Alumna Blog: On Assignment in Indonesia
hello mr. president my name is lauren
by Lauren Ebersole '07
I am back to school and unfortunately not much has changed. After training maybe I thought I would come back and implement sweeping changes; not realistic I know, but a girl can dream. My first week back after training included proctoring mid-semester tests, which is difficult because the students cheat like crazy. On the surface it seems as if the teachers don't want the students to cheat, but there is no disciplinary plan for how to deal with it. I moved some students around and I watch them like a hawk, but short of taking their tests I'm not sure what to do. But can I legitimately take all 30 tests from the students? The other question that arises is should I even worry about it? Indonesia is a collectivist culture so I don't think cheating is looked at in the same way. Maybe cheating here is not cheating; it's just helping your friends, which any good person would do. I have not figured out this dilemma yet and I'm
skeptical if I ever will.
The first week back to teaching was not really a week of teaching. Monday morning came and having been gone for two weeks I had no idea what material to teach so I planned a game day. My co-teacher that morning asked what we would be teaching because he hadn't prepared anything so I told him game day. We walked into class and he started teaching about relative pronouns, so I sat there for the entirety. His 90-minute lecture was only interrupted by the need to answer a phone call during class. Tuesday I taught by myself so I went with game day. I don't teach on Wednesdays and the planned English teachers meeting was cancelled ... naturally. I did however help with debate prep on Wednesday for a debate the next day, certainly plenty of time to prepare. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were teacher-training days, so no class. Basically I spent the three days sitting in the corner attempting for brief spells to pay attention, but
mostly thinking about how much I wanted to leave.
This past week was also "class meetings" for the students, which isn't exactly what it sounds like, but is rather an inter-class sports competition. The students competed in volleyball, futsal, and basketball. It was fun to watch; the students were very competitive, the supporters were enthusiastic, and the celebrations were hilarious. The boys, especially, were total hams, celebrating as if they were professional athletes.
Now to the exciting news of the past few weeks. I and the other volunteers met the President of the United States. Prior to the President's visit, much speculation was occurring on whether we would be invited to Jakarta. The White House actually wanted to meet us; it wasn't just us haggling our way into a visit. A short meet-and-greet was planned with the First Lady, followed by an invitation to hear the President's speech at Universitas Indonesia. We flew to Jakarta the Tuesday President Obama arrived and had a briefing with one of the Embassy guys who was handing our event. He told us what to do, what not to do, etc. Basically the directions were: Just do what you're told; we will handle everything. A bus picked us up Wednesday morning, as all invited guests to the speech had to arrive by specified bus, no private cars allowed. With our special badges, Embassy guide, and FLOTUS official, we skipped the line and went straight to security. Each person
was wanded with lots of security watching. We were then taken to our "holding cell", a little tent with a Peace Corps banner inside, and told just wait for awhile. Fast forward 2 hours and we are told to figure out our positioning for the photo, we have to be ready when the First Lady arrives. A few positioning changes later, and we are told to wait again. We all relax for another 30 minutes or so and then we hear "The motorcade is on the way, get in your spots." 20 minutes later and one of the volunteers in line says, "I can see the President." Then I see him walk by the flaps in the tent, but wait a second he has turned and is walking toward the tent. There is an audible gasp among us when the flaps open and in walks President Obama, with a hearty "Hello, This is a good-looking group." He then proceeded to shake hands with each of us, asking our name and where we were from in the states. He also asked collectively about our
Bahasa Indonesia, our jobs, how long we had been here, and told us he was proud of the work we were doing. Official photos were taken and the most exciting 10 minutes of my life ended. After our short meeting we were escorted to our seats for the speech; our seatbacks read Reserved/Khusus Peace Corps Volunteers. The speech lasted 30 minutes and 30 minutes later President Obama was in the air headed to Korea. Through all the schedule changes due to volcanoes and such, our little event stayed on the schedule and after the First Lady had to cancel, the President still took time to do our event. Needless to say I felt pretty special and we haven't stopped talking about it since.
Halo ... ini B. Umi, I am teacher in sman mojoagung, I teach math. Miss Lauren can make my English ability better, so I am so happy she is here. Hello miss Debbie, I hope I can meet you soon. How is your family in America? And also I am very hopeful can go to your country although its only in my dream. (That was a little message from one of my friends at school and one of the people that makes me the most comfortable here. Also Mom please write an email back and include a short message to her. Thanks.)
In other exciting news, I recently modeled a dress made from plastic bags. Many students at our school have entered a competition to make things out of recycled goods. The dress was kind of like a wedding dress, so when I paraded around in front of the teachers and said Ayo, mencari suami (Lets go look for a husband), they were pretty pleased. Some of the other products that were made were a motorcycle jacket made from plastic, purses made from rice bags, furniture made from oil drums and bottle tops.
Wednesday was Idul Adha, which meant no school and killing animals. I didn't actually witness the death, but did go to the mosque where 8 goats were hanging upside down and a cow was being butchered on the ground. It was pretty unpleasant so I won't go into details, but about 30 people were working to skin, clean, and butcher the animals that would then be distributed to the families in the village, especially poorer families. A lovely cultural experience. The more fun part of the day was spent at Waterland with all three of my host sisters and a host cousin. Waterland is a not too shabby water park with multiple pools and slides. I tried to teach one of my sisters to swim, but was unsuccessful. I had a group of little kids following me around the pools for a little while. All in all a good day.
As always much love,
PHOTOS: On Assignment in Indonesia