I have the good fortune of joining the TEACH Bahrain 2017 fellowship. The program is brought together by the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce. I will be spending one week in Bahrain in November... this NOVEMBER! While I feel like I just got back from Indonesia, the allure of experiencing another country beckons. To my surprise and joy, I found out that of the 8 teachers in the group who were accepted to be part of the fellowship, Wisconsin Educator of the Year, Lou Kindschi will also be joinng. She was one of my favorite fellows on the TOP Germany fellowship from a couple of years ago. I've always been in awe of her talents and commitment to education. Anyways, the trip to the Middle East brings a lot of exciting possibilities. I'm humbled to be selected to travel to Bahrain to experience this country. Bahrain holds a special place in my heart as it was the country I had to research for a memorable project at Adams High School, by the late Mr. Schaltz. The project had students research 16 of the most unknown countries in the world and debate why our country was better than other countries. It was lovingly called, "My Country is Better Than Yours". To think that now, some 15 years later I'm actually visiting the little known country of Bahrain. A special thank you goes to the Rochester Community School district and my principal Dan Mooney for being so supportive of my international study abroad opportunities. More than anyone would be my wife, who has never hesitated in her support for my travels to other countries.
Here is a quick trailer documenting my travels to Indonesia.
Finishing up my time in Indonesia, I've continued to ponder my essential question I had before traveling; "What are the top 3 things you think about when visiting Indonesia?" There's a wide variety of experiences and ideas to pull from, but I've narrowed it down to three.
Developing: As I've been fortunate to travel internationally and see essentially both sides of the spectrum as it relates to educational systems, comparing Indonesia with Germany and America, I've witnessed the wide ranging disparities between the three cultures as well as the many similarities. Throughout the country, we saw wide ranging disparities between the wealthy and the poor. The towering skyscrapers of Jakarta loomed over the city, but at their feet were many weathered and weary huts. Taking for granted the infrastructure that we have in America, I much more appreciate our traffic, the structure of the school system, disposal of human trash, the traffic, and the treatment of the water. Immediately upon entering Jakarta, we were told to take great care when deciding what to consume, as regulations were not enforced or implemented. The traffic is perhaps the most jarring as traversing down any road, it was immediately noticeable how different driving was compared to the United States. It appeared as if there were no official rules and restrictions as it relates to the road. Somehow the chaos on the road simply worked. Through strong leadership Indonesia will have to address these issues in the future as it continues to grow. As a nation that is rapidly developing, it is clear that these government and infrastructure situations will be a major undertaking for Indonesia.
Beautiful: Being able to experience Indonesia firsthand, I had no idea what I was in store for. Seeing the island of Java up close, I witnessed a variety of natural landscapes that Indonesia has to offer. From the water rice paddies, the mountains towering over the countryside, the Cipendok waterfall, natural springs at Baturadden, the serenity of the Indian Ocean, and many more landforms, I was in awe at the beauty of Indonesia. Not only were there many natural landforms to behold, but the people have left their mark on the countryside as well. They have created awe-inspiring monuments like the National Monument in Jakarta, the unique skyscrapers dotting the landscape of Jakarta, the towering Hindu and Buddhist temples of Prambanan and Borobudur, and unique mix of natural and man-made landforms of Baturadden. I highly recommend anyone to visit the beauty of Indonesia.
National Pride: As a rather new country, they are prideful and cognizant of the purpose of setting a national identity. From the flag ceremony that lasts one hour at the start of each week to the many flags that adorn the the highways, Indonesia does not take this identity for granted. Also wearing Batik was a sign of pride for many people. At least one day a week, students were required to wear Batik, which looks similar to a Hawaiian shirt. This cloth has many different variances, as each island and major city has its own unique take on the process. When I purchased and wore my own Batik shirt, there was a smile seemingly on everyone's face as a Westerner had decided to wear their own traditional clothing. The single most profound experience that helped me to realize how prideful the people of Indonesia were was when I was tasked with giving a speech in front of the entire school of 800 students. Quickly I won over the crowd when I began simply by stating the word, "Indonesia...". An eruption of applause overcame the entire audience. I couldn't believe how easy it was to win over the crowd. Trying to restart the sentence I was going to say, as soon as I uttered, "Indonesia..." massive cheers came over the crowd again. Any mention of how beautiful and amazing the country is, was treated with appreciation and pride.
Make no bones about it, I’m so grateful and thankful for my extraordinarily amazing, memorable experiences in Indonesia, but...... I’m ready to see my baby and wife soon. The anticipation was palpable. I was mere hours from being home, yet I still had some great new experiences to be had in Jakarta before I left. Today’s meeting with the group was to sum up the time spent in Indonesia. First going through how to write a blog (hopefully I paid attention and this blog is done correctly!), we spent time on how to report back on our experiences in a positive and effective manner. While this seemingly is a simple task, it was a great activity as it forced us to think of a positive narrative for the experience for three different groups of people who will want to know about your trip. The first was for the average person who comes up to you and wants a quick two sentence summary. My summary is, “I’ve never taken so many selfies in my life! Indonesia provided a lot of amazing memories, be it the temples, the people, or the food”. The next person was the co-worker who would want a more in depth, 30 minute overview of the experience. Finally, we prepped for the loved one who would listen (or endure?) every minute detail of my trip (thanks Kelly, loving wife!). Perhaps the best part of the last session as a whole group was to get in a big circle and say something positive about someone else in the group. Sarah stressed that it didn’t have to be our travel partner. I’m all about passing on the positivity, and I could see no better way to do so. To my surprise, I was brought up as one of the first by Jennifer for being willing to help out with technology. Later I was again mentioned for helping with technology by Anu. As most people went around and shared thankfulness for their travel partner, I had three people that I wanted to thank. There’s no exaggeration being said when I say that Niki, Christy, and Kate were instrumental with helping keep positive throughout this trip. Their positive attitudes were so amazing to have throughout the trip. Everyone likes a good compliment and this session ending our main coursework on a high note. Leaving for a couple of hours to kick back before the much anticipated final dinner, I caught up on my pictures and got one last swim in. Heading out to a place that Michael and Ursula had previously dined at, the spoke highly on the location. We all dressed in our Batik, which was a sight to behold. The women looked exceptional in their colorful dresses as it spoke of the festive spirit of Indonesia. The men wore collared shirts with a wide variety of Batik print. Taking our seemingly last group picture, we boarded the bus and road to the restaurant located in Jakarta. Heading to the western side of Jakarta for the first time put in perspective how truly massive the city was. Having to get from one place to another takes a serious amount of time as the expansive boundary line for the city seems to never end. Arriving at Talaga Sampireun restaurant, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a unique venue to dine at. The restaurant wasn’t a typical restaurant, as we walked through a botanical garden of tropical trees. Throughout the tropical canopy were several quaint glass huts with a straw roof, where a large group would dine. The unique presentation immediately brought a smile to my face and delayed my urgency to get home. Inside the glass hut was a low dining table surrounded by pillows. Shoes were required to be removed upon entering. The glass hut was located on a koi fish pond, which looked more akin to what I would imagine a Japanese setting would look like. The hut had two door walls that led out to a narrow dock where we could take in the serene, relaxing view. They even included fish food for the plentiful koi fish in the pond. Taking several pictures in our Indonesian best garb, we ordered out drinks and food. I ordered a watermelon drink, which tasted exactly what you’d imagine a drink consisting of watermelon would be. Sitting by my favorite Indonesian lady, Dewi, we engaged in great conversation with Christy and Craig. The battery on my camera died, but this was almost a blessing because I was truly untethered and able to fully enjoy the moment. While surrounded by several fellows, I slipped out to a side of the dock where no one else was sitting. Finding comfort in my own thoughts, I looked over the edge into the water with the koi fish swimming by, reflecting on the journey that I had been on. It was one of the most calming moments for me throughout the entire trip. I was able to put aside all responsibility and simply enjoy the moment, staring into the sun. Joining the group as dinner arrived, Dewi had ordered for the group. Unfortunately everything was mainly seafood, which I knew wouldn’t fill me up. Seeing that I wasn’t alone on not dining solely on a giant fish head, more chicken was ordered. Sharing family style, we also had a breaded banana with shredded sweet cheese that was delightful. Wrapping up the dinner, we waited for our bus in the restaurant outdoor lobby where lizards scurried about. Seeing Mike continue to make Instagram Boomerangs entertained us as always. The night at Talaga Sampireun was a wonderful way to end our time as a large group. Several members were given final goodbyes as they were off to their own extended destinations in Indonesia, primarily at Bali.
