Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teaching, Observing and Breaking the Fast

We spent the morning turning the tables a bit – observing the Indonesian teacher, Eva, teach the ‘Gift of the Magi’ lesson we had demonstrated a few days before was a delight.  She specifically asked us how to teach narrative text, so our simple lesson plans were easy for her to adopt.  Interestingly, she seemed to focus first on the boy’s side of the room before turning to the girls.  We noticed that her students seemed more talkative with her than they were with us; we attributed that to a shyness and respect for the native speaker rather than a lack of understanding.

Although she managed well, I couldn’t help but think that the huge amount of respect paid to us as English teachers  made her nervous.  We felt as if they felt that they thought they couldn’t teach us anything, but they were wrong.  Observing their understanding of English, the misunderstanding of nuances of the text, and the dedication of students was quite informative.  We marveled at the similarities of our students in their answers, their joking manner and eagerness to please.

We were excited to travel to SMAN 2 Tangerang High School, a government school of 1,100 students in 32 classrooms.  Surprisingly, we noticed few students in Muslim dress, although the VP told us it was ‘mostly Muslim’, but also Christian, Hindu and Buddhist.  Unlike the US, student’s religions are not hidden.  

Students attend school from 7:00 am to 3:15 daily, except during Ramadan when they are released at 12:45.  The goal of this school is to become an international school, which would allow students to study abroad.  They focus on English, character building, and science.  Interestingly, they had a remedial program for struggling students; at MAN Cendekia, students who fail are expelled.

Observing the 10th grade English teacher’s organized lesson plan was refreshing; she used multimedia, including a clip of the History Channel, in her lesson on structures of text.  We noted 14 boys and 19 girls, with only five of them in Muslim veils.  Although they wore uniforms, their relaxed appearance and lack of outward religious significance was a stark contrast to what we are accustomed to in the Muslim boarding school.  
Overall, we were impressed with the more modern education practices and structure of the school; we saw a greenhouse, a fully equipped computer lab, and very creative and well produced student art.  The highlight for me was the modern health clinic, equipped with hospital beds, a dental chair, family life educational materials, herbal remedies, and other curriculum to teach healthy living.  It was the first apparent evidence of health care that I have seen anywhere in Indonesia, and it was promising that the school was not only able to teach it, but willing.

That evening we celebrated the end of the fasting day at another English teacher’s house.  She lived with her husband and young son in what we considered to be a ‘westernized’ type of housing development.  She prepared a large offering for us, beginning with sweets and ending with savory foods.  The most interesting item she served was fried chicken claws, a delicacy that our host teacher enjoyed but I wasn’t brave enough to try.

Today I felt hopeful for Indonesian education.  In such a religion dominated culture that effects all aspects of daily life, I appreciated the balance both the high school and our dinner host could find between retaining the traditional customs and culture while infusing in more modern aspects and conveniences.  I’m beginning to be curious about this push and pull that I see; it is apparent to me that the younger generation, including students and teachers, are much more interested and excited about trying to find a way of life that honors their religious and ethnic beliefs while allowing for technology, convenience and forward thinking in their lives.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Serpong: Food and Flexibility

We were thrilled to have a little later start today - I'm still having trouble with this 14 hour time difference.  Our driver (yes, we have a driver) picked us up at the hotel and brought us to our host, Yuna, at the local's market.  Imagine an indoor farmer's market the size of a warehouse, throw in VERY fresh meat, fish, prepared foods and baked goods, and add a bit of clothing and trinkets on the sides and you can imagine the sights and smells that assaulted us..  

Just outside the marketplace, the Indonesian version of 'painted ladies' line the streets.

We drove to our host school, and watched our host teacher teach her 10th grade English class for a few minutes.  She first ushered us into an empty room to eat the snacks the bought us at the market; although fasting, she has been very considerate and accomodating to our needs.  We most enjoyed the hard rice cakes.  We also had tofu cakes with some type of egg, some type of bun with green bean, and traditional coconut gelatin cakes.  
Surprisingly, after about 15 minutes she instructed them on the rest of the class lesson and we left for another school.  Indonesian teachers, at least at her school, do not use substitutes.  Students, given detailed lesson plans, are expected to complete the work and submit it to the teacher's desk before they leave.  She says they always comply!

