Tag Archives: Orientation

The January/February Update

9 Mar

The above picture is of the Shansi fellows with our TESL certificates on the last day of class and is provided courtesy of Veronica Colegrove.

Wow, I have really let this blog go! No longer – here is an update of my homecoming and where I see my blog, myself and my writing, going.

Minus the lack of snow, I had a great Christmas with my family. I had so many presents for them from Indonesia and Israel, including Ahava skincare products for my sister, my mom and even my dad. I definitely spoiled my family this holiday season! I was then lucky enough to have a visit from the loveliest duo there is, Aisha and Jasmine, and got to mostly eat amazing food and ring in the New Year with my loves.

Unfortunately for me, and probably for those around me, I was undergoing some serious culture shock. First of all, I was SO COLD. I felt like I had the flu because every part of my body ached as part of some reaction to the temperature. While my friends were wearing your average winter jackets and sometimes gloves, I was still shivering INSIDE in my outdoor heavy-duty jacket and gloves and sometimes even a hat. I felt ridiculous. I wanted to go ice skating, but even on a day where it got up to 40F, I couldn’t bring myself to spend more than 10 minutes outside. I was also really missing Indonesia and Israel, and all the people that I know that are a part of those amazing countries. I felt like being around all the people I loved best was made very strange by the fact that I had been away for so long. Relating to people was really hard, and I felt like I was walking around with some sort of cloud around my head, making it possible only to partly communicate with people around me in a way that was mutually meaningful.

Still under this culture shock haze, I made my way to Oberlin. Initially, I was not super excited to go. I was pumped about the Shansi Fellowship, but I was apprehensive about spending my winter covered in snow with people who I pre-supposed would be younger than me in both age and maturity. Upon meeting my exceedingly talented and amazing co-fellows, all of those conjectures melted away to be replaced by a warm fuzzy blanket of love. I’m sorry that’s corny, but that’s how I feel. These incredibly mature students who see such value in spending time overseas and who also love studying languages and nerding out about other cultures were the cure for my own culture shock. It took me no time at all to compartmentalize my feelings for Indonesia and immerse myself in the opportunities that lay ahead. I was with these fellows almost 24/7 – I was also fortunate enough to have two 2009 grads living in the same house as me, which mainly amounted to late-night Mad Men watching and happy-hour frolicking. We all took a class together on TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and had 5 wonderful ESL students originally from China and Korea to teach and bounce ideas off of. We stayed up late lesson planning together and coming up with cool themes to frame our teaching around. We bonded over tons of homework and a love of Asian food. We ate an entire box of tofu that was leftover from a co-op (we’re talking 40 sizable slabs, of which we ate around 30). We hosted a potluck for the ESL students and other teachers at Shansi House, and had an amazing retreat weekend with some former Fellows. We were inundated with information about the many awful viruses, bacteria and parasites we assuredly would encounter. We all came out forever fused at the hip. I have my Shansi Fellows and the former Shansi Fellows) to thank for getting me over my culture shock, and putting the amazing future into perspective. I’ve already been back to Oberlin once to visit them, and plan on going two more times, including over Commencement Weekend! We all have to do a skit for this mini-ceremony in our honor, which I am pumped for. An article on the Shansi website and an article on the Oberlin OnCampus website highlight our awesome stories 🙂

I think I’ve done a really good job of embracing the fact that I am living with my parents at 25 and  have no real money of my own. I’ve been dog walking, last-minute baby sitting, standing in as a model for a wedding photography company (I got to be a fake bride for two days AND wear a really nice wedding dress), and later this month I’ll be burning CDs for attendees of a UMass Medical School conference relating to mindfulness in medicine. I’m also reading a lot about India (currently getting into “Makers of Modern India”, edited by Ramachandra Guha – I also have a huge stack of books on South East Asian feminism to get through), watching Bollywood movies, trying to learn Hindi (I tried to sign up for a class at the Boston Language Institute, but only one other person signed up so they had to cancel the class – I’m doing some studying with programs from the library, plus looking into tutoring though!), and running every day (I’m up to 25 minutes, and “WOW CHRISTINA THAT IS SO AMAZING!!!” is what I need to hear from you right now…) I’ve also been catching up with old friends I haven’t seen in years, going to lots of trivia nights, reading almost every article in the Economist, and getting into shows such as Downton Abbey, Parks and Recreation, and Big Love. I’ll also be trying to see family more, including my dad’s parents, who moved to Annapolis from their awesome house in Rhode Island this January. Another big project I’m working on is uploading all of my remaining Indonesia and Israel photos to the internet…it will take a while!

