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!