front mid-flip of her hair

So yeah, being back in the classroom has been such a wonderful thing these last few weeks. While I’m sure I have many long, hot days ahead of me, I’m excited to be working with such wonderful young minds that will undoubtedly make me a better educator and shape my character. I feel lucky to be in a situation where I can positively influence students in both their English language skills and as young adults trying to navigate the world of high school. While I’m in a country I’ve never been a student in before, I was only in their (relative) shoes six years ago and I believe I have something to offer.

Settling Into My New Home

One week ago I travelled from Bandung, Java to Manado, North Sulawesi. After two and a half weeks of intense learning during my orientation I am now “home”… Or at least trying to start to make this place my home. Although I left the United States and arrived in Indonesia five weeks ago, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been here for that long (although some days have felt like weeks) because I’m not settled into the routine of why I came here: to teach English.

This past week for most of the other ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) in my cohort was the first real week of teaching classes. However, at my school the students were taking their midterm tests for this semester so I didn’t teach any classes. While I’m a bit envious of others who haves started working with the students that they’ll be teaching for the next eight months, I also know that I’ll be there soon enough (tomorrow, in fact) and I really appreciated this last week of exploring Manado and getting my room a lot more set up and home-like.

While I wasn’t teaching this last week, that didn’t keep me from being plenty busy. Since the paperwork for my limited stay visa wasn’t finished when I left the States, I came on a social/cultural visa, which is only valid for two months. So I was busy going to immigration Monday through Thursday with my counterpart, getting all of the necessary paperwork in order with many signatures from many different people. One day, we went on this wild goose chase, asking around ten different people where the local officer was until we were finally directed to a one-room house/shack along a row of other houses/shacks pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me a little bit of the community in Costa Rica where everyone knew everyone and nobody was in a rush to do anything. So while I was confused how we were ever going to find this mysterious man, the teachers I was with clearly weren’t fazed and it eventually all worked out. I’m currently waiting on what is hopefully the last part of the process: I turned in three separate copies of all of my materials to the immigration office on Thursday and they told me to come back on Monday. But I know I shouldn’t be surprised if I have more hoops to jump through…

There is one other ETA at my site: a girl from Maryland named Megan. The first week in Indonesia she was living in Manado but around thirty minutes from my kost (dorm). However, once we got back from orientation she immediately moved into the same one as me because she had unwanted roommates (rats) and her overall living conditions were a lot worse. It has been wonderful getting to explore the area with a friend and while I still want to do some things on my own outside of school, it’s really great to have a buddy: especially these first few weeks where everything is new to both of us and we can share our excitement with one another.

One of the most interesting things that I noticed right away was the attention I got when I was with Megan, who is Caucasian, versus when I was on my own. My first week in Manado I thought that I was getting a lot of stares and people were curious about me, but the first time I went outside with Megan I realized how different I had it… Different, I say, because being unnoticed and noticed both come with their ups and downs. We walked from our kost around fifteen minutes to a row of small waterfront restaurants, a walk I had taken a few times before on my own. The amount of stares, people trying to talk to us in broken English, and overall attention that we got was really overwhelming and startling. I asked her if she noticed it as much as I had; she said that it’s this way whenever she steps outside of her room. It made me appreciate how more easily I can blend in if I want—sometimes it’s nice to be recognized as being different. However, I can’t imagine what it will be like for Megan these next eight months where, whether she wants it or not, she will get stared at everywhere she goes.

It also makes me curious what people think of us when we are together. Some of the questions I imagine people have go something like:

  • What is that white girl doing with that Chinese girl?
  • Is that an Indonesian girl who’s giving a tour of Manado to the white girl?
  • Why can she speak English so well?
  • Why can’t she speak Indonesian?
  • Why can’t she speak Chinese?
  • How could they possibly know each other?

Megan has been a great ally in helping me deal with these kinds of situations and checks in to see how I feel about it. Almost daily I get asked where I’m from and when I say America, they always look surprised. “But you look Chinese,” they say (this is when some of them pull their eyes to the sides of their faces.) I think my reaction and how angry/annoyed/irritated/unfazed/amused/bored depends 75% on my current mood and 25% on if they are curious about my background or if they are telling me that I’m supposed to be a certain way: “You don’t act like a Chinese woman.” Well yes, that’s because I’m not, I’m an American woman.