I also figured out a lot of what I’ll be doing in India, which is very exciting! I’ll be working for the Aware Women’s Action for Justice team (AWAJ) at Jagori Grameen (for an outline of the fellowship, see this post). Below is a rough outline:

  1. strengthening the Jagori team on issues related to female empowerment
  2. teaching rural youth English language skills
  3. organizing activities and workshops for adolescent girls on issues of self growth and confidence building
  4. developing creative counseling programming to strengthen the emotional and mental well-being of the AWAJ collective members
  5. documenting and preparing reports of various events organized by the AWAJ team
  6. designing and conducting short research projects related to women’s issues
  7. training young Jagori team members to utilize street theater as an educational tool for social change
  8. standardizing the body literacy school program (I’m still a little unclear about the exact meaning here, but I’m assuming it means strengthening literacy in the students who attend school?)
  9. participating in all activities of the organization

This was written in a letter to me crafted by Ahba and Anoop, two of my supervisors at Jagori Rural, and by the Associate Director of Shansi. I’m really happy with it, and am glad English teaching is only a part of what I’m doing, despite how much I like it.

I’m also attempting to put into words my experiences in Indonesia (inspired by a friend). We’ll see what comes of them – if nothing else, it will be therapeutic for me, and possibly entertaining for others.

For now, I’ll be writing intermittently about Shansi-related or travel-related stuff, getting ready to leave, etc., but the real fun on this blog won’t start again until mid-June, when I go to Wisconsin to study Hindi at the South Asian Summer Language Institute (SASLI). I think I’ll keep my blog at this website, but somehow change the name – we’ll see!

Until I have more news, sit tight!


The Last of Bandung

23 Sep

I will tell all about my new placement, but first, I need to catch you all up on some important things in the last weeks of being Bandung! I just got internet a few days ago in Limboto – sorry about the wait!

We had a great session with Ibu Irid, a presenter who got a PhD in Intercultural Studies, for part of the orientation in Bandung. She gave us a picture into what our lives would be like in terms of our relationship to Indonesian culture.  We started talking about the things we loved (the people, the food, the hiking) and disliked (the dirty river, the smog, the “buleh price” which we foreigners are often charged, etc.) about Indonesia so far. Indonesians also talked about what they liked and didn’t like about Americans (in true Indonesian fashion, it was hard to get our teachers to be honest!) Some of the things they mentioned was the heavy use of sarcasm, how Americans can be loud and pushy, and the individualism in our culture as being strange to them. We were also introduced to the infamous “W curve” that expresses the amount of culture shock over time: first things begin positively, with lots of adventure and excitement – then uncertainty sets in as well as fatigue and discomfort.  Then you begin to discover knew things and learn the language and meet new people and things get better! Then you begin to question why you’re here, you see how different you are from others, until you rest and feel more secure in your new life. I feel like I experience this W curve on a daily basis to some extent and am definitely feeling its affects, both good and bad, in Limboto!

Also, some quotes Ibu Irid used were so funny; here are just a few (somewhat paraphrased):

“Yes, it is hot, but it’s hotter in hell!” – a woman in one of Ibu Irid’s stories, when asked if she felt hot wearing a jilbab in New York.

“You look like a terrorist – it’s cultural, not personal!” – when describing how she feels when she gets searched, every time, at airports (she dubbed herself Mrs. Random in honor or all the “random” searches she is subjected to)

“You need to learn two things in Indonesia: how to smile and how to squat.”

Ibu Irid included a Confucian saying in her presentation I liked very much: “Human beings draw close to one another by their common nature, but habits and customs keep them apart.” In my very limited experience with people from different cultures, I’ve found his to be true, and I have definitely let habit and custom keep me from becoming closer to people. During my time in Indonesia, it will be a test for all of us to balance our habits and customs with those of our host community.

