Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Raining, It's Pouring!


I received an acceptance letter to the MS program in Communication Sciences and Disorders Speech Language Pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions this morning!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm a Little Teapot

At our mid-year conference, my fellow ETAs shared some of their classroom successes and ideas. It was really helpful to get some fresh and creative lesson plans. One of my favorite suggestions was made by Dani. All of us ETAs have students that misbehave or generally ignore the fact that we're teaching. Other teachers at our schools either don't use any forms of discipline or use physical punishment [hitting, thrashing hands, push-ups, etc.]. I'm a fan of discipline, but I'm not a fan of physical punishment. Dani had the grand idea of using embarrassment as punishment. When her students misbehave she makes them sing I'm a Little Teapot in front of the class. She said her students loved it. As she was telling me this I was imagining my classes of 36 17 year old boys dancing around to I'm a Little Teapot...if nothing else, it would probably cheer me up when they were being bad.

Below is a sample from Class 1 MA. Don't worry! They're not being punished, they're just learning the song. As for enthusiasm, they are not the most enthusiastic bunch I've got. I have some classes that love the song! Again, enjoy!

Thanks to Chesh for the great travel video camera!

Down By the Bay

Everyone loves Raffi--my preschoolers in Boston and my high schoolers in Magelang! A fun lesson on rhyming ended with the students begging me to let them sing the song...again and again. So here are some of their rousing renditions of Down By the Bay. Enjoy!
Here's Class 1 LC:

Here's Class 1 EA:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Presidential Plans

President Obama has announced that he will be visiting Indonesia in March. Excellent news! The whole country, myself included, is excited.
Unfortunately, President Obama has declined to meet with the Fulbrights. Drat! I was hoping that being one of the few American citizens living here and having a prestigious fellowship offered by the U.S. government I might be able to meet the leader of our nation. Well, apparently the prestige of the Fulbright is not as far reaching as I thought. What's the use of this Fellowship if it can't even get us an audience with the President? Admittedly, he might have more pressing matters to attend to in Indonesia than meeting us. I wasn't asking for much though--only 5 minutes to introduce myself and take some photos!
I had grumpily resigned myself to the missed opportunity when the Jakarta Post released this article President Obama intends to give a public speech in Jakarta during his visit. Ah-ha! Opportunity! I learned many lessons growing up as Cheryl Vickery's niece, but one of the most important was that you can almost anything you want if you look cute, smile, argue sweetly and persuasively, and are persistent and bold. Secret Service agents and Presidents might not be as easy to convince as your average person, but it's worth a try. I will be at the front of that public speech in my cutest batik shirt with a huge sparkly eye-catching sign. And if I don't get to shake President Obama's hand and introduce myself to him, at the very least I will be there. And his missed opportunity will be as great as mine. Here's hoping!

Any suggestions for what my sign should say?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Love Lists

Things I Can't Believe I Lived Without Before Indonesia:
-> My 'Bus: especially Ibu Rina and Ibu Mila
-> My students: they are funny, sweet, and laugh at everything I do
-> Constant simple kindnesses from perfect strangers
-> Fresh mangoes, mangosteen, pineapple, papaya, rambutan, and more for only pennies!
-> Pet cicak: small geckos that infiltrate all corners of my house
-> October to February and I'm not freezing to death!
-> Friday morning workouts: more to come on this later...nothing makes me laugh more
-> A rice cooker: so easy, so fluffy, so perfect
-> Angkots: public transportation that while incredibly unreliable costs only $.20 and will inevitably eventually get you where you need to go
-> Milas: a delicious organic vegetarian experience
-> Yupi Strawberry Kiss: a gummy, heart-shaped, strawberry flavored, sugar-coated candy that has added Vitamin C [which is my excuse for eating it]
-> Excellent tofu and tempe
-> "Cantik dan pintar sekali": being considered beautiful and intelligent by nearly everyone I meet no matter what I do, say, or look like at the time
-> The other 31 Fulbrights: who keep me sane, safe, happy, and entertained

