About a year ago walking along the boardwalk in Puerto Princesa Philippines I made a ‘resolution’ that I wasn’t going to work a day of the year. Most people only make it a few days, weeks if they’re lucky, with their new years resolution but I’m happy to say I completed mine with flying colors. I spent the past year working my way through SE Asia, exploring a little bit of my own backyard, finally visiting New York and LA and once again returning to Asia. I managed to avoid having to earn a paycheck for the year, but eventually I started to feel a little worthless, therefor on this visit to Asia I’ve decided to do a bit more volunteer work and put my teaching skills to use.
To be fair my first volunteer gig in the Philippines was more fun and games than any real type of work, but I guess after a year off it was only natural I ease back into things. Next I spent long hours at the DADA school in Taiwan but even there I didn’t feel like I was doing much more, I was more of the ‘white girl’ puppet role that comes along often in Asia. Finally, I arrived in Indonesia expecting to be put to work at various schools while volunteering with a group of local teachers in Klaten, east Java. Much to my dismay the first few days were spent touring temples, relaxing at my home-stay and meeting the other volunteers, teaching however barely crossed my agenda. Then on my fifth day in town I finally re-entered the classroom and reminded myself that, yeah I’m good at this and also, I enjoy it! The teaching was over almost before it started so the day served as only a brief introduction to what I could be doing here.
We actually had to insist that we return the next day for teaching, honestly this left me a bit confused, is this not the reason I’m here? The next day we spent nearly seven hours in the classroom with short breaks for pictures, lunch and the bathroom, but otherwise it was full on with the students. It was a long day but the students made it worth it, reminding me so much of my time in Korea ultimately making me homesick.
When I first went home from Korea people were asking me “So, do you really like teaching” which I answered with an honest ‘not really’, but now that I’ve been away from it for so long part of me is longing to be back in the classroom. I tried to explain that it’s not the actual teaching I enjoyed so much as the entire package. First off the students which obviously are my favorite part of it all; I believe there’s a reason I was placed in a High School rather than elementary or middle. Not being too far in age from these students I’ve really been able to bond with them, and understand where they’re coming from. Whether it’s cutting them some slack when their sleeping in class, working on other assignments or talking to their friends part of me understands, because not too long ago I was doing all those things in my own High School class.
This past weekend in Klaten I decided to skip out on a full day of sightseeing with the other volunteers and decided to call one of the girls from the BPEC conversation school instead. A few days prior she mentioned that her dream was for ‘a foreigner to visit her home’ and I wanted to help her with that. By late afternoon I was on the back of her scooter and on the way to meet her family, who happened to live in a small village about 15 minutes northwest of Klaten. As we pulled into town she waved to cousins and aunts, showing off the foreigner on the back of her bike. At her home I met her mother, both grandmothers, older brother and two cousins, all of whom were shy (with English) but also very welcoming. I was immediately served food (her mother owns a restaurant attached to the house) and then bombarded with the usual questions (name, hometown, age, boyfriend?). Later in the evening I accompanied Katherine and her two cousins into Klaten where we spent time together at an adorable café, overloading ourselves with sugar and caffeine. By the end of the evening the girls were thanking me profusely and saying they would never forget this evening and I couldn’t do enough to express that I felt the same way. I’ve had students tell me this on multiple occasions across multiple countries and it’s always the ‘cherry on top’ moment to a great day or evening spent with them.
In the past year I’ve volunteered to teach English in Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan and now Indonesia, aside from that I’ve met and shared conversations with students in Vietnam and Thailand. Each country, school and student reopens my eyes to the varying worlds of education and encourages me to continue down this path. I’d be lucky if I knew what tomorrow would bring much less where I’ll be one year from now, but I can most certainly guarantee there will be some tie to education in my future. It’s a job I didn’t plan for, one which fell into my lap after a few extreme decisions, but I couldn’t be happier with where it has led me.
Well known as the parent to ever-famous Bali, this is a country that has so much more to offer. Similar to the Philippines the beauty is spread out over thousands of islands, which means you need time. Once you start exploring, trust me, you won't want to stop.