I also met an amazing Indonesian woman named Asmi who works at the Sheraton (she said “you can asmi anything in Indonesian!”.  I went to get a manicure and pedicure to relax, and we ended up talking in very broken Bahasa and some English for two hours. She was really funny and amazing and really light a fire under me about learning Indonesian – she learned by talking to clients, listening to music and watching movies! She wanted me to come back and talk to her before I left, but I did not get a chance.

We also went to an angklung performance in Bandung which was really great.  It had dancing and an angklung orchestra! An angklung is a wooden instrument that is made from bamboo – it only makes one pitch so you need a bunch of them to make a full orchestra! We got to play them and at the end we got up and danced with the kids 🙂 Here are some pictures, courtesy of Bethany!


Sundanese puppets.

Sundanese puppet show

Angklung players

The tinyest angklung player ever!

Video of angklung orchestra:

We were also fortunate enough to be invited to our teacher’s house for Idul Fitri.  Idul Fitri is a huge deal in Indonesia – it’s like Christmas in the US (as in most people celebrate it with friends, even if they are not Muslim). It is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting for 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The day before Idul Fitri (September 9th), some of us fasted all day (nothing passes your lips from sun-up to sun-down).  We started at 3:30am by eating before the sun rose, then breaking fast together around 6pm.  The next day, we went to the house of our teachers, Ibu Vita and Ibu Lily, to eat tons of food. We were also taken to meet various neighbors, see their beautiful houses, and eat delicious food.  Pictures can describe this experience better than any prose!:

Erin, Leif and Demi eating some delicious Idul Fitri grub.


Mark and Jolie!

Rachel, Allison and Me!

Me and the best view in Bandung.

More food!

Mia, JT, Ibu Via's husband, Jack, Luca, Ibu Vita, Kelsey, Adam and Mark at the end of the party!

Here is a music videos we’ve been singing to in Bahasa Indonesia class. I’ve also sung this song at least 3 times every time I tell people I can sing. It’s about forgetting the words to a song, but remembering the chords (lupa means forget, ingat means remember):

Next: my counterpart arrives, I leave Bandung and make my way to Limboto!

A Little Bit of Everything

8 Sep Me, Karen, Erin and Mary M staying dry.

All in all, I’m really enjoying learning Indonesian. It’s so different from any language I’ve tried to learn (granted, outside of romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish) I’ve only dabbled in German) for several reasons. First, it is largely vocabulary-based.  There are no conjugated verbs, and therefore no past or future tenses for verbs (future or past is indicated by adding an adjective, such as “in the past”, “yesterday”, “tomorrow” or “in the future”.  Secondly, there are no gendered pronouns – pronouns relate to the type of object being discussed (for example, there’s a different pronoun for animals (seekor) then there is for humans (seorang)). Thirdly, there is no verb for “to be” (outside of the word for there is/there are (ada – it’s similar to hay in español).  Also, there are a few sort of quirky things about the language – to imply that a noun is plural, often you say it twice (for example: cucu-cucu (pronounced choo-choo choo-choo) means grandchildren – it’s one of my favorite words!) Also, there are two different ways to say “we”: one includes the person you’re addressing (kita) and the other excludes them from being in the “we” (kami).  There is also a different goodbye to say to someone when they are staying and you are going. Indonesians are always happy to practice with you and are very patient when you make mistakes. Another thing: there is a verb that means “to have a moustache” – it’s berkumis. It’s harder to learn than I thought, but I’m getting better. If you want to learn a phrase, selamat pagi means good morning! I’ll add some more phrases with each post.