The first official day back in Jakarta! Feasting on an all too familiar exquisite breakfast buffet, we later met as a large group in the hotel conference room for our day’s meeting. The topic of discussion was the International Leaders in Education Program ILEP and working on our independent research goals. Starting off, we wrote on a big sheet of paper our goals. My goal was to find out what the real Indonesia was all about. “What are the first 3 things that come to mind when you think about Indonesia?”, was my question. Everyone went around the room and wrote suggestions on sticky notes for what they could contribute to each other’s questions. The group had several similar themes for what they thought about regarding my question. After the meeting at the hotel, we were supposed to go to Taman Mini. This would have been amazing to see, but unfortunately we weren’t able to visit it. Instead we went shopping for souvenirs at two local malls. To my surprise, 90% of the group didn’t need souvenirs as well. Instead of shopping, we walked through the malls seeing what odds and ends items they had. I was surprised how much cheaper Batik was in Purwokerto. This was primarily due to Purwokerto being the production center for the fabric in the country. After finishing shopping, we headed back to the hotel. Dinner was on our own, so I joined Sarah, Elicia, Kate, Niki, Mike, Craig, and Wendy to a wonderfully fancy and delicious dinner that Sarah recommended in Jakarta. Sarah visited the restaurant I believe two times already since we had arrived, which prompted the wait staff to provide us with tasty appetizers for free. The room was empty besides us, as we dined on the great meal. The best part of the night was when the wait staff generously gave us several amazing desserts for free as well. I believe it was due to Wendy going into the kitchen earlier to thank and appreciate the wait staff. They served out of an ice cube bowl in the shape of a duck’s head a vegan friendly lemon ice. There was also a vegetarian dessert for Kate. In front of Sarah and I they provided what looked like a round chocolate ball, but once they poured a hot liquid onto it, the entire treat melted back, exposing an ice cream core. Thinking this was the end of the meal, they topped it off with two rounds of the best free cotton candy I’ve ever had or seen. It was layered in several different colors. Feeling totally full, we headed back to the hotel for a great night’s sleep.
Circled on my calendar for some time was Rudhi’s brother’s wedding, which I was so honored to be invited to. To my surprise, I found out that the wedding actually happened last Sunday, which Rudhi had missed in Jakarta. So this wedding, really wasn’t a wedding. It was more of a reception. None-the-less it was exciting to see the wedding celebration, which was at Rudhi’s childhood home. Being that we had another 8 hour drive for which we were to return to Jakarta, Sarah had informed us that we must leave by 10am. Inside the wedding reception, there was a large tent and intricate flowers assembled throughout the red and yellow linens. We were early, but there was no official start time as people were expected to arrive and leave when they wanted. There were several people part of the wedding dressed up in traditional wedding attire. Taking several pictures with the wedding party, it wasn’t too long before Dewi got in touch and confirmed that we had to leave by 10am. As much as I loved Purwokerto, I was super excited to reach Jakarta and the Le Meridien hotel. Here I’d be able to once again be with the people who now seemed like close friends, even though I’ve only known them for a short couple of days. The ride back was uneventful, as I required no stopping since I was focused to get back to the big group. Exhausted from the experience, it was refreshing seeing familiar faces when I entered the lobby of the hotel. Kate and Niki having been in the lobby when I arrived, warmly greeted me to find out how everything went. Once I caught them up to speed, they could tell how tired I was. It was one of the most memorable and charitable moments of the entire trip when the two girls offered to help me with my numerous luggage bags to my room. Normally I’d decline the offer, but this thoughtful gesture was so appreciated and needed. Their friendliness upon arriving back was the much needed energy boost that I needed to finish this trip strong. Originally I didn’t plan on making it back as quick as we did, i.e. I didn’t plan on joining the big group to dinner this night. Knowing little about the dinner arrangements, I was surprised by their rushing for me to get ready, as I assumed the dinner was going to be at the hotel. To my surprise, it was actually held at a nice restaurant downtown Jakarta. Zoning out on the bus, staring off into the distance in silence, I felt a sense of home being back with the main group. Finally arriving at the grandiose hotel, which housed our dinner, I sat by Christy at the large table where we were the only attendees in the restaurant. There was a great sense of optimism and exuberance as people were excited to mingle with others in the group. As much as I tried my best to partake, I’m sure I couldn’t hide the look of exhaustion. Sitting by Christy was wonderful as her cheerful optimism was wonderful. I enjoyed hearing about her, Wendy, and Anu’s trips. Settling in with a wonderful meal of mashed potatoes and steak, I was caught off guard as the lights dimmed and unsettlingly loud music blared overhead. A somewhat faithful take on Happy Birthday blared overhead. Unbeknownst to me, it was a belated birthday celebration, with cake, black and white balloons, and the wait service and group singing to me. The excitement shared by the group was infectious. Sharing my bumpy Oreo like cake with the rest of the group, this further helped wake and lift my spirits up. Once back at the hotel, it felt like home checking in to my room, settling in after contacting my wife and baby, and finding a sense of calm in Jakarta. Seeing the endless traffic jam in Jakarta from my window brought an surprisingly sense of comfort for me.
To my surprise, Rudhi treated us with the often requested opportunity to observe an Indonesian classroom. The humidity was making photography impossible as my lens fogged up instantly. This is something I’ve never experienced before. The students started as we often have seen, reciting script from the Koran. Much of my observation is based on what I infer, as there is no way to know for sure what was happening since it was presented in Bahasa. With the eyes of President Jokowi and the Vice President staring down upon the class above the often used white board, students were focused during their reading. Wearing their Friday school uniform which resembled a Boy Scout’s brown uniform, this uniformity was part of the Indonesian educational system’s identity. The teacher finished the scripture reading by taking a grade book out and assessing individually, one-third of the classroom boy's ability. Placing checkmarks in their books before moving on, she offered little prompting as the instruction seemed to occur automatically. With little personality showing during the early reading from the teacher, the official English/Arabic lesson began. The teacher began to smile and the environment was much looser. Students were more free to talk out loud without raising their hands to address the teacher. A lot of call and response from the students occurred. The natural light illuminated the classroom, forgoing any need for the lights to be turned on in the room. Missing from the room were any signs of learning, decorating the walls. The room’s walls looked weathered, as time has given the beige walls a beating. Hard wood desks and chairs filled up much of the classroom’s space as students sat next to a partner, but in rows. Boys sitting on the right and girls sitting on the left, were transfixed on the oration given by the teacher. The 7th garden class had as many students as I have in my classroom, thirty-four students. With the continual call and response, this seemed to hold the student’s attention. To think that students have to learn Bahasa, their native language, English, and Arabic, it’s amazing how talented they are with their linguistic abilities compared to the students in the United State who study but one language primarily. Thirty minutes into class, the teacher instructed the students to change their seating formation in order to prepare for the subsequent lesson. After several minutes of students shuffling their belongings, they began to push their desks together creating groups of four instead of two. With half the group facing the back of the teacher as she instructed on the board, students had fresh workbooks to follow along with in the lesson. A major difference between Indonesian schools and American would be the fact that students have to stay in the same room and teachers move from classroom to classroom. This fundamental difference I believe limits the ability of the teacher to prepare for class with the necessary supplies, create a sense of ownership for a thematically decorated room, and hinders the ability for students to get a much needed change of scenery by attending a new classroom with new students. Later the kids were asked to rearrange their desks in order to work as groups. Finishing the lesson, I was very pleased to have finally witnessed a classroom. Before leaving SMP 8 Negeri for good, there was some unfinished business I had to attend to. When I visited that great 7th grade class the other day, I forgot to handout stickers. Stickers seemed to me to be something so simple and basic, that few would get excited for, but I was pleasantly surprised when the class greeted the late gift with overwhelming joy. Having more stickers to handout, I stopped by several other rooms, interrupting lessons which Rudhi said not to worry about. The kids absolutely loved my presence and gift I gave them. It was uplifting to experience this after having spent a long week in Purwokerto, away from the main group. While waiting to meet with the entire staff to hand out gifts, I was asked again to take several selfies with students and staff again. When we entered the staff lounge for the last time, I gave Rudhi his gifts. Expensive Traverse City Cherry candies were devoured by the women who surrounded Rudhi. I don’t think he had any chance of bringing them home. The sour puckered lips of shock and perhaps distain for the sour treat that they weren’t used to was evident on many faces. I also gave Rudhi some other Michigan items like pure maple syrup and cherry salsa. Giving the principal who had been nothing but welcoming to us several Michigan items, including some food, he was very pleased with my hospitality. My favorite was giving him a large Michigan flag which he was so happy to hold and display, although everyone laughed at him as he was holding it upside down and later backwards. Finally getting it right, we took some pictures, I gave him the IREX certificate, and he gave me a yearbook from the school. Heading back to the hotel, our day and seemingly our time to explore Purwokerto were at an end as Rudhi wanted to tonight to simply be getting ready to head out to Borobudur. Doug of course decided that the best place to sleep was an $11 a night hotel. I preferred the $40 a night hotel, but decided to go with the flow, as I was simply excited to finally visit the one place I’d circled on my calendar so long ago. Seeing the temples was the shining light that helped me get through the long days at times in Purwokerto. The drive was to be 5 hours long with a driver that Rudhi hired. When the sun set, we headed closer towards our destination, finally seeing the city lights outside of Borobudur. Making it to the hotel Doug picked, I couldn’t believe where we were to stay for the night. Littered with flies and lizards outside, I obtained my key for my room. Walking past several people smoking hookah, I entered my small room, with a dilapidated bed with seemingly a mattress stuffed with wood chips, I knew it was going to be a long night. The lack of air conditioning, a shower, and a sink to wash my hands, I knew it was going to be hard to adjust. The hotel listed that they had wifi, but it was only in the lobby. Trying to get some sleep prior to the following day’s temples, I was starting to crack. I’ve stayed at low quality hotels, but I knew this was going to be miserable. Thankfully I stepped up and asked Rudhi if it wasn’t too late (it was 9pm) to find another hotel. The driver who was going to sleep in the car to ensure its safety, took Rudhi and I to find a hotel. The original hotel I found for $40 down the road made my eyes open wide when they told me the only room left was the president’s room, for $450. Knowing how tired an frustrated I was, I actually mulled this transaction over, thinking that finding a hotel at this time was going to be futile. Thankfully I asked Rudhi to visit one more hotel, which looked even more extravagant than the expensive hotel I was at, had a room for $65. Without blinking I accepted and took my key card to my room on the 9th floor, past the opulent lobby. In my room I ordered room service and got a burger, which was a meal I would have had to had forgone at the other hotel. Settling jun my wonderful hotel with a great view of the city, a delicious meal, and a shower, I headed to bed. It was the best night of sleep I had for the whole trip as it rested me up perfectly for the most exciting day of the entire trip to Indonesia.
