This week marked the end of my first month teaching in Indonesia. It has been a wonderful few weeks here, and I’m looking forward to teaching for at least the rest of the year, and probably even longer! Last time, I wrote about what it is like teaching the different levels of students. Now I want to share specific highlights from my time here so far. These are the things that stuck out to me most during my first month.
Knowledge of English Language and Culture
It was an initial shock to walk into my classrooms and be able to have unexpectedly fluent conversations with a lot of my students. By now, I usually know what kind of English level to expect when I walk into a new class.
Younger kids are often most fluent because they are being raised with English-language movies, shows, and books. Most of my smaller students can quote Disney movies in their entirety. Teenage boys are also very good at English, but they often have to be chastised for using too many swear/slang/sexual words that they picked up in American movies.
Every now and then, I am still completely floored by an English word or reference that a student knows. I find myself asking students to repeat them over and over because I can’t believe my own ears.
As someone with five younger siblings, I don’t have to be told that children are hilarious, but I get many reminders every day of just how unusual they can be.
One of my smaller students asked me, “Miss, are you single?” Thinking I misheard her, I asked her what she meant and she asked me if I had a boyfriend. I guess she probably picked that up from an English-language movie, but it was still unexpectedly funny to hear the phrase from an Indonesian five-year-old.
In a class of six-year-olds, I had the students draw pictures and then present their picture to the class by telling a story about it. One of the girls drew a picture of a pony, and her story began, “Once upon a time, there was a pony. [Pause so we could all admire her drawing.] But then Darth Maul came, and he wanted to destroy the pony.” And so the tale turned to an epic lightsaber battle, during which the pony turned into a dragon and killed Darth Maul. Then it turned back into a pony and lived-happily-ever-after-the-end. I don’t know if any of the other students got the Star Wars reference, but I sure appreciated it!
We were practicing story words (“at first,” “eventually,” “all of a sudden”) in another class, and I divided my students into groups and let them pick out a few pictures to write a short story about each. The stories were wonderfully outrageous, but I think this one takes the cake.
While Josh visits a school twice every week to teach set lesson plans, I have only had one in-school assignment. I spent a morning giving demo lessons at a private Muslim school—some schools arrange to hire native English speakers from EF just for a day, to give the students a break from their usual English lessons. On this occasion, I taught a generic lesson on foods to several different classes. It was fun enough, but an entirely different atmosphere from EF’s modern (air-conditioned) school.
Open-air classrooms surrounded a dirt courtyard in which animals roamed freely, sometimes even walking, creeping, or flying into the class. By the end of my day there, I was soaked in sweat, and dirt covered my bare feet, the bottom of my pants, and my hands. I knew I had streaks of dirt on my face, too, but there was nothing I could do about it since the bathroom had no mirror, sinks, soap, or toilet paper.
It was interesting to get to teach in an Indonesian school, but the situation wasn’t right for me to fully enjoy it. My four 45-minute classes there were composed of about 40 students each, and it felt extremely impersonal. I was told that the students would know enough English for me to teach my basic lesson, but the youngest level was barely able to speak or understand anything and instead spent the whole time yelling the only thing they seemed to already know. I’m not sure how much I was able to teach that class in the end, but how can you not enjoy the fact that a class of 35 first-graders spent almost an hour yelling “My name is Poop!” at me?!
With no formal teaching experience, I didn’t know what to expect when I started this job. And while I have had a few difficult students, my time in the classroom has been overwhelmingly positive. I try my hardest to make my lessons fit to the needs of all my students, and most of them have gone pretty smoothly.
My younger students are especially enthusiastic about my class, and it’s always fun to have students who are happy to see me and participate in the lessons. Sometimes they even give me gifts when I walk in the classroom, which I think are very sweet, and keep at my desk.
The germ theory hasn’t quite caught on here in Indonesia. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I might be the only person who ever touches the soap dispenser in the school bathroom. In terms of teaching, this lack of sanitary awareness can be unfortunate, but I’m starting to get used to kids sneezing and coughing directly into my face. I’m even slowly adjusting to the horror of students rubbing their nose-pickings on me, but that doesn’t stop me from washing my hands and wiping off my face after every class.
Despite all of the germies that I’m exposed to every day, I’ve managed to avoid catching any illnesses. I did, however, exhaust my vocal cords from so much talking (and a little shouting) every day and spent two weeks croaking at my students and adding the word “laryngitis” to their vocabulary. Luckily, I’ve been healthy other than that!
I want to leave you with some of the greatest misuses of English that I have witnessed during my month here. Obviously, all of my students are still learning the language, and I wouldn’t ridicule their mistakes, but I have noticed many nonsensical English phrases and words printed onto signs and products all around the country that I found funny enough to share.
The best one I saw all month was this poem, which was given to Josh when he was a judge at a poetry competition. This one was nestled among other (real) English nursery rhymes and children’s songs.
And even though English is one of the national languages of Singapore, we spotted many perplexing phrases during our visa run there.
*All photos in this post were taken by Josh.