First Week at Site: 2018-2019 ETAs Arrive in Indonesia

The 2018-2019 cohort of Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) arrived in Indonesia on July 23rd. Each of the twenty two ETAs spent a week at their site to get a feel for their school and community before heading to a two and a half week orientation together. Below are highlights from our first week in our new homes.

Emma Barnes, Padangsidimpuan, North Sumatra


On one of my first days at site, my counterpart, another teacher at my school, and my headmaster drove me up this pretty sketchy road to a high point that over looks the valley occupied by Padangsidimpuan. In classic Indonesian form, there were many picture taking opportunities. The excursion was a great way to see parts of the surrounding countryside and get my bearings in this new city.

Peter Bensen, Payakumbuh, West Sumatra


I had an incredible and overwhelming first week in Payakumbuh filled with celebrations, food, greetings, millions of pictures, questions, vague answers, and a lot of staring. The most embarrassing thing that happened was during the welcome ceremony at my school, I tried to Salim a student in front of the entire rest of the school. He Salim’d me, and so I thought the appropriate response was to return the gesture — the eruption of laughter that ensued from the crowd let me know this was certainly not the case. The highlight of my week was getting invited to the birthing of a child (my headmistress’ granddaughter) — I got to kiss the baby on the forehead within an hour of it exiting the womb.

Amanda Cahn, Padang, West Sumatra


On Sophia’s and my fourth night at our site, we were sleeping peacefully when the ground started to shake. It was Sophia’s first earthquake, magnitude 4.5 off of the coast of Padang but close enough to feel. Our first instinct was to jump out of bed and run to our doorways, where we looked at each other in shock. Afterwards, we shared a dragonfruit as our post-earthquake snack and headed back to bed.

Allison Cwikla, Temanggung, Central Java


A highlight during my first week was engaging with my students for the first time! I was able to meet the people who are the reason behind my stay in Indonesia. It was such an incredible experience to be welcomed by their smiles and invision the work and growth we will have together this year. Also – my classroom view is a volcano!

Alexandra Gwynn, Malang, East Java


My new family at SMKN 9 Malang greeted me with magnetic smiles and a hospitable welcoming–each meal was better than the last! I had the opportunity to share STEM education techniques, including problem-based learning (PBL), at a national STEM conference. I also joined an English teacher’s conference to learn about the 2018-19 curriculum outline. Exploring landmarks around Malang with my headmaster and Bu Hanik piqued my interest, look forward to what’s to come!

Riley Heist, Samarinda, East Kalimantan


My first week in Samarinda has been full of smiles, both ones to indicate sheer confusion and ones to indicate the bliss that comes along with this new life in Indonesia. When thinking back over the past five days, one of the many highlights is the food. While it seems to be a constant remedy for every emotion in the book (happy, sad, tired, excited), I can’t complain because it’s all so delicious.

Darby Jones, Sangatta Utara, East Kalimantan


My first week at site was a whirlwind of activity and introductions. One of my highlights was going to two Zumba classes with a few female teachers from her school. There was no AC in the building, but that didn’t stop me from having a great (and sweaty) time.

Caroline Kim, Manado, North Sulawesi


The city of Manado is known to be one of the most religiously diverse and tolerant cities in all of Indonesia. Its motto is Torang Samua Basudara, or We Are All Family. During my first week at site, my new community welcomed me with a familiar, familial sense of acceptance.

Catherine Krol, Gondanglegi, East Java


I was excited yet exhausted throughout the week I was first at site. I was happy meeting all of my co-teachers and learning about their lives and meeting my students. I was happy to be just in time to witness festivities for Jum’at Pon, which is the synchronization of two important days of the week between the Javanese and Arabic calendar systems. There was much singing and hand-waving as students and teachers alike moved to the live music ringing out on stage. Suffice to say, the perfect end to my first week at site.

Alexander Lopez-Perez, Bukittinggi, West Sumatra


Having students visit my desk at the teachers lounge, and encouraging them to share stories using Pictionary cards, was the highlight of my week in Bukittinggi!

Sophia Lopresti, Padang, West Sumatra


This year I’ll be teaching at SMAN 11 Padang, which is actually about 45 minutes outside of the city in Bungus. One huge plus of its location is the view from the school’s front gates!

