Monday, May 14, 2012

View from Halfway

It seems every time I update there’s some new milestone to celebrate.  Last time it was being in Indonesia for one year.  This time, it’s passing the halfway mark.  More than 50% of my time here is behind me.  All of a sudden, things are swirling.


The Class Front

My counterparts and I have attempted to be disciplined these last four to six weeks.  Teaching stops at the end of May, so we have until the 31st to finish our final unit of the year.   This has been an alternately excellent and frustrating semester.  We’ve put together some top-notch lessons and activities, but since March it’s been impossible to keep any sense of flow in the class because of the myriad interruptions. 

Time during spring semester is like cotton candy.  It seems plentiful, but as you make your way through the calendar, all that apparent substance melts away alarmingly fast.  There were “tryouts” (practice National Exams), the school’s three-day anniversary celebration, national exams for Islamic subjects, actual National Exams, and an assortment of national holidays.  There’s still a three-day school trip around East Java coming up, and then semester exams will require three weeks.  I’ve been tracking diligently, and I expect that when it’s all over, the rate of cancellation will top 35% for this semester.  The stop-and-go takes a toll on creativity and enthusiasm.  This is really the front on which I feel most stressed, and most of that stress is self-generated.  I love when class runs smoothly, and it just hasn’t been able to do that recently.

I’m also unsatisfied with the progress I’ve made with regard to sustainability.  I feel too important to the teaching process in my classes.  I’m too much in the center, in planning, teaching, and grading.  Would all our progress disappear if I were no longer here?  I think not all of it would, but I’m uneasy about this.  There’s a lot of time yet to correct this, and it’s become a top priority for the next year.  

On the bright side, my plan of having individual conversations with all the students has worked out well.  At the time of this writing, 119 out of 125 students have had their 30-minute talk with me or a counterpart.  Of those 119, 87 chose to speak with me rather than the counterpart.  I’ve been taking notes on each conversation and typing them up.  That’s turned into a 45-page Word document. 


The Extracurricular Front

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my English Club died, as did the English Development extracurricular.  In their place, however, has arisen the (far superior) Speaking Club.  I don’t think it’ll grow any more because we’re so close to the end of the semester, but it’s reached seven groups, each comprising five students.  Each group meets three times a week for 20 minutes—often longer—to practice speaking and conversation in English with the supervision of an English teacher.  Because each group requires personal attention and must meet thrice/week, it needs a lot of time and effort on the part of the supervisor(s).  For most of the semester, I went to every meeting of every group, steadily increasing my time investment as more groups formed.  I had extracurricular conversations six days a week and spent at least seven or eight hours per week for this club. 

I think it’s made a difference.  The speaking club students are better and more confident than they were before.  They’re learning some things they can’t learn in the classroom.  Some students are actually getting a practical handle on tenses.  Many of them have opened up about personal issues and let me in on secrets that teachers aren’t supposed to know.  The speaking club has been one of the great joys of my time in Indonesia. 

The way it was running before, sustainability was a real issue for speaking club, but I think I may have solved it.  After building it up to a pretty large number of groups requiring a huge individual effort, I and my CPs devised a schedule whereby every English teacher helps with the club, trading off supervision duties so that no one has to do too much and many more groups can be accommodated.  Two teachers oversee the club each day, which allows for a minimum of six groups per day.  We could eventually get up to 12 or 13 groups of students,  I think, without placing too much of a burden on the English teachers.  Anyway, the sustainability portion is still being tested.  It has worked since we started it a week and a half ago, but many trials await. 

Obviously, I'm excited about this.  Sharing the burden with five other teachers could also free me up to take on other projects or extracurriculars.  I’d really like to put together a basketball team.


Peace Corps Front

There’s so much happening here right now, it’s tough to keep up.   To be honest, it’s a rather bewildering moment.  ID-4, the group that reopened the Indonesia program, served as mentors for me and my mates, and became some of my closest friends, are going home in a couple weeks (with the exception of Noel, Luke, and Bart, who are staying for another year).  I haven’t been getting hung up on this emotionally because it simply doesn’t feel real.  Yet.  It’ll get real when they’re gone, and I’m anxious about that.  I’m going to miss them—a few in particular.  Even the ones who stay in Indonesia will be far away in West Java. 

