Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Some Reflections

Ten weeks since staging. Pre-Service Training is over. Including tonight (Monday 6/14/11), we will spend three more nights with our host families before moving to permanent sites, where we will meet our new host families and do our best to settle in for the next couple years. Tomorrow we meet and spend the entire day with the principals of the schools at which we will be teaching. They have come in from around the province of East Java to take part in the getting-to-know-you day that Peace Corps staff has planned for tomorrow. They will be present for swearing-in on Wednesday.

Ah, swearing-in. Finally, shedding the worn out trainee coat and graduating to the gown of Volunteer. I know I haven't made a substantial update on how I, personally, am doing in many weeks. This time, it hasn't been just because I was busy (although I was). I obviously had time to post about other things, and I have had a little time to write for myself, privately. It's just this whole summing-up business isn't easy when you're in the thick of things. The time hasn't been right.


Perhaps I can give you a clearer picture of what training was like, now that it's done. You (should) already know that the 28 trainees--originally 30, but one couple had to leave because of a serious illness in their family--were divided between six villages in the Batu area. For the first three weeks, every village, which contained between four and six trainees, would have four hours of language instruction in the morning, followed by lunch, and then usually activities of one sort or another. Sometimes those activities were assignments aimed at increasing our integration in the village (creating a map, meeting the mayor, etc.). Sometimes they were actual training. Training, aside from language, includes health, safety & security, TEFL, and cultural. And, occasionally, some other random topic.

Usually, every Friday the entire group of trainees, all 30/28, would meet in Malang for what is called "Hub Day", and there would be a series of sessions from all the aspects of training. This is also usually where we would get our shots done (lots of immunizations to be had). Hub Day lasts from about 8am to 4pm. It was our chance for us all to see each other, swap stories, swap media, make plans for the weekend, etc * ∞. Saturdays were usually free--they called it "self-directed activities". Sundays were also free, but were to be reserved for spending time with our host families.

From weeks 4 to 6, we had our teaching practicums. I taught in a vocational school, as noted in a previous blog. At first we were observing, and then we had to design activities, and later full lesson plans. We all had to teach at least one class (I taught several). It was pretty much everyone's first experience co-teaching. Co-teaching will be how we do things at permanent site: ideally, in every class, there will be me and an Indonesian counterpart. Imagine a large metaphorical asterisk next to that word 'ideally'. During practicum, we would go to schools in the morning and do language class in the afternoons. This was challenging, very tiring.

Week 7 was the week for site visits and site announcements. Everyone was assigned to visit a current volunteer at their home/school. I went to see Bart Thanhauser, whose blog is now linked from my page. The visit was great. Really awesome to hang out with a current volunteer, someone who's sorta been around the block. Great to see how he has integrated into his community and get at least a sense of what the day-to-day could be like. I stayed two nights at his place, returned on Wednesday (of week 7), and the next day was site announcements. That is, we were told where our permanent site would be and the outline of our living situation. I learned the make-up of my new host family.

I will be teaching in a madrasah (a religious high school). This suits me just fine, since I have an interest in religion and the religious and non-religious schools are basically the same. Curriculum is the same, except madrasah students have more instruction in religion and also must study Arabic. But I did my practicum at a vocational school and visited Bart, who teaches at a madrasah, and the schools did not strike me as drastically different. I look forward to learning a few words of Arabic.

At first, getting my site announcement made me sad. The rest of my village-mates are geographically close to each other, but far away from me. Most of the people I was close to during training are far away from me. I was melancholy the rest of the day. It had nothing to do with the site itself--just being far away from people. I pretty quickly realized that it didn't matter much. If you are a PCV in Indonesia, most of the time you will be on your own, no matter where your friends are. I think this reality just began to register in my mind at that point. You lose sight of it while in training, because in training you see and talk with Americans every day. You still speak more English than Indonesian. So that started sinking in.

I was sad, but my host family was THRILLED, because my site is actually only about 90 minutes away from my current village, which means I'm within visiting distance. The last three weeks, I have heard every single day about how I must come and visit if I have a free day. Any time my host parents are feeling especially affectionate (or sad at my impending departure) they remind me of this. I plan to visit, of course. Another perk of my site is that I'm within 90 minutes of Malang, which means I can continue to see the cultural facilitators, who have become good friends.

Anyway, that was week 7. Week 8 was Community Project. Every village group had to design and carry out a three-day project/event to do in their village. The idea was to achieve something with your village, hopefully giving something back to them. Villages chose things like making murals, running English camps, an American culture exposition, and trash clean-up (read previous entry to get a sense of why this is a great idea). My village made a film. The idea was mine, and my village mates liked it. We all took cameras and filmed the things we thought made up everyday activities in our village. It being my idea, and I being the one with the software and the gusto, I had to edit, which took a long time. I sorted through several hours of footage and at least 20 gigs of video to make a 10-minute movie, divided into four parts. There is no dialogue--it's just footage and still-images of the things we see and notice. What makes up a day in the life of the village, as seen by American eyes. We screened the film in the village office and the sub-village hall. Total audience, approximately 60 people. But many neighbors saw the film as well, and I'd say the total viewership has about doubled. This is the video I've been trying to post on YouTube for a long time, but YouTube is not having it. Just keeps coughing it up. Still trying to resolve this issue.

