*disclaimer: I do not assume that, because I now have a smidgeon experience teaching here, that I know what teaching is like in Indonesia. Every school is vastly different; different curriculum standards (IB, Cambridge, New Zealand, etc.) different administrations, different teachers, different sets of kids with different economic backgrounds.
This is, after week one, my experience at one particular school in a suburb of Jakarta.
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In Indonesia, at the BINUS International School in Serpong, the teachers are the ones who move from classroom to classroom to teach to the students 40 minute class periods. Each department has a room where all the teachers work together, planning lessons, grading assignments, having meetings. As a result of proximity, the teachers are quite close.
I’ve never been in a work environment that was quite so colleague-friendly as BINUS International School. And welcoming. The first day they inducted me immediately into the English teaching club of friendship.
At 9:30 the teachers (sans the one or two who are teaching) go to the canteen and have breakfast. Usually fried tofu, mie (noodles), rasa (rice), bakso (Indonesian meatballs). Sometimes sweet green tea or iced thai tea. They ask, “Mees Josie, have you eaten breakfast already?” This is to signal that they would like me accompany them.
Around 12:30 we go to the canteen and have lunch. “Mees Josie, have you eaten lunch yet?”
Each teacher takes turns pointing and things and shouting the Bahasa Indonesian name for different dishes, slapping each other and reminding each other that I don’t eat meat and I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy dishes and that I probably won’t like the fried duck egg. Then they say, when I bring out my wallet, no no no, I got this, no, put that away. On me, on me.
We eat together—laughing and poking fun at each other and at the students we teach and they introduce me to random adults who pass by our table—for a leisurely hour. Maybe an hour and a half. One or two go to teach a class for 40 minutes. Come back. Two more come.
My internship involves me going to two classes with different teachers each day. I tour around the English classes of the middle school level (7-9). The lessons are created by each level teachers. So for 7th grade, all the English lessons are the same. For 8th grade, the same. 9th, same.
One teacher will create the powerpoint for the week. Another the assessment for the end of the unit. Another one the daily assignments. Another will create the lesson objectives. Two will collaborate to create the written lesson plan. Another will make sure it aligns with the Cambridge curriculum.
They buy each other taro thai tea from the cart in front of the library. Then they sit down collaborate. Then one teacher will leave to go to the bathroom and come back with cheesecake. They will say to me,
“Mees Josie, you must try this, you must eat this. You are too skinny, eat this!”
I think they might be trying to fatten me up, so I can’t go down the stairs and leave Indonesia.
It seems to me that the teachers are the ones who fulfill the international quota, not the students. The students are almost entirely Indonesian, with the exception of one half-Canadian half-Indonesian, and one boy from Venezuela. Six of my English colleagues are from the Philippines, two are from Jakarta, two are American, one is British-Indian, and one is from India.
Each one is eager to share with me their culture and their customs. Even the two American men. Daniel—who not-so secretly wants to break his teaching contract and move back to Boston to open a breakfast-and-BBQ restaurant—brought Joe and I his homemade cornflake French toast this morning. The feature dish of the future restaurant, he assures us.
Tyrine, who is my site supervisor and is from the Philippines, has brought me a new type of Filippino tea each day. Angela, also from the Philippines, spends much of the morning at my desk telling me about her favorite Filippino authors. Barbie tells me to come to the teacher dorms, where eight teachers who work at BINUS live, and they will make me dinner. Maybe this Sunday? Yes, you come this Sunday. We will cook for you—but no meat! And not so spicy!
I’ve never had to try so little to make friends before.
They love to laugh, they love to hang out, they love to talk and relax and be with each other. Joe took me to the library and, because my temporary ID card cannot check out books, he smuggled out some Agatha Christie books for me. We sat on the beautiful patio between the library and the school and drank thai tea and read for a few hours.
Then, instead of going to more classes, my English colleagues and I had a party in the teacher staff room for Angela’s birthday.
They ask me what I am doing for the weekend, and then when I hesitate and spout something random—because I don’t usually plan far in advance—they say, “Oh! You want to go there? Lim can take you if you want! Lim has a car—Lim you have a car, yes? And you aren’t doing anything this weekend, Lim isn’t married and so he has no life. Lim can take you!”
I don’t have internet access at the costa that I am staying at near the school. Because of this, any time I want to spend on the internet—writing in my blog, working on my online marketing internship, connecting with American family members and friends—has to be done either during school or at one of the internet cafes on the corners of Serpong.
If my colleagues see me writing for too long, they come and pat me on the back or give my elbow a squeeze and say, laughing, “you are very serious! You work too hard!” Then they invite me to go take tea with them.
Michael, an American from Colorado, came over to me the other day and whispered, “You do a great job at looking busy. That’s the key here, if you don’t look busy enough someone will give you something to do. When I’m over there on the desktop computer? I’m checking my fantasy baseball league.”
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The students seem to match the happiness levels of my colleagues. If not surpass them. You give them homework over the weekend? They’re so happy about it! You give them demerit points or detention? They’re happy about it! You say hello to them? They’re rolling on the ground from happiness! If a teacher chooses to give a seating chart for their 40 minute class and Arvi has to sit next to Rosi? They all collapse into giggles.
I walk through the halls and hear a chorus of, “Good after-noon, Mees Josie” and smiles and waves and nods and giggles when I say hello back. The security guards, who stand so solemn and serious, transform when they see me. They nod and wave and say, “hi mister!” (their English tends to not be so good).
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When I am walking around Serpong outside of the school I am met by little friendly bows and smiles. If I want to purchase some of the street food delicacies, it doesn’t seem to matter that I don’t know Bahasa Indonesian, because I can just point and gesture and hold up fingers. Sometimes they throw in extra tofu or tempeh for me, too.
Thinking back to before I left for Indonesia, I had many people tell me, they don’t like Westerners over there very much, right? Aren’t you nervous to make friends? Aren’t you scared to go alone?
And to that–then and now–my answer is no.
The fear and the insecurities that I feel being the only western woman in the suburb of Serpong melt away when I make eye contact with street vendors and they give me such a friendly little bow. It all melts when I pass little children who smile widely at me and say, “hi mees! Hi mees!”
All of my fears and all of my loneliness fade when I step inside the teachers room at BINUS and hear the laughter of my colleagues. This gives me the needed feeling of security to go out and explore Jakarta and Serpong on my own.
There are not areas to run around here, and as running shorts are far from the norm (and would make me uncomfortably exposed relative to my Indonesian peers), I don’t want to pick my way through the streets.
When the teachers found I loved to run, they immediately gestured towards the BINUS track. “You can run during lunch! Or right after school!”
While I appreciate the sentiment, I think that I would prefer to not have a myriad of people staring at me while I drip sweat and make my way around a track.
But the school is open 24/7 (with guards posted at the gate), and my temporary ID card gets me in. This weekend I went in at 4:30 a.m.–when I can make the 5 minute walk through the streets to the school in my shorts without feeling self-conscious, and when the coolness of the night relieves some of the burning humidity of daylight–and ran spectator-free.
I was rewarded for my efforts with immense bouts of sweat and this lovely flower I found.
So an overall hats off to the welcome I have received and the smiles I have seen and the smell of red flowers.
Peace and Blessings,