Welcome to Indonesia: Highs and Lows Part 2

In this second installment of “Welcome to Indonesia: Highs and Lows,” Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) continue to share the highlights and low points of their first few weeks living in Indonesia. Fulbright ETAs spend nine months living in their communities while teaching English at local high schools across the archipelago. From Northern Sumatra to the island of Timor and many places in between, here are the moments that make living in Indonesia both worthwhile and incredibly challenging for these young Americans.



Exploring the mountains of Kupang. Photo Credit: Julianne O’Connell

An amazing experience I had my first week at site was being invited by my neighbor and her university friends to visit a mountain outside the city. The trip out to the mountain took about 2 hours, and let me tell you, it was a lot harder riding on the back of a motorbike for that long than I would have thought…there was definitely a lot of core strength involved! The day was perfect, though. There was a beautiful mix of people speaking Indonesian and English, and the trip incorporated all of my favorite things: being out of the house for the whole day, being out in nature, and meeting new people. It was of course very Indonesian. I had no idea really where we were going at first, how long it would take us to get there, what I needed to pack, how much it would cost…but none of that mattered. It was a beautiful day and reminded me to keep saying “yes” to everything these first few weeks.
-Julianne O’Connell, Kupang, Timor

I absolutely loved celebrating my birthday during my first week of teaching at school. In one class, we celebrated my 24th birthday with a cake and traditional Indonesian treats. In another class, we celebrated my “23th” birthday with doughnuts! Teachers and classes of students sang to me all day. I felt so loved and celebrating my birthday during my first week teaching, and it will always be a special memory for me!
-Kata Kreuger, Salatiga, Central Java


Celebrating Kata’s birthday in Salatiga. Photo Credit: Kata Kreuger

One day some of the younger teachers in my teachers’ room kidnapped me after school. I found myself at a Karaoke place singing Indonesian pop songs with my teachers for three hours. The best part was dancing to Gangnam Style with all of them right before we left. It was a great bonding experience. 🙂
-Kate Barton, Kendari, South Sulawesi

While I am exploring the streets of my new home, I never cease to be awed at how differently the laws of physics operate in Indonesia. What at first glance seems to be a narrow alleyway can somehow accommodate a sedan, an SUV, a scooter, and a bicycle (the latter ridden by three small children) all in one narrow pass. And how do Indonesian people react to feats of the impossible? With utter nonchalance. I suppose this year I’ll have to re-think my definition of “possible.”
-Kelly Fitzgerald, Sidoarjo, East Java


I had a really rough first week at site. Two of the most difficult occurrences were having a 48-hour power outage and getting electrocuted.
-Anna Sophia Katomski, Labuan Bajo, Flores

Teaching English is hard! My previous teaching experience has been limited to tutoring college-level Chemistry and offering private violin lessons. I’ve never taught high school, let alone a foreign language. My first few lessons were ambitious. My instruction was met by 40 blank stares. I became frustrated and questioned my agency and readiness to be an English teacher. But, with the help of my co-teachers and encouragement of the cohort, I’ve worked to scaffold my lessons. I now come with one or two back-up plans in case the students have trouble understanding the original lesson. And I always write instructions on the board as well as say them orally.
– Sarahann Yeh, Bandar Lampung, South Sumatra


Prepping for English class! Photo Credit: Sarahann Yeh

I find relationships with adults to be…difficult. One of the worst experiences was being offered whitening cream by an teacher’s friend. It’s been an experience.
-Kayla Stewart, Semarang, Central Java

Learning a new language, joining an unfamiliar community, and settling into life here are slow processes. I don’t feel entirely connected to Balige yet, but I feel very separate from my friends, family and home in San Diego, so the days have floated by in a detached, surreal, and mundane kind of way, like waking up from sleep and not fully realizing the morning has begun and the world is happening right outside. Because I don’t have a site mate*, I am extra eager to attend social gatherings in order to bond with my community and stave off the loneliness, but the struggle to have actual conversations often makes me feel so awkward and embarrassed that I can’t wait to leave, which in turn makes me feel guilty, like I’m being too timid and not handling the role of ETA like I ought to be. I’ve been reminding myself that it’s still very early in the grant, and the transition into feeling capable and at home will come naturally over time.
-Daniel Gerardi, Balige, North Sumatra

The cockroaches are huge. They scare me! I’ve found cockroaches, mosquitoes, lizards, ants and a slug-like creature in my bathroom. I thought I had it bad when I had to share my bathroom with six girls in college, but nothing compares to this. I’m filled with anxiety every time I want to brush my teeth or go to the bathroom! On a slightly positive note, my school helped me deal with the cockroaches and I have more courage to go into my bathroom now. However, I am still very cautious when I open that door.
-Krupa Patel, Surabaya, East Java


*When assigning ETAs to site placements, AMINEF (the Fulbright administrators in Indonesia) tries to place at least two ETAs in each community. The ETAs will work at different schools and may live in separate parts of town, but the proximity of another American can ease the transition to living in the host community. However, some communities can only host one ETA. Two ETAs in the 2016-2017 cohort do not have site mates.

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