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?