Things I Desperately Miss from the Motherland:
-> My family: the whole wild, extended bunch
-> Friends: the elders, the peers, and the little ones
-> Ovens: I want to bake!
-> Bagels: bread in general, but bagels the most
-> Cheese: cheddar, feta, bleu, provolone, mozzerella, swiss, brie...every kind
-> Mustard, hot sauce that isn't sweet, pesto: you know, all my favorite condiments
-> Salad: raw vegetables are dangerous and there seems to be a general lack of lettuce
-> Slices and Back Home Again
-> Privacy
-> Moving without dripping sweat from every part of my body
-> Hockey: the excitement of the game, the companionship of the team and staff, and the coolness of the rink
-> Reliable doctors [Dr. George] and medicine: after a few days of throwing up everything that passes your lips, the last thing you want to worry about is whether the medical treatment you get will kill you
-> The library
-> Ease of movement: easily getting where I want to go when I want to go there
-> General lack of unwanted roommates: bugs, rodents, lizards, etc.
-> Reliable power
-> Well water

Both lists subject to revision when and as needed!

Friday, February 12, 2010


I am officially finished applying to graduate school! Finally.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Miss Sarah Daily Activity"

I've never been into reality t.v.. It's just not my thing. Most of it is either incredibly boring or amazingly stupid. I'll admit, I get sucked into The Girls Next Door as often as anyone...I mean, who doesn't want to know what it's like to live with Hugh Hefner?...but really I'd rather see something else if I'm going to watch television. I have also always adamantly sworn that I will never be on a reality t.v. show. Most of the people on those shows either have serious undiagnosed issues or are incredibly narcissistic and out of touch with reality. I do not need to subject myself to that atmosphere.
Between my classes this morning the principal called me and asked me to meet him in his office. He is giving a presentation in English next week and I assumed he wanted more help with his pronunciation [I am a qualified 'native speaker' you know]. So when I arrived and he said, "the cameras are coming now," I was confused.
"What cameras?"
"For Miss Sarah Daily Activity!"
"Miss Sarah Daily Activity! ... Your t.v. show."
"EXCUSE ME?!?!?!"
"Yes. The cameras follow you in your daily activity. When you get up in the morning, when you eat lunch, when you go buy something in the market, maybe sometime you take a bus to Yogyakarta and they will come with you. You show us your good habits. How you be healthy. And they go to all your classes! Every class. All of Java can learn English with Miss Sarah!" He looks at me as if this was the obvious explanation.
At this point my eyes have glazed over and I've gone into a catatonic shock state. In my mind I see myself in my completely Indo-inappropriate pajamas brushing my teeth at my kitchen sink with 2 video cameras manned by 8 Indonesians aimed at my face. I am horrified. I manage to stutter, "All of my classes?"
"All class you teach before you go to America! The people learn English with Miss Sarah! Maybe in Semarang and Surabaya and Jakarta. They want to know Miss Sarah and her lesson. And you will be actress. You put on your big bag [referring to my backpacker's pack] and walk like you arrive here today. Everyone will see your life!"
I'm struggling to understand. What did I do to deserve this? All of my classes? Most of my classes are at best rowdy and barely managable...add cameras to the mix and I predict complete chaos. My daily activities? My daily activities are not that interesting...even to me. What the heck happened to privacy? And permission? How can they expect to produce a television show without even asking the star if she wants to be in it? This is a cruel punishment for me and for the Indonesian public. No one should be subjected to seeing my sweaty, red-faced body if they can avoid it. Also, this is definitely a breach of my Fulbright contract. I'm only allowed to teach at my school. This can not be happening. This is some kind of joke. I can not let this happen.
I calmly and firmly replied, "No".
The principal looked at me in bewilderment. First, people do not say no to the principal. His word is the ultimate command...sort of like King Henry VIII. Second, he clearly thought something had been lost in his explanation. Why wouldn't I want to do this? So he called in my Ibu. She explained again what they wanted. There was no misunderstanding. They had signed me up for an island-wide television show titled Miss Sarah Daily Activity and they wanted to start filming today.
"No. This is not okay."
My Ibu relayed this to the principal by telling him that I didn't want to do it. Not only did I not want to do this, not only did the mere idea of this make me want to gag, but there was no way Fulbright would be okay with this.
"No. It's not me! It's AMINEF [Fulbright in Indonesia]. AMINEF will not allow this. I am only supposed to teach at your school. I am special for this school. No one else is allowed in my classes. If you want to do this you must ask permission first from AMINEF." When in doubt, pin it on the authorities.
It took a good 20 minutes to convince them that I was serious. They finally agreed to talk to AMINEF. The 'cameras' were called and told "maybe next week" [not if I have anything to say about it]. I went back to class, head on a swivel, keeping an eye out for any cameras tracking my progress.
Just when you think your life can't get any stranger...they want to make it into a reality television show!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My School

