Teens aren't all that different in Indonesia

Teaching Teenagers In Indonesia – They’re Not So Different From American Teens

*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 so many today are celebrating 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.
~Jennifer

Sitting in my western style hotel room, sitting in a comfortable bed sipping coffee and watching CNN, I might think I’m at home in America.  Then I hear the faint strains of the morning prayers broadcast outside, and am instantly clear that outside this window is a completely different world than what I’m used to. Teaching teenagers in Indonesia is opening up my ways of thinking.

Indonesia
Indonesia city view

Systems in Indonesia

After only 76 hours in Indonesia, I’m beginning to understand some of the systems.  The Indonesian people are all about hospitality and helpfulness, even when they don’t speak my language.  I’m having a hard time learning Indonesian phrases – for some reason, they don’t hit my ear correctly and I cannot memorize even the simplest words. Teenagers in Indonesia aren’t really all that different than teens in America – but the schools are. Gender separation, strict uniforms, and forcing the teachers to move rooms instead of the students are unlike U.S. schools, but the goals and interests of Indonesian teens are amazingly similar.

Communicating in an Indonesian school.
Communicating in an Indonesian school.

 

What NOT to do in Indonesia

I’ve learned not to take photos in a grocery store, to use my hand in a downward flat palm position when I need to push through a crowd (personal space is very limited), and that cold Bintang beer tastes great after a day hanging out with a Komodo dragon in the 91-degree humid weather.

I’ve learned that teachers in Indonesia worry about many of the same things we do in the US – how to celebrate and teach diversity, how to engage students who are more interested in social media than school, and how to preserve their cultural identity, all on a salary of $150-$300/month.

Indonesian school project about climate change.
Indonesian school project about climate change.

Learning from each other

Today I begin teaching in a religious boarding school.  I’m hopeful that I make easy connections with the students and can understand what we can do to make our world a little bit better by working together.  I know the Indonesian people are as eager to learn from us as I am from them.

Teens aren't all that different in Indonesia
Teens aren’t all that different in Indonesia.
Teaching in Indonesia
Teaching in Indonesia.
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Indonesian school

Teaching In Jakarta, Indonesia, During Ramadan

*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.
~Jennifer
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.
Indonesia

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.

Indonesian breakfast
Indonesian breakfast

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!
Indonesia

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!

Ramadan
Indonesia school

 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. Indonesia

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.
Indonesian school
Indonesian school
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
Typical meal at Ramadan breaking the fast

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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On the Corner of Dream Ave. and Believe St.: Stepping Out Of Our Comfort Zone

“To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control over us than we have over ourselves.”

                             ~ Peter McWilliams

comfort zone
From angelvillanueva.com

What is on the other side of change?  How often, when we find ourselves happily cruising down the  road of life, do we stop and think about what’s next? The superstitious among us might not want to jinx a good thing-why think about what might be around the next bend? Why not just keep on chugging forward? Don’t rock the boat? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, right?

I’m wondering if maybe it actually is.

As Peter McWilliams, author of Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts and Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School—But Didn’t says, if we really want to live our dreams, perhaps we should think what’s just beyond the horizon or around the corner. Pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone means a momentary loss of control-scary for some of us, exhilarating for others.

Living in our comfort zone is safe.  We know what to expect, and we often feel guaranteed of the outcome.  That is, well, comforting.  Whether it’s the salary we earn from a job we don’t feel passionate about, or a relationship we are used to, a weight we feel is ok, or a dream we think we’ll never achieve, staying put is only a guarantee that the part of life that is comfortable will likely stay the same.

But is that living our dreams? Are we simply designed to be content, with only the renegades among us willing to take a risk?

12 7 iNDONESIA TRIP 110Last summer, I traveled to Indonesia-a place I never considered as part of my life travel itinerary. That experience propelled me to take dozens of risks, including getting incredibly cozy with a Komodo dragon. I remember the palpitation of my heart, the baby steps I took, first touching the back, the tail, and them finally getting close enough to his face to brush my lips to his scales.  Recently, the Jakarta Globe’s story of a Komodo attack that left two people in the hospital prompted discussion among our travel group: were we courageous, or simply stupid?  I say, courageous.