As a cultural ambassador I do understand that many people are confused because Americans can be of all different races and ethnicities, but in a place so remote and diverse within itself (each region has its own local language and people look very different), if you don’t look Indonesian people are very confused and interested in you because it’s something that they rarely see. So I’m taking this part of my journey on a moment-to-moment basis where I’m trying as best as I can to give people the benefit of the doubt and to make them more aware of how diverse America is and how it is not just filled with the types of people Indonesians see in Western movies.

Anyways, my last week here has gone splendidly, even with the new things I’m trying to get used to and figure out. I found a place to snorkel just a ten-minute walk from my kost, which happens to be the same place where Megan and I have already become regulars at for lunch. Although Bunaken Island has thousands of more species of fish and coral, it’s pretty amazing that I am able to swim and see fish and coral basically out my front door. I’m so glad I brought a snorkel, mask, and little neoprene booties (thanks, Mom!) because I was able to jump in right away. I saw this gigantic blue starfish that looked like it had been painted in a pastel-blue—its arms (or legs?) were rounded at the tips, unlike the pointed ones I have seen on pinkish starfish in Maine.

Around twenty minutes into our swim, it started to lightly rain… which then turned into a full-on downpour. The fog completely covered Bunaken Island and the volcanoes surrounding it and soon it engulfed all of the buildings along the shore. It was such a magical moment. It felt like we were swimming in the middle of the ocean all alone with nothing and no one for miles. Something about being in water when it’s raining is just breathtaking, especially with all of the big drops spilling onto the top layer of the ocean and making thousands of small circles around me. Megan and I were so happy and couldn’t stop thinking how lucky we are to live in a place where we can do this anytime we want to. I hope places and things like these don’t become routine to me: I never want to take these experiences for granted, because while nine months are bound to seem like an eternity sometimes, when it’s all over I know I’ll have wanted to make the most of living by the ocean and sipping coconuts and walking in the rain.

Megan and I took the goofiest site-mate pictures… This pose didn’t past for too long…!




It doesn’t look like it, but I could barely hold it together for this one… we were in front of the room with 100+ people watching us pose for this!
Me with Miss Alisa, my counterpart, who joined us in Bandung for the last four days of orientation
My first co-teaching experience with one of my co-teachers at Eben Haezar (my counterpart, as well)… it went really well! All of the students were wonderful.
All of the ETAs and their co-teachers posing for a silly picture… what a bunch of characters!


Helping students with their work with the past tense during the mock class I taught in Bandung with my co-teacher


Trying to encourage the students with a friendly smile
Megan and I got massages– didn’t realize we’d be put in the same room but we went with it! Had some major laughing fits during the first ten minutes as some guy in another room was continuously burping (it’s not considered rude here but still takes some getting used to).


Made a new friend in our kost, Nia (sitting across from me). She took us to a delicious restaurant called “Tuna House” and then treated us to dessert at Sumo Boo, an incredibly cute place with animal faces on the ice cream.












A Constant Adventure

I’ve been in Indonesia for less than three weeks now. That being said, it feels more like three months with each day having done more than I’ve done in a week during college and this summer. While everything I’ve done so far is new, informative, and a learning experience, I also feel as though I’m living one long day, with experiences blending into one another and sleep hard to come by. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a different paced life style that I haven’t led since what seems like high school.

‘The grass is always greener’ is a phrase I’ve definitely felt this past week and I keep having to remind myself that when I think of the hardships I’ve already faced here, there would be hardships to face no matter where I am in the world. So, being able to take this journey on the other side of the world with a whole new group of people—when I really stop and think about it, seems like the perfect place to be right now.

I’ve been in Bandung for ten days now for the two and a half week orientation for myself and the twenty-six other Fulbright English Teacher Assistants. Each day’s activities/lessons/informational sessions begin at 8:00AM and usually wrap up around 5:30PM with an hour for lunch and a fifteen-minute break somewhere in there. While I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered the long day with new information packed into every session, I’ve grown more familiar with what is expected out of me and I’m surprising myself each day in my ability of balancing spending time learning, making new friendships, and taking time to sit back and soak in the richness of this exciting adventure on my own.

While describing every session would be overwhelming for both you and me, I will instead highlight some of the most influential experiences that I’ve had so far during orientation.