On Wednesdays I don't teach students. Instead, I visit different departments on a rotating schedule and "teach" the teachers English. Theoretically, I'm there to help them practice what they know and teach them key phrases. Mostly they just smile at me, take my photo, and watch me fidget and watch them for 3 hours. It's rarely my favorite day of the week.

Today I went to the guidance and counseling office. It was a typical session except for...the board. Behold the board of wonderfully useful demographic information! I remember when I first arrived in Magelang. I asked all of these questions about the school's demographics. How many students? Are they all Muslim? How many girls really go here? No one could answer my questions with a definitive answer. They should have just taken me by the hand and lead me to the the guidance office. This board takes up an entire wall of this office and displays a level of organization that made my heart happy. It basically tells you all the information you need to know about the students.

The first chart refers to gender by department and class year. The total number of students, I was surprised to discover, is 1586. There are no girls in the machine department [I teach half of my classes in this department]. The most girls are in the electronics department. And finally, there are a total of 185 female students at our school. That is 11.66% of the student body. Considering that more than 10% of the students are female, it is strange that the staff continues to maintain that this is an all-boys' school.

The second chart divides the students by class year and religion. Of the 1586 students, 1520 are Muslim. There are 28 Catholics and 37 Protestants. One lonely 11th grader is Hindu. There are no Buddhists.

The third chart shows the occupation of the students' fathers. The categories are military or police, government employee, retired, farmer, merchant, and "other" [which includes a large percentage who are unemployed].

The last chart shows the students' ages by class year. They range in age from 15 to 21. The mode age is 18.

I found the chart fascinating. All of this information I had been asking about! In one very organized place. I asked if I could take a picture...they looked at me like I was crazy. The best thing was that my interest finally got them talking. They started to tell me about all the problems the students have here. Most of them are from very small villages around Magelang City. Many of them can not afford to pay tuition [education is not free in Indonesia and is actually very expensive] because their parents are unemployed. The counselors described all of the house visits they go on to access each student's living situation and level of need. They were appalled by the condition of many of the "homes" and said that many of them could not really be considered houses. If Indonesians were appalled, I can't imagine what Americans would think. The board helped me to get better acquainted with my school. Our conversations about the board reminded me how lucky I have been to grow up where education is free and in a home that is a house and where there has always been enough money for all necessities.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Making the Most of Every Situation: Murphy's Law and UNO

