Just Another Day In Indonesia…


Dies Natalis

When I first met my counterparts way back in Malang, one of the first things they told me about was Dies Natalis, or, our school’s birthday/anniversary. “We would like you to help prepare for when it’s time for our school birthday. Usually our English Club puts on a drama.” Ok, no problem, I thought – though I was a little confused. Who celebrates school birthdays? Turns out that’s quite common here and many schools have a few days of activities to commemorate their institution each year. My school goes above and beyond. We have 7 full days of activity (Monday right through Sunday, no weekend here!) with one last activity the following Saturday evening. And during that time there’s no class, just a variety of competitions and performances from the students…with teachers running the activities, judging, and occasionally participating.

Dies Natalis (also spelled dis natalis?) officially begins tomorrow (Monday) at school but we have been preparing for months. Our English Club will perform a drama, the Indonesian folk tale of Timun Mas and Buto Ijo, directed by yours truly. The kids have been working hard on memorizing their lines, finding costumes, and creating props and scenery. Our big debut (and only showing) will be on Thursday – Happy Indonesian Thanksgiving! We will also have an English language singing competition (“English Idol”) and an English story telling competition for junior high school students. To kick things off, we have a mural painting competition and a school magazine competition (which basically means classes can create posters depicting a theme and the best one wins). Classes also compete for the cleanest classroom award – a brilliant idea, if you ask me. My 11th graders are MESSY. And for my grand finale on Saturday I will be joining one of my classes to dance Gangnam Style on stage in front of the whole school. Dancing is not my forte (understatement), but after hours and hours of practice, I’ve got it down. Check out the video here – we are copying the dance that this flash mob did at Cornell University – though we will be adding a short skit as an introduction before the dance.



Here’s a few photos of the prep…


These students are part of my counterpart’s homeroom class so she is responsible for helping them prepare for Dies Natalis. This is the same class that invited me to join them to dance Gangnam Style and seeing as I am not a homeroom teacher, I’ll be adopting them/rooting for them to win the competitions this week. Here, the students (plus my cp and her kids) and prepping their poster for the school magazine contest.


One of my favorite things about my school is students get the opportunity to paint murals at school every year. These two too-cool-for-school kids are also in Bu Chris’ homeroom class (IPS 2). Note that the mural is not painted yet – the red color is from the red tarp protecting this masterpiece from the rain.


The theme for this year’s mural competition is “character building” which is a frequent theme in Indonesian schools…but I’ll save that for another blog post. Last year’s was Environmental Education so the back of our school is covered with pictures and slogans to encourage students to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Stop Global Warming. This year’s murals will adorn the south parking lot and I’m excited to see students’ interpretations of what is important in one’s character.


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As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been teaching a crazy fun bunch of elementary school kids on Fridays. A fews ago I had the brilliant idea to photograph them during les (“les” basically means “extra lessons” and it’s what people call any learning outside of school…my les is not traditional in any sense, it’s mostly games and songs and it’s a blast) so you can all see their bright shining faces. And as I said before, my high school students really do the bulk of the work. I prep the activities, prep the high school students, and off they go. The theme for this les was “Animals” and each high school student helped with a different station. The kids were grouped by age and rotated throughout all the stations in one hour. We had…

1. A coloring station where kids drew a picture of their favorite animal and wrote “My name is _________. My favorite animal is __________.” (My example was “My name is Sarah. My favorite animal is a cat.” Notice how many cats you see in the following pictures…) Technically I was manning this station but I mostly let the kids do their thing sendiri (alone).

2. A game called “Flyswatter.” There were two teams (usually boys and girls). Defi, one of my lovely high school students, would say the name of an animal and the first kid in each team had to hit the picture of that animal. The first correct one got a point. The kids had a BLAST with this.

3. Animal Memory Cards (also known as Concentration…one of my favorite games as a kid). Deva led this activity. There were many different cards of different animals but each had the pair. The kids had to concentrate to remember the pairs and then make the animal noise.