Each day we have 3-4 hours of Bahasa Indonesian classes to help us prepare for when we all return to our sites. Although I spent many hours studying flashcards and using the Babbel language learning App on my iPhone over the summer, this past week of lessons has exponentially increased my understanding of the language and my confidence in continuing to build upon my previous skills. There are eight other ETA’s in my class: we nicknamed our class “Indonesia Kecil (Small Indonesia)” because the people in it are placed on every island that has ETA’s on them. It has been one of the most draining but positive experiences I’ve had so far and so far has probably been the most helpful things to do with my time. Our teacher, Dedit, is an amazing teacher—he speaks just enough English when it’s necessary to understand the instructions but usually speaks in Indonesian.

Now that we’re getting into the second half of our lessons there is less and less English being spoken in the class, which has been great for building our confidence. I now feel a lot more confident going back to my site and ordering the specific dish/food that I want, instead of the first week when I would say the word for fish (ikan) or noodles (mie) and hope that what they brought me would be somewhat similar to what I wanted. We have also learned many verbs, how to tell time, how to use directions and so much more. Although I’m still pretty in the dark about sentence structure, I know that I can loosely get across a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to my first week here.

While I’ve been too exhausted at the end of most days, my favorite night was last Monday when I went out to dinner and drinks with my site mate (who I’ll be living in Manado with) at a restaurant/bar/hotel a minute walk away from where we’re staying. We originally had wanted to grab a beer somewhere and bring it back to the hotel, but when we couldn’t find anywhere that had what we were looking for, we ended up having a full meal. We weren’t the only ones in the restaurant, but there weren’t a lot of other people and we were definitely the only Americans. This band came up and set up a few meters in front of us on this little stage where they would perform their sets throughout the night. While they were all Indonesian, most of their songs were American songs—and not only that, but they were some of my favorites!! We kept clapping at the end of their songs and they would acknowledge it and say thank you. They kept asking us if we wanted to sing a song, but we were too nervous/shy; plus, it really isn’t something that people do in the U.S. and we didn’t want to be rude or interfere with their performance…

So we were there for a while, eating and drinking and having a relaxing time, when our Bahasa teachers showed up. Apparently they were staying at the hotel we were eating at which we had not known prior. However it ended up being really great. I’m still figuring out the cultural interactions between teachers and students in Indonesia (they are very different) and it’s different because we’re the students in this situation, but I think here in general it’s way more relaxed and normal to see your students outside of the classroom. For me it’s different because in Manado my dormitory is so far away from school, but a lot of others in my cohort have said that their students have already been to their houses to hang out. Anyways, we had a great time talking to them (mostly in English) and we all decided that we’d sing if the band offered the opportunity to us again. I ended up singing one of my all-time favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Yellow,” with Dedit next to me who kindly joined me on stage even though he didn’t know the song. It was one of those experiences I would never have in the States but with a non-judgmental crowd and new friends it was one of those times I reminded myself this is why I’m here: to push myself outside of my comfort zone while having a blast in the process.

Another one of the highlights so far was two days ago when the group went to a local high school in Bandung to practice co-teaching for the first time. While the dynamic will be very different teaching with non-native English speakers at our individual sites, it was a great (less) stressful introduction to what I came here to do. And while they weren’t the students I’ll be teaching for the next nine months, I left feeling like I wanted them to all come to Manado so I could continue working with them.

My co-teacher for this activity is an amazing, confident and fun ETA named Julianne. At first I was intimidated to teach with her, even for this one activity, because she has spent the last few years living and teaching abroad in Germany and Austria. However, she quickly soothed my worries and was a wonderful person to create a lesson plan from scratch and implement in the classroom. We decided to teach a lesson with the objective of being able to describe places/locations and to build simple sentences. Since we had no idea what the students’ levels of English would be I was worried it would be either too simple or way over their heads. However, it ended up working out very well and the students had a lot of fun, which is the most important part. The experience allowed me to build a lot of confidence in simply standing in front of a classroom and taught me that even if things don’t go according to the original plan, it doesn’t mean that I failed. Since my only previous teaching experience was in Costa Rica where I was teaching a maximum six students (minimum two) in class, I was worried that students wouldn’t be receptive or would become more easily distracted by the sheer number of students. While I fully understand not every class will go as smoothly and according to plan as this one did, I left the classroom a lot more mentally prepared for what could and definitely will in the future. Next week, my counterpart and co-teacher in Manado, Miss Alisa, will come to Bandung and we will do the same activity in another classroom in Bandung. I believe after that, I will have even more confidence and a much clearer understanding of how my classroom co-teaching relationship will unfold… I’m definitely nervous but excited to begin.

