–By Kate Barton–
Some of the 2016-2017 ETA Indonesia cohort waiting in Hong Kong to board their flight to Jakarta.
We all know how stressful it can be applying for university and scholarships and grants. Applying for a Fulbright can be even more trying on the nerves — all of us here went through it! It’s a long and tedious process to check off every box on the checklist from the Personal Statement to the Statement of Grant Purpose to the referral letters to actually filling in all the parts of the online application. It can take months of preparation and it should! Take your time with your application and your statements and nourish your handiwork. Being an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Indonesia is one of the most rewarding experiences — we would even go as far to say that it’s one of the best sites! Indonesia is so diverse and ETAs are placed all over the country, so one site can vary greatly from the next. For those of you who are looking for extra advice or a little boost in confidence, hopefully this collection of advice from current and past ETAs will help. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list of everything you need to do to be a finalist. Hopefully you already have spoken or have plans to speak to your Fulbright Program Adviser at your school to help fill in the gaps of anything else you might need or have questions about.
Good luck future ETAs in Indonesia!
1) Daniel Gerardi, SMAN 2 Balige (Sumatra)
The best thing you can do for yourself when writing your personal statements is to find one or two committed mentors/editors, preferably people you have some rapport with, and who have knowledge or experience with the Fulbright program. They’ll help you to push your statement beyond anything you could come up with on your own. The next best thing is to commit yourself to a solid month or two of writing and rewriting. It’s going to be a tedious, exhausting process, but you’ll be grateful at the end of it when you have a polished, kick-ass statement that you feel confident submitting (okay semi-confident, you’ll still be a wreck, but at least you gave it your best). When you start, start broad. Ignore the one-page limits and just write anything and everything you can think of that might be relevant — classes, clubs, hobbies, childhood interests, current activities, future goals — you’ll have plenty of time to organize and hone in on the important parts later. If you’re overly concerned with writing a perfect statement from the outset, you’ll put it off, and then you’ll have to rush it, and then you’re gonna have a bad time. It would also benefit you to do a little research, so you can state more specifically why Indonesia is the right choice for you. I wrote at least 6 drafts of each of my statements, each time coming back to my mentor (shoutout to Dr. Clare Colquitt) thinking ‘this is it, this is the best I can do, I’m done, it’s good enough’ and each time she would say, ‘hmm it’s good…but it could still be better’ and proceed to crush my hopes of being finished with her extensive, fantastic, frustrating feedback. I’d go home, throw the marked-up statements across the room, give them the good ol’ passive-aggressive silent treatment for a day or two, before begrudgingly apologizing, picking them back up and getting back to work. Eventually, my eager undergrad ramblings transformed into concise, specific statements of self and purpose. I wouldn’t have had the perseverance or ability to write them on my own. So find yourself a good mentor and get writing, it’s more than worth the time and effort. Indonesia awaits.
2) Grace Wivell, SMAN 10 Malang (2014-15) and MAN Model Gorontalo (2015-16) (Java & Sulawesi)
Be honest. Be honest with yourself and with your application. Don’t put down the strengths you think you should have: put down the strengths that are well and truly yours. Own your shortcomings and areas that need growth: those are part of you as well. An ETA Grant in Indonesia will not just help you to grow professionally (though it will do that too); it will challenge you deeply and personally as well. An ETA Grant in Indonesia is not a job, not really. It is a full dedication of almost a year of your life and self to a school and a community halfway around the world from the United States. It will, as it should, test every part of who you are, and demand more of yourself than you think you can give each and every day. (And it will be more than worth all of that, in the end.) Others who are helping with your application might tell you that there is a formula, that there are certain experiences that must be highlighted and certain goals you must accentuate. But on the ground, when you are living the day to day roller coaster of your ETA Grant in Indonesia, it is not your past experiences as they fall on paper or your application-acceptable aspirations that will matter. It is you. So who are you, really? Reflect. Then paint that picture, as clear and as honestly as you can.
3) Julianne O’Connell, SMAN 3 Kupang (Nusa Tenggara Timur)
I would say the most important thing you can do is familiarize yourself with different regions of Indonesia and consider if/where you can see yourself being successful. Too often people equate Indonesia with Bali, where no ETAs are placed. You have to be prepared that, despite all cities’ close proximity to water you might not be living in a beach-town. Additionally, not all ETAs are placed on Java, some might be on islands or in cities 5 hours away from the closest ETA. We teach in many different types of sites: urban, rural, some conservative, some little less so, we teach at Muslim boarding schools, private Christian schools and all others in between. Though there is no guarantee of your placement when you accept the grant you should be ready to move someplace totally different than your perceived expectation of “Indonesia.” I think the fewer expectations you come in with about your future home the better.
4) Kate Barton, SMAN 4 Kendari (Sulawesi)
Start as soon as you possibly can on your statements. I started in the summer and wrote countless drafts. Also if I could give you any other worthwhile advice it would be checking out this website. Maybe you’ve already found it through furious Googling (that’s how I found it) but it was a life saver while I was applying because so many of the people on the forum give great advice. I never even asked a question myself, but I found it useful and comforting to read other peoples questions and responses while I was both applying and waiting the many months for the response email. Another website that was useful shows all of the dates when people received their responses going back a few years. The waiting period is one of the hardest parts and it was nice to have an estimate of when the finalist emails might come! It won’t help you apply, but it might help you during the waiting period.
5) Caroline Rose, SMA 2 Malang (Java)
Get other people to read and help you proofread your essays. I went to the Writing Center at my college, and it was really helpful! Taking time to talk about my essays with another person forced me to think critically about why I was applying to work and live in Indonesia specifically.
6) Shreya Kundur, SMKN 4 Malang (Java)
At the risk of sounding like a contestant on The Bachelor, I think it’s important to apply for the “right” reasons. I think a genuine interest in teaching or making an impact on your school community is essential to success in the ETA program. You are going to be in loud, noisy, crowded and hot classrooms so patience and a passion for working with children is a must. If this is your motivation for applying to the ETA program, I think that will shine through in your essays and make for a great application.
7) Mackenzie Findlay, MAN 1 Kendari (Sulawesi)
Be specific as to why you want to come to Indonesia! Indonesia is a special place, why is it somewhere you want to spend 10 months? How will living here for 10 months help you in the future (with your career or your studies)? Good luck!!!