100 Days in Indonesia: Reflecting on the First Week at Site

The 2019-2020 cohort of Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) arrived in Indonesia on July 28th. Each of the twenty-eight ETAs spent a week at their site to get a feel for their school and community before heading to orientation together. Now, more than 100 days in Indonesia, we decided to pay tribute by posting about some of our highlights from our first week.

Madison Mele – Demak, Central Java

Riding in boats to the beach

My first week in Demak I was overwhelmed with the kindness that greeted me. I spent time in the school introducing myself to students and teachers. On Saturday, I went to a beach called Pantai Glagah Wangi with a few teachers from my school and some students in the English club. We took boats down a river and walked through mangroves to get to a small beach with a small stand that served coffee and treats that had benches made out of scrap wood for sitting. We had a quick breakfast and explored the beach and took lots of foto-fotos!

Nicholas Navin – Payakumbuh, West Sumatra

I take a selfie with a class while going around the school introducing myself.

Throughout the whirlwind first week, some of my favorite moments were when I was able to go around to different classes in MAN 1 Payakumbuh to introduce myself. In particular, during one introduction, I asked the students if they could sing me a song in baso Minang, the regional language in West Sumatra, and three students got up to lead the class in “Ayam den Lapeh” or, “My Chicken is Lost.” I am excited to learn more baso Minang and traditional songs during my time in Payakumbuh!

Lucy Faust – Temanggung, Central Java

This is the RT, with her granddaughter, in front of their courtyard.

One of the first people I had to formally meet for government documentation was the RT of the neighborhood. In local government, RTs serve as the heads of their neighborhood by sharing government issued information and bringing the community together when necessary. It is a reputable way to serve the community. In Temanggung, there are several RTs (my sitemate Emma Muth has another one). Most RTs are male, but mine is female; she has been the RT of the neighborhood since the 1980s. We paid two visits to her house, of course unexpectedly, as little is planned in advance, but she was never there. The third time we came to her home, waiting for someone to open the door, Kurnia, my counterpart, turned to me and said, “I don’t think she’s home,” as we heard nothing from inside. But I told her, “Who knows! Third time’s the charm,” and proceeded to explain the English expression. Just as I finished explaining, the door opened and Kurnia explained, “Third time’s the charm!” It was a great moment of cultural exchange. The RT’s home is a traditional Indonesian home: one level, one door (the front one), and an open courtyard that centers her home (socially and physically). This RT is simply the cutest woman in the world. When I asked Kurnia, a translator, if she gets paid for her RT position, she translated back that the payment from Allah was all she needed to serve her community.

Angela Zhu – Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi

Jangan mati sebulum pergi ke Toraja

I stared up in awe at the realistic tau-tau placed in the cliff at Londa, each sculpted out of wood and clothed to represent a person that passed. We went into the dark entrance of the caves. The sights of skulls, coffins, and gifts of cigarettes and coins littered around were surreal. It’s as they say in Toraja, “Jangan mati sebulum pergi ke Toraja” or, “Do not die before going to Toraja.”

Joseph Janik Miller – Padangsidempuan, North Sumatra

This shows the Minister of Education and I. He also buttoned the bottom button of my jacket. My counterpart suggested the jacket and tie.

The Minister of Education said that he “guarantees my safety,” and at first, I felt appreciative. This man, whom I have never met before, tells me that I’ll be safe in this new city. Then, I thought, wait, why does my safety need to be guaranteed? And how can he ensure that I will, in fact, be safeguarded from all the challenges and troubles that I might face this year. He can’t! This story shows a small peak into my first week at site: I was freaking out. Can I do this?

Jillian Castoro – Bukittingi, West Sumatra

In the picture, I am sharing fish and rice with one of my teacher friends.

My first week at SMA 2 Bukittinggi has been wonderful. The teachers at my school seriously won’t stop feeding me, and I am loving all of the spicy food here. I’ve tried lontong, randang, mung bean porridge and can’t wait to keep trying new things.

Gabriel Umland – Gresik, East Java

Keluarga Means Family

At my first week at site, I was overwhelmed by how community oriented the people at my site were. This tight community in my town meant that it was easy to spend my first few evenings exploring various neighborhoods and using what little Bahasa Indonesia I knew to connect with locals. Everywhere I went, the word I kept hearing was “keluarga” or “family.” As my counterpart said to me during orientation, “Being brothers do not need blood ties, but sincerity of heart ties.” So, it seems that without even trying I have found a new family here in Cerme.

Emilie Thomas – Sitoluama, North Sumatra

Enjoying the view before swimming in Lake Toba

I had an amazing time getting to know my new community and sampling ice cream the chemistry students made. I live on campus, so on Saturday, my counterpart and co-teachers took me to see the town and Lake Toba. We started with a morning swim and in the evening watched the sun set from a lookout point right over the beach.

Tessa Sontheimer – Demak, Central Java

Spontaneous meeting with students from SMA 2 Demak

During my first week at site, I had the opportunity to attend Grebeg Besar Demak with my host family. Grebeg Besar Demak is a celebration in the weeks before Eid al-Adha and is a massive festival including countless rides, vendors, warungs, and music. Grebeg Besar is one of the most famous events hosted in Demak, Jawa Tengah and is a huge point of local pride. After being at SMA 2 Demak for four days, I had the chance to bump into my students at the Besar and connect with my fellow teachers. Another memorable moment was doing bumper cars with my host mother and sitemate, Maddy!