The education classes have been really good for me too. I helped prepare a lesson the other day (I didn’t like the activity we were given), and yesterday I co-taught a lesson on adjectives. We had the kids list some adjectives on the board, and then had them write three adjectives to describe themselves.  We then had a discussion about which member of the class the adjectives described.  It was really fun! I tend to talk down to people in my tone, I and others have noticed, in that I tend to have a more motherly and overly kindergarten teacher like quality to my voice.  This was really good feedback – I need to speak more naturally when teaching and tend to be overly kind and enthusiastic.  Today, I taught a lesson on giving directions – I used a map of part of my town to help them use different vocabulary like left, right, straight, turn, and also to have them learn a little about me. Some of the feedback I got was that I explain simple things too much (like what a map is/directions are) and don’t explain the more complicated things (like what right and left are, or go over the names of my street).  I think next time, I’ll make a map of the village that I’m going to be living in so that I can explain less and my students can talk more! I’ll be teaching again on Monday. It’s so excited to be teaching though, and I really like it – much more than I thought I would. I feel relatively confident up there even though I make mistakes.

I want to talk now about something that’s been troubling me a lot, something that my fellow ETAs and I are going to have to address and something that is going to make our jobs even harder and more important.  If you haven’t heard already, there’s been a lot of buzz in the news about opposition to building a mosque in New York City (note my accurate, if general, choice of words for the location). This heated argument has produced one of the most horrendous challenges to the intercultural harmony which is (hopefully) being constructed on our end, and has manifested in the planned burning of several copies of the Koran on September 11th. I can’t actually think of a more unpatriotic act at the moment. Even Petraeus is urging this group not to go through with the event because it will endanger the lives of our troops overseas (I agree with him). It’s incredibly frustrating when the same law is being twisted in two different ways: we should not have to weigh freedom of religion with freedom of speech. This news may be small potatoes over in the states (50 people are burning a book, big deal!) but over here, it’s huge.

Hate only breeds hate, and so I refuse to hate the people doing this (I also have never met them, so who am I to hate them) and fuel this huge inferno. I just hope they realize the implications of their actions. I also hope that Muslims around the world realize that if this event goes as planned and the Koran is burned, that it is not the fault of the US government that this event happens – stepping in and ending this event in the name of religious freedom would only undermine another American value, that of free speech. I hope that people realize that, like religious extremists everywhere, the people of Gainesville, Florida who decide to burn copies of the Koran are a miniscule minority that does not represent the views of religious or non-religious people and religious leaders as a whole, nor the views of the US government. Not in my name, nor the name of my country.

On another note, I’m getting very comfortable in Bandung, and it’s not just the bed at the hotel. It’s getting lost on an angkot four times (actually it was four different angkots) with two of my friends in the rain and laughing about it, unconcerned about getting back on time or where we’re even going.  It’s going with my friends on a walk to a waterfall and watching the rain fall from the shelter of a gazebo and spiders weave beautiful webs (yes, I used spiders and beautiful in the same sentence!) It’s crossing the street by myself (don’t laugh! it can be challenging and usually I tag along with a group of locals/other ETAs). It’s meeting people and speaking sedikit (a little) Bahasa and getting to know my Bahasa and education teachers and getting a feel for the way life operates around here.  It both makes me sad that I have to leave and comforted that I will be able to settle into my community once I get there!

I also want to talk about the call to prayer that happens five times a day. The other night, it was raining outside, and it was around 6:00pm. I was walking outside listening to the rain and the call to prayer sounded – from 4 different directions at once.  Each was a different melody, at different speeds and each finished at a different time.  It was so humbling to hear such devotion vocalized and performed in such beautiful symphony. The call to prayer is like a song, but simpler in its message. It brings a community together from a long day of more individual work. This experience reminded me of the moment I chose to apply to Oberlin early over all the other colleges I was looking at – I was walking down North Professor in the wee hours of the morning and on one side of the street, I head a violin. After a few seconds, a flute from the other side of the street joined in, playing its own melody, but echoing the same love of music. I knew I belonged there. And hearing the music of the calls to prayer, I feel like I could belong here too, for at least a little while.

Here are some pictures from my walk in the Dago Forest, as well as one of my favorite meals!

One of my favorite meals: barbecued chicken with sambal and rice and avocado juice!

Mary B walking down to the waterfall!

The river in Dago Forest.

Me and the waterfall.

Me, Karen, Erin and Mary M staying dry.

Tomorrow, I’m fasting for the last full day of Ramadan with a bunch of other ETAs (I’m getting up around 3:40am to eat before the sun rises).  I won’t be eating or drinking anything until sunset. I also met an awesome woman named Asmi who works at the hotel and will be helping me with Indonesian – I’ll talk more about her later! On the next post: an Angklung performance (pictures and videos!), some Indonesian music videos, and a discussion of the intercultural education session we had this week.


