*This is an update of posts chronicling my teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia, during Ramadan. As part of the U.S. State Department of Education’s IREX program, 10 teachers and I spent two weeks traveling, teaching, and creating friendships with Indonesian students. This trip was life-changing for me as a woman and a teacher; so many stereotypes of the Muslim religion and Ramadan were altered due to my ability to meet the Indonesian students, teachers, and families and observe what their daily life was like, what they valued, and how many similarities American and Indonesian teens share. As today is the start of Ramadan, I’d like to share some of my experiences traveling in a Muslim country during their most holy time. I’d love to hear your stories of international travel and how it has changed your world, too.
Arriving in Jakarta during Ramadan was really exciting – after three flights and countless hours of layovers and sitting upright, I was ready to explore. The Indonesian language is difficult to decipher, so I followed the crowd to get bags, exchange money, and find our guide, Lilia.
I had heard about the infamous Jakarta traffic and prepared for the 36 km, nearly two-hour drive from the airport to the hotel. Indonesia is 14 hours ahead of California, so we essentially missed Wednesday and arrived on Thursday.
After an interesting breakfast – Indonesians eat rice at every meal, as well as meats and seafood – we headed off to our guide’s public school – SMP 49 in east Jakarta. During Ramadan I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat or drink much, so I fueled up!
As we drove into the school, we were greeted by students hanging over the railings and the teachers and administrator in the parking lot. We were surprised to learn that it was a school holiday for the start of Ramadan, yet the students and teachers came to school anyways just to meet us. They made us feel like celebrities as we exited our bus!
We began with a faculty meeting to discuss global education and get to know each other. It was interesting that the principal began and ended the meeting with prayers.
We spent the next hour working in classrooms. To our surprise, the English teacher wanted us to teach his students, so we launched into a discussion about our schools, families, and culture of America. Notice the uniforms in this 8th grade English classroom – especially the sneakers! My partner, Amy, is from Chico, California, and we had prepared a Prezi on her iPad which really came in handy.
The classrooms were sparsely decorated and moderately air conditioned. Students here test into the school, so they are considered high-achieving. They are extremely fluent in English, although some are reluctant to speak. It was interesting to me that a student leader rose when we entered, then asked the rest of the class to do the same. They greeted us, said a prayer, then took their seats.
They are fascinated with American teens and really loved hearing about our own kids and students. They said they love Twitter and American movies!
Everywhere we went and everything we did they documented with video and photos – the teachers are so eager to learn about what American classrooms are like and how we teach. I was impressed with the emphasis on behavior and respect, as evidenced by signs all around the school.
I was touched by how delighted the school was with our visit, and how honored and respected they made us feel. I really think that these students and teachers have so much in common with us in the US – they want to learn, improve and have great hope for their futures. We left with happy hearts and new connections to help us learn to be better global citizens.
Typical meal at Ramadan breaking the fast