Everyone who endured high school science knows about Murphy's Law. "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". What they don't teach you in school is that the magnitude of Murphy's Law varies by global region. Murphy's Law is exponentially more powerful in Indonesia than in the U.S..
You want to take a shower before you go to work? The power is out and, therefore, so is the water. You want to finish your last application to graduate school? There's no internet today. You need your laundry back so that you have clean clothes to wear to school tomorrow? Sorry, it rained today...maybe on Wednesday. You want to cook a healthy dinner tonight? There are no vegetables at the grocery store today. You want to go to Medan? Your flight is delayed 4 hours; you're going to miss your connection in Jakarta. You want to give your students a handout? The copier is broken...still.
So how do you survive? You adapt. You stop making definite plans and you add ample extra time into every scheduled activity. You become a master of contingency plans. You let go. You stop caring so much that things happen the way you want them to. You accept Murphy's Law; you anticipate it. Then, when something is easy or something does work the first are pleasantly surprised.
The most common inconvenience of my life here is power outages. I lose power almost every day for a few hours. So when the power went out on Wednesday around 1 p.m., I sighed and resigned myself to another afternoon going past without sending off my graduate applications. I read, I did some lesson planning, and I tried very hard not to move because it was stifling hot. Dinnertime came and I cooked by the light of my headlamp. Around 7 p.m., I was starting to get antsy...this was a long outage. I looked out the window--"hey, there are lights out there!". Sure enough, all the buildings around me had power. I went and checked the fuse box. Nothing wrong there. I even reset the master switch just to be sure. Still no power. Now I was a little annoyed. I'm alright with going powerless if everyone else is, but why do I not have power and the people around me all do?
It was a mystery that I wanted to solve. I pulled on some more appropriate clothes, grabbed my keys, and with headlamp securely on my head went out to find someone to explain to me what was going on. I didn't have to go far. The internet man, Mas Dar, was only about 50 feet away from my house sitting with two students. His little internet shack is attached to my house. He didn't have power either. Mas Dar doesn't speak English and after a few minutes of bumbling through Bahasa Indonesia together he explained that they were doing some electrical repairs to one of the buildings at school and the wires were connected to my house. Great. He told me to sit down with them and wait. So I did. After a few minutes sitting silently and having the three boys watch me I started to think about what I could do to entertain them while we waited. The idea came to me and I ran back into my house to get two things: a dictionary and UNO.
UNO. You know, the card game. I love UNO. It entertained me during countless plane, train, and bus rides in Spain and Australia. Lucas and I played hundreds of games of a Harry Potter themed special edition last summer. I could play all day long. I had brought a pack with me to Indonesia in the hopes of using it in the classroom [little did I know that I would have 36 kids in each class]. UNO is perfect because the rules are simple and you really don't need to know how to speak English. I explained the rules and added one of my own: no Bahasa Java. If we spoke in a mix of Bahasa Indonesia and English then I would at least have a fighting chance of understanding what everyone was saying. They agreed.
We started to play. They loved it. We played for two and a half hours. We played until my power came back on. And then we played a few more rounds. We played until I finally had to announce that I really needed to go to bed if I was going to be able to teach in the morning.
It was great! We laughed and joked and taught each other words. It was wonderful to feel them finally relax around me. It was great to have people to share the long wait with. It was nice to have people smile and look at me because I was being silly and not because my skin is white. It was nice to interact with individuals enough to actually remember their names and faces [Dedi and Ardi]. We made the most of the situation. The power was out and we were hot and bored; but then we forgot all about that. Instead, I came out of the power outage with some new friends and a story to share.
Some UNO terms:
Reverse: Kembali
Draw two: Ambil dua
Skip: Meloncati
Draw: Minum [interestingly enough this literally means 'drink']
Red: Merah
Yellow: Kuning
Blue: Biru
Green: Hijau
Tricky tricky!: Licik-licik!