With little on the agenda today, I wasn’t sure what today’s festivities would bring. Being accustomed to the loose planning of the day’s agenda left me feeling that anything could happen. At the school, I was asked to present about my school, my subject, and how to engage students with learning. They also wanted to know my suggestions, but without having yet seen a teacher actually teach, my opinion was irrelevant. Focusing my presentation on collaboration and teamwork, I used my end of the year video to discuss multiple ways to keep students engaged. There were about 20 staff members present at the meeting. Making sure to pause for Rudhi to translate, the simple yet effective PowerPoint and video showed clear visuals for how I engage students in their learning. Starting off with a Visible Thinking Routine, a Turn and Talk, staff brainstormed what they thought happened in American classrooms prior to the professional development. It was intriguing to see what they thought about American schools and the questions they had. One person wondered if it is all fun and games (which my video would most likely do little to disprove that notion). Two other questions were regarding uniforms. Feeling like I had nothing to lose with the presentation, I lead them through a loose presentation about my school and district. After the presentation, there were plenty of selfies to be had. The overcast skies started to release rain upon the school. The mist caused whatever plans we had to be canceled. After waiting on a bench for an hour and a half, Rudhi said we could go back to the hotel. He also said we would not go back out for the day due to the light mist. Being that it was 1pm, the early arrival at the hotel left me with plenty of time to get caught up on my blogs and pictures. Unfortunately I brought my old Mac and it’s slowing down so bad that normally quick projects are taking forever. #1stworldproblems
I’m pretty sure I’ll never have a birthday 🎂 like this one. At this point in life, birthdays aren’t nearly what they used to be. Waking up in a far away country with no one you care about nearby presents an odd feeling. Similar to if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If I celebrate a birthday and know one is with me, did it really happen? In some aspects, the time change has extended my birthday to 36 hours of well wishes through Facebook and texts. The third day of school visits in Purwokerto with Rudhi started as any other day. We sat in the teacher’s lounge and were greeted with many “Selemat Pagi”. My Bahasa greeting is always met with a wide smile of appreciation for my effort to speak the native tongue. After the principal’s announcement, we are asked to attend another class, hopefully to finally observe a room. Once again I was asked to present my same lesson on Michigan instead. This time though the young smiles on the kid’s faces brought a sense of warmth and appreciation to the lesson. The students were in 7th grade and hung on to every word, while also giving much needed head nods of understanding when I spoke. Playing the videos to the kids was again helpful. They also were more inclined to take pictures and smile for the camera at the end. Afterwards, we headed back for another break. I felt refreshed to have the kids enjoy the presentation, much more than the older grades did. After updating my Facebook and Twitter, I decided to hang around in the courtyard. Unbeknownst to me, Doug and Rudhi left, and I had no idea where they were at. Not worried at their absence, I saw in the courtyard the students from 9H, who I taught the previous day, playing soccer. Knowing how reluctant students have been at SMPN 8 with taking pictures, I crept inconspicuously to the corner to snap some photos. In reality I was hoping to play. Any exercise and movement was needed after sitting through long sessions on the hardwood chairs in the teacher’s lounge. Getting some jeers and cheers from the kids as they played, they didn’t seem to mind me taking pictures. Eventually the game came to a halt and they signaled their acknowledgement of my presence in half broken English, seemingly joking about me watching. One student who I remember well from sitting in the back of the class when I taught who would chime in and had a wonderful smile, offered for me to play. Without hesitation, I joined the kids by taking off my shoes and my socks in order to fit in. There was massive jubilation that the tall white man was going to play. Thankfully with soccer being a universal sport that everyone understands, it was great to interact with the kids. All the kids were in their matching blue gym uniform, which looked similar to the blue Under Armor collared shirt I was wearing. It seemed both teams wanted me on their team, not knowing how uncoordinated and technically deficient at soccer I was. Signaling that I be goal keeper, the opposing team headed towards my goal. Here I thought, this will be quick before I’m booted from the team. Miraculously I made a save, which was more due to the fact that I was a large target standing at the right spot. Excitement was abound on both teams, as I took credit for the lucky save by laughing. Holding the ball, I realized that it was actually much lighter and flimsier than a normal ball, providing more lift when kicked. The kids playing were to my surprise actually very talented with fancy footwork and technical mastery. Also I noticed how much teamwork and passing they used. Not knowing who was on what team, a student called for me to pass the ball, but he was on the other team. He scored on a weak kick right between my legs. I was sure I would be ousted, but everyone laughed and got right back in the game. When a penalty kick was earned, they wanted me to kick it, even though I was goalie. Mind you, all communication is in another language. My hope was that it would at least not whiff wide of the posts, and thankfully it at least made it in the goal area, only to be stopped. I made one more stop as goalie, before avoiding pressing my luck. I switched to infield, for which they generously kept kicking the ball to me. I wasn’t able to do anything nearly as finesse as they could, but I managed to not lose the ball when I had it. After ten more minutes, the words of “break, break” echoed from the students. They bought me a bottle of ice water, but I went and grabbed mine instead from the teacher’s room. The students rushed towards me and said, “Selfie, selfie!” Happy to oblige their request, we posed. I had some extra pencils I could pass out to them, which they were happy to receive. After, they looked at me and said, “Instagram?” Of course! Handing over to them my handle, I wrote down a couple of their’s. Next, they wanted my signature on their ball, so I wrote @vhmcottone. Pleasantries abound, we parted ways with smiles on our faces. This was an uplifting and memorable part of my trip, that I was happy to partake in. Meeting back up with Rudhi, we headed back to the hotel for another hour break. He picked us up along with two coworkers who would continue to talk to us, even though I’d tell them in Bahasa, I don’t speak the language. Heading to a Purwokerto museum, which featured traditional puppetry, a guide explained to the group the significance of each item. At the end, a group of students came in haphazardly and played the traditional instruments which were at the center of the museum. After this, we headed to the Batik Production House, which housed craftsmen who worked daily creating Batik apparel. To actually see the Batik being created made me appreciate even more the hard work that was put into their craft. The time intensive process required absolute concentration. Men and women of all ages participated in the activity. Finishing at the museum, we entered the small shop where an employee stood 4 feet from me as I browsed the Batik items. Looking for some souvenirs, the prices were amazingly affordable. Picking up 6 different items for the cost of my birthday meal tonight amazed me. After purchasing the souvenirs, we headed back to the hotel. Shutting the hotel room door, a huge surprise awaited me, a birthday cake! I was shocked and didn’t know who to thank for this (the hotel, someone calling it in?). Reversing my meals, a candle was lit and the cake was consumed before “splurging” and getting a steak for dinner. Checking my Facebook birthday wishes and trying to contact home ended my strange birthday night.