Another surprise came as we were leaving class to walk to the car, and Yuna exclaimed, "Oh my god!  I forgot to tell you!  You will speak to the entire school when we arrive!"

Our jaws dropped.  We're learning to be flexible with Indonesian sense of time, eating and drinking unknown foods, and waking up at 3 am to strange explosive sounds and chanting.  Amy and I glanced at each other, not wanting to offend our host, and spent the 10 minute drive wondering what we could do to entertain an entire junior high school who may or may not speak English.  It wasn't only the heat that was making us sweat....

The principal and teachers warmly welcomed us, ushering us into their air conditioned office.  After introductions and filling our a detailed personal information form, the principal presented us with 'yamas' , a type of Javanese martial arts pants.  Actually, they were the student's gym uniforms!  

We have been very careful to respect the Muslim dress code - high necklines and covering past our elbows and knees - so we were a bit surprised but gladly changed in the student bathroom and walked out onstage.  As if we were celebrities, the children cheered and encouraged us.  Notice the separation between genders - still hard to get used to that.

After what seemed like endless amounts of photos - we posed with each grade separately -we enjoyed a tour of the campus.  The brightly painted and decorated classsrooms were welcoming and despite limited resources, the children seemed to be an evident part of the school.  As we exited, I noticed this crayon-colored sign hanging on the wall; it sums up so much of what we're experiencing and hoping for here in Indonesia.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cendekia Serpong School: A Lesson in Gift Giving

Each time I walk into the lobby I pause and take a touch of aromatic oil for my hands. It’s a little lift to my senses, a special gift I give myself. It helps me get ready for this amazing experience.

Prepared with ‘Gift of the Magi’ lesson plans, we arrived late for our 7 am class because our driver overslept…thinking our teacher would have started without us, we were surprised to be ‘on’ the moment we walked into the classroom.  The 12th grade students were very polite and shy, and as Amy and I began our lesson, we were pleased that our teaching styles meshed so nicely and things moved along seamlessly.  The teachers are fascinated with our collaboration, and share their desire to learn how to work with each other as well as their frustration with unsuccessful attempts.

Indonesian kids are similar to Americans in many ways, except these kids spend many more hours at school – class begins at seven, and ends after three.  During Ramadan students wake at three, pray, eat and arrive at school by 6:30 am.  We ignored the yawns and listlessness of some students, and empathized with what they dealt with on a daily basis.  We learned that 3,000 students apply for admission, and only 120 are accepted.  It is a great honor to attend this school, and many students use government scholarship for tuition.  Teachers refer to the program as ‘career studying’.  Students who don’t pass are expelled – there are no second chances.

After two classes, each videotaped by the teacher, we switched to 11th grade English and our presentation on the US and our state, schools and families.  The students asked more interesting questions about American culture, boy/girl relationships, the CIA/FBI, what ‘Sin City’ was, and the American Dream. Several classes have told us they know America is a ‘superpower’, and that they can earn scholarships to study in our colleges.  They have such hope for their futures.

Later that evening we were invited back to school to literally ‘break-fast’ with some teachers and the dorm counselors.  As we arrived, we were excited to see the male students out of uniform and participating in an ‘Iron Chef-style’ cooking competition using bananas, chocolate and cheese.  Girls could only gather around and express their frustration with their techniques.

Just like American students, Indonesian kids don’t love their cafeteria food.  Big blue coolers filled with endless amounts of rice supplements the canteen offerings.  A quick tour of their dormitories revealed the stark reality that they live far from home.

