November the whirlwind month is halfway through, and I’ve been a lean, mean, travelin-machine!
The first week of November was the TEFLIN Conference in Surabaya, East Java. (Teaching English as a Foreign Language- Indonesia). Professionally, this was an exciting time, because I was presenting a workshop for conference attendees—English teachers from around Indonesia. However, I must admit I was way more excited to see all the other Fellows, some of whom I hadn’t seen since Orientation about a month previously.
We were put up in a beautiful hotel-the Sheraton. Might not sound fancy to you people over on the other side of the world, but TRUST ME, this place was NICE. It was nice by American standards, and throw in the fact that I don’t have a comforter, hot water, a bathtub, a shower that is taller than my head, nice pillows, a TV, or wifi at my house in Palembang, and you can bet your bonnet that I was in heaven at this hotel. It was hard to leave.
Back to the important things, though: my friends! Most of us arrived Monday afternoon or evening, and we convened at a sushi restaurant in one of the biggest malls I’ve ever seen, which was attached to our hotel! Do not judge, but the beer flowed. Most of us don’t have much alcohol around, and even though the grocery store sells some beer, I kind of feel guilty buying it, and it’s limited. Also drinking alone isn’t so fun, so we celebrated by having dinner and drinks and laughing and crying (okay, not crying). Even our boss has mentioned it several times now—he has never seen a group mesh as well as we have. Every one of the other fellows is awesome, and we all get along so well. It really does make it hard to leave the trips and conferences, etc and go back to our sites.
So the Election (remember that little ol thing??) was smack in the middle of the conference. Many of us were seriously concerned with watching the results come in, so our boss said it was okay to miss the morning of the second day of the conference, and as luck would have it (or as someone nicely and carefully planned) none of us Americans were scheduled to present Wednesday morning (which was Tuesday evening/night in the USA).
Kate and Jen who are Fellows based in Surabaya, and Madura, respectively, have contacts at the U.S. Consulate in Surabaya, and were invited to an Election-watching party there, and got us all invites. We rolled up around 8am I think? (8PM Tuesday evening in the USA). The security was pretty tight to get into the consulate, and they made us leave our cell phones and cameras at security. Although this is standard procedure at consulates and embassies, I got a tad bit emotional about the loss of my phone. I felt cut off, and unable to text with my mom, brother, friends, and everyone else who was freaking out at that moment across the world. I NEEDED to be able to immediately celebrate (or commiserate) with everyone back home, and I felt especially homesick. Not one of my finer moments, but I teared up a bit. I swear I’m not usually that attached to my phone. I think….
My friends were supportive, of course, and ushered me into the big room where they had a big screen set up and special coffee bar brought in & set up for the occasion. There were life-size cut outs of Obama and Romney, which were rather disturbing actually. Well, one was. There were American decorations around. The party was for Americans and Indonesians—they brought in some Indonesian students and I’m not really sure who else they were. I was not feeling especially social or diplomatic. I wanted to be left alone on the floor in the front row to watch the results roll in. Virginia was especially stressing me OUT. Several people were a bit concerned at my pale, fixed expression. Of course, it took longer than expected, and I wandered a few times, a few coffee breaks. There were some exciting moments though—when Tim Kaine won Virginia’s Senate seat and when Elizabeth Warren won Massachusetts Senate seat, there were big cheers. (The big cheers about Kaine were from me & Liz England, our Senior Fellow from Virginia!)
We were watching CNN, and they kept making ‘projections’ and announcing the ‘projected winner’, which just wasn’t enough for me. So, once they projected Obama was the projected winner, without results from Ohio, Virginia, Florida, or Colorado, we were all still kind of dumbfounded. The Consulate employee who was leading the day’s events, announced that Obama was the winner. But none of us cheered, because we weren’t convinced. It was really anti-climactic. But honestly, I was afraid of getting too excited. And don’t even get me started with the math being impossible blah blah. But we kind of caught on, and started hugging, yet still stood staring at the screen and waiting for more final results. They finally kind of ran us out, with us realizing Obama had won, but not yet fully celebrating the fact. It was really strange. It was Wednesday mid-day, and most of us didn’t want to go to the conference, so we headed back to my hotel room to watch Obama’s acceptance speech, and listen to Romney’s concession speech. We had about 3 beers to split among us, and we toasted to another four years of wonderful Obama! The internet was too slow to watch Romney’s speech, but I found it, and read it aloud (trying to be Romney-like). I think I remember a lot of “Thank yous” and blessings for Obama. Nice of him at least.
Watching Obama’s acceptance speech was so moving and emotional. A few of us had tears in our eyes. He’s such an amazing man, and I’m so bloody proud to be American when I see him and hear him. Living abroad, you especially realize how much of an impact our election has on the rest of the world and how they view the United States. I’m so grateful to have him as our President for another four years.