Meanwhile, ID-6 arrived over a month ago.  I was eagerly anticipating their coming for a long time, and I was delighted to get to meet them when they got here.  Last week I went to Malang to facilitate some of their training sessions, and it was a total blast.  I love doing training events.  I’ve facilitated at my IST, at TOT (a training for cultural and language facilitators), and now at ID-6’s PST.  More than that, I loved being able to talk to them, learn their names, learn their personalities a bit.  It was fascinating to get sucked back into the training atmosphere, where you are always with other Americans, your heart filled with laughter and excitement and fatigue.  They are a great group.  I’m really excited to get to know them more deeply, to form strong friendships, to go on vacations, and all that other stuff.

And then on the sadder side, so many people from my group have left—or been forced to leave.  Out of the 30 who came to Indonesia on my flight, only 20 remain.  Six people left out of free choice, two left because of a family emergency in the US, one was forced to leave due to medical problems, and one was dismissed.  It’s just weird to be part of a shrinking group. 

Another bit of interesting news:  I was elected to serve on the Volunteer Advisory Committee.  VAC (read: vack) is a body that serves as a liaison between PCVs and staff.  It basically represents PCVs in discussions with the staff about programmatic issues where Volunteer input is useful or necessary.  It can also advocate for PCVs as a whole if there are issues that need to be raised with staff.  At least that’s how I understand it.  Anyway, there wasn’t a campaign or anything—people just chose two names from a list.  Although it isn’t a huge deal, it did feel really good to be chosen.  People think I’d be a good advocate for them!  I take it as a vote of trust and confidence, which is decidedly gratifying. 

Next week, three trainees are coming to my village for a few days to get a sense of life as a PCV.  I’ve met them and they’re good guys.  It’ll be nice to have them.  Also next week, it seems a group of people from the Steering Committee (Jakarta folks from the Indonesian government who deal with Peace Corps) are stopping by my site for a brief visit.  I had one last semester as well.  The visit was fine and dandy, but it threw me off my groove because it screwed with my class schedule.  Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen again.


The Personal Front

Maybe now you see why I said things are swirling.  There’s a lot for me to think about these days.  Truly, before going to Malang last week for the PST sessions, I was starting to feel some burnout.  Being with the trainees really energized me, but I think I still need a rest.  There are only a few weeks left of real teaching, and after that comes a very long break, which I both thirst for and dread.  Idleness is torment here.  I plan to go to Sulawesi with DP, Nicole, and Elle for about 10 days in late June and early July.  I’m going to need some other ways to fill my time.  I’ve come up with various schemes, but there are a lot of empty days on the calendar.

I’ve been emotionally steady since February.  Sometimes things are better, sometimes worse, but overall I feel good.  There are times when I take things too seriously, as my counterpart reminds me.  My face is always really easy to read.  Last month Ms. Ani said that some of the students were concerned because I hadn’t been smiling or laughing as much.  They thought I might be angry with them.  Often when I have a serious face, I’m not actually angry or annoyed or stressed—I’m just focusing on something that needs solving.  I have to remind myself to lighten my expression when I’m at school, which is so full of problems to be addressed. 

As the semester closes and I reflect on the year, I see a lot of areas where I’ve fallen short and need to improve (don’t worry, I’m aware of my successes as well).  As much time as I’ve spent with my students individually…it’s just not enough.  I know I can do a lot more.  I want to get involved with English competitions.  I want to know more of the students personally.  I want to spend more time with them outside of school.  I’ve been getting a ton of breadth so far, but not enough depth. 

One tension I’ve found is the one that exists between being committed to my site—the students, teachers, and community here—and being committed to the Volunteers and Indonesia program.  Both are really important to me, but they pull me in different directions, especially when it comes to free time.  Lately I’ve felt guilty for being often away from site.  I think to myself: What am I supposed to do when classes are canceled so often and nobody here seems committed to real education?  I can justify being away from site, but something feels off.  Maybe that’s because I love doing program stuff—trainings, site visits, supporting other PCVs—so it doesn’t feel like work to me.  In contrast, being at site with nothing to do is awful for me.  So it feels like “work”.  And I’m choosing “not work” over “work”.  Maybe that’s the guilt.  I want to get this in balance next semester.

As ever, the commitment to service is solid.  I got my first-ever care package yesterday—thanks Mom!  I expect things to speed up now that we’re going downhill.  I’ve started thinking more often about post-Peace Corps.  More on that some other time, when it’s no longer so nebulous.