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 and pictures 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!
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 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.
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.
Upon hearing I received an amazing opportunity to visit Indonesia, I started to think... wow, this is so different from my experience visiting Germany. While Germany I was able to list many relevant pieces of information pertaining to its rich culture and history, I'm left with an almost blank slate regarding visiting Indonesia. Coming in with very little information is actually a great benefit as no preconceived assumptions will have taken place. If I had to say three things that I know about Indonesia, they are very, very basic.
1. They have the highest Muslim population in the world (almost under the radar since most people don't think of Indonesia as having a high Muslim population, they often think of a place in the Middle East or South West Asia.
2. Indonesia is a country that is an archipelago. They have many, many islands in the South Eastern Hemisphere.
3. The country of Indonesia has the 4th largest population in the world. This too is surprising as it as well I feel is under the radar with this. Possibly it's because we don't hear about the country in the news as often as compared to other countries. This I must admit I cheated as I believe I found this out after the fellowship.
I'm very excited to announce that I've been accepted to the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC)/IREX fellowship for the 2016/17 program on behalf of the United States Department of State. This program will provide a great wealth of knowledge regarding how to incorporate teaching about global education into the curriculum. Starting in the fall I have a 10 week course that will provide plentiful resources on global education. In the spring I will be attending the Global Education Symposium in Washington DC. The culminating activity will have me visiting another country in the summer of 2017. I'll find out where it is after the 10 week course.
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.