Day two at the Junior High school started off in the teacher’s workroom again. “Selemat Pagi” was greeted to all the welcoming teachers who made an effort to shake my hand. The air was much less humid, with a nice cool breeze filling the surroundings. Unlike the ridged structure of American school system schedule’s, it appears that Indonesian education is much more relaxed. No one appears to be in a rush to get to their class, assuming students know what they are doing. Expecting to follow the day’s agenda by observing a class, I was caught off guard when Rudhi asked me to present the same lesson as yesterday on Michigan. Scrambling for the correct technology and resources, I was now dealing with students who were much older than what I was used to, 9th graders. Very animated considering the early hour, they were relieved when I said they can speak in Bahasa and Rudhi will translate. Thankfully I was able to get my computer to work and show two videos I had prepared. There was no hookup to present it on the board, so students had to watch a 13” MacBook 💻. Surprisingly the results seemed to get by with little issue for the students sitting in the back. He first video was the typical day in the life of a middle school student and the second video was my year in review with my kids. The usual “oohs” and “ahhs” occurred when they saw how student switch classes, the cafeteria, and the sports they play. Feeling the heat in the class, I noticed that no student seemed to notice the sweltering temperature. When I asked Rudhi for the duration of the lesson he wanted presented, it was much longer than I had planned or prepared, an hour and a half! After having the students write questions down, Rudhi served as translator for my answers. The accompaniment of the computer’s visual aid was a huge help since it gave students a tangible image to make a connection. With little participation no matter the topic or the prompts, it was atypical to say the least regarding student teacher interactions. With the apparent one sided conversation, the students seemed engaged when there were comparisons between my students and them. Finishing off with a picture tour of America and its animals which I’ve photographed, I passed out Van Hoosen pencils to the students at the end of the lesson. Afterwards, their was a long wait time in the teacher’s lounge. We were waiting for a long time while many teachers socialized. A large difference that I felt with American schools is the sense of time. Teachers in America have a structured schedule while it appears there is no rush for people to head to their classes. Assuming something was eventually going to happen, I ended up being surprised when Rudhi approached at noon and said we can go back to the hotel, to start our activity. Originally we had planned to visit some museums because he wanted us to go with some people from work. They couldn’t make it because they were caught up still teaching, so we switched our day’s plans to visit the Cipendok Waterfall in Purwokerto. Any chance to go on a hike was welcome, but I would have much preferred doing this on my birthday the following day. After an hour to rest at the hotel, we met back up to go to the waterfall. The drive was the usual 40 minutes to get only a short distance across town. Mount Slamet once again stalked us as we drove through the countryside. Making our way to the waterfalls entry way, we parked amid the vast tropical dense rainforest. Hiking about a mile to the waterfall, it reminded me of the vegetation native to Hawaii (which is a good thing!). Laying my eyes on the waterfall once we reached the highest peak of the hike, this too was similar to Haleakala National Park in Maui’s, Waimoku Falls. Reaching a staggering 300 feet tall, the waterfall was nearly impossible to capture with a camera. Powering through the dense tropical forest and showering down below, I desperately wanted to go for a shower, but knew that wouldn’t be the best idea as we were going to head back in the car in about 30 minutes. Taking in the sights for a good half hour, watching eagles soaring above, it was refreshing to be so close to nature, this far away from home.
Freedoms form the constraints of the hotel room were very much appreciated. After longing for some fresh air, I met Rudhi in the lobby as we headed to SMPN 8 for the first time. Down the lightly congested road, we pulled into the shallow parking lot. Immediately a familiar display of trophies filled the entryway. The open air environment of the school offered a bright mood. Dropping our belongings off in the teacher lab, we were greeted with open arms by every teacher in the building. As the school day was about to commence, we headed to the center courtyard where the flag ceremony assembly was to take place, as it does every Monday. The entire school of 800 students and their teachers stand to witness the raising of the Indonesian flag and hear the principal’s speech. The kids were respectful and attentive during the 40 minute long presentation. Standing in the hot sun in my long sleeved shirt made the heat unbearable at times. Eventually Rudhi offered for me to speak in front of the school. With no speech prepared, I strung together an admirable attempt at a coherent oration. With the eyes of the entire school fixated on me as I was careful not to stumble on the weathered green podium, I said, “terima kasi”, which elicited an uproar of laughter. Never feeling comfortable with the language, I never the less rolled with it as hey responded, “sama sama”. Continuing I said, “it’s so great to be in Indonesia 🇮🇩 ” which shocked me as there was massive applause. Laughing at how easy it seemed I could get a cheap reaction from the crowd, I repeated what I said again in order to get back on track. Once again they cheered. I spoke about the warm weather, the amazing welcome we’ve received, and how honored we were to be at the school. I said that I hope to take a lot of pictures, learn, and share with the community. Leaving the podium to cheers was reassuring that I passed this challenge. As the staff dispersed, I was bombarded by the female staff to take selfies. Walking by the classes, student’s heads popped up to see who the foreigner was, occasionally smiling and waving. Eventually making our way to a classroom, we watched Rudhi introduce us to the students. When it was my turn to present to the class, I quickly gathered my supplies, unsure of what I was in for. The students were rowdy at times, but they were listening. Rudhi translated for me as I asked students for questions and instead heard the morbid sound of crickets. To my dismay, any chance I gave for students to participate left the class embarrassed at the opportunity. I went through my PowerPoint on Michigan and showed pictures of my family, school, and community. The students were intrigued by what they heard, but never wanted to ask questions to further discussion. After finishing my presentation, we headed back to the hotel for a quick break before heading back out again to visit Baturraden. Coming into Indonesia, I was perhaps most curious about this place, as it defied description. I saw only brief glimpses in pictures, but was dumbfounded by what was depicted. It seemed like a hodgepodge of randomly assembled tourism items and statues amidst a jaw-dropping landscape of a mountainous jungle. Trying to have Rudhi describe it better ahead of time didn’t help either as it seemed to defy description from him as well. After a relatively short ride to to the destination, I noticed that the roads in the countryside were rather narrow. As soon as I made this observation, I saw an oncoming car taking up much of our lane, and low-and-behold it swiped our rental car’s side mirror. Thankfully we were able to get it reattached. Mount Slamet towered in the background as we ascended to Baturraden through the dense jungle. Parking at a souvenir shop, a seemingly random plane was placed outside of the park with “Baturraden” written across it. This summed up much of Baturraden, as witnessing it first hand gave me more questions than answers. It was partially relatable to Stony Creek Metro Park with its large open area setting to have a picnic, but had a sense of a flea market with random shops and statues adorning the natural beauty. Koi ponds and mini waterfalls dotted the landscape as we climbed the steps towards the top of the park. Nearby pools were busy with people as we walked past two ladies on a strange device. They were attached to a bike that they cruised over the mountain side on ropes. Making it to the top, I was surprised when our journey ended shortly as we were right by our car where we parked originally. Thankfully we were going to explore more as we got back in the car and headed up the mountain and further into the park, void of the many man-made features. The tropical trees towered over the car, where the dense canopy let very little light through. Exiting the car, Rudhi humorously said that he was feeling cold due to the high elevation. Truth be told, we could see much of Purwokerto from below due to our height, but the temperature was around 68 degrees F. Heading down the hiking path, I noticed the glancing glares of many people looking at the odd foreigners who were visiting. I happened to notice though two gentleman who by appearance looked like they too weren’t from Indonesia, due to their slightly lighter skin. Later I would offer to take their picture, but was struck by their perfect English. Making conversation, I was blown away by them telling me they were on a study abroad from Kabul, Afghanistan. They were wonderfully pleasant to converse with. Taking pictures together, it really put in perspective how globally connected our world really is. Back at the natural springs, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. The closest formation would be from Yellowstone National Park. They dense rainforest leaves opened up out of the mountainside to expose a orange cream colored natural spring, with hints of emerald green algae. The roaring springs called me to test how hot the springs were, and short of boiling my skin, they were mighty hot. Taking photos on the springs, I braved the heat, but immediately got to cooler ground. Seeing Indonesia’s natural beauty was refreshing after having spent so much time in the congestion of Jakarta.
This will be my hardest blog post to write, as I try to come up with something positive and worthwhile to read for today. Today did not go as expected. Originally we were supposed to go to Baturadden, but after last night’s events, they were quickly canceled so that Doug could recover from whatever ailment he is currently going through. Therefore, I now will be spending a rare free day in the hotel room. As plush as it is, the four walls have very limiting potential towards exciting myself in Indonesia. IREX/TGC has done an amazing job preparing us for this wonderful opportunity, making everyone feel safe, secure, and informed on what to expect. Their transparency and continual repetitive warnings and alerts were heeded by most of the group with the utmost seriousness. As I wait for time to pass, it has given me an opportunity to catch up on my blog and try to get some work done, but it’s been hard to keep focused amidst all the chaos from the previous day. I’m grateful that everyone appears to be healthy and I’m hoping for some better days ahead in Indonesia.