We also wanted to start a sort of dialogue about different perspectives after screening the film, but that mostly fizzled out. Turns out it's not exactly natural for Indonesians to dissect foreign cultural perceptions, much less their own perceptions about foreign perceptions. Pretty American/college-y thing to do. Lesson learned.

Week 9 was local languages. I studied Javanese (about 7 trainees studied Madurese, because they will be either on the island of Madura or in predominantly Madurese-ethnic areas of Java). This was difficult, mostly for the across-the-board lack of motivation all trainees felt. Nobody enjoys feeling confused and struggling to say basic things. And nobody enjoys having to do it twice in two months, especially when everyone already speaks Indonesian. Still, I'm glad we did it. I definitely have a better grasp of what people are talking about when they speak to each other in Javanese. Beyond local languages, we didn't have that much else to do, so the pace of days slowed down in week 9. I think I started to get a better feel for how actual life might be. Maybe it was just that I had some free time during the day, which was pretty much non-existent during the rest of PST.

And now we're in Week 10. Swearing-in. Today we had our last Hub Day. Tomorrow we meet our principals. Wednesday we take the oath and become Volunteers. It is customary that at swearing-in, two Volunteers give speeches in whatever language the of the country is. Since I'm more or less the strongest in Indonesian, I'm giving one of the speeches. This is in addition to a number of speeches by other, far more important, people who are not Volunteers. I also have to lead off reading (in Indonesian) this paragraph of oaths that we are all taking. So I had to write a speech. I wrote it in English, and it has been translated into Indonesian for me by Ning, queen of the language facilitators, personal teacher of His Excellence, the Ambassador of the United States to Indonesia. Who, by the way, will be attending. After the ceremony, I may post the text in both languages on this blog for posterity and showing off purposes.


This is a long entry. It's overdue. I guess the question now is the classic:

"How do you feel? Tell me about how you're feeling"

I feel really great. Strong. My confidence is very high right now. Training has been excellent. I worked hard and I was mindful of how I managed my time and money, and it has paid off. In terms of language and cultural integration, I have met my expectations. If you know me, you know I set the bar very high for myself (looking at you, mom and dad). And in this instance, I am pleased with myself. That's the language/cultural side of things.

My experience in the teaching practicum was another confidence booster. A lot of the unknowns were removed from the equation after being in front of a class. There still are some important variables (e.g. the character of my counterparts and my schedule), but the algebra is simpler now. I know I am comfortable in front of a class. I know I can get them to enjoy themselves. I know I can command their attention. And I know I have all the resources I need in terms of human support to do my job well. I'm looking forward to it.

I am excited. The last two months have galloped along. Now it's time to get to work. Enough handholding, enough wondering what everything will be like. I'm ready.

Of course, I would hardly be human if everything were peachy all the time. There have been hard moments. In an earlier entry, or in one of the videologs, I mentioned how the rhythm of life is very important here. Many weeks after saying that, I stand by that opinion, and it is more firm in me than before. A couple times I've stumbled over triggers, which initiated periods of two or three days over which my concentration flagged. Oh, I did my assignments, showed up where I was needed. But my head was elsewhere. Talking with old ghosts, I guess. Some nostalgia, some sadness.

But never anything to make me rethink this commitment. I can honestly say: I have not once considered leaving early. Challenges here will be dealt with as they come up, but they have no connection to my desire to be here. And being really honest, so far, this is not that trying. It's challenging, but it's not like I'm suffering here. Getting sick and throwing up sucks, and never seeing friends/family from home ain't the best either, and seeing millions of things every day that I wish I could fix requires patience, but I feel an aliveness here that I didn't feel before. Not a sense of 'Oh, I'm off doing good, important work that is changing the world, hooray for me' (confidence is one thing and pretension is another), but a sense that I am living a sort of unity right now.

Living a unity. I'm not making money--not doing it, not interested, and not allowed--so that is not a viable metric. What does it really feel like? It feels like my job is to be me. Being in training, walking around my village, talking with people, learning the language, integrating in the community--it's all part of my job, and it's all the time. It can be tiring, but it is invigorating, too. There really aren't any moments without meaning. And in those few hours that I am alone, responsible to no one but myself, I feel a gratitude that was lacking before. Before coming here, I had loads of time to myself. As much as I wanted. Now, me-time is limited. But that makes it precious.

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