This morning the internet wasn't working so I went outside to search for a wireless signal in the hopes of checking my e-mail. Instantly, I was joined by some of my students. So much for checking my e-mails privately. I spotted Mas Dar and Dedi sitting outside the internet hut. Come on, I told my students. I went back into the house and got my UNO cards. Mau bermain UNO? [Want to play UNO?] This morning's games were even better. We played for over 3 hours until my stomach was growling so loud that I had to go inside and make some lunch. We got 8 players involved at one point. Everyone relaxed enough to eventually gang up on me and work together to make sure I didn't win again [Is it because I'm a girl or because I'm American? I joked]. And, surprise of all surprises, they started to talk in English. Maybe it was because they finally realized I'm not going to roast them and eat them if they make a mistake. Maybe it was because I wasn't acting like a teacher and we weren't in a classroom. Maybe it was because there weren't 35 other students listening to them. I don't know. But they started to say more than I had ever heard them say before. Revenge!, one of them cried after I put down a +2 forcing him to draw two cards. 'Revenge' is definitely not part of the lesson on self-introductions. I wonder what other gems of knowledge my students have been hiding from me in the classroom.
All in all, it feels good to have a way to connect with people outside of the classroom. It is nice to play a simple game and relax with people. When I leave in June, I know I'll be leaving behind my UNO cards.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Anyone who visits Indonesia for a reasonable length of time will undoubtedly encounter durian. Anyone who encounters durian will have a strong opinion about it. In my experience, people feel one of two ways about durian: they love it or they hate seems that no one is indifferent to this unique fruit. Durian is a fruit indigenous to Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesians call it the "King of Fruits". As shown below it is brown, sharply-spiked, and oblong. Durian can grow quite large--I've seen some twice the size of a human head. The outside of durian is hard and breaks apart into segments that contain the seeds and flesh of the fruit. The first thing thing you notice when encountering durian is the smell. I have no words to adequately describe this distinctly foul aroma. Richard Sterling wrote, "its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia". He is not exaggerating. The smell is potent and far-reaching both in space and time. Everyone knows that someone ate durian for hours afterwards because the smell clings both to their breath and their hands. According to Indonesians I've spoken to, the only cure for this is to wash your hands in water poured in the skin of the durian...I don't know if it works. Most hotel rooms that I've stayed in here have signs clearly outlining hefty fines for bringing durian into the building. Believe me, the hotel staff will know if you try to sneak it in.
Durian is something of a delicacy here. Nearly everything comes in durian flavor--ice cream, candies, lollipops...even condoms. Surprisingly, durian is quite expensive. For a small fruit sold on the street, you would expect to pay around 1500 RP or $1.50 US. For a larger durian the cost could be upwards of 100,000 RP or $10 US. Compared to my 5 mangoes for 50 cents, that is very expensive and clearly outside the average person's price range. Therefore, durian becomes a special treat.
I've been skillfully avoiding durian since the day I arrived. The smell was enough to put me off, but I probably would have been adventurous if the cost wasn't so ridiculous compared to fruits that I knew I liked. Today, however, my luck changed. At a meeting this morning the teachers excitedly announced that a visitor from Jakarta had yesterday given the school office several durians. Great, I thought. Before I knew it, everyone was crowding around to see me have my first taste of their revered local fruit. I knew this was not going to go well; but I gathered all of my courage, held my breath, and took the smallest piece of fruit that I could. I wish that I had a picture of my face at the moment of my first taste. The texture was surprisingly creamy and pleasant. The taste was anything but pleasant. I am incapable of capturing it for you in words. The closest I can come is that it tasted like a moldy, rotting onion mixed with something vaguely meat-like. They made me try it twice. Immediately, my stomach started churning. I gulped down a whole cup of sweet tea and a glass of water. Even now, hours later, I can faintly taste the durian on the roof of my mouth. The "King of Fruits" is not my friend. Lesson learned: stick to the cheap, delicious local fruits like mangoes and mangosteen. It's always an adventure!