We ended our visit with a traditional ‘break-fast’ meal.  Interestingly, we start with sweets (dates, coconut drink, steamed buns with rice paste), and end with savory (chicken, rice, and fresh vegetables).  Sitting on the floor, eating new foods and watching our hosts so adept without utensils, we reveled in the gifts they were sharing with us.
Each day in Indonesia concludes with a mixture of exhaustion and admiration; navigating this extraordinary culture takes a great deal of energy, a humbleness and willingness to learn from our mistakes, and an openness to receiving the gifts of knowledge and awareness.  We process our similarities and differences, laugh at ourselves, and ask a multitude of questions in our quest to bring our disparate worlds together.  I am so grateful for the honesty and candor of the people here; they are giving me a priceless gift that I hope will help me enrich my global classroom in America.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tangerang: Questions, Chapels, and Batman Saves The Day

The day started like any other, really – 3am fireworks accompanied by my hotel room neighbor pounding on the wall shot me straight up out of bed.  The call to prayer broadcast for Ramadan reminded me that it wasn’t time for me yet, but instead of falling back to sleep I started thinking about the day ahead.

As part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, our host school visit is designed to help us both help other teachers understand American culture, while simultaneously soaking in their education system.  From our online look at MAN Insan Cendekia Serpong school before we left America, it appeared to be a very strict, formal boarding school.  


As we waited for our 6:30 am pickup by an unknown driver, we had plenty of time to get nervous.  Were we wearing the right clothes?  Would we make it through the day in accordance to the rituals of Ramadan?  Would the children speak enough English to understand our presentation on the US and California?  Would the teachers be interested?

The school sits at the end of a long driveway and sprawls over a large campus.  We were happy to be greeted by our host teacher, Yuna, as well as nearly every adult that we ran into.  Our first class began at 8:00, so after a quick tour we entered our classroom to teach 10th grade English students.  We were asked to remove our shoes before entering the building – besides feeling like a fool for having the only four-inch heels sitting on the steps, I felt awkward teaching barefoot!  In Indonesia, students stay in the room and the teacher moves each period.  It felt strange to have students watching me set up for the lesson, but their eager smiles put us at ease rather quickly.

Using our Prezi about California, our schools and our families created a great environment for discussion about what they know about America, and what kinds of questions they would like us to answer.  We were shocked with their sophistication and knowledge level – they wanted to know what Americans think of Muslims, especially after 9/11, how can Indonesians get US college scholarships, what were the causes of the Civil War, what are the differences between democrats and republicans, how do Americans feel about the election and Barack Obama.  Some of the more amusing ones were: does the mafia really runs the country, what is the difference between British and American accents, do we prefer bread or rice, and have I ever met Arnold Schwarzenegger!  The students were thrilled with the red, white and blue pencils and candies we gave them as a parting gift, some even promising to save the wrapper to remember us.

After teaching we headed towards the teacher work room; since the teachers are mobile here, they each have a desk in a large work space with cubicles.  It’s a great idea!  We met the next English teacher we would be working with, and began reading the story “The Chapel” she wanted us to prepare a lesson on for the next day.  This became our most challenging situation to date.  After realizing it was about a 13 year old girl who is raped, becomes pregnant, her husband is killed, and the eventual rapist is revealed as her white priest, we politely requested that we select another and chalked it up to cultural differences.  We chose ‘Gift of the Magi’, and then realized we’d be teaching about Christianity to Muslims.  It works both ways.

It is evident that Indonesians are eager to learn English, and their teachers excited to take advantage of our visit.  On the way to the van we were requested to prepare lessons for two classes the next day, so we left with impending lesson plans to complete before our night time activity – Batman.

The American dollar goes far in Indonesia – our lovely hotel is only $50/night, including breakfast, eight tickets to the movies, and the same for the adjacent water park.  Food is inexpensive as well – most of our meals have been under $5 each, and we’ve never been hungry.  Visiting the local movie theater was interesting – Indonesians have food service right to their assigned theater seats!  Popcorn, french fries or fish balls for all!

This was the hardest day so far.  We are so conscious about everything we do, and try hard not to make any offensive errors as we navigate this unfamiliar culture.  Not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt like the ‘outsider’, and I’m again reminded of what our students must experience as they come to the US to study.  By talking with the students I realize not only how much they know about America, but also how much they have bought into the media stereotypes that are often their source of information.  Yes, they have studied English and American history in school, but today’s kids are learning more from the internet and social media. Even in this private, Islamic boarding school they know about Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Harvard, MIT and Washington DC, and that they should study hard to earn the chance for education in the US.  Kids who cannot date or use Facebook know the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Twitter.

