Another semester is over and, just like that, it’s time for another Big Adventure. I and fellow PCV Britteney will be spending three weeks backpacking around Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I won’t be updating the blog for awhile because I won’t have my computer with me. So, enjoy the holidays and check back here in January!
November is always a busy month at SMAN 1 Ngunut. November 20th marks our school’s anniversary (this year being the 29th) but the whole month is dedicated to preparing for and celebrating the occasion. Last year you may remember that I danced Gangnum Style with my students (I still consider this my crowning achievement in Peace Corps) and helped directed the English Club drama. Last year our celebrations last eight days but this year we officially scaled back to only four. In reality, though, we still took a solid week for activities because the first few days included a girls’ volleyball tournament with 9 senior high schools in the area as well as the English spelling bee contest. Naturally all the classes were informally canceled because of these events.
Here’s the highlights:
Girls Volleyball Tournament
I was very excited to see that my school hosted a GIRLS sports event. I was also excited to see the girls in sports gear similar to what I would see in the States. More than anything this is just an emotional reaction. Though I’ve never blogged about it, I’ve talked with some my students about wearing a jilbab (veil) and their clothing choices. The ones I talked with were quite articulate about their reasons for/for not wearing these clothes. There’s not as much social pressure at my school for girls to be veiled compared to what I’ve heard about at other schools. (In fact, I’m currently very puzzled by several of my students who only wear a veil a few days of the week or just every now and then. But I’ll save that for another post another time.) For these reasons I respect the girls who make their own decisions about the clothes they wear. I also respect the fact that the volleyball girls got to wear spandex shorts! I love watching sports and I especially love seeing my students shine in areas outside the classroom so it was a blast to watch the tournament. I even convinced my counterpart to cancel class for it – something I have never advocated before…there’s a first time for everything. Our girls did well – they got 2nd place!
The English spelling bee was definitely a success. It was even better than the first spelling bee we had last May. I already blogged about Agus, who won first place. Other highlights for me were seeing so many of my English club students last into the final rounds. It was also fun to see them cheering on their friends. And one of my tenth graders stuck through almost to the end. He was the last tenth grader (and therefore youngest student) for several rounds.
Story Telling Competition & English Club Talent Show
Every year for the past nine years, our school has hosted an English story-telling competition for junior high school students. This is a promotional event to encourage students to come to our high school, particularly if they’re interested in English. It’s also the biggest event of the year for the English Club because they help host the event and usually perform a drama at the end of the storytelling competition to showcase the English talent of SMA students. Last year the students performed the tale of Buto Ijo, a Javanese tale about a giant green monster. I helped direct the drama last year and it was one of my favorite activities of the year. It really brought the students together. This year, however, we were off to a slow start. Whereas last year we rehearsed for about a month, this year we didn’t even start the discussion until two weeks before the event. The students said they would be too busy to prepare for a play so we improvised and we made an English Club Talent Show Competition. In my opinion it ended up being even more work than a drama since the students had to write their own scripts but it was still a success. We had two emcees and three performances. The first was a word guessing game called “Eat Bulaga” here. The second was a short skit, and the third was a commercial parody. It was a busy (read: stressful) couple weeks practicing but they pulled it off. I really enjoyed watching my students perform – and not only the ones who joined the talent show. Two 12th grade students (Joko and Defi) were the emcees for the story-telling competition and they did a fantastic job speaking spontaneously in English. They both felt rather embarrassed when they made mistakes but I assured them that even native speakers make some mistakes when they are speaking extemporaneously in front of an audience. My favorite moment of the whole day was when my friend and fellow volunteer Francesca was persuaded to sing on stage (two of my neighboring PCVs and their counterparts helped us out by judging the story-telling competition). While she was waiting for the music to be set up, Joko was spontaneously interviewing her. He asked her how she felt the first time that she arrived at her new school. She answered, “Scared.” And, in all seriousness, he immediately asked, “Why, did you see a ghost??”
On Friday morning students and teachers alike were at school bright and early for the “healthy bike ride” (the translation just doesn’t do it justice). I was very excited about this as we had a sepeda sehat back in September but it was just after my stint in the hospital and I was too weak to join. I rolled into school at 6 AM to see that the place was packed full of bicycles. To my amazement there was one other teacher who wore a bike helmet! I was sure I would be alone. After a flurry of text messages I managed to meet up with my 12th grade students. Thanks to some miscommunications and a broken bicycle we were at the back of the pack – but it was much more fun to ride without a crowd. It was still early so it wasn’t too hot and it was a gorgeous day. We pedaled past kilometers of rice fields set against a landscape of hills. We stopped for photoshoots (of course) and to switch who was riding what bicycle (since a couple had bikers with passangers on the back). Most bikes come with racks here so you can easily give your friend a lift. I had tried that in the past and it was a failure. I’m not known for an excellent sense of balance and – to my credit – I haven’t been practicing since birth like most Indonesians. But on that day, we tried again. Agus rode my bicycle and I sat on the back. I discovered that I could include balance and once I got the hang of it, it was awesome. No work for me!
