What teaching English in Indonesia looks like

For the last two weeks of Pre-Service Training all of the volunteers have been scattered around Kediri teaching in various high schools and middle schools for practicum. We are given the opportunity to take everything we learn during PST about both how to teach, but also how Indonesian schools operate, and apply it before we get to permanent site.

It’s been an interesting two weeks and a reality check about what our day to day lives might actually feel like. But every school is different – so my permanent site will likely be a completely new experience.

Either way it has been a learning process. My proudest moment in an Indonesian classroom by far was teaching the first group of students “She’ll be coming ’round the mountain.” I hope you enjoy the video here as much as I enjoyed teaching it!

Rumah Kediri

As I prepare for my move from the training site to my permanent site I realize that y’all don’t really know what Indonesian homes look like. And my home here at training is very different from my home at permanent site. So here are some photos of what my day to day life looks like.


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Fun Facts

Fun Facts:

  • Indonesia comprises 17,508 – 18,306 islands and 8,844 that have been named according to estimates made by the Government of Indonesia, with 922 of those permanently inhabited. Also – 3 land borders!
  • Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world.  87.2% of 260 million people.
  • Java, my island, is two times more densely populated than New Jersey. 2,903 people per square mile


  • More than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia.
  • With roughly 58 million students, over 3 million teachers and approximately 374,000 schools in 500 districts, Indonesia has the world’s fourth-largest education system.
  • The Buddhist temple of Borobudur on the Indonesian island of Java is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It resembles a nine-tiered “mountain” rising to 113 feet (34.5 meters) tall. It is said to have taken 73 years to complete.


  • The Komodo Dragon, found in Indonesia, is the largest lizard in the world, growing up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) in length. The Komodo Dragon is a dangerous big reptile and it can eat a human. Thankfully Komodo dragons live only in the national park on Komodo Island.


  • In 1945 when Indonesia declared its independence and Indonesian was formally declared the national language, it was the native language of only about 5 per cent of the population, whereas Javanese and Sundanese were the mother tongues of 42-48 percent and 15 percent respectively. It was a combination of nationalistic, political, and practical concerns that ultimately led to the successful adoption of Indonesian as a national language. (Source)

Indonesia Ethnic Groups Map English.svg
By Gunawan KartapranataOwn work based on the map in Ethnography Room, National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

A step-by-step guide to Batiking in Indonesia

Note: Even in if you have no interest in batik this article will also cover a good bit of how things happen in Indonesia and what my daily life feels like.

Step 1:

Tell your ibu (host mom) that you want to go buy some batik. Find some free time in your crazy PST training schedule to go on a Sunday. Rope in another volunteers family because they have a car! On Sunday morning Ibu asks when you want to go and you just shrug and say whenever works. Then a few hours later Ibu is dressed and ready to go and you scramble to grab your stuff. Pile everyone into the car. Don’t buckle your seatbelt because there isn’t one.

Step 2:

You make it to the first shop. You start to peruse, the store has beautiful fabric and styles, but before you get a chance to try anything on the Ibus are explaining that you are going to another shop. You don’t really understand why, but you accept that you have little control in the situation so you everyone piles back into the car. Surprise! You have two new additions to the car seating arrangement. Two mysterious family members are picked up along the way.

Step 3:

In shop #2 you learn that Indonesian bodies are shaped very differently than American bodies. You’re typically a small, but in Indonesia you are a large, but the shoulders still fit funny or the chest isn’t right. You also notice that Indonesians like ridiculous collars and buttons. You find a few things that are okay and struggle with deciding whether to buy something just to be polite as a way of showing appreciation somehow. After trying on a bunch of different styles and sizes you pile back into the car empty handed.

Step 4:

You are in the car and you’re not quite sure where you are headed. Maybe it’s another shop? But it’ll probably have the same problem as the last one! In broken Bahasa Indonesia you explain that you would rather buy fabric by the meter and then visit the tailor, a cheap and common way to do batik here. Everyone immediately understands and you continue on your way.

Step 5:

Arrive at the gold mine. So much beautiful batik! Where will you ever begin? See a bunch of styles and slowly narrow down to three after drooling over them all. Your host family tries to talk you out of one of your selections. Why? The language is still a struggle, so you get out Google Translate on your phone. They think the fabric is too dark. You explain you like dark patterns and cut some fabric anyways.

This was me holding back. I got only three.

Step 6:

Pay the cashier and load back into the car. The shop doesn’t take cards and of course you don’t have enough cash so you promise to pay Ibu back later. (Figuring out how much cash to keep on hand is an ongoing struggle.) Make a pit stop at a bakso restaurant. Food arrives at the table. You wonder – when was the food even ordered? You spent your whole time confused because you were moved to three different tables before everyone settled on the right one. Eat the delicious bakso. Head home and take a nap.

Yum. Bakso!

Step 7:

It’s Wednesday and you are anxious to go to the tailor. You ask Ibu. Ibu says the tailor in your desa (village) isn’t not so great, so you’ll go to the one jauh (far). She says you can maybe go tomorrow. Tomorrow nothing happens. Saturday you’re done with training around 2:00 and you go home with plans to visit the tailor Saturday afternoon. Ibu is napping. Because she feeds you all of your delicious Indonesian meals and absolutely refuses to let you wash dishes you let her sleep. Instead you read on the porch all afternoon and enjoy the break from the busy training schedule.

View from the porch. Photo taken during the daily afternoon rain storm.