Michelle Nguyen – Salatiga, Central Java

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

This is my co-teachers and I taking in the beauty of the beaches in Pacitan!

For me, the first week at site has been an attempt to redefine the definition of home. We have been here for a month, and it’s starting to really settle that we will be spending the next nine months here, too. I have been welcomed into Salatiga’s community with open arms and have been roped into many experiences that highlight the local culture and daily lives of people at my site. I feel endlessly grateful for the people’s generosity and patience with me. One of my favorite experiences from this past week has been taking a day-trip to Pacitan, East Java, to visit some beaches and caves with my co-teachers. Nothing bonds you quite like amazing food and ten hours in a car together!

Ammarah Rehman – Bukittingi, West Sumatra

City Girl Turned Mountain Girl

Mountains! Rivers! Valleys! Where am I going to be living these next several months of my life? Everywhere I look, I am constantly surrounded by mountains in the beautiful city of Bukittinggi. During my first week at site, I took a quick walk with a group of students to Janjang Saribu – a thousand steps. We climbed down the thousand steps and entered a valley surrounded by coconut and banana trees. Living in the middle of the mountains will never feel real and I am excited for the numerous hikes I will go on here in Bukittinggi.

Nathan Kumar – Gresik, East Java

X MIPA 1 showcasing their books about themselves

My first week at Gresik in East Java was filled with lots of eager and energetic students at SMA NU 1 Gresik. Despite the fact that I am arriving more than a month after classes have started, students still greeted me warmly. My first lesson – appropriately enough on introducing yourself – had students create books about themselves that included their nickname, their favorite food, and their dream job. I’m looking forward to getting to know my students more in the coming weeks and months.

Lucy Srour – Sangatta Utara, East Kalimantan

Welcomed and well fed. Soto ayam dan bubur ayam.

Hunger was non-existent my first week at site. For once, I was thankful for my bottomless stomach. One morning, about ten teachers accompanied me to eat soto ayam for breakfast. We filled the small warung as we ate our hot soups on an even hotter day. My embarrassment at my inability to speak Bahasa Indonesia prompted me to focus on my food instead of attempting conversation. Then mid-bite, a teacher turns to me and says, “When I heard you were coming, I went out and bought an English dictionary so I could start studying.” Her eyes were wide and full of desperation. She flipped the narrative on me. I had prepared myself for this experience, but had yet to consider the mental preparation for not only my counterpart and co-teachers, but everyone at SMAN 1 Sangatta Utara. This was a new experience not only for me, but for all of us.

Daniel Knoll – Payakumbuh, West Sumatra

My sitemate, Nick, and I by the Payakumbuh side outside of the Ngalau Caves

With the original plan of going to my sitemate’s house just to talk and “hang out”, we found ourselves hiking up a mountain and discovering immense caves two hours later. We decided to go for a walk, when a neighbor stopped us to help her get some fruit known as rambutan off a tree. After chatting with her for a short time, she offered to drive us down the street to visit the Ngalau caves. We hiked up the mountain to a small park with multiple entrances to caves that were more than 50 feet high!

Janika Berridge – Sangatta Utara, East Kalimantan

Masjid Agung Sangatta

Toward the end of the week, one of the School Counselors took me to a large park across from the biggest mosque in town. We drove up to a view point before she joined prayer time at the mosque. While she prayed, I peacefully explored the columned outdoor walkway. When we returned to the car, she asked if I’d enjoyed the night, and I responded positively. “If you are happy, I am happy,” she said.

Michael Walsh – Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi

Angela and I in the middle of a long row of Tongkonans in Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi

During my first week at site, I felt tremendously supported and loved by my school and social communities. One awesome experience was getting to visit the culturally rich and architecturally unique site, Kete’ Kesu, with my sitemate, Angela. This site is most notable for its ancestral homes, Tongkonans, and elaborate graves.

Blake Lapin – Malang, East Java

Bu Dherrys in the Angkot

During my first week at site my counterpart, Bu Dherrys, taught me how to use the public transportation to get into the city. We met at school early on Saturday and took the bus into the nearby city, Malang. The bus arrives a few kilometers outside the city so from that drop-off point we got into an Angkot that arrived in Alun-Alun Malang, in the center of town. After just the first week, my community empowered me to begin having my own relationship with area.

Kush Mansuria – Kudus, Central Java

I am formally welcomed at my school in a short ceremony.

During the first week at site, I primarily spent my time getting my bearings around the community. I spent hours meeting other teachers, learning about the school’s programs, and doing introductions with my students. My school brought me to an electronics store for a small fridge and water dispenser for my room and to Pasar Kliwon (a traditional market) to buy some batik. My emotional energy was focused on comprehending what I had jumped into and my physical energy was trying keeping up with my co-teachers as they took me from one activity to the next. My greatest challenge this week was that I did not speak any Javanese or Indonesian. Thankfully, my fellow teacher Mr. Ludhi helped me make it through the first week. I’m excited for what lies ahead in the next 10 months!

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