Brian Miner, Sangatta Utara, Kalimantan Timur


My school did not have class on Friday because they had “scouts’ day.” Tenth grade students, in their last year of mandatory scout membership, used the day to prepare for three nights of tent camping outside on the school campus. I was asked to attend the opening bonfire in the evening. Many of the students and teachers sang or danced. Their musical ability astounded me. A scout troop leader asked me to light the bonfire. Of course, I said yes! I tried, but probably failed to appear not too excited.

Anna Misenti, Padangsidimpuan, North Sumatra

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On my second day at my site I was brought to school at 7 am for an incredible welcome ceremony. All 800 students were gathered, and some students performed a traditional Batak dance while others gave speeches in English. At the end I was suddenly asked to give a 10 minute speech, and my counterpart refused to let me leave the stage until I had filled the full 10 minutes. It was an overwhelming event, but a really great first introduction to my wonderful students and fellow teachers.

Kiki Nakamura-Koyama, Pangkalpinang, Sumatra


Most of the questions in my first week were about my small eyes and my claims to be American, but my favorite question came from my co-teacher. He asked if I had “photoshopped that photo?” I expressed confusion so he motioned toward the large 15 foot banner behind my head. Just as on tinder dates, expectations versus realities seemed to be the theme within this first week! I am so grateful to be a visitor on this beautiful little island and look forward to the meaningful and important relationships I will make with teachers and students this year!

Anna Ringheiser, Temanggung, Central Java


I was so excited because I’ve never seen volcanoes before so my counterpart took me to her favorite lookout point to get a better view. I’m so excited to hike them!

Andrew Shifren, Labuan Bajo


So far Indonesia has defied many of my expectations. I thought that I would not see alcohol for 10 months and instead I am living in a Catholic majority area right next to a bar. Probably about two thirds of the patrons are Indonesians that come to hear rock bands play. They perform a funny combination of 90s and early 2000s pop, alternative, and metal music. I have now fallen asleep twice to renditions of Wonderwall sung with heavy Indonesian accents.

Anisha Tyagi, Semarang, Central Java


One of my favorite moments of the week was when a fashion teacher gave me materials to design a dress when she thought I might get bored in the teachers’ room. When I finished, she was so proud and told me I had “competence.” The teachers are the sweetest.

Ryan Ulrich, Gresik, East Java


My first week in Gresik I travelled to Surabaya to cheer for my school in a basketball game. The experience was quite different from the basketballs games I’m used to, but it was very enjoyable. My school defeated the home team, and everyone has high expectations for the season.

Sabrina Verlesen, Damak, Central Java


I had an amazing first week on site at Demak. Thankful for the warm welcome and looking forward to getting to work at my school!

Neelam Vohra, Pangkalpinang, Sumatra


Only a few days after arriving at my site, I realized that I was surrounded by a group of people who’s kindness would constantly surprise me. From teachers who brought me to zumba or their homes for lunch to the friends we were connected to who invited Kiki and I to hang out in a nearby cafe, I’m feeling really grateful. One of my favorite memories was visiting Rumah Jendala, an art house decorated by 1000 windows with a teacher and her sister.

Elizabeth Wallace, Gresik, East Java


I felt so warmly welcomed by the people of Gresik and the teachers and students at SMA Nahdlatul Ulama 1, my new school! In my first week I was invited to a baby shower, a feast to celebrate one of my fellow teacher’s pilgrimage to Mecca, and several coffee dates with my new counterpart. One of the best moments was a Moms’ Club party for several of the moms in my counterpart’s daughter’s 3rd grade class. They invited me to a party to eat homemade meatballs in celebration of all of their daughters’ lost shoes the 3rd grade teacher had finally found! I had never been to a shoe finding party but I love any excuse to celebrate.

Sarah Wozniak, Damak, Central Java


During my first week in Demak, I met the students, teachers, and staff of SMAN 1. I am so grateful to them for their generosity in welcoming me to their school, and look forward to the year ahead learning with them and assisting their English teachers. On Saturday, I went on a bike ride with this wonderful (and very energetic!) bike team–we biked around the beautiful Demak city.

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