I found out this week that I'll be traveling with Rochester Community Schools to Germany in February! I am thrilled to be able to join the program where we will travel with several RCS students and staff. Joining me will be principal Mooney, Mr. Phelps, Mrs. Robinson, and Mrs. Herzig, all current or former Van Hoosen staff members in the district, as well as RCS parents and students. The itinerary looks amazing (and thankfully very different from my 2015 study abroad. Below is a map of all the places we will be visiting.
Here is a travel itinerary of all the places we will be visiting in Germany in February. Looks like some amazing places!
More information coming soon.
Culture! This was today’s agenda, so we were starting Bahrain off with a bang. After settling in last night into the hotel, I was fortunate to fight off sleeping on the plane as I was able to sleep perfectly last night. After having a hearty egg and sausage breakfast at the hotel, we headed out by shuttle through Bahrain to our first destination. Traveling through the capital city Manama, it was reminiscent of Jakarta, Indonesia sans the traffic. The buildings were towering, modern skyscrapers, with contemporary designs. Our tour guide joined us and explained the history and culture of Bahrain. I was blown away that a large stretch of where we were traveling through was part of the sea until Bahrain reclaimed the land, i.e. placed land where there was once sea. It’s amazing to the vast extent they were able to add to their island. It’s true with the lack of space on the small island that eventually the only place you can go is outward. There are so many questions about this practice; is it legal internationally? How do they do it? Are they worried about rising sea levels? Why didn’t they develop the barren land to the south. Making it to the main cultural center we were visiting, Shaikh Ebrahim Center, the roads narrowed and the traffic was much more congested. Disembarking at several historical sites which were home to the royal family, we learned about the rich history. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Bahrainians all stemmed from the same royal family. Seeing many people in the narrow streets in traditional clothing; women wearing burqas and hijabs, and men with their long cloth hats, I never once felt like how I was dressed drew any extra attention. After going to one building, we visited a historical printing press room and a children’s library. The children’s library was impressive as it was tiny, but served the purpose of helping local kids with literacy. The tiny nooks where these buildings were, exemplified how to make the most out of the limited space. Through forward thinking development, we saw how some architecture projects are trying to introduce green plant life to the sides of buildings, since there is no space to build greenery on the flat land. When we finished touring the local area, we went to a coffee shop, which was extremely modern with their Swedish inspired seating. Patterned rock candy decorated the ceiling as it hung above our heads. It almost was a coffee museum as there were placards throughout regarding the rich history of coffee in Bahrain. The coffee was served with dates, a traditional fruit of the area. The coffee had a taste very unique, with coriander (I believe). After leaving, they sprinkled our hands with rose water. The group we are traveling with has been gelling wonderfully throughout the time together. The ten of us, 8 teachers and our two leads from the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce were constantly sharing different thoughts regarding global education. Making our way to the Qal’at Al-Bahrain fort, I was now heading towards my favorite place on the agenda. A UNESCO Historical Site, the building was composed of weathered sandstone bricks. The area was under the sea for hundred of years and was only recently recovered. Looking out at the sea as we walked up the ramp leading towards the fort, it was so surreal to be with fellow TOP 2015 alumni Lou again. Taking pictures throughout, we learned about the history of the temple. We took several detours into the small caves pits, eventually coming to one which was lit with gold lights on the floor, illuminating the room. Heading back with the group, we went out to a traditional Bahrainian restaurant. They served food from throughout the world and I wondered what traditional Bahrainian food is like. It apparently is more akin to Indian food. I had a rice meal called chicken biranyi. Finishing our meal, we finished the day off at the largest museum in Bahrain, the National Bahrainian museum. It was apparent that most of these places were seldom traveled when we went, even though it was a weekend. The museum was mostly empty, but was impressive due to its massive size. Reading the history of Bahrain, it was clear how much they celebrated their rich culture. Their history as a country of exporting pearls for so long is one of the major takeaways. Heading back to the hotel, I was pleasantly pleased with the first day’s activities.
My mission as an educator centers around global education. For years starting as a teacher I felt confined to the four walls in my classroom, but as I’ve grown as a teacher I’ve expanded far beyond those borders. I’ve seen that I can impact students far beyond the confines of my classroom, my school, and even my district. As a teacher I can impact education and schools around the country and even the world. This dramatic shift has happened organically through a simple experiment in international travel through the Transatlantic Outreach Program in 2015 where I traveled to Germany. Thanks to a seemingly innocuous email forwarded by then assistant principal Lisa Fosnaugh, I took a gamble and invested in applying to the TOP program. The itch to continue these experiences and see a wide range of cultures seems to be one that I’ll never be able to finish scratching. After a year which sent me to see the San Diego Zoo behind the scenes courtesy of the Teachers for Conservation Education, I applied for the IREX/Teachers for Global Education fellowship, which thankfully I won. Having spent 10 grueling yet rewarding weeks studying global education through the IREX/TGC Global Education course, I realized my true passion as an educator, global education. Traveling to Indonesia, I was able to practice the ideas of global education, grow as a professional, and meet like minded individuals. While many people may believe that these “trips” are for leisure, I’m quick to quip the amount of work and learning which occurs. The work following these experiences goes beyond landing back at Detroit Metro Airport after an international field experience. Perhaps the most important aspect is continuing to use the experiences to further the mission of global education in your school, community, and across the networks gained from the experience. Continually I tell myself that I never thought when I pursued a career as a social studies teacher that I’d be able to fly across the world and meet new people. Here I am in November, finishing my time at the Global Education Leadership Conference in Washington DC where I’ve reconnected with my amazing Indonesian fellows and many educators who share the same passion that I do. One of the most amazing experiences from the past three years is meeting so many amazing teachers. I’m in awe at the work of the teachers I’ve come in contact with and I’ve become truly humble regarding their talents. Currently I’m working with Sarah Bever and IREX/TGC to create a mini-course of the Global Education course that I took for IREX. This has been my all consuming project I’ve been working on continually through the year. At the conference, I would pitch this idea out to various fellows and I was amazed at the reception of this project. Based on the reaction of so many alumni, this project’s reach may spread far throughout the country. The mission for global education doesn’t stop as I’ll be traveling to Bahrain in less than a week. I can’t wait to see what future adventures I’ll be able to experience and share.
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.
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.