Step 8:

It’s Sunday – maybe today’s the day! Who knows? You ask Ibu after breakfast. She walks down the street and talks with the neighbor who has the car. She comes back and says 4:00. You read on the porch until then. When it’s time you walk two doors down. Hang out on their porch for a bit. Then you’re on your way! Just kidding. It’s starting to rain so you walk back and get your raincoat and umbrella. Now you’re on your way. You walk halfway down the street again and turn back. It has been decided that the Ibus will ride the scooter, which you are forbidden from riding as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and you will follow along on your bike, the approved mode of transit by Peace Corps HQ.

Step 9:

The “far” tailor is only 7 minutes by bicycle. You get out your fabric and you do your best to explain what you want made. You share some pictures and some clothes you already have in order to get the styling right. She measures you and asks lots of questions about where you are from and why you are here. This is fun because your Bahasa is good enough that you can understand about 70% of what’s going on and between your Ibu and Google Translate you figure out the rest. You get measured, you cross your fingers that she understood everything you asked for, and get ready to leave. But wait! Before you go you have to take a picture with her. Having a photo with a foreigner is like winning a prize here.

Getting measured. This is the essential part!

Step 10:

You dropped a Google pin at her house so you head back to pick up the clothes on your own. You are an independent American after all. You immediately fall in love with your tailor. She is the second best woman in Indonesia. She has made everything perfectly. The fit is perfect. It’s exactly what you wanted. You are so excited you can’t even explain how excited you are to her in Bahasa. You want to hug her, but hugging isn’t a thing here so you resist. You pay her and it’s only 30,000 Rp per piece, about $2.30. So between the fabric and the custom tailoring you pay about $11.50 for clothes that are exactly what you want. You realize that you are going to be very, very happy living in Indonesia.

Step 11:

Show everything off to your friends at training. Tell them you will take them to the gold mine of batik and the best tailor in Kediri. You realize that you will quickly develop a batik addiction here because a.) it’s beautiful b.) it’s super cheap c.) you love every part of this process.

On a closing note, I have now taken eight other Peace Corps trainees to her because she is the best!

Week Two

Sunday, March 26th

Today marks the end of my second week in Indonesia, but the end of my first week with a host family – when the real adventure began.

I stepped off the plane in Surabaya, Indonesia on the morning of March 12th. With great precision there were Peace Corps staff members at every single step of the way. I don’t think at any point in the airport there was a moment where we couldn’t see a staff member. Our official passports were collected by staff, visa stuff, we didn’t even go through customs and before I knew it our bags were on trucks and we were on our way to the first stop.

Ready to go!

Sitting on the bus and looking out the window I was immediately struck with a feeling of being home. I’ve traveled a lot in Asia, so some stuff is already familiar, heck I’ve even traveled to another part of Indonesia! But even though a Peace Corps placement officer selected Indonesia for me I feel like I made the right choice. That feeling of home hasn’t left me since I’ve arrived.

We spend three days in Surabaya in and out of info sessions. For the first three months here I am not officially a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) I am a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) completing Pre-Service Training (PST). Peace Corps (PC) is BIG on acronyms. During PST our time is highly structured from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Today is the first time I’ve actually had a day off. After lots of info sessions in Surabaya our suitcases were loaded and we were on buses to the next stop.

We made a brief site visit at a current volunteer’s school. Every PST was paired with a student and we were given a tour of the school and there were lots of performances for us. In general Indonesians are very excited we are here an give us an extremely warm welcome. Then we were back on the bus and on our way to Kediri, where I spend the 3 months of PST.

Our receiving line at the site visit. Look at the kiddos!

We spent three days at a hotel in Kediri taking all day Bahasa Indonesia language lessons alongside more info sessions. I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to communicate after my three days of intensive language classes. Before I knew it the fourth morning we had our host family assignments and we were loaded onto buses once more.

A brief side note, we started with 57 volunteers so the logistics that go into multiple small groups sessions and moving us all around is mind-boggling. There are staff members here who spend the whole year preparing for these three months and I see why.

Before I knew it I was dropped of on a porch in Wonorejo, my desa within Kediri. My host mom, Ibu, was waiting for me. I somehow immediately forgot all of the Bahasa I learned in the last three days. I got a tour of the house then sat down to unpack. I don’t know if unpacking has ever felt so good. I’ve been on the move since I left Atlanta February 27th. I’m no stranger to travel and living out of a suitcase, but seriously, unpacking last Sunday felt incredible.

I spent the first two days with Ibu feeling terrible. I couldn’t seem to remember any of my Bahasa and I was struggling to say more than, “I eat” “I shower” and “I go to bed”. Thankfully the language classes are non-stop. By day three I could communicate more and more. I’ve found that it’s really useful to have Ibu help me with my homework. It is something I have the vocabulary for, it means she knows what I’m learning, and it gives us something to talk about. Now I’m at the point where if I bring my dictionary, offline Google Translate and my class notebook to dinner we can have a conversation, slowly and steadily. And my Bahasa is getting better every day!

My Indonesian palace!

This week was full of Bahasa classes in the morning and info sessions in the afternoon. It was so nice to sleep in till 8:00 this morning. The alarm has been for 5:30/6:00 every day up till now. Earlier in the week I told Ibu I wanted to buy some batik, the fabric produced here in Indonesia. So today we piled into a car with another volunteer and her host family. The first two stores were disappointing, but third time was the charm. We asked to buy it by the yard and then we hit the goldmine at store #3. I went hard and bought three different patterns. Next step is to take them to a tailor! It’s very common to have clothes made for you here. I can’t wait! I’ll post pictures once I have the clothes.

When we got home we sat on the porch and watched a rain storm roll in. I was struck with the same sense that this is going to be just right. The kids stop and stare at the foreigner and I holler at them in Bahasa.

Until next time!

Sampai jumpa!