Harrison Gill on Teaching and ETA Life in the Czech Republic

Although I took some time to get up to speed, most of my experiences thus far have been pleasant, and everyone is helping out to make sure I can succeed in my role teaching in the classroom and to ensure that I have a comfortable living environment. Originally upon my arrival, I was living in a wing for students, which was offered to me essentially for free. It was particularly challenging to live there because students move out on the weekends and the building essentially shuts down, something that is not ideal for someone who is often (but not always) spending his weekends in town. I was able to move into special accommodations for teachers, and while I now have to pay rent, it is quite affordable and provides me a larger space, a more comfortable bed, and a private bathroom and kitchen. Unfortunately, the apartment was unfurnished, but teachers and staff were more than willing to help me out in acquiring furniture. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that living in a rural community can be challenging at times. Sometimes it is hard to get stuff I need for my apartment because it requires a car, and sometimes Internet does not work properly (especially the email ports, which makes submitting this blog post a particular challenge). Overall, however, my accommodations are quite nice and much larger than anything I could probably afford in the States as a recent college graduate.

As for my teaching, it took awhile to figure out. I teach at two schools – one of which is divided into three different campuses, including one that is about ten kilometers away. I switch between schools each week. At one of my schools, I teach lower level students interested in technical subjects, business, and fields requiring apprenticeships. At this school, I sometimes teach whole lessons, which last for 45 minutes, but sometimes just add insights to other lessons. As Rychnov nad Kneznou is close to the second largest car factory in the Czech Republic, many of the students focus on eventually working as auto mechanics or technicians. Often this means it is helpful to tie my lessons in with automotive subjects. For example, this might mean planning a lesson on how one would apply for a job as an auto mechanic in the US. My other school is a college prep gymnazium. Here there are three different types of English classes: compulsory, voluntary, and open. I teach in all three. In all three, I often am responsible for the whole class period. With compulsory and voluntary English, the teacher sits in the back or the side of the room and we decide on a topic together, often with the teacher placing an initial suggestion in a calendar on my office desk. Open English, however, is a class that I teach on my own for a 90-minute period. I get to choose the topic, and it is essentially my own class. It is optional for students to attend Open English, but since it was so popular during the first week, we decided to add a second class every other week when I am at the gymnazium.

As for other things I am doing on the side, one of the teachers set me up with a recent alumnus who is interested in practicing his English. We’ve met so many times already that I think we could probably consider each other friends or at least acquaintances, something that is not particularly easy to do in the Czech Republic. Eventually we will speak with each other using just Czech (until I get stuck). Additionally, some teachers have promised to take me to their homes for different weekend activities like learning to cook Czech cuisine and watching movies. I also hired a private tutor to improve my Czech, something that still remains well within my financial means here. On Halloween, I will be helping out at the local youth center. I’ll also be helping out at the gymnazium’s open house and showing parents how the students learn in their English classes by giving them a mock lesson. In my free time, I have also started a project called What YOUth Eat, when I realized one day while sitting in the dining hall that Americans probably have no idea what Czech students actually eat. In the true spirit of international exchange, I also opened the site to contributions from all around the world. You can check it out at www.whatyoutheat.com. By the time my stint in the Czech Republic is over, I would love to see contributions from all around the world and have something that can exist as a sustainable project to share with as many people online as possible.

Christina Aguila Reflects on her First Month in Indonesia

Month 1: First Impressions, and Why am I Here?

I can’t believe it’s already been over 1 month since I left for Indonesia. I sure don’t feel adjusted yet. There’s a lot to learn. There are moments that I find myself reflecting on my reasons for being here and the things I hope to achieve during my time in Indonesia.

I graduated from UCSD in 2012 and completed my undergrad in International Studies – Political Science. After graduating, I worked in D.C. arranging a professional international exchange program. It seemed I was taking all the right steps towards a career in international exchange and development. When I applied for the Fulbright ETA, I was already working, but I have always wanted to live abroad and fully immerse myself in a new culture. After all, how can I continue working in an international field with little experience abroad? I have been very fortunate for the opportunity to do summer- and semester-abroad programs, yet I still have little experience compared to that of my classmates and colleagues. I wanted an experience abroad that would expose me to life and reality in a developing country. I knew that a Fulbright ETA in Indonesia would be an ideal opportunity for the experience I am seeking, personally and professionally. As an English Teaching Assistant, I would have a first-hand look at education in developing countries, which has become an area of growing interest to me. After being offered the Fulbright grant, I knew that this was an opportunity that I had to accept.