Proofreading to come soon! Trying to get something posted asap.
The highs and lows from today can only make someone stronger. As the second act of the trip was officially under way, the day’s agenda had us visiting the Indian Ocean and a museum. Being able to sleep in a few more hours than the agenda listed (originally 4am to catch the sunrise), we hopped in a car driven by Rudhi’s neighbor. The drive took us south for about an hour and a half, further into the back woods of the rainforest of souther Java in Indonesia. While it always provided the appearance that we were going fast, in reality the car was only traveling at 30mph. This illusion caused by the continual winding roads and passing on coming traffic. As we started driving, Doug mentioned he didn’t eat yet, but wasn’t hungry. Rudhi and his wife stopped at a gas station so Doug could use the restroom. Rudhi gave us water and provided Doug some bread so he could eat something. Further towards the destination goal, we saw numerous rice paddies strewn across the mountain landscape. Towering palm trees dotted the side of the road along the shacks and stands that provided some shade to the tenants. Arriving at the beach, from afar my mouth was agape from the monstrous waves that were crashing ahead. I’ve never seen waves anywhere near this powerful in my life. The overcast skies may have been the culprit to the beach being void of people. Walking through the rustic shops and past the litter on the beach, I made my way to the clear light beige sand. Like a boy in a candy shop, this would be my playground for the next few hours. Looking at the long sandy beach and the tide rolling by, I took of my sandals armed with my GoPro and headed into the water. The ocean colors were a hazy grey, until the crest had fallen displaying a brownish sand. To my surprise, the water was relatively warm for an ocean. Taking a swim and enjoying the ever-present beauty, the beach was a welcome reprieve from the meetings and driving endured from the past couple of days. In the distance, I could see a mountain flanking the far left portion of the beach, with a seemingly endless beach front located in the opposite direction. At this time Doug needed to use the restroom (these points will come in play later, trust me). After dipping half my body in the water, I didn’t want any regrets regarding not immersing myself in the ocean from head to toe, I took a refreshing plunge into the water. Reinvigorating my senses, it felt liberating to be so far from home, on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Feel refreshed, I headed back Rudhi and the driver and had a great conversation comparing the US and Indonesia. Doug once again needed to use the restroom. Rudhi and his wife had purchased us some food; a coconut to drink from and a soy dish. Skeptical if I’d like the soy dish which looked more akin to an omelet, it actually turned into one of my favorite traditional meals. One of the best parts of Indonesian meals are the peppers which finally satiated my need for hot food. Once we left, we drove down a nearby bumpy road to a traditional local fish market. Not far off from the Detroit Farmer’s Market’s wide variety of local goods, the smell of fish filled the air. Flies covered many of the fish. Hermit crabs with decorated shells were to be purchased along the sidewalk. People were taking a wire strainer the size of a circular sled to strain the dirt from a massive tarp filled with a crustacean looking type of shrimp. Heading back to the car, we made our way to Benteng Van Der Wich, which was a former Dutch prison colony. Before arriving, Doug sent a message to Sarah who was in Jakarta regarding what he should do about his upset stomach, not giving the full details of the situation. Here again Doug needed to use the bathroom, which he questioned if it was something he ate. I reminded him that yesterday he ate an egg from a stand, raw sugarcane, and a rice drink, all of which we were strongly advised not to. He mentioned that he didn’t think it was this, though we prior have eaten everything the same, except for that worrisome trio. The park was out of this world. Within there is a weathered historical site, but built on top was a roller coaster type train, which we road. Squeaky train wheels irked their way across the roof of the building. Inside the park were also seemingly out of place outdated amusements for kids. The park was empty except for the 5 of us. When we left, Doug looked in rough shape, needing medication for his stomach. In the car, Rudhi and I suggested Doug see a doctor, which he declined. Later, Rudhi had us stop to get some lunch for some fried duck and rice. Doug passed on wanting to have any food or fluids, but went to the bathroom two times for an extended period of time. Looking very ill, Rudhi decided we’ll stop and get some diarrhea medicine on the way home. Keeled over for much of the hour and a half back, I suggested to him before we got back to the hotel that he should see a doctor before Rudhi leaves, again he declined. Knowing that the food he consumed the day prior was a huge issue, I let Sarah know that I was concerned by the elevated symptoms that Doug was having. She was super scared and worried for his health. Without getting into the details too much, Dewi, Rudhi, Sarah, and I all agreed after about 3 hours of nonstop back and forth deliberation for how to help Doug, that he needed to see a doctor. I was asked to get in touch with him and tell him that Rudhi is coming. Scarily he didn’t answer a text, a call, or when I knocked on the door. We had to have hotel security open the door, to find him sleeping in bed. I told him we are here to take him to a hospital. Again, I’ll save some of the crazy details, but going to a developing country’s hospital can’t be the best place to attend. Having spent a long day in the city, I was hoping to end it with Rudhi in the city’s capital, but needless to say, those plans changed. In my hotel room, I wasn’t able to have a much needed dinner, due to fielding calls, and hunger was growing. Also, I hadn’t contacted home yet, due to being so busy. Doug was taken out in a wheel chair to the waiting car. Finally making it to the hospital, Doug had a scary 103 degree temperature, which is a horrible number combined with the diarrhea. After a couple of hours and much confusion, Doug was released with antibiotics. Rudhi and his wife who hired a driver to come back to pick him up, was relieved that things turned out better. Let this be a lesson learned, heed the advice of the people who travel and know local cultures. Don’t eat the street vendor food or drink the unfiltered drinks!
The daunting 8 hour drive was underway today as we were finally leaving the safety and security of the large group. Now traveling with Doug for the next 9 days, away from my newfound friends in Jakarta, I hoped for the best. Having the last meal of comfort I presumed at the Le Meridien, I loaded up the SUV and got comfortable for the long ride to Purwokerto. Excited for the new experiences that lie ahead as well as meeting Rudhi and the school, I donned my headphones for a serene ride through the hectic traffic of Jakarta. Taking three hours to leave the city’s boundaries completely, we crawled through the city traffic. It is amazing that despite the claustrophobic roads and the continual disregard for what I would presume as basic driving etiquette, driver’s never showed any frustration or road rage towards other drivers. Once we made it to the countryside, we drove down one lane roads, past several rice paddies, palm trees, and mountains which littered the landscape. Doug having a hankering for fast food, had us stop at a KFC, which was nearly identical to the menu provided back home. I stopped by a local Aldomart convenience store to pick up some Pringles to satiate and potential hunger. About halfway through the drive, Doug decided to continually have the car pull over for various reasons. First he wanted a picture with a sugarcane field, but we stopped instead at a farm without sugarcane for Doug to take pictures. Traveling with our guide across a rickety bridge into a field, we snapped some pictures. Heading back, we saw our driver sitting on the floor of a dilapidated shack drinking a rice drink. Making small talk with him and amazed at the drink he was drinking, Doug was offered a drink. My stomach flipped as I thought back to the previous day where I told Doug I was worried about his safety. This is where I was correct in my worry as he accepted the offer for a drink. I gave him a clear look that said, “What are you doing?!”. The place was the exact location that we were told DAILY not to drink or eat from. Knowing that Doug also had forgone getting any vaccines, I wondered what he was thinking as the place was covered, absolutely COVERED with flies. The sanitation at the location was definitely suspect as he was drinking out of a glass that I presume wasn’t washed with filtered water. Downing the drink and elated by the thirst quenching experience, I hoped for his safety that this was it for the day with these experiences. Sadly I was mistaken, as in almost 10 minutes, Doug and the driver got out of the car so that Doug could eat from a street vendor a duck egg. While Doug was on cloud 9 from eating this treat, I was extremely worried about not only Doug’s choices from today, but how I was going to survive with him for the next 9 days. To say I was worried about his well-being is an understatement. Once again, to my chagrin, he stopped at another stop to break the third rule we were told not to do, he ate from a random field, raw sugarcane. Worrying that some farms still use human feces as fertilizer, the US Indonesia Embassy clearly laid out their health and safety guidelines as well did IREX/TGC throughout the trip. The drive at this point couldn’t end any sooner as I wanted to avoid any future safety concerning situations. I must admit, I’m not one who is often concerned about bacteria or germs, but since the idea of how sick we could get was beat over our head continuously, I was very cautious throughout my stay in Indonesia. Doug wanted to stop again, but I had to tell the driver from this point on that I’d like to limit the stops in the car due to not feeling good. Also, it was only adding to the amount of time it was taking to get to our destination, which was still another 4 hours away. At one point our ride came to a screeching halt as there was a standstill where there was construction ahead. Our driver spoke for a while with a teenager, who told him for a small price he could follow him on his motorcycle through the backroads to a shortcut. This off the road path was interesting and effective, saving us time to get to our location. When we ended up making it to Purwokerto, while there was traffic, it was nothing like Jakarta. The levels of poverty were much more apparent, as the city was void of any skyscrapers or opulent buildings, except for really the hotel we were staying at. Making the booking at the Aston Imperium was a Godsend as it was a relaxing place to spend the night at. Inside the large lobby which was blasting Indonesian music through an amplifier, I headed to my room to lay my head for some much needed rest. The view from the 8th floor overlooked much of Purwokerto’s red roofed buildings. Peaking out amidst the buildings was a mosque with a green dome. Settling in to my new home for the next 9 days, I was pleased with my new surroundings and happy to have paid a little more for a nice hotel room. After contacting home and checking in with Kelly and Aiden, it was time to get caught up with pictures, blogging, and life itself.
