Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Guest post submitted by PlasticPill
Selamat Datang! After reading a Tripcrazed post about looking for posts from people who taught or studied abroad, I felt compelled to write my own post of my experience of teaching in Indonesia. Of course, I don’t want to go into every detail, as that would create a novel when my goal is to just share a short blog anyone can read and enjoy. If someone should have any serious questions, please feel free to send a message my way. I’ll try to keep up with any comments.
When I first arrived in Indonesia (2007), I stayed in a city called Surabaya. My wife happens to be Indonesian, and I ended up staying with her family for a few weeks while I applied to various schools in areas I was interested in. For some schools, my age was a little problem (24 at the time). The ideal age for a teacher here is someone in their 30’s+. This is because of several younger teachers that have developed a reputation for leaving a school before their contract is up.
Teaching: What to expect when job hunting
Now, I mentioned teaching. Like most expats, I was coming here to teach English. Being white and American is often all that’s needed depending on the school. While I don’t agree with it, that’s how it is. Most parents are looking for schools with expats from the following countries: USA, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Seeing this gives them some false hope of a genuine English education for their children. While it might be true with speaking, it ends there. I’ve met people from all those countries, plus more. None of them held a degree in teaching or English, including myself. The truth is, we were picked because we were white expats.
Teaching in Jakarta
I could carry on about that for pages and pages worth….time to move on. As I said, I arrived in Surabaya to look for teaching jobs. I finally found one I liked, that was suggested to me by my Australian friend. It was a private Catholic school located in Jakarta, teaching all grade levels from pre-school to high school. It was well established, had plenty of expat teachers, and English was the official language used in school. I met with the principal, an American, who after interviewing me, offered me a teaching position. For my first year, I taught several different English courses throughout the week. Some days I taught preschool, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders, while the next day would be 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, and that schedule would rotate. 2 days out of the week I would teach high school students….something that terrified me at first. After my first few months, I realized it wasn’t all that bad. And the students really do look up to you, which really made me feel welcomed.
My 2nd year of teaching came, and I was moved to another part of campus, this time to teach 1st grade. No more teaching different classes each day. I welcomed the change, as I had grown fond of teaching this age group. They were old enough to help themselves with most things, yet young enough that I could get them excited about doing any assignment.
Most of my students came from VERY wealthy Chinese families. They were not your typical Indonesians that you study about back home. Some were Javanese, and some were from other various islands that make Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago. But by far, most were Chinese. The school is Catholic, so the major religion practiced was Catholicism, but there were also Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist students, as well as non-denominational Christians. Their English speaking abilities ranged anywhere from weak to surprisingly strong. What I enjoyed learning about them is that most of them had already traveled to several different countries. As kids! I never travelled overseas at that age, and I know that’s because I’m an American and thus it’s much more expensive to travel compared to a European or Asian….but wow. It was nice to hear stories about their family trips to Malaysia or Singapore….certainly more refreshing then the Disney trip you always hear about back home.
The Interesting, The Unusual….
As you most likely know, Indonesia contains the world’s largest Muslim population. Shocking, since Indonesia is not part of the Middle East. And indeed, their culture is far different too. Unlike the Middle East, Indonesia has had to work side by side along various different religions in order to become a nation. I find that there is lot more tolerance for non-Muslims here….but not always. For instance, for many government positions, including Presidency, one MUST be a Muslim. Any other religion is forbidden. Muslim holidays are considered national holidays….yet not others. And Muslims are generally treated with higher regards….but this is all dependent on which area of Indonesia you are in and who you are dealing with. The main island of Indonesia, Java, is widely Muslim, but there are other islands, like Manado (where my wife is from), that are Christian. So there are a lot of factors in place, but one thing is certain, I’ve always felt safe here. Even despite the Bali bombings, the string of hotel bombings…..Indonesia does an excellent job of responding to terrorists, compared to the Middle East. I never felt that my life was in danger when going out. Of course…there are some exceptions. Certain areas of towns, hell, certain provinces, I would NEVER go to. But even back home I experienced areas like these. New Orleans certainly has its fair share of unsafe places; Indonesia was no different in this aspect.
One thing that kind of annoyed me was the lack of technology here. My internet provider charges me $65 a month for an unlimited plan (DAMN that’s a lot!) and the speed is incredibly slow…almost as bad as dial-up. Almost. Most laptops sold here are at least a year or two behind the current ones sold in the USA, and yet they cost TWICE as much. This is largely due to the tax Indonesia places on imported goods.
But these are small annoyances. Just about everything else is incredibly cheap. Movie tickets? About $2 USD, and the theatre is actually clean, and not full.
Going out to eat? Depending where, food can be as cheap as $5 for a group of 3 to eat, and it’s delicious (just be careful with the spices)!
Clothes/shoes/bags….oh my. Ladies would love it here, for two reasons….clothes are VERY cheap - often around $10 USD depending on the style, and much of it is knockoff. Now, for some, this sounds like a negative….all I have to say is, you’ve never seen some of these knockoffs. I’ve seen authentic name="Generator" content="Microsoft Word 11"> name="Originator" content="Microsoft Word 11">Louis Vuitton bags and compared them to some clever knockoff counterparts, and for some….you simply could NOT tell the difference. This isn’t just with bags/purses, but clothes, shoes….lots of things.
Pirated dvds are another thing. Because pirated dvds are such a huge market here, the movie theatres are often empty. They’ve lowered their prices to compete, which is great for someone like me who enjoys going. Often times a newly released movie can be out on the pirated market within a month, sometimes with perfect quality, and they usually cost less than $1 USD. Same for entertainment systems such as Nintendo Wii/DS, Playstation 1/2/3, and Xbox/360. They sell pirated games for these systems and they install famous “chips” that can play these games. This practice is HIGHLY illegal in countries such as the USA. For my Nintendo DS, I purchased a pirated game cartridge which held over 30 games that I picked out. Again, very cheap. But this doesn’t define Indonesia…indeed, a lot of this simply comes from places like Thailand or Hong Kong.
Now, a lot of people will be asking me about cultural stuff. I’ve traveled to Bali, Manado, Surabaya, Bandung, Jogjakarta, and many other places. They were all unique in their own way. Jogjakarta is known for having the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur Temple. It was absolutely beautiful, and I look forward to going again. Bali is like a Hindu version of Hawaii, with various Hindu temples scattered about and much of the island smells like incense. When walking around, you could see brightly colored flowers lying about on the streets. Truly lovely, with a history that deserves to be experienced, not told about.
But of all the things I’ve mentioned, none of it was my reason for traveling here. I wanted to marry my wife, who is Indonesian. We first met when I lived in Japan, working for the US Navy. After I left, we returned to our home countries. I worked on a way of finding a job in Indonesia so I could be with her, and with God’s help, I succeeded and finally got married. I’m a lucky man, but had it not been for her, I’d of never been able to experience all these wonderful things this country has to offer.
If you’re like me, and prefer experiencing Asian culture over European, then you should consider a trip to Indonesia. It’s a cheap country to live in, and is very close to Singapore and other parts of Asia, making it easy to travel. While I don’t like everything here, I believe that can be said about anywhere. The things I’ve experienced here, I’ll carry with me for a lifetime, and words simply can’t do it justice.
Have you been to Indonesia? Would you consider teaching abroad? Where?