The last thing I’ll talk about is the outing we took today. We took a twenty-ish minute ride in angkots (little public transportation buses) to a marketplace to buy things and practice our bargaining skills in Indonesian. I was pretty overwhelmed during the first hour because there were hundreds of little stores inside a six-story building complex where the vendors were all very curious about us foreigners. I was amazed by everything they were selling, including thousands of different patterned batik and other fabrics. A girl named Christal and me wandered around looking for things we wanted to buy and ended up passing this fabric store that caught our eye. While we were initially a bit shy about bargaining with our newly learned language skills, it ended up being an amazing and hilarious experience. We bargained down from 35.000 rupiah to 20.000 rupiah per meter of fabric when we agreed to buy a minimum of ten meters all together. Well, we ended up spending around forty-five minutes at the same store and buying a whole lot more than ten meters. The different patterns and combinations of colors were so amazing and we figured if we saw something we liked we should just buy it now because we wouldn’t know if it would be available to us again. Plus, compared to any place in America that we would be able to buy similar things, it would have been infinitely more expensive. So we ended up getting around forty meters of beautiful fabric which we’re so excited to have made into different skirts, shirts, and dresses once we take our measurements and find a tailor at our sites to create the pieces for us. We weren’t sure whether the men helping us pick and cut the fabric were more entertained, annoyed, or excited by our decision to look at a few dozen different patterns, but we figured even if we were there for a while, we were definitely giving them good business. I loved the experience even more knowing that with each piece of clothing I end up creating with the material, it’ll hold the memories of that experience in the marketplace and the next steps until it becomes something I can wear.

So I’ll be in Bandung for another week until I return to Manado and begin teaching English at Eben Hazer. I’m sure this week will go by both as quickly and as slowly as the previous one did, but I’m excited to live through the ups and downs of this crazy adventure from across the world. Thank you all for those who took the time to listen and share in this experience with me!


Singing Coldplay on stage with an Indonesian band and Dedit
Singing Coldplay on stage with an Indonesian band and Dedit
We were exiting the market when we spotted these amazing gems and couldn't resist... the only non-batik we purchased on the trip
We were exiting the market when we spotted these amazing gems and couldn’t resist… the only non-batik we purchased on the trip
The fine selection of fabric I carefully chose at the marketplace. Can't wait to see what they turn into!
The fine selection of fabric I carefully chose at the marketplace. Can’t wait to see what they turn into! (Better picture to come…)
Our first official experience teaching English in Indonesia to an 11th grade class in Bandung
Our first official experience teaching English in Indonesia to an 11th grade class in Bandung with co-ETA’s JoAnn, Julianne and Edmund
A view from the Hotel Sheraton in Bandung on a normal afternoon
A view from the Hotel Sheraton in Bandung 
One of the view moments of free time this week and we spent it enjoying ourselves by the pool with a blow-up unicorn and pineapple!
One of the few moments of free time this week and we spent it enjoying ourselves by the pool with a blow-up unicorn and pineapple!

A New Life in Manado: The Land of Smiling People

This past week has been overwhelming to say the least, but I’m already starting to feel more comfortable here in my new home. I’m not exactly sure where to begin because I’ve had so many unique experiences so this may be a bit of a ramble/medley of random experiences… but I’ll start with Manado itself.

Manado is in North Sulawesi, a three hour plane ride from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. I was nervous getting off the plane and meeting my counterpart, the person from my school that is responsible for me throughout the grant, but in hindsight I had nothing to worry about! I was met by my counterpart, Miss Alisa, and two other teachers at the school who greeted me with open arms. I didn’t know the amount of English my counterpart would know, but I was relieved to realize that as long as I didn’t speak too quickly, she could understand everything.

During the ride to dinner and then to my kost (dormitory), the teachers told me that I was not simply a guest, but was now apart of their family. One of the teachers quickly informed me that Manado is known as “The Land of Smiling People” and so far my experiences have proven that to be true– the people here smile whether they are happy or feel uncomfortable in a situation; it’s their natural reaction to almost everything. This has made my interactions so far a lot less stressful because even though I can’t communicate in Bahasa Indonesian very well, I don’t feel as though people are frustrated with me.