Every 11th grade class had a stand assigned to them. They were free to decorate it however they wished and then they created menus of food and drink to sell to attendees. The students would active about promoting their products – they would bring printed menus to the teachers’ room and deliver food and walk around with samples to show everyone what they had to offer. Every class asked me at least once to buy their food. I’m bad at saying “no” so I usually said “later” but that got me in trouble when they would hunt me down a couple hours later: “Miss, you promised to buy ice cream!” Needless to say, I didn’t go hungry that Saturday and Sunday. I really only wanted to visit the stand of the one 11th grade class I teach – and they did not disappoint.
One of my favorite parts of Dies Natalis this year was that it included a showcase of student artwork. It brought back many memories of my high school art classes (all four years!) and the annual art show every spring. There was a myriad of art mediums – everything from canvas paintings to batik fabric to miniature buildings.
Pensi: Class Competition
On Saturday all the tenth and eleventh grade classes performed some kind of talent (skit, singing, reading a poem, dancing, etc) in a school-wide class talent show competition. My favorite performance (of the few I watched) was my 11th grade class that put on a talent show. I have one student, Faisal, who lives for the stage. He’s sweet in class but he’s fierce on stage. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Sunday was the final day of Dies Natalis and it was the second day of Pensi, with a different focus. Pensi is short for Pentas Seni which translates literally to “stage art” but is better described as “talent show.” While Saturday featured 10th and 11th grade classes, Sunday was open for student bands and guest performers. We couldn’t top last year when the school invited a reggae band and absolutely packed out the place. This year was more low-key but still lots of fun, in my humble opinion. I spent the day with Agus and Joko, checking out the music, the art, and eating at the food stand.
Yes, it is the week after Thanksgiving, but it’s never too late for a post about what you’re thankful for, right? Gratitude has been a big theme for me this year. I have been practicing gratitude by trying to intentionally name the things I am thankful for as I experience them each day. It helps that I’m in a place where I feel very blessed and fulfilled. Here’s a list of a few of the things – in no particular order – that color my days and brighten my life:
1. I am thankful for the children that greet me on my way home from school every day. If I’ve had a bad day and I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, these kids always lift my spirits. It’s hard to stay angry when a gaggle of adorable elementary school children gleefully yell, “MISS SARAH!” as I ride by. I’m also grateful for the old man who sits on his porch next to the little mosque on my street. Every day we nod and monggo at each other. Even though I don’t know his name and we’ve never actually talked I’m grateful for this routine and daily reminder that I’m in a community where people sit on their porches and greet passersby.
2. I am grateful for my students, especially those mentioned in the previous post, and I’m especially grateful that they’ve opened up to me. It’s not all serious stuff either. They can be sassy and they don’t mind making fun of me. We can share a sense of humor and have inside jokes. They’re a hoot.
3. I am extremely grateful for my host family. I really think I was placed with the perfect host family (for me). I honestly can’t think of anything I would want to change about this situation. One thing I really appreciate about my host family is how supportive they are of each other (and me) even if they/I don’t follow the traditional path. For example, a common line of questioning here is, “Are you married? Will you get married when you go home? What is your plan for getting married? You don’t have a boyfriend? Really?” My host family never asks questions like that. They have, in recent months, asked me once or twice about the whole “do I want to get married” thing. But on many more occasions they have said I should go to graduate school and work and think about those things before marriage. What Indonesian family says things like that?! They also told me I shouldn’t worry about not having a boyfriend because any guy in America would be lucky to marry me and there’s plenty of time for that later. And it’s not only me – I have several unmarried host siblings/other relatives in their late 20s and 30s (male and female!) and I have never heard anyone in my host family pressure them to get married or even talk about it all. To be honest I’m really curious about what the situation is but I think it’s AWESOME that my host family acts atypically from the average Indonesian family. That’s just one reason that they are wonderful and while I could continue on for a few thousand more words, I will leave it at that.