I think of the pioneer women who traveled across the west without any clue of what lay before them. They stuffed their wagons full of all the comforts of life, sure that their china, linens, furniture and even their beloved piano would not only safely make the trip, but also provide the much desired civilization they left behind.  Leaving their comfort zone often meant following their husband’s dreams, not their own. But they went anyway, knowing they might never go back. I’m sure komodo dragons weren’t on their worry radar, but undoubtedly the fear of the unknown, the fear for their children, and their second guessing of their decision as they huddled over a campfire for the hundredth time must have seriously tested their strength.

The curveballs life throws today’s women is similar.  Many of us follow expected gender roles, marry, have children, and put our careers second to raising the family.  Others forgo the traditional route, choosing instead to follow their dream job at the expense of what our mother’s generation could barely fathom.  Still other women try to balance both, exhausting themselves between juggling babies, bosses and never feeling wholly present in both worlds. Like the pioneer women, we ruminate over our choices, wondering if we’re on the right path.

Stepping out of our comfort zone, regardless of our social, marital or work status, requires a leap of faith; sure that our future can be more than this, that our life is ours to create.  It requires courage, determination, and often, a bit of impracticality.  Taking calculated risks that push us towards our boundaries, to find out what is on the other side of change, is scary.  Like a rocket shooting off into the darkness of the universe, sometimes we must trust that the plans have been laid, but the process might bow,flex and bend us into places we least expected to land.

Power-shift
Power-shift (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

With all our feminist advances, women today have no guidebook to navigate motherhood, marriage and the myriad of opportunities in front of us. I say that’s a good thing.

Consider that your comfort zone is perfect for where you’ve been and where you are right now. Consider going at your own pace, placing opportunities in front of you like a master chess player, sometimes hoping that the risky move won’t be noticed by the opponent and will propel you to the win.  Prepare for the setback, the capture, and the ultimate possibility that the grass really is greener on the other side. Think of the words author Neale Donald Walsch wrote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Where do you want your life to begin tomorrow?

What are you waiting for? Where do you want to go in life? What have you got to lose?

Take that leap.  Step outside yourself. Take control of your dreams. Experience a little discomfort-it means that life is happening.

Let me know what changes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Jakarta: Wrapping It Up

We got an early start for our request to see the original harbor, home to the shipping area of the spice trade.  At first our request was met with hesitation; Yuna didn’t want to take us to ‘the dark side of Jakarta’, but we were eager to see come cultural history outside the schools and mosques.  Driving to Jakarta on a Sunday proved much faster than ever before, and we found ourselves in the port area after 45 minutes.  It took a while to navigate the maze-like streets near the port, but eventually we arrived at the Port Museum and Syanbandar Lookout Tower.
The tower, built in 1839, was used for weighing goods and measuring the distance to other places from Batavia City.  Surveys done in the late 1900s found it was built at a distinct angle, sort of like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The tower overlooks Priok Port and is ringed with cannons to help in watching for incoming enemy ships.  It was also used as a custom’s house, as the port was home to the spice, gold and slave trade starting in the 5th century.

 

We found the adjacent museum fascinating.  Following the history of the port provided insight into the many cultures that had traveled through modern-day Jakarta, including traders from India, China, Portugal and the Malacca Strait.  Outrigger boats appeared there 4,500 year ago and then spread to Madagascar and the Pacific Islands.

The port survived Dutch battles and occupation as an international transit point for silk, tea, coffee, tobacco and spices.  It also brought missionaries to spread the Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic faiths to Indonesia.

 

 

The port was crowded but felt safe.  We were surprised to see other white tourists wandering around the stalls lining the harbor.  Driving onto the shipping area allowed us a real treat – we bravely walked a gangplank high above the water to board a working ship.  The crew allowed us to go all over the ship, which was hauling cement to Kalimantan.  We felt like we had stepped back in history as we climbed around and eventually came across the Sulawesi captain, dressed only in a sarong, who wasn’t overly excited to see us on his ship.  We were particularly pleased that our host summoned us the courage to board the ship as well – she was terribly frightened because she cannot swim.

 

 

Our host drove us back to our Jakarta hotel to meet up with
the rest of the TGC cohort.  We were sad
to say goodbye, but eager to meet up with our colleagues and swap adventure
stories.
Today’s trip to the ‘dark side of Jakarta’ illuminated my
suspicion that there were areas and parts of the Indonesian culture our hosts
really didn’t want us to see.  To me,
seeing how the ‘common’ people live and work is crucial to understanding where
Indonesia is as a developing country, and clarifies areas that need improvement.  Again, this push and pull between traditional
and modern aspects highlighted the struggle Indonesians face as the move into
the 21st century.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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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?

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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