4. Old MacDonald Had a Farm with Sima, who has been my fearless leader for les. He’s a natural with the kids and he’s been the most consistant helper since week one. The kids absolutely adore him and I couldn’t do this without him!

5. Duck, Duck, Goose with Joko. The kids may or may not have understood the concept of running around in a circle but it was fun nonetheless. 🙂

And for the rest…I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.










This is when I became brilliant and took their pictures with their drawings…so helpful for learning names!





This blurry, unedited photo captures the pure energy and joy of 5th grade boys (possibly my new favorite groups of kids).



…pink? 🙂




The whole crowd.


Love these faces. 🙂

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School Successes

It’s been a long time since I blogged. To be honest, I’ve been losing my bloggin’ steam and so much has been happening around here that I’ve hardly had time to sit down and reflect. The main source of busyness has been school. While we still have random class cancellations frequently, school has been steady for the most part and I’ve been lesson planning and teaching 6 days a week. On top of that I’ve been staying very busy leading English Club and holding an English class for neighborhood elementary school kids…with the help of my high school students. To top that off, we have our school birthday/anniversary coming up in a couple weeks, and I’m co-directing a play and joining a class performance (AKA making a fool of myself as I try to learn to dance gangnam style). See what I mean about keeping busy? There’s so much I could say about all of these things, but it’s hard to know where to start so I’ll just write a brief list of successes in the school world.

Teaching with counterparts is hard. It’s easily 10 times harder for me than teaching alone. I like teaching alone. I get to be in control of what happens in class, I can easily switch things up on the fly and I understand all the instructions I give the class because I use only English (whether they understand is another story…). Teaching with a counterpart means sharing control, making decisions together, and sometimes it means I’m in the dark while my counterpart is talking to the class in bahasa Indonesia/Javanese. But despite the difficulties, I think teaching with a counterpart has great benefits, especially in terms of creating sustainable change. And I’m lucky to have really awesome counterparts. They are open to change and new ideas and willing to work with me and I just like them as people. We have our share of communication problems and I’ve had to bite my lip more than once in the past few weeks as I’ve become frustrated over something, but at the end of the day, I’m really grateful. Plus, my counterparts have had some awesome ideas, like starting this blog for our students…check it out!

One of my successes with counterparts has been the fact that we’ve scheduled regular meetings to lesson plan together. This is harder than it sounds…and continues to be challenging because our schedules are so different and that makes it difficult to be flexible when something comes up. But I will celebrate every success because I know from other PCVs that regular lesson planning is altogether too rare here.

I have one class that has been particularly difficult this semester. It’s not just in English, the teachers who teach their other classes (here, the same group of students makes up the same class and stays in the same classroom for every subject, while teachers move around from classroom to classroom) have also been having problems with them. Before I left for In Service Training (more on this in an upcoming post) I was at my wit’s end. But maybe me being gone for a few weeks did the trick because my students have been much better behaved since I got back. This is the same class where I got to have the Halloween Party (on my first day back!) which was just a blast. Fingers crossed that this good behavior continues…

My favorite activity that I’ve done so far is giving journals to my most advanced class. I told them these were their personal journals where they can write about anything…their daily activities, their likes and dislikes, their dreams, their families, their opinions about anything, etc. I didn’t put a page limit on it but I asked them to finish 4 levels (6 pages = 1 level) by the end of the semester. To put it simply, they’ve blown my expectations out of the water*. One student wrote 24 pages the first week. Some are writing original short stories and poems which is hard enough to do in your native tongue. Others give detailed explanations of what they do everyday and I get great insight into how this particular class functions as a group. There’s some teachers they love and some they can’t stand (although you would never know it in class as Indonesians are trained to not show these negative emotions) and I got 10 different versions of time a teacher made a student cry in class. Some of them have very creative ideas, and some write out step-by-step instructions to teach me to cook Indonesian food. Many students have opened up about personal issues, like loved ones who have died or the boy or girl they are in love with. I’ve been really moved by the amount of information they trust me with. They tell me about the problem they are having with their close friend and ask for my advice. I imagine this would be hard to do with any teacher…much less in a language asking me in English. And several of them have written glowing reports about me and my teaching which is definitely an ego-boost. Of course, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies…there are a few students who Bu Chris and I caught copying texts from the internet. But when I confronted these students they wrote endearing apologies to me in their journals the next week about “the lesson they will not forget.” I could go on, but suffice to say, Tuesday has become my favorite day of the week because I get to read their journals that day. 🙂