4. I’m SO grateful for my counterparts. I seriously lucked out in the counterpart department. I’ve had my ups and downs working with CPs but every single one of my counterparts (especially in my second year) is motivated and hard-working. They are always game to try new things and they have great ideas, too. For some volunteers, counterparts can be obstacles. Maybe they don’t want to try something different or they won’t lesson plan with the volunteer or they frequently skip class*. My CPs don’t do these things and so we’re able to work together and support each other. We’re truly stronger together. One of my CPs said that she no longer likes teaching alone because it’s better when there are two teachers. I was touched by that but I don’t think it’s due to my influence – I think it’s a testimony to how great these English teachers are.
5. I’m grateful for my school community. My school is really big. There’s more than a thousand students and about one hundred teachers and staff. That’s larger than the high school I attended! You would think that it would be easy to be lost in the crowd but I really think that SMAN 1 Ngunut lives up to its claim of being a keluarga besar (big family). The teachers aren’t just colleagues; they’re also friends. If someone is sick or a family member passes away the teachers will pile into cars to go visit. If a teacher/family member of one of the teachers gets married that teacher frequently invites the entire staff to the wedding. During Ramadan the teachers frequently break fast together. We also do different activities like playing gamelan or acting ketoprak (Javanese drama) throughout the year. On a personal level, almost all the teachers talk with me in the teachers’ room. I feel quite comfortable hanging out with all the non-English teachers. It probably helps that I’ve gone on trips (student trip to Bali) and done activities (ketoprak) in which no other English teachers join. So it’s normal now for those other teachers to talk and joke with me even though we don’t lesson plan or teach together. I love this big family at SMAN 1 Ngunut.
I wouldn’t feel that this post was complete without mentioning how thankful I am for my family and friends back home. I may be far, far away but the support of my family and friends sustains me and makes me a better volunteer here. I am loving my Peace Corps experience but that doesn’t change the fact that I am SO excited to be home next year with my loved ones. Six more months!
*It helps that my school is huge and we have 6 English teachers. There are a couple teachers who will not be named who frequently skip class and don’t lesson plan and are not motivated or hard-working. Luckily I don’t have to work with these teachers because there’s a wide enough pool to choose from. Most PCVs don’t have this luxury because their schools are smaller than mine.
Hands down, my favorite activity every week is my informal speaking class with my (now) 12th grade students. I’ve mentioned this speaking les (les means “extra lessons”) in previous posts but it’s been awhile. We started meeting last February after one of my students, Deva, sent me a text that said, “Miss, will you help me?” I replied, “Sure, with what?” Her response: “I want to become fluent in February. Will you help me to practice speaking?” Not to discourage her from an unattainable goal, I quickly said, “Yes! And let’s invite your friends too.” So we started meeting each week and discussing a new topic or question. Over the months some students have come and gone but I have a solid group of four students who have become my favorite students and friends here. My relationships with them give meaning and purpose to my service here (plus, they’re a lot of fun) so I thought it was high time that I introduce them to you.
As I mentioned before, speaking les was Deva’s idea. She’s eager to learn more English and she’s not shy to ask me for help. In fact, Deva was the first student to ever visit me at my house. I remember it was last year during Ramadan and I was nervous! I wondered what we would talk about or do. Should I speak in bahasa Indonesia or did she want to practice English? I needn’t have worried, we played hangman, rode bikes around our village (Deva lives in my same village so I consider her my neighbor, though she lives on the other side of the main road), and I broke fast with her family at her house that evening. Ever since then we’ve been friends. Last March I went to Jogja for a few days with Bu Wiwik, one of the English teachers, and Deva asked if she could join. Since Bu Wiwik mostly wanted to spend time with her first grandchild (only a few months old!) Deva and I were free to explore the city. She hadn’t been to a big city before and it was a lot of fun to watch her discover things. I think of all of these students as adik-adik (younger siblings) more than students, but Deva most of all. We have great conversations about love and life and the problems here and potential solutions and how we can help others. Deva often helps me lead my Friday les for elementary school children and she’s good at it. She says she wants to be a volunteer or a teacher when she’s older. One of my favorite memories of Deva and Agus (see below) is from this past August. I woke up sick one morning with a run-of-the-mill stomach bug. I don’t get sick often here but when it happens I pretty much know what to do. I rested and tried to drink oral rehydration salts but I couldn’t keep anything down. I had a fever and it was getting higher and higher and I was in so much pain from dehydration. After about 17 hours of this the doctor told me I needed to go to the hospital because I was severely dehydrated and since my body was ejecting all liquids I needed to get an IV. I had never been hospitalized in my life and I’ve been rather terrified of all things medical since I was a child…but I was so sick I almost didn’t care. I ended up staying in the hospital for two nights. The morning after I was hospitalized, Agus and Deva showed up to my hospital room. It was a holiday that day and they spent the entire day with me, just sitting there (and telling me I should eat and rest). They’ve now seen me at my worst (I didn’t get to mandi for 2 days and I hadn’t washed my hair in a week! I felt absolutely disgusting and that was only amplified by the fact that I had 30 visitors over those two days and there wasn’t much to do besides look at me) and that definitely creates a bond. For my first hospitalization, I’m so grateful that two of my favorite students were willing to give up a whole day to spend with me. It made it bearable and I felt loved.