 The world really is shrinking, and our best bet at understanding each other is to sit down, look eye to eye and talk without fear of looking stupid or being misunderstood.  If we can come together for Batman with subtitles, surely we can break down the stereotypes we have of each other, and make progress towards becoming true global citizens. 

Hey Batman, can you give us a hand?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tangerang: Obama, Shopping Malls, and Breaking Laws in Supermarkets

After two days of briefings on education and culture of Indonesia, we were ready to leave Jakarta and head to our respective host schools.  The 11 TGC fellows are split among six different locations all over Indonesia, none of us really knowing exactly what we would encounter once we left the comfort of our large group and the Jakarta hotel.

As the host teachers began arriving to pick us up, it felt a bit like the end of camp as we packed our bags and headed in different directions, each promising to keep in touch.  There was some comfort in being together, and I found myself nervous about heading off with unknown people in a car in the middle of Indonesia!  Fortunately, my teaching partner Amy and I share a love of adventure and daring, and we took a deep breath, said goodbye, and headed for our first stop, Barack Obama’s elementary school.

The statue that welcomes visitors was once in a nearby park, but the Indonesians, fiercely loyal to their culture, felt it didn’t represent their entire country and moved it to his elementary school.

 Because it was Sunday, we had arranged special entrance to the school grounds.  What delighted us as we walked the campus’ brightly colored, Dutch inspired buildings were the many inspirational signs hanging from each hallway.  Two of my personal favorites were hanging above the English rooms.  It continues to impress me just how eager Indonesians are to learn English, and although many signs, menus, and directions use our language, if we look just beneath the surface there isn’t a collective use of or understanding of English among the general population.

After a 45-minute car trip at impressive speeds, the host teacher graciously unloaded at Hotel Sandika and escorted us directly into the adjacent shopping mall.  I’m sure we garnered many stares as we giggled with excitement and wonder at the bounty before us!

We spent nearly an hour enraptured by the bookstore – sort of a cross between Borders, Office Max and Target; we happily searched for useful items for our upcoming teaching assignment, as well as a few children’s bilingual Indonesian/English books. I love the interesting translations of titles and the different types of fashion magazines!

 I always find it fascinating to visit grocery stores when I travel – even when I cannot read the product names, I’m so curious about what people buy on a daily basis.  Is this what I would eat for breakfast if I lived here? 

I've never seen such a variety of mangoes!

 We immediately began snapping photos of the unusual fruits, vegetables and….eels?  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bucket of squirming creatures; a squeal erupted, and was immediately confronted by the uniformed security guard and told to stop taking photos.  Who knew I would break the law in a grocery store?

We left a bit disappointed that beer is unavailable in the grocery store here, but satisfied with our snacks and exhausted from the over stimuli.  Although Tangerang appears to be more Chinese Buddhist than Muslim, the fact that it is Ramadan hasn’t escaped us – the broadcast prayers in the background above the continually piped in Kenny G tunes are a constant reminder.

Today I had to muster up a different kind of courage – it wasn’t the in-the-pen-with-a-Komodo-dragon type, but that inner courage that comes from having to do that which is outside my comfort zone.  As we whizzed down the Jakarta freeway with complete strangers, I had to pause and remind myself of where I was in the universe, and that we would be ok.  It wasn’t a trembling kind of fear of imminent danger, but that spinning kind of unstable, feet lifting off the ground, I’m-not-in-Kansas-anymore feeling I only get when I'm far, far away from what I know best. 

At times, I felt much more at ease here than I should; surrounded by Wendy’s, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins and Celebrity Fitness makes me feel like I’m back in California.  But when my innocence gets me reprimanded, and I cannot speak the language, I’m reminded that my culture needs to take the backseat for a while.

Thank goodness for my teaching buddy.  I'm so glad I'm not alone.  Now, where did I leave those ruby slippers?