31 Aug

This morning, we got to go visit a pesantren (a type of Islamic boarding school) outside Bandung to do some observing of how English class is conducted. It was really informative and got me really excited about teaching! Going into this experience, I wasn’t sure how much teaching would be for me, but this visit was definitely encouraging. As I was sitting there watching the teacher, I thought a lot about what I could use from what the teacher did and how I could add some of my own ideas.

What I found interesting was that the kids were super enthusiastic and often talked VERY LOUDLY (hence the title) when speaking in unison. The lesson seemed to be too easy for the girls, and some of them seemed a little bored. The teacher spoke completely in English while teaching, which was great. There wasn’t a lot of hand raising during the lesson – the teacher generally chose the girls to speak himself. In the beginning of class, they were asked about their knowledge of American celebrities like Kate Winslet (they also referenced Titanic the movie in a pretty conservative Islamic classroom…) and Michael Jackson songs, which was not was I expected. The teacher would sometimes point and say “you, you and you, begin the exercise”, which seemed a little impersonal and abrupt to me.  However, each of them had a workbook, a grammar book and a dictionary – we’ve been told that most classrooms won’t have many text books. I don’t quite understand how they all are paying attention when some of them are talking either, which is something I’ll have to either deal with because it’s normal or help alter. The teacher was good at reinforcing what they learn by writing stuff on the board and asking for questions at the end. After the lesson, they asked us questions like “Is it normal when talking to an American to look them in the eye?” and “What is your hometown famous for?” They were so happy we were there and my heart grew about 10 times bigger as a result of that visit. They were so excited to find out I was a singer! Tomorrow we’re going to be discussing what we noticed in the classroom – hopefully I’ll be planning lessons in no time! Here are some pictures from our visit today:

The beautiful pesantren entrance.

Mary, Jack, Nadia and Thomas getting ready to meet the kids!

Me, Adam and Mark getting pumped!

We had to take off our shoes before entering the classroom - I thought this was cute.

In class.

Group picture!

Some of the students at the pesantren 🙂

On a random note, I ate some great barbecue chicken tonight, as well as chicken intestines and I tried some avocado juice! I love the food here and am caring less and less if it makes me sick or not 🙂

To Bandung and Beyond!

31 Aug

The past few days have been so eventful that I will inevitably leave out some of the things I did.  I’m also trying to add pictures to my blog in order to make it more enjoyable, so bear with me!

My last two days in Jakarta was pretty awesome actually.  Some friends and I took a taxi to the Monas National Monument in Merdeka Square, the last monument/statue built by Sukarno when his people were starving in an effort to show a united front to his people and the rest of the world. It was started in 1961, but was not opened until 1975 by Suharto. We also went to Mesjid Istiqlal, Jakarta’s primary place for Muslim worship. It was huge and very beautiful. Like other mosques, it has a lot of Islamic symbolism involved in its architecture (it has five levels symbolizing the five pillars of Islam), but its dome is also 45 meters across, symbolizing the year of Indonesia’s independence in 1945. We also went to the Grand Indonesia Mall for some well needed AC. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t planning on going out on the town after getting my KITAS papers in order (the Indonesian equivalent of a state ID), but I got talked into it and was unprepared to properly document my day (as well as being in heels the whole day, ahh!)

The next day we traveled to Bandung, but before that a group of us went to Obama’s school in Jakarta! Apparently he went there in 4th grade. There’s a little statue of him in the courtyard which we posed in front of:

Me posing with Polly’s Obama campaign sign

Polly, Brandon, Eric and Jack reaching for the future (we couldn’t get butterflies to land on their palms).

Our ride to Bandung was really scenic and was a nice break from the smog and dirt of Jakarta (these were taken from the bus):

Leaving Jakarta

Closer to Bandung

I thought this was really pretty – rice paddies and mountains.

Paige, Polly, Emily, Brandon, and Eric are happy about getting to Bandung.

Kelsey, Polly, Brandon and I get ready for our first Bahasa class.