English Club attendance is going down, as is typical when a volunteer’s novelty has worn off a bit. The difference in my school is that we’ve had an English club for about 5 years before I arrived. From the beginning of the year I felt like it was my responsibility to come up with activities and lead English club. But, knowing full well this club existed before my arrival, I’ve been eager to shift the attention away from me and share the load. During the time I was in training English Club held its first annual English Club Student Elections and I’m proud to say we have a brand new president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. If there’s one thing I learned from my dad it’s delegation. I am ALL ABOUT delegating tasks to people – which is always good for sustainability. My student leaders have been extremely helpful in the last few weeks and I’m hopeful that we can build a solid foundation of student leadership for the future.

Speaking of student leaders, giving students responsibility and training them to be able to handle that responsibility is something I’m passionate about. I’m trying to incorporate this into my classes, my activities at school, and I’m trying to get students involved in activities I do outside of my school too. One such activity is my Friday neighborhood English class for elementary school kids. Since Week One my high schoolers have been helping me lead this and they are integral to its success. Usually I prepare the activities, the high school students come to my house early to practice the activities with me, and then I let them lead the show. It’s really fun to watch them teach and their self-confidence has been blossoming. The elementary school kids love it, too, as they look up to these high school students as role models. It’s all an around good time, and I have pics coming soon…in my next post. 🙂

Overall, these are a few of my school successes. To be sure, there’s been plenty of frustrations and set backs but I prefer to focus on the positive things that are working out. It’s been easy, especially recently after coming back from training, to feel overwhelmed…like I’m not really making a change and there’s just too many big structural obstacles standing in my way. But when I think about the little things, I realize that yeah, I am making a difference. Even if it’s just with those few students who write in their journal about me being their inspiration, or the students who are becoming strong and competent leaders in English club, or my counterparts who plan with me for our lessons down to the minute (something they said they’ve never done before)…it’s meaningful. Sorry if this posts sounds like I’m tooting my own horn; honestly, I’m telling myself these things to give me perspective…and also because I’m so proud of my students and can’t help bragging on them a little. 🙂

*I can’t claim any credit for their success journaling…most of them had a whole lot of talent and ability in English before I came along. Some are really improving but I doubt it’s because I’m a brilliant teacher…I think just having the opportunity to write is helping them improve. It’s awesome to see!


Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, a few days late! I know it’s been forever since I blogged. I’ve been busy as a bee and I will update y’all soon, but until then, enjoy these pictures of my students celebrating Halloween during the Halloween party we had in class on Oct 31st. 🙂


Students preparing their masks. Since students wear uniforms to school, my counterpart and I decided masks would be more simple and manageable, rather than asking students to dress in costumes.


The agenda for the day…with my handmade decorations hanging in the background. Every little ghost, cat, and pumpkin had a sentence written on it to be used during a later activity. Yeah…it was a lot of work…but I got to watch New Girl at the same time so it wasn’t so bad.


My counterpart, Bu Yuli.


These aren’t actually masks but these stealthy ninjas came up with their costumes on the spot (that’s the PE uniform you see there) so they get points for creativity.



Get your game face on.





The runner up for the winner of the Best Mask contest.


And this is the winner! (the middle one) This is an Indonesian ghost, actually, that apparently lives in this student’s village.


And this just plain creepy.


My counterpart and me. I am a lioness, she is a witch.

The whole class. They can be a little rowdy at times, but they’re a lot of fun!