And a special shout out to my awesome brother, Conor, and the teams in Southwest Virginia for getting out the vote and keeping Virginia blue! WOO!
So back to TEFLIN—on Thursday I presented about Project-based learning. The people laughed, they cried, they begged for more. But alas, I only had 30 minutes. It went well. People asked questions, a few stayed to talk to me. Good first presentation at a Conference. Wooohoo!
On Friday, the conference was over, but the ELFs split up and were sent off to do some outreach at local schools or centers. A group of us went to the island of Madura, across the longest bridge in Indonesia that connects the island to the city of Surabaya on Java. Jen is the ELF placed in Madura, and she set up a great morning workshop of how to write an essay to apply for scholarships to study in the USA. We did that in the morning, and then had a great traditional seafood lunch, and then went to a batik making class for fun! It was so cool. Most of the neighborhood turned out to come look at us sitting in the grass learning how to make batik, so that was a bit distracting, but I suppose to be expected. The kids broke out their cell phones to take pictures of us, so some of us struck back & started taking pictures of them, and they scattered! Who knew it was that easy?!
Afterwards, we went to the Bangkalan Access Center. Access is a program run through the US Embassy that does English and American culture for teenagers across the world. There are more than 10 Access centers across Indonesia. The students are all teens, they attend for 2 years, twice a week. They are given extra English lessons and insight into US culture. The students at the Access site on Madura were SO awesome and excited to meet us. They had lots of questions, and we had to straighten a lot of them out with regard to Justin Beiber. NOT American. Let Canada keep that one. We just talked with the students and let them take a billion photos of us and hung out between sessions. We didn’t get back to the Sheraton (and Surabaya) til around 8:30 or 9—making it a 13 hour day, but it was great.
That Saturday, we held a day of collaboration/workshopping with the Fulbright ETAs. The ETAs are English Teaching Assistants. They’re mostly recent college grads, and some of the brightest from the US. There are 50 of them, across the country, and they’re all teaching in high schools as assistant English teachers since most don’t have teaching experience. Although many of them do end up solo-teaching. Anyway, we met them at orientation, and two of them live in Palembang & are my friends! The Saturday was supposed to be a day for us “expert” ELFs to work with them and help them with any teaching issues they’re having. Of course, I’m no expert, but we do have the Master’s degrees and technically are supposed to know what we’re talking about. Our boss put me in charge of organizing the day’s agenda and plan, so I got feedback from the ETAs on our facebook page, and made the agenda with some feedback from Bu Liz, our awesome Senior ELF. The day went really well, I think, and I believe many of the ETAs got something out of it. (Or so they wrote on their feedback forms!) I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to lead the collaboration day, and it’s another reason why this ELF Program rocks!
Saturday night we had a last hurrah and went out to an awesome restaurant, and Autumn, Christen, and I splurged on a bottle of wine. Wine is a rarity in this country—an expensive rarity. But totally worth it! Had a great time with everyone, but wasn’t terribly sad to say goodbye because I’d be seeing some of them in 3 days, and others in about 2 weeks because November is FUN MONTH!
ACCESS CAMP: November 14-18
I mentioned Access earlier. Well my fellow ELFs, Tabitha, Jackie, and Jess helped organize and run an American-style summer camp to bring many of these Access students from all over Indonesia together. It was in West Java, near Bogor.
Some of us other ELFs volunteered to come help be counselors. The campsite was beautiful. It was about an hour and a half south of Jakarta, and in this lush, green valley with mountains around. It was so picturesque! We arrived Wednesday evening to prepare for the arrival of 150 teenagers on Thursday. We had about 10 students from Maumere come Wednesday because they had so far to travel.
The camp itself went great. Some highlights:
There were 10 teams named after US Universities. I led none other than Virginia Tech (Duh) and taught them the Hokie Pokie and the “Let’s Go! Hokies!” chant. I have a video. Unfortch wordpress is dumb and won’t let me upload. Facebook maybe.
Counselor talent show on the first night: I was part of a “centipede” skit. Guess what happened? The centa…PEED!!!!!!!! All over Jon! Did they get it? No. Wordplay. Too advanced for them. But boy did I have fun pouring water on Jon’s back while hiding under a sleeping bag with Jackie & Kate!
Also during this talent show we performed a song to the tune of “I will survive”. Jon rewrote the lyrics (and I helped a bit)à At first I was afraid, cause I left my mom. Flew all the way to Jakarta just to learn a song. But then I showed up, at this beautiful camp. There were waterfalls, mosquitoes, and red & blue tents……… SO I SAID MOM, I’ll see ya Sunday. I have so many friends and I’m ready to play. I can’t wait to write in journals or act out my new skit, and eat some fried corn next to the fire pit….” And the chorus: “SELAMAT DATANG TO ACCESS CAMP we’ll learn some awesome English and you’ll get your passport stamped, you don’t even need a visa, you don’t even need to fly, welcome to America we will have an awesome TIME!” oh YES. they. LOVED. It. Obvi.