Grace, Rachel and Erin see-sawing between AMINEF group photos.

Our hotel in Bandung is so beautiful, and also largely unnecessary. Apparently there are certain standards that are applied by the State Department when making arrangements for us to live during orientation, which are far beyond the standards any of us expected or need (ask me more about this later in person if you’d like).  I still feel largely unsettled because we keep moving and I won’t have a place to call home until mid-September, but I really like it here so far. Next: a trip organized by ETAs, volcanoes, and adventure!

Adventures in Jakarta

25 Aug

The past few days have been really awesome! Yesterday we had a wet but amazing adventure.  After orientation, we wanted to walk to Kota, an area influenced by the Dutch colonialists.  Almost as soon as we walked outside, it began to rain pretty heavily, but this did not deter us from our adventure.  While waiting in a mini-police station, we hailed what we thought was a cab, but turned out to be a sort of bus (like the tro-tros in Ghana) that we eventually overtook because there were 8 of us.  We asked to go to VOC Galangan, a nice restaurant where we could grab a drink, and after going to the marina which resulted in some absolutely insane traffic by accident, we finally arrived at the restaurant.  It was a really pretty setting: an inner grassy courtyard with pretty trees and a nice terrace.  We chatted and got some beer and water, and Nicole and I followed a worker there into the museum/gift shop, where they had GORGEOUS wood carvings and other pretty art.  The nice sculptures that Nicole and I would have considered buying weren’t for sale though 😦 Then we followed him to the back of the courtyard where there were men working on more wood carvings.  We tried to talk to the men as much as we could with our non-existent Bahasa and their minimal English, and found out that these guys have been working on woodcarvings since high school.  They were so beautiful!

We then ventured out into the street to find someplace to eat, eventually – in the meantime, we wandered through a market and talked to some people, looked at cheap and beautiful shoes, and asked people for directions.  Walking through Jakarta is enough to tire you out by itself – I get excited when there is a sidewalk! After being really indecisive about walking or getting a taxi, we were directed by some men on the street to this small place with food lined up in the windows.  It definitely wasn’t fresh or piping hot, but it was incredibly delicious – I ate just some rice at first, then ventured onto a hard boiled egg in delicious sauce, then onto a fried potato thing, and finally ate some INCREDIBLE spicy beef. I feel really fine right now, so I think I’ll try it again sometime 🙂

Today after orientation was also really fun – a whole group of us went to the pool in the hotel (which is huge and intricate and travels to several different parts of the hotel and has swans and horses outside as part of the architecture!) for a bit, then we got to talk to some ETAs who were in Indonesia last year and who got jobs in Jakarta.  They were helpful and told us more about the kind of culture we’d encounter in our villages.  It would have been really nice if one of them had been female – I really wanted some clarification on what to wear in a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) or more discussion on proper gender relations.  We also got cell phones! If you’d like my number, let me know – I’d be happy to give it to you.  It’s nice to be able to be in touch with all the other ETAs.

Then the best part of the night happened – we played soccer. Brian, one of the ETAs who is super awesome, organized the whole thing, and AMINEF (the Indonesian partner of the Fulbright/State Department overseeing Fulbright grants in Indonesia) paid for us to rent a soccer court at an indoor sports center nearby! We had three teams rotate and play each other.  It was really refreshing to play with people again (I used to play some sports in high school) and I actually scored a goal and played forward! We were all dripping with sweat and I was a little dizzy, so I bought some Pocari Sweat, which is like Gatorade in that it has electrolytes, but it’s not quite as good. Most of the ETA players are quite good.  The best of the best are playing the hotel soccer team tomorrow too, which is going to be so awesome! Then I got some “special” nasi goreng (fried rice with an egg on top) for the equivalent of $2.00 (a big Bintang beer is more expensive at around $2.60).  It’s been an awesome few days.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Jakarta, and none of us have gone to get our KITAS (state ID) from immigration yet, which we need to stay in the country and is the whole point of us being in Jakarta. Hopefully we’ll get them before we leave! Tomorrow, I want to go to Merdeka Square to see the monument that Sukarno built, as well as a huge mosque and the school where Obama went!