Agus is my neighbor and I think he’s also related to my family somehow. My ibu (now a retired elementary school teacher) taught him in elementary school and last year he was my student. This year he’s in 12th grade so I only see him for speaking les. Last year I recruited Agus to join English Club because we were performing a drama and Bu Chris and I were looking for a male student to be the big, green monster. Surprisingly, no one wanted the job and finally we asked Agus because he was in our class and we knew he had pretty good English. To my surprise, he said yes and jumped right in. Before the drama he didn’t know the other students who are featured in this post but now they are all close friends (and I take a little bit of credit for that). I have seen a huge improvement in Agus over the past year, especially in his self-confidence. Despite consistently being the male student with the highest grade in his class, he has always thought and said that he wasn’t very smart. I disagree and so does my ibu, who said he was at the top of his class in elementary school. When we first started speaking les, Agus was always pretty quiet. He was the last to answer the question for the day and he tended to want to speak in bahasa Indonesia. But over the months he has improved dramatically. Now he is quick to speak English and he speaks it well. Now he will volunteer to be the first to share and he will help to correct his friends’ mistakes in English. His shining moment came this two weeks ago during our school’s anniversary when we had a spelling bee competition for students from 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Agus is not naturally the best speller; in fact, when we had our first spelling bee last year, he didn’t even join. When we practiced together, he often made mistakes by pronouncing the letters like you would in bahasa Indonesia. Other students could quickly memorize the words but Agus had to work at it. He came over to my house to practice for two days before the spelling bee. Both times he had trouble remembering the spelling and saying the letters with an English pronunciation. I was pretty sure he would be eliminated quickly but to my amazement he made it through 13 rounds, which included 3 rounds of new words that weren’t on the list he was given….and he won first place! He beat 57 other students and I was SO PROUD. Other fun facts about Agus: he loves to eat. The rest of us always tease him because if I have snacks during les he might very well eat them all. He’s also a big fan of cooking together and is always ready to try new foods. He also loves Justin Bieber more than most teenage girls I know and he has JB’s biography practically memorized. One time in speaking les I asked Agus to describe what he wants to do with his future. He answered that he wants to play professional football [soccer] (since he’s too short to play professional basketball) and be a farmer and go to university and study languages and have a business and so on. He has lots of dreams and isn’t committed to any one career (I can relate). But now that he’s a 12th grader he has to actually pick something to do for next year and it’s my personal goal to help him search for scholarships because that’s the only way college will be an option for him. Fingers crossed!
Yola was English Club President last year but now she is happily the “ex-president” as she calls it since she’s busy studying for the national exam as a 12th grader. Yola is smart and good at English and an excellent speller (my money was on her for the spelling bee but I stumped her with the word “audible” – it was an extra word that wasn’t on the original list). Yola is a great leader not because she’s the loudest personality or has the best English but instead she is approachable, responsible, and consistent. Because she is a quieter presence, I don’t have the same kind of stories about Yola that I have for some of the others but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been an essential part of the activities I’ve done here. I know I can count on Yola; she’ll join my activities, she’ll follow through, and she’ll let me know if she can’t come when she’s previously made a commitment. Those can be rare qualities in a place where flexibility and rubber time create an informal (and sometimes unproductive) atmosphere. Some of my favorite memories of Yola are from when I watched her lead English Club activities. We’ve always had trouble with attendance and Yola came up with creative solutions or “punishments” for members who usually skipped out on the meetings. Earlier this semester the English Club leaders showed the film Akeelah and the Bee, which we had watched together the previous year. She assigned the 11th graders to pause the movie and explain the events for the new 10th graders. That delegation forced those 11th graders to be present, active, and responsible. (That’s my style of leadership!) I also loved the day when she brought a worksheet for English Club to study and it was “texting lingo” from some textbook somewhere under a chapter entitled “Teenager Activities.” The worksheet was full of sentences like, “lol brb I g2g eat can I ttyl?” that students had to decode. I haven’t seen that level of abbreviated madness since my AOL Instant Messaging days (8th grade, anyone?). Naturally, the students loved it.