Proofreading, story, and pictures to come soon! Trying to get something posted asap.
Finally leaving the confines of the hotel as a group felt like a long time coming, even though it was only one day holed up at the Le Meridien. Leaving the hotel as a group by walking across the street to a towering unique large office building, with sharp corners on every floor, adorn with hanging grass on the side, we entered the highly secured building to attend a meeting with AMINEF. They are in charge of exchange programs between Indonesia and the United States. With the director being from the United States as well as several coworkers, it felt like a slice of home in the midst of the whirlwind trip. The meeting described the great work by AMINEF and the needs for global relations. Two young American teachers who are part of an English language program described their impressions of Indonesia, further preparing us for what to expect on the grand journey we are on. With a boxed lunch of traditional cuisine, I passed on most of the food due to the similar feeling I’ve been having regarding being fed like cattle with the constant feedings. As the meeting finished, I was able to have a wonderful conversation with some employees of Muslim faith who were interested in American politics and specifically Trump. This being my bread and butter to discuss, but also releasing my conversation will have to be honest yet unbiased since we are traveling on behalf of the United States. Expressing that Donald Trump doesn’t represent the views of all Americans, that many Americans support and welcome Muslims with open arms, and America is very large and Trump’s ideas benefit some people, but not everyone. This was a sentiment shared by the majority of the group we traveled with. Sharing reassurance and goodwill is a crucial component to my time with IREX/TGC. Considering the negative stereotypes that have occurred globally regarding the USA, a poignant message sent to our group was that we play a larger role than just being teachers on our trip. We are global diplomats. Sending an ambassador to a country doesn’t change the minds of most of the people, it’s the work of the citizen ambassadors who on the ground level can influence the most people. After leaving AMINEF, we traveled by bus to our first school, a secondary school on the other side of Jakarta. What continues to amaze me is how expansive Jakarta’s size is. I’ve never seen a city’s boundary lines spread so far apart. To exacerbate the situation is the ever present congestion in the city which makes any journey on two or four wheels take up much more time than any other city I’ve visited. The traffic also has caused a layer of smog in the city, which unless something changes, will only get worst. Amazing in the midst of the bumper to bumper traffic with seemingly no order, no accidents have occurred and people exhibit no signs of road rage. Case in point being our diver trying to weave in seemingly impossible narrow corridors a full size coach bus, never appears rattled. Making our way to our first school, which was Mike and Ursula’s home school, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how we would be received. It is immediately apparent as we pulled through the school campus gates it would be with open arms. The people placed massive customized sign welcoming us to their school. Disembarking from our shuttle bus, we were flanked by several female students applauding us, while wearing beautiful Hijabs and their school uniform. As was much of Indonesia, the facilities on a surface level looked ramshackle, but upon closer reflection appeared to be taken care of with much care and attention. There were no signs of dirt or uncleanliness as we walked through the exotic school entryway. Treated to seeing towering palm trees and a botanical garden in the center courtyard, the greenery contrasting wonderfully with the orange paint, a huge smile was plastered upon my face. Faces peeking through classroom windows, our warm welcome diminished any sleepiness we might have been feeling. Entering a room by taking off our shoes first, another welcoming party treated us like royalty. Large custom banners flanked the podium. The principal was ecstatic to have us and immediately offered to pose for pictures with us. Also greeted by two young adults who came up to me to greet us, smiling, and exchanging pleasantries, were the masters of ceremony for the event. The people were Taking a seat in plush seats, I had a front row view of the welcoming celebration. The two MCs started off the welcoming party. We were treated with such respect as they provided us quite a show. There were traditional singing and dancing, as well as a speech by the principal. Following this we had a question and answer with the students asking us questions. I answered a question regarding how students study for tests, which thankfully Kate interrupted me to tell me to slow down as I forgot that English wasn’t their first language. During the presentation, Mike and I made a couple of funny quiet interactions with the two MCs sitting stoically in front of us, hoping to get them to smile, which we did. Finishing up the presentation, we were given time to chat with the many eager students and have some delicious soup, which was similar to Italian wedding soup. It was always funny with the young students who were often timid to ask for a picture from me, where I’d eventually offer to take one with them. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favorite interaction came from further talking with the two MCs. Sharing with them my social media handle and telling them how great they were on the microphone, they were blown away by me (as strange as that seems). I was simply acting as myself, but apparently it seemed that most teachers don’t make much of an effort to relate and interact with them. I couldn’t help but laugh when the young man said multiple times, “I like you, you are so chill. You are the chill teacher”. If only I could have filmed that and played it back every day haha. As we left after taking another group photo, it was much more refreshing than I expected to visit a school. With such a grand welcome, it felt rejuvenating to be greeted with such reverence. Finishing the night back at the hotel, we had plenty of time to relax and get settled in. With no group official dinner slated for us, a couple of us had dinner at the bar at night. Serenaded by a wonderfully talented singer as she belted out requests from the audience, the small group had a small meal at the bar before heading out on our own way. I looked forward to tomorrow’s visit to another school.
The commitment to global education was apparent on our third full day in Indonesia. Stationed primarily at the hotel at workshops, the fellows and I participated in panel discussions regarding the Indonesian school system. With little background information, I was planning on a very informative discussion, which Dewi didn’t disappoint. The biggest surprise I must admit is that there are far more similarities than I would have ever imagined. The basic idea that we are looking for what is in the best interest of the students is apparent on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. The means and resources for how we get there is main difference. It seems that the main area that is holding the Indonesia education system back is the quality of educators that are being hired. To my surprise, Indonesia has the best ratio of students to teachers, with 1 teacher for every 17 students. The problem stems though with the quality of teachers hired since the pay is not ideal. More fascinating is due to the perception of being a teacher is often tarnished due to the lack of excitement and quality education for students going through the system as students themselves, causing a cyclical problem of uninspired teachers. This isn’t indicative of all the teachers of course, but a widespread problem none-the-less. The facilities and resources available aren’t at the quality levels of a typical middle America classroom. Encouragingly, despite all these tribulations, parents and students see the profession with endearment. Parents rarely contact or question the teacher’s decisions, assuming they are fulfilling their professional promise. All of the talk regarding education in Indonesia was making me want to leap out from my seat and start heading to a school, to see the learning environment in progress. Education in Indonesia is also different due to teachers across the entire country are on the same salary step schedule. Other main differences are in Indonesian classrooms, students do not rotate classes, rather the teacher rotates from class to class., making planning and preparation a little more challenging, students learn 3 languages (Indonesian Bahasa, a local language, and English),and if a teacher is out of the room, the class will be without a teacher with the students monitored by a camera, there are 37-40 students in a classroom. Without a doubt the biggest difference between our two education systems is the separation of church and state, or the lack there of in Indonesia. Due to the country being 90% Muslim, students have different choices for the type of elementary, middle, and high school they can attend. Without getting into the specifics, essentially there are Muslim schools and non-Muslim school opportunities. After the meeting and grabbing lunch, we headed back to the conference room for a panel discussion on the Indonesian education system. The three teachers shared their personal insights into the education, reaffirming many of the previous maladies mentioned earlier. When dinner time came, a small group and I decided to venture off into the city on our own without Dewi or Sarah for the first time. Seeing the wide discrepancies between city blocks with the safety and environment of the facilities, we made a point to not venture too far out of the way. I never realized how ubiquitous our phones and their GPS systems have become in our lives until we are tasked with navigating a foreign city without them. Using the concierge’s directions, we headed alongside the bustling roadside traffic as it crawled past us. Motorcycles streamed by us as they navigated the smallest of cracks, weaving through the congestion. After clearly passing any signs of restaurants we held a team meeting to figure out where we are concerning our Indonesian restaurant, realizing we are about 12 minutes walking distance out of the way. The group had split between making up lost time, with half the group wanting to break from the safety procedures and hailing a taxi, with Christy and I refusing to get in a cab. We ended up walking to the restaurant as recommended by the US Embassy’s safety protocol. Finally making it to the restaurant, we begrudgingly laughed at how our venture in the wrong direction could have been saved if we made one quick turn early on, as its location was actually very close to our hotel. Two other fellows met up with us and we dined on more amazing Indonesian cuisine. The wait staff couldn’t be more patient and understanding to our language differences. Feeling filled with an exquisite dinner of chicken and rice with a fair amount of heat, we headed back to the hotel where I worked on pictures and of course video chatted with my family.