So why Indonesia specifically? Indonesia is a large and diverse country. It is often cited as the country with the 4th largest population in the world. With my interest in international development, I think it is crucial for me to see the reality of a majority of the world’s population. Being such a large country, Indonesia is an ideal case to observe.  I am also interested in culture and diversity. Indonesia, as a modern state, is an incredible example for bringing together many different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups from across the world’s largest archipelago. Such diversity adds to the rich culture of Indonesia. But this diversity also creates lots of challenges to maintaining a cohesive Indonesian identity.  Although I have only been in Indonesia for one month, I am starting to see the challenges of having so much diversity across a vast number of islands.

When I arrived back in Manado from orientation, I wanted to show off my new Indonesian language skills. I realized that every time I spoke to teachers at my school they would tell me how to say the phrase in Manado malay, although they could understand my Indonesian. Manado malay is the colloquial language in my region of North Sulwesi. Manadonese people are very proud of their language, and this is their preferred way of connecting with others. Learning bahasa Indonesia will help me in practical terms and will make be feel confident about getting around, but I feel I will not be able to personally connect with people through bahasa Indonesia as much as I would like to.  Because Indonesian is the national language, not a language of the home for Manadonese, it does not carry the same significance in developing strong personal relationships with Manadonese people. Every Indonesian who has gone to school has been educated in Indonesian, but many cultures across Indonesia still have a different mother tongue language. Bahasa Indonesia is the result of trying to linguistically unify a diverse country for the purposes of practical communication.

I am also beginning to see the problem with services here. Services in a developing country are already a challenge to attain. How much more of a challenge can it be to provide services to hundreds of islands across a distance larger than the continental U.S.? Blackouts are common in remote areas of Indonesia. Even here in Manado, a regional capital, there are blackouts almost every day. Homes cannot handle large usages of electricity like in the U.S. It is quite uncommon to have a microwave or oven in an Indonesian kitchen, and these luxuries are only available to the wealthy.  Access to internet and good plumbing can be difficult as well.

Aside from the language and environmental adjustments, I am making many personal adjustments to the culture here as well. My experience here will be quite different than some of the other “true bule” ETAs in my program. Bule is an Indonesian word referring to a foreigner. I was told by Indonesians that the word bule actually originates from referring to a color that is faded. As a Filipino-American, I completely blend into Indonesian society. Indonesians, Filipinos, and Malaysians look very similar. The only time people recognize me as a foreigner is when I open my mouth to speak poor Indonesian or when I am speaking in English. I don’t get noticed like other bules, and certainly do not receive the celebrity-like attention that some of my fellow ETAs receive. I hear the attention for some of my friends can be overwhelming because Indonesians are so curious about them. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about unwanted attention or people following me home because they find me peculiar. I can be incognito until I talk to someone.  My challenges as a foreigner here are different. Many people assume that I am Indonesian and are surprised when they realize I cannot speak their language. I get many different reactions, anything from a laugh attack, to being completely spooked, to unfriendly looks…Even when I try to explain that I am American, people continue to ask where I am really from. I can’t expect everyone to understand here, but it does wear on me having to convince people that yes, I really am a foreigner as much as anyone else from America. Because people often think I am Indonesian, I am conscious about being judged as an Indonesian for something that a person from here would know, but I am not aware of, such as what constitutes appropriate clothing, how to eat, how to address people, etc. I might be doing something against social norms that I am not aware of, and unfortunately I do not have the apparent excuse of being a bule. People may not pardon me in the same way they would a Caucasian-looking foreigner.

Sometimes I am surprised that in such a diverse country, the concepts of mixed race and identity are not understood as they would be in the U.S., but I suppose the concept of foreigner is a stereotype here just as racial stereotypes exist in the U.S. Although it can be annoying to convince people again and again that I really am an American, I realize that I am in a unique position to educate and make others aware. I have the privilege of introducing my students, teachers, and other Indonesians to the conversation about racial diversity and identity. For those who are open to learning, I hope that I can show that a person’s identity (in my case being American) is more than just your race and appearance. Through my interactions with others, I hope that Indonesians can see how Americans are just as diverse and mixed as the people here. During my year here, I am happy to take on the special role of educating people on the reality of American identity and how being American means different things for each person. As a “secret bule” (foreigner in Indonesian disguise) I can get the real price for goods at the market instead of the bule price. I can also see Indonesian culture in its most genuine form because people will not treat me differently. My familiar appearance makes some people feel more comfortable talking to me when they otherwise may be too shy. I guess it makes me more approachable for some. To others I’m suspicious, or perhaps I seem arrogant by speaking in English. This is all part of my privilege of being a secret bule in Indonesia.