American snacks at night: PB&J complete with the “Peanut butter Jelly time” internet sensation song that all the campers knew by the end of the weekend. PEANUTBUTTERJELLYWITHABASEBALLBAT! (Flukey, remember?!)
Also, smores. Unfortunately, no graham crackers, so RITZ crackers had to do! Ritz, cold marshmallows (b/c it rained every afternoon/evening so no fire), and cadbury’s chocolate! Very strange. And delightful.
Watching the students’ talent show. These kids are rock stars and hilarious. A group from Jakarta rewrote Cinderella into Cinderboy and it was HILARIOUS. One of our favorite lines: Cinderboy: “So, step-dad, can I go to the ball?!” Stepdad: “Yes, absolutely!…. No.” Have NO idea if he was just confused or what, but the comedic timing was brilliant. Also cinderboy was perfect- had no expression. There was a stand-up comedian who was also hilarious. How difficult to use humor in another language, and he did it so well.
Having four nights of girl slumber parties with my fellow ELFs. We got to stay in the house, in a room with two big mattresses on the floor—with three pillows on each bed-enough for 6! Jess, Jackie, Iris, Tabitha, myself, and Kate all shared this room and spent some good time giggling, power-napping, and of course playing truth or dare. Wouldn’t you?! It’s summer camp!
We headed back to Jakarta on Sunday morning and most of us ELFs headed to Jackie and Jess’ apartments in Jakarta because we’d be staying one more night/day in order to participate in their school’s Native Speaker Day that they had organized. They work for the Police Language Center in Jakarta, so they get police officers from across the archipelago in for intensive English training.
Sunday was a total spoiled, pampering day. We walked to the mall from their amazing apartments—with incredible (and different) views of the city. At the mall, we had lunch at..wait for it…WENDY’S! Yep, there’s Wendy’s in Jakarta! Frosty’s are amazing. Then Jackie took us to the most amazing DVD store ever! 12 DVDs for $7. Hollaaa! Got some seasons of Modern Family, How I met your mother, and some random movies. THEN, us girls—Jackie, Jess, Tabitha, me, and Kate went to get cream baths. This is big in Indonesia, and does not, as I initially thought, involved baths or cream. It is basically a conditioning treatment for your hair, and a head and back massage. I often picture Hugh Grant in About a Boy when he talks about how he spends hours “having his hair carefully disheveled” and I completely get where he’s coming from now.
We all got cream baths and pedicures and it was glorious. Afterwards, we went back to Jackie’s, got ready, and went to an awesome restaurant called The Social House. Being in Jakarta is so bizarre. There are Westerners everywhere, and people don’t stare at you, like you’re something from another planet. There are more stores, shops, and restaurants than I’d ever have in Southwest Virginia. It feels Western and exciting and cosmopolitan. I can’t decide if I wish I lived there or if I’m grateful I don’t. Probably best not to wonder, because I don’t live there, so no sense thinking about it! After dinner we opened a bottle of wine (MORE WINE!) and watched some episodes of Modern Family. Such a good, pampered day!
Their native speaker day was SO FUN. It was a murder mystery and all the native speakers were suspects. The police (students) had to go around and question each of us. I was Mary, the 60 year old housekeeper at the villa where the murder happened. I got accused by one group out of 10, and I was quite pleased with that. I tried to fake cry a bunch, but it was hard! There were about 5 of us ELFs, and then some British and Australian people as well. My favorite was when the students questioned me about my age. “Miss, how old are you?” “I’m 60 years old and I’ve been working for this family for 50 years!!” (weeping) “But miss, your face, you look 30!” ….uhhhh…”IMAGINE”….. SERIOUSLY ?! hahaha. Best part was at the end: the big reveal of WHO DONE IT! And all the suspects were lined up on the stage with the police looking at us from the audience. Suddenly, we hear sirens and different police bust in from behind us and drag Jon & Adam (two fellows) away and handcuff them. (Their characters were the murderers!)It was alarming at first, and then hilarious, because Jon was up against the wall laughing, and Adam was totally in character, fighting it and falling on the ground!
So afterwards, we got taken to the airport. I got back to Palembang Monday night. It’s now Tuesday night. I leave Thursday afternoon to go to Yogyakarta for the Thanksgiving weekend. A bunch of fellows are gathering to celebrate the holiday and Bu Liz’s birthday AND to present at some American Corners which are these American centers across Indonesia. I’m glad to be busy and have somewhere to go for Thanksgiving, because it makes me think less about being at home. The holidays are always hard to be away from home, and this year my Nana will be at our house in Virginia, so it’s even more annoying to be away! BUT there are plans in the works for us to try to create a spectacular Thanksgiving feast although most staples of a Thanksgiving meal will be missing. We will find suitable substitutes and give thanks that we have each other 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving week to my American friends and family!