Today will be nearly impossible to top. We've been in Indonesia for 3 days and we've already experienced many unforgettable moments. After spending a day immersing ourselves in Indonesian culture, we headed over to the ginormous mall in Jakarta. I rarely use the word ginormous, but I definitely feel it was warranted. It’s as if this mall ate the Mall of America. Walking through the security check points and into the lightly air conditioned foyer, it strangely felt like home. Looking at the copious amount of stores, illuminating English sales and deals, with familiar brands such as H&M and Forever 21, it was easy to forget we are halfway around the world. Given the directive that we had an hour to enjoy the mall before meeting back up, a small crew joined up to venture out into the unknown. Almost immediately though we realized that something was awry. In front of us was a sea of people with cell phones hovering high above everyone’s heads, with a loud commotion commencing. Not knowing what was going on, perhaps foolishly, I headed over towards the commotion. The little angel on my shoulder, I call a conscious now ran through what was supposed to happen that didn’t occur the previous day. We were supposed to keep low key and away from massive crowds, but needless to say, my curiosity was calling. Who could this be, the Indonesian Justin Bieber? It had to be someone one important as the crown continued to grow. Through the commotion, as people could easily spot that we were foreigners, let us know what the hubbub was about. This was President Jokowi, taking a stroll through the mall, or at least attempting to. Moving about three steps every minute and flanked by security that seemed to be allowing the chaos but keeping it in check at the same time, he smiled and posed for pictures. Rarely ever uttering a single word, but waving politely at the camera for the lucky few in the front to take a selfie, he was calm in the eye of the hurricane growing around him. Being that this was a foreign dignitary, let alone the leader of the 4th most populated country in the world, I couldn’t hep but think this was super relaxed security. Would Donald Trump ever allow common folk to chaotic swirl around him? I can’t imagine, but this man without knowing his policies was sending to me a clear picture, he was one of the people. The slender and modestly dressed president crawled past a few stores at a time. I wondered if this was something special we were seeing, was there a purpose, and how often does this happen. Realizing that in Indonesia, my 6’1” height made me feel like a giant, I joined the scrum and walked towards the mosh pit. Holding my camera high, I was able to take a few, what I presumed bury pictures. Looking at Doug, the other social studies teacher, we were abuzz with how cool this moment is. The aisles above and below us were littered with people as well, looking at the sight of the mob of people. The angel on my shoulder kept telling me to stay away from this type of scene. Trying for a moment to get closer was futile, as it was pretty packed, so I retreated to the outside, safely. Moments later I saw Doug walking out from the center, having taken a selfie with the president! The rest of the group walked away, amazed at what we saw. Shopping with all this commotion going on seemed impossible, so Jennifer asked me if I wanted to go back and get a picture. Telling the angel on my shoulder that I’ll be in touch later, I joined her as did Craig, and tried to scope out the best spot and the perfect angel to B-line directly to Jokowi. Hoping that since she’s a female, she shouldn’t be forced around as much as everyone else, and the fact that our brightly colored outfits made us stick out, let alone our ethnicities, maybe this could serve to help our cause. Inching our way, with every swerve, nook and cranny being taken by us, we made our way in front of him, about 5 layers of people away. Jennifer told me she had a plan, “Let’s tell the body guards we are American teachers”. If I could facepalm myself at that moment I would have, but my arms were clearly stuck at my side due to the close quarters. Since I had really no other option, she tried her strategy as we got close. This could turn out as planned with a picture or that little angel would be telling me, “I told you so”. As we were butted up against the glass of the chic store Mango, we were within moments of success or utter failure. Jennifer went in for the kill as I looked for Craig and couldn’t find him. Still cool as a cucumber, Jokowi smiled and took a few selfies occasionally, barely moving forward. The guards were getting more agitated and forceful, pushing the man who was forcing his way to the center out of the way. Finally once Jennifer got to the closest body guard, she said, “We are American teachers, we’d like a picture”. He had her repeat herself, and the security guard told Jokowi. He signaled with his finger to have us come forward. With the triumph of the trip upon us, I felt a strong tug on my shoulder, being pulled by security. Not now! I was so close. I scrambled with what to say, knowing that I hope he understands English. I told him, “Wait no! I’m with her!” Looking puzzled, like who is she, which is honestly a good question from his point of view, another guard told him that I was in fact with Jennifer, and to let me go. Here I was with her, standing with Jokowi, but I wasn’t sure how to take a selfie to make this an actual decent picture. So amidst the chaos, I handed the camera to a guard, possibly the one that moments prior tried to kick me out, and he started to take a few pictures. Thankful so much for that amazing experience, I looked him in the eyes, smiled, said, “Thank you”, which he said the same back to me, and I shook his hand. Tumbling and bumbling my way out of the pit, relieved that the craziness was over, we all decided to get as far away from the pit as we had had our fill. I thought, I hope Sarah from IREX didn’t see that, because that’s two days of us causing a scene. Gathering our thoughts and losing half our mini group, Jennifer and I gushed at what we were able to obtain. Unfortunately, Craig wasn’t able to join us. Indonesia trip was made. With 40 minutes left to kill, I was on cloud nine, and nothing was going to take this high away. The closest experience I can compare that moment to, was in Alaska when at the beginning of the trip we were lucky enough to see whales. At that moment I thought that this trip was made, and I could go home and be happy. Finding along my elated walk through the mall other fellows, I was giddy to share my insane experience with anyone who would listen (even if perhaps they didn’t want to). Meeting back up with Sarah and Dewi, I wasn’t sure what there reaction would be, but thankfully we were met with sheer excitement, and from Dewi especially, humorous jealousy. She said “I’ve never seen Jokowi and that what we experienced is the same as me coming to your country and taking a picture with Obama or Trump”. This solidified that we experienced something special. And now... everything else that happened... Breakfast never ending buffet featuring an insane amount of traditional Indonesian cuisine, we had a fantastic presentation on my bread and butter, the culture, geography, and history of Indonesia. Throughout the entire presentation, similar themes continued to appear, such as that Indonesia is very unique by the many islands separating the people, creating different cultures and customs. After the presentation, we went to the Batik Textile Museum in Jakarta. The museum housed Batik traditional artwork from every main part of Indonesia. Each unique place had a very unique spin on batik tapestry. Batik is the Indonesian technique for creating beautiful tapestry. It involves dipping a special wooden device, with a piece of metal on the end into a pot of hot wax. Trust me, I know it’s hot because it dripped on me a couple of times by accident. The quant museum had us trying to create our own Batik design, which was really relaxing and enjoyable. Dipping the device into the wax and outlining our design was a great surprise for us to work on in Indonesia. When we were finished, we handed our work off to two gentlemen who had a process where they they dipped our cloth into boiling hot water and later into a dye color of our choosing. The finished results looked extremely impressive, and I really appreciated the intricate craftsmanship put forth by the Batik artists in their time intensive work. Afterwards, we toured the museum, which had different Batik pieces from each province in the country. The styles varied from region to region. Finishing up at the museum, we went to the mall (see craziness above and rejoin me back here). After the mall, we headed back to the hotel for dinner on our own. A small group of us were the only ones brave enough to exit the confines of the hotel, and we walked several blocks to where we thought the directions we were given told us to go to. Seeing Jakarta from the street, amidst the chaotic traffic on the other side of the barricade, this personal view of the city was a great way to soak in the amazing day. When the group realizing that we had gone the wrong way after a while, it made me thankful for the times when we were in the states and could access our phones and GPS. Eventually arriving at the planned restaurant, I had an amazing noodle meal that showcased fine Indonesian dining. Making our way back to the hotel, it was time to try and calm down. Resting my head on the pillow never felt so good.