My counterpart, Ibu Rina, loves durian. It is her favorite fruit. She was incredibly excited to have some free durian today...and probably more excited that I didn't like it and there was, therefore, more for her to enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Visible Happiness

"There is no cosmetic for beauty like happiness." - Countess of Blessington

Monday, February 1, 2010

Anthropology 101

I'm an Anthropologist. At least that is what my diploma from Colgate claims...I'm not so sure I agree with their assessment of my anthropological [or sociological for that matter] skills. Regardless of my qualifications, Indonesia has provided me with a very interesting culture and society to observe. I've been conducting participant-observation since the day I arrived and I could probably write a pretty interesting book by now if I had the patience to research the theoretical groundwork.
During the first two weeks in January, I conducted some slightly more tangible anthropological inquiries. My school, instead of letting me teach my classes, was dragging me around to all of the classes that I don't teach and having me introduce myself and basically answer the students' questions for 2 hours in each room. A boring waste of turn it into an anthropological game. I started to mentally tally the most common questions I received from the students. And I started to ask some questions of my own.
Top 3 Questions Received from Indonesian Students:
1. Do you have a boyfriend?
2. Do you have facebook?
3. Where have you been in Indonesia? Tell us about your travels in Indonesia.
Okay, so they weren't exactly peering into my soul. But the question about where I've been in Indonesia started to interest me. And I started to ask questions back.
My Questions:
1. Raise your hand if you have been in an airplane.
2. Raise your hand if you have been to another country.
3. Raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java.
4. Raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java and is not Bali.
I asked all the classes that I visited. Then I asked my classes. Then I asked the teachers in the teachers' room. Of the 2,000 students at the school I probably asked 1,500. A pretty good sample size if I do say so myself. What were my results? Maybe you've already guessed, but I was fairly shocked. Keep in mind that each class has 36 students.
Question 1: "raise your hand if you have been in an airplane". Look around the room, on average 0-3 people are raising their hands [including the teachers] and usually we're on the low end of that scale.
Question 2: "raise your hand if you have been to another country". Around the room, on average, 0-1 people are raising their hands. The people that are raising their hands have been to Malaysia. Our school has a program where during 11th grade 5-10 lucky students get to go to Malaysia to apprentice in their chosen industry. These are also the kids who have raised their hand about the airplanes.
Question 3: "raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java". Results here are skewed due to the 12th grade all taking a bus to Bali for 2 days in December. Hence the need for question 4. In the 10th and 11th grade classes, 0-3 hands raised on average. Typically, these students have taken a boat to Sulawesi. A very few have taken a boat to Sumatra.
Question 4: "raise your hand if you have been to an island that is not Java and is not Bali". Again, on average 0-3 hands are raised. Like the underclassmen, the few lucky seniors have been to Sulawesi or Sumatra.
Results for the teachers followed the same trends.
Conclusion: The vast majority of these students and teachers have never left the island of Java.
Prediction: The vast majority of these people will never leave the island of Java or if they do, they won't go much farther away than another island in Indonesia that is reachable by boat.
Significance of Findings: I found a two-fold significance for my findings. First, I felt pretty darn guilty. I have been on more airplanes than I can count. I have been to 15 countries and 6 of Indonesia's islands. I have seen more of Indonesia than any of the students or teachers I talked to. This is their country. I'm only visiting. How is it fair that they have to ask me, an American, to tell them about their country? It once again threw into sharp light how privileged I am. How can I share my privilege with my school? I can't afford to take them all with me wherever I go. But I have a new resolve to share all of my Indonesian travel experiences with my students--to show them pictures and tell them stories that show them what a diverse, interesting, and wonderful country they live in. It is the very least I can do.
As for the second significance--all the the experience and the entire world that most of the people I encounter here know is confined to the island of Java. They honestly do not have experience with the rest of the wider world. I am one of the only Westerners that many of them have met and certainly the only Westerner that they have interacted with frequently. This means that the comments that make me cringe and want to create lessons on diversity, feminism, human rights, etc. do not stem from ill-intentions but rather from pure inexperience and/or ignorance. It does not occur to the average citizen of Magelang that telling Nicole that she can't possibly be American and rather must be from Papua or Africa because her skin is black is rude, hurtful, and incorrect. Same with asking Carrie to speak Chinese even though she has repeatedly stated that she is Korean-American and doesn't know Korean let alone Mandarin because she grew up in the U.S.. It is difficult to remember and at times hard to hold my tongue. But my little survey really helped me unearth where these comments are coming from and gave me some peace of mind about their intentions.
Further Research Questions: The students and teachers that I questioned had similar levels of experience travelling outside of Java. Why then do adults make the majority of cringe-worthy statements? Sachi pointed out during my visit that I have to spend more time in the classroom "disciplining" the other teachers than I do disciplining the students ["Please don't distract the students, we are in the middle of a lesson." "Please don't answer your cell phone in the middle of the classroom." "Please use English in English class."]. She's right. Most of my 'behavior complaints' would be lodged against adults not kids. For the most part, it's the adults who leer at me and ask me about my experiences with 'free sex' and drugs; who send me inappropriate text messages at 3 a.m.; who tell Jenny that she's not American because she looks Chinese and Ab that he must be from Papua because his skin is not white like a 'normal' American; and who blatantly ignore my requests for privacy. Why is that? Is it generational? Do kids just have a more international worldview and better grasp of Western culture due to their higher exposure to television, music, the Internet, and facebook? Or is it something else? Are my students just better at reading my body language and facial expressions? Are they more in tune with what makes me uncomfortable because they are closer in age to me than my adult counterparts? It was certainly my students who first noticed my discomfort at being commanded to lead them in prayer before and after class. Is it just that they watch me more closely? To be determined...

[NOTE: I love Indonesia and Indonesians of all ages. This post was in no way meant to point fingers at individuals or pass judgements on societies or cultures. Please do not take offense.]