Joko is small but he has the biggest heart. He’s full of energy and motivation and he has always a positive attitude. Seriously, this kid is the best. The first time I met Joko was during my first English Club meeting (English Club was in existence long before I arrived). We played a game and I don’t remember much except that students who lost got a punishment of having to sing or dance. Most students were so shy but Joko was not even fazed. He put in one earbud to listen to whatever pop song was playing on his cell phone and he started belting it out. This kid can sing! Last October Joko joined an English singing competition at a nearby university. The participants had to choose a song off a list of several options and then they had to translate an Indonesian song into English and perform that as well. I had my doubts about how this would work out but Joko worked out to translate the lyrics by himself and then I helped him with some corrections. The Indonesian song is entitled “Butiran Debu” which literally translates to “Dust Particle.” We agreed that sounded ridiculous and changed it to “Only Dust” (the refrain being, “Without you, I am only dust”….definitely an improvement over “without you, I am dust particle”). To my amazement it turned out SO well. I think the English version is better than the Indonesian! And it’s that much more special because Joko translated it himself and put his spin on it. Joko worked so, so hard. He came over to my house almost every day to practice his singing and check his grammar and pronunciation. There were several other students joining different competitions at the university (speech, writing, story-telling, and so on) and Joko brought them all over to practice with me. The others were shy or quiet or unprepared but Joko was always ready to help and motivate them. There was no doubt in my mind that Joko deserved to win that competition and I truly couldn’t imagine an Indonesian high school student performing with better English. I was heartbroken to hear that he didn’t place in the top 3. He was pretty sad too because he believed he could do it. (We speculated that the judges chose the best vocalists rather than focusing on who had the best English OR who translated the lyrics without just using Google Translate….) But just last week he heard from someone at the school and they told him he got 4th place! He may not have won anything but he was still one of the best and 4th out of 25 ain’t bad. Joko wants to be a volunteer and teach in a rural area because he’s identified poor education in rural parts of Indonesia (think Papua, parts of Kalimantan, etc) as a big issue. Last week we discussed problems Indonesia is facing and my students all agreed that better education would work to decrease poverty, corruption, and a host of other issues. As an educator, I was thrilled to hear that and even more excited to see that they are motivated by wanting to “be the change they want to see,” in Gandhi’s words.
Bonus Student: Awanda
Awanda is a new addition to our speaking les group. She was my student last year, from the same class as Agus. She’s an excellent writer. In that class I gave all the students journals and Awanda wrote a short story for me (in English!) that still hasn’t been concluded. Last year in class Wanda was pretty quiet and I just got to know her through her writings. I was surprised when she applied to join iGLOW Camp last year. I didn’t expect to be impressed by her interview because we were looking for strong, self-confident female students who wanted to be leaders…but honestly, Wanda’s interview blew me away. She was articulate and passionate. She made it into the Elite Eight who got to join the camp. Through iGLOW I saw a whole different side to Wanda. She isn’t just a serious student, she also loves to have fun and be social and discuss problems and think critically. Last October she joined the same English competition that Joko joined but in the speech category. She worked almost as hard as Joko. When Bu Chris listened to her practice she told Awanda that she needed to work on her pronunciation and she should join my speaking les. Wanda did just that; she practiced with me, she joined speaking les and she won first place in the speech competition! Yesterday during speaking les we were discussing strengths and weaknesses (like a question you might receive in a job interview or on a scholarship application). Wanda said one of her strengths is trying new things. She told me that she had never done anything like iGLOW or a speech competition before but when she heard about them she decided she wanted to try them. She didn’t even practice for that interview that so impressed me a year ago. I feel lucky to know Wanda. I think when she sets her mind to something and gives it her all she is often successful. I’m excited to hear about what she does in her post-high school life.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, speaking les is my favorite weekly activity. That’s a huge change from last year. At this time a year ago I was mulling over the all the things I wanted to do but didn’t know how to do at site. I wanted some kind of informal club or group that would be my secondary project where I could pour my passion for non-English-related subjects like youth & community development and volunteerism. I wanted to talk to kids about social issues and push them to think critically. I also wanted to get to know my students on a more personal level. I was frustrated feeling like I had no way to accomplish these things. Fast forward a year and I feel like I’m finally seeing these dreams realized through speaking les and iGLOW. I’m so grateful for both of these activities and most especially for the students that I’ve highlighted in this post.