Emerson Junior High teacher Jennifer Mason Wolfe spent as part of a Global Learning grant.
Each time I walk into the lobby I pause and take a touch of aromatic oil for my hands. It’s a little lift to my senses, a special gift I give myself. It helps me get ready for this amazing experience.
Prepared with ‘Gift of the Magi’ lesson plans, we arrived late for our 7 am class because our driver overslept… thinking our teacher would have started without us, we were surprised to be ‘on’ the moment we walked into the classroom. The 12th grade students were very polite and shy, and as Amy and I began our lesson, we were pleased that our teaching styles meshed so nicely and things moved along seamlessly. The teachers are fascinated with our collaboration, and share their desire to learn how to work with each other as well as their frustration with unsuccessful attempts.
Indonesian kids are similar to Americans in many ways, except these kids spend many more hours at school – class begins at seven, and ends after three. During Ramadan students wake at three, pray, eat and arrive at school by 6:30 am. We ignored the yawns and listlessness of some students, and empathized with what they dealt with on a daily basis. We learned that 3,000 students apply for admission, and only 120 are accepted. It is a great honor to attend this school, and many students use government scholarship for tuition. Teachers refer to the program as ‘career studying’. Students who don’t pass are expelled – there are no second chances.
After two classes, each videotaped by the teacher, we switched to 11th grade English and our presentation on the US and our state, schools and families. The students asked more interesting questions about American culture, boy/girl relationships, the CIA/FBI, what ‘Sin City’ was, and the American Dream. Several classes have told us they know America is a ‘superpower’, and that they can earn scholarships to study in our colleges. They have such hope for their futures.
Later that evening we were invited back to school to literally ‘break-fast’ with some teachers and the dorm counselors. As we arrived, we were excited to see the male students out of uniform and participating in an ‘Iron Chef-style’ cooking competition using bananas, chocolate and cheese. Girls could only gather around and express their frustration with their techniques.
Just like American students, Indonesian kids don’t love their cafeteria food. Big blue coolers filled with endless amounts of rice supplements the canteen offerings. A quick tour of their dormitories revealed the stark reality that they live far from home.
We ended our visit with a traditional ‘break-fast’ meal. Interestingly, we start with sweets (dates, coconut drink, steamed buns with rice paste), and end with savory (chicken, rice, and fresh vegetables). Sitting on the floor, eating new foods and watching our hosts so adept without utensils, we reveled in the gifts they were sharing with us.
Each day in Indonesia concludes with a mixture of exhaustion and admiration; navigating this extraordinary culture takes a great deal of energy, a humbleness and willingness to learn from our mistakes, and an openness to receiving the gifts of knowledge and awareness. We process our similarities and differences, laugh at ourselves, and ask a multitude of questions in our quest to bring our disparate worlds together. I am so grateful for the honesty and candor of the people here; they are giving me a priceless gift that I hope will help me enrich my global classroom in America.