To my amazement, my body clock was adjusting as admirably as I could imagine. With little jet lag holding me back in the morning, I made my way down to scope out the offerings for breakfast, hoping that there would be something worth eating since we’d be dining here every morning. Well, no worries once I feasted my eyes on the cornucopia of food on display. With 8 large stations from which to create a multicultural breakfast, some tough decisions were going to be made. Do I go for the hometown favorites from the pancake bar, hit up the omelet station which offered up Indonesian flare, load up on different variations of beef or chicken that seemed better suited for a dinner, or go experimental and try the plentiful options that I honestly had no clue what they were? Being that the goal of this trip is to immerse yourself in the culture, I decided to spread out and try the Indonesian food first, and wow, it was amazing. I hate to sound like all I care about is food, but believe me, we were dining like kings and queens. It was a great way to start the day. Knowing that indulging may have occurred, I proceeded to head over to the pool to take a couple of laps. Alone in the pool, I could see into the distance numerous buildings, many of them being erected as I swam. With little work to do on the agenda as to allow people to acclimate themselves to the time change, I had to just wait until lunch for the first official meet up. Lunch was again provided at the same location, with new yet similar offerings. I went light with a salad (and maybe some dessert) since little time had passed in between. After this meet up where we heard various recommendations for how to conduct ourselves in the city, we boarded a bus to check out the nearby national monument. I had a front row seat in the bus to witness the legendary chaotic congestion of Jakarta roads. As chaotic as the roads were, which they most definitely were, they still weren’t as bad as I pictured. None-the-less, our calm bus driver seemed never flustered by the weaving of motorcycles in front of him, the people crossing the street in the middle of the highway, or the seemingly endless gridlock through narrow corridors of highway. I was able to enjoy on the bus the beauty of Jakarta, with the spectrum of poor shanty looking buildings towered by mammoth skyscrapers nearby. Once arriving at the national monument drop-off., for the first time in which I can imagine perhaps ever, I felt what it was like to be stared at. In order to make it to the monument, we had to cross a crowded market place, where nearly eyeball was fixated on us, but never to look us directly in the eye. Staying closely to the group, I offered a smile with no reciprocation. Past food huts, coconut water stands, and people hawking American t-shirts, we finally made our way to the gates to the monument, some 300 yards or so away. Taking pictures continually, it was an impressive structure that looked like a cross between the Olympic torch, the Washington Monument, all sitting in a candle dish. As we got close enough for a group selfie, it was still apparent that we were being gawked at. Finishing another group selfie, a brave soul came to us to ask if he could get a picture with the group. We were puzzled, but happily obliged. This seemed to break the ice with whatever tension the group had and with any trepidation that the locals having with us. After the selfie with one group, another group wanted our group photo, followed by another, followed by another. Slowly but surely, we were beginning to feel like celebrities. Later I was singled out by a woman and her aunt, wanting a picture. I made sure that we used my camera for my own collection as well. This happened again too. This flattering experience for the group eventually did get old as it was hard to really enjoy the surroundings, but as I write this, realize that yeah, it was a pretty amazing experience to be welcomed like this. The last group that came by was a group of Boy Scouts and asked us to pose with them and say something for the camera. We hilariously butchered their request, but they had no worries. Heading back was a much different feeling then when we arrived as the ominous town that I felt was replaced with awkward welcoming arms from the city. We were as curious about them as they were of us. Taking the bus back to the hotel, we had more time again to ourselves to keep adjusting to the timeshift. Luckily since I seemingly had already done so, I hung out and caught up on photos after calling home and seeing Aiden smile when I played peek-a-boo over FaceTime. Finally night crept on us and it was time to go to dinner at a restaurant in Jakarta. The place was a traditional Indonesian restaurant. Thankfully there were others in the group that were willing to share their meal so we could each sample the cuisine. The food was to die for as it felt like a combination of Chinese, Indian and Thai. Fully stuffed, we headed back home to the hotel, ready for another day of adventure to follow tomorrow.
To say that I’ve longed for the comforts of sleeping in a bed, is possibly the understatement of the year for myself. After beginning this adventure early on in the morning with little sleep on Thursday, I now have started my first day in Indonesia, which thankfully they’ve given us to adjust to the time change. Somehow I’ve adjusted I think admirably well to the change, all things considered. This mainly due in large part to constantly fighting sleeping during the grueling 13 hour flight, the 4 hour layover in Japan, and only sleeping a little when we were headed to our destination in Jakarta on a 7 hour flight. Setting my clock on my phone when we were in Houston to Jakarta time helped me begin to adjust my body clock to the new timing schedule. After touching down at around midnight, Jakarta time, our group was giddy with excitement on the inside, but probably looked more akin to zombies. As I exited the terminal, hints of Asian architecture surrounded us with statues of dragons and Buddhist artifacts. A drowsy smile strewn across my face as we swiftly made our way through customs. Being greeted by Daywee (spelling on that to come), she was showering us with much needed enthusiasm as we waiting for our bus to take us to the Le Meridian Hotel in Jakarta. The amber lit midnight sky radiated as we waited for the shuttle to arrive. To my surprise, vehicles were driving on the left side of the road. One we boarded our spacious coach bus, I peered from my window in awe at the massive skyscraper buildings. Truth be told, seeing the massive buildings is not unique, but the minute variances in their appearances and design offered enough change from the often mundane gothic to modern buildings littering the Detroit skyline. To our sheer relief, at around 1:30am the bus made a sharp turn through a guarded gate to the hotel, where they inspected us through a metal detector. Getting access to my room was a sweet, sweet feeling. The opulence of the hotel left me speechless. In the mad rush to get to my room, it wouldn’t be until a stomach flipping moment caused me to rush backdown to the lobby when I forgot my book bag, which had my passport. Thankfully they put it aside for me (this also happened on the first night in Germany!). Longing for home even in the midst of this amazing new environment, I called my wife who was just getting up with Aiden. The benefits of technology letting me obtain a sense of home when being halfway around the world is appreciated. To see my little one at piece getting ready to start the day put a smile on my face. Throughout the waiting in the airport, I would monitor him on our “Cubcam” baby monitor at home. Again, giving me the reassurance that he’s really not that far away. Saying goodnight (or would that be good morning?), inside my lavish hotel room, I thankfully was moderately tired after getting about 4 hours of sleep on the last flight. I crashed in bed, but woke up at around 6am, waiting two hour before breakfast and officially starting my first full day in Indonesia.
The epic journey to Indonesia begins. We are 3 hours on our way from Houston to Japan, a 13 hour trip. With the 7 hours from Tokyo to Jakarta following being a mere blip on the time radar. Kissing my wife and little goodbye in the wee hours of the morning was an unenviable task, though now reality has set in that I am on a mission to Indonesia, to learn about another culture, so far from from my own. I must admit, never did I think ten years ago I would be traveling as much as I have. Being fortunate to experience the world as much as I have, has been a blessing, and I’m sure Indonesia will be the same. This trip is the culmination of a lot of time and work. Sitting with Anu and enjoying a conversations on National Parks and fellowships has made time go by a little faster. Technically it is 2am in Jakarta, but it’s 3:43pm and I’m running on 3 hours of sleep. I need to get some sleep now, but it’s not happening. Simply put, I’m too excited about what is coming ahead (continued hours later after an announcement stopped my writing, followed by me getting a quick catnap). Trying to adjust my sleep is key to my success, and I’m hoping to stay up as long as I can. It seems like old friends with the people from IREX, even though we’ve only known each other through Facebook and from our quick 3 days in Washington DC. Here’s to 3 weeks in Indonesia. It seems so far away at times on the plane, but I’m so close to the culmination of all this excitement.
It's so close to happening. After a long time of preparation, I'll soon be traveling to Indonesia with IREX. Going back to January 2016 when I was applying for this application to a year and a half later, a lot has happened to help me prepare for this journey. Fast forward to September when I took a rigorous ten week course to learn about global education. With an impending pregnancy taking up much of my time, on top of normal work obligations, participating in the program was an effort in time management. The class pushed me further than any other online course has ever pushed me. Incorporating copious types of technology project with the theme of global education, I thoroughly enjoyed this class. I've participated in the Global Education Symposium in Washington DC with my principal. This was a great opportunity to reaffirm the goals of IREX, as well as bring my principal on board with the program's mission for global education. After finding out that I'll be partnering with Doug Banwart, we were partnered up with Rudhi Julianto in Purwokerto, Indonesia. We've worked together and created what seems to be a life changing itinerary in Purwokerto. I'm SUPER excited about the temples we'll be visiting, the wedding we are attending, the Indian Ocean, and Baturraden Park, amongst many other experiences. On top of this, I'm thrilled to visit Rudhi's school and collaborate with the teacher's at his school and learn, share, and experience the world with SNMP 8 in Indonesia. Yesterday I found out what I'll be doing in Jakarta, and it sounds thrilling. We'll be learning about global education with the big group of 15 IREXers. We'll also be able see and taste much of the city's offerings. Lastly, I have to pack, something that I've been strategically preparing for, with me being gone for 3 weeks. I know a common theme throughout the trip will be how I miss my wife and my newborn son, but their support for me on this life changing journey means the world to me.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.