There are some things that I’m very conscious about and definitely worry about being disrespectful without knowing it. During the short security briefing from the AMINEF people in Jakarta, they asked if anyone was left handed. I’m pretty sure I’m the only lefty in my entire cohort of around thirty ETA’s and Indonesia that makes things a lot harder. It is not acceptable to pass or receive things with your left hand, which is what I do naturally. I have also been eating my meals a lot more slowly than in America because I have to use my right hand to put the food in my mouth (also if you know my quirky tendencies to stand on the left side of people to feel balanced, this whole using the right hand is pretty uncomfortable for me.)

Manado is a very Christian city and people go to church and worship daily. In Indonesia, everyone has a religion and it’s basically unheard of not to. That has been one of the most anxiety-provoking things for me so far, because I am not Christian and do not worship any/a specific god (I believe in some higher power/ reason that we’re all here.) I was told that asking about people’s religion, age, and martial status is considered normal and not invasive, so I was waiting for people to ask me about my religion. Before I got to Manado I had decided to tell people I was Buddhist and that I worship on my own, so that people don’t ask me to worship in public, but when I was asked I felt uncomfortable lying so I rambled for a bit how I’m not Christian but that I am open to learning more about their religion until they moved on to another subject. I’m still not entirely sure what my answer will be the next time people ask me; really, I just don’t want to offend anyone but I also don’t want to lie.

The most challenging thing for me so far has been communicating with people as an American who looks Asian. The first day that I went to school I could tell that many people were confused that I was the native English speaker coming to teach at their school. Some of the teachers came up to my counterpart and asked them who I was and one teacher came up to me and pulled her eyes to the side, telling me that I looked Chinese. I knew she wasn’t trying to be offensive and I didn’t really mind the gesture as much as I have in the past, but I was also a bit disappointed that I think people were expecting to have a white person show up. People have told me here that I look Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, and that I from other places, just not from America. But besides teaching English, my role as an ETA is to be a cultural ambassador, so I am excited to have students understand that Americans can look very different and that different places in America are very different; it’s not simply “American culture.”

So yeah, so far I think I’m doing pretty well adjusting to a completely new place but I definitely have a lot more to learn and become familiar with. Traveling to Indonesia before and living in Costa Rica has definitely given me more confidence and has allowed me to give myself a break when things seem confusing or hard. I’m not supposed to know everything yet, and this place still feels like I’m a foreigner, but I’m excited for those moments where I can confidently take the two micro buses to my school by myself, order food in Indonesian that I know I want (not just say yes to everything), and learn my student’s names (I think I have over 300 students in thirteen different classes.)

I will be in Manado for another few days until I travel to Bandung for a two week orientation. I’m excited to take language lessons for four hours a day and come back to Manado equipped with a better understanding of the language. I know people will still be confused why I don’t speak Manadonese or Bahasa Indonesian fluently, but I want to learn the language for myself, regardless of what other people think I should know.

Other little random things to note:
– I use a bucket and big ladle to shower with in the same little room as the toilet. It’s not bad at all and a lot more efficient than I imagined.

– My counterpart, Miss Alisa, was surprised by how much rice I could eat. Apparently the previous ETAs at my site could only eat a little bit of rice when they got here. One of the students at my school who is fluent in English asked me if we have rice in America… I said of course!

– I’m still not sure what the school system is like here/daily school routine, and specifically at my school, SMAN Eben Hazer. Many of the teachers are not teaching their normal classes because they are preparing for a big government funded art competition that is taking place at the school, where students from over 30 provinces in Indonesia are coming to. I’ve been told the school is famous in Northern Sulawesi and that many people apply to come here. They have won international choir competitions, basketball tournaments, and have an insane amount of trophies throughout the school.

– My kost is right by the water… I still can’t believe how incredibly beautiful it is here. My counterpart took me to the Soekarno Bridge (named after the first president of Indonesia) to watch the sunset over the volcanos and Bunaken Island. I can’t wait to do water activities and get my diving certification!

Beautiful clouds... smoke? Something coming out of the volcano
Beautiful clouds… smoke? Something coming out of the volcano
Myself with my counterpart, Miss Alisa, enjoying the sunset down by the Mega Mall
Myself with my counterpart, Miss Alisa, enjoying the sunset down by the Mega Mall
The view from Soekarno Bridge
The view from Soekarno Bridge
Me standing in front of my school (these kinds of signs are all over)
Me standing in front of my school (these kinds of signs are all over)