Tag Archives: challenges

Welp, this is how I’m feeling right about now…

3 Oct

School and my actual work take up an extremely small fraction of this blog. Perhaps it’s what continues to make people wonder things like what is the purpose of the Peace Corps these days and what are volunteers doing other than having some kind of exotic and nutty two year trip. Well believe it or not, we do do work.  I just find it hard to bring up here because it’s a massive challenge and difficult to summarize. I kid you not, I’ve got a 16 page blog draft dedicated to school challenges that I shall someday unleash if I can get that mess of info into some sort of concise and coherent piece. Regardless, I’ve got to say this year things have gone  surprisingly well. I still can’t figure out what’s happened. Is it me? Is it my counterparts? Even our class cancellation rate has gone down from last year! What’s suddenly caused that lurking beast Progress to begin poking his nose out from wherever he’s been hiding?

Running on a high off of summer vacation, our mid-service training and a much smoother start to year two than the chaotic point I was at last year, I’ve felt incredibly more positive about my time here and my choice to do this. (Not only in my work but in how I’ve grown from this experience.) Last year, at times, I’d find myself conceding  “well, at least I entertain them,” as being my accomplishment at the end of a day. Now small changes are happening in class as teachers and students begin forming new habits that I hope will benefit them and be sustainable once I’m gone. And the best part is we’ve developed them together! (Ok and with some pushing from me.)

Sometimes I get too ahead of myself though. There’s still plenty that gets me frustrated, but not nearly to the extent as last year. Which means when something does frustrate me, I get really frustrated. Frustration. How many times can we throw that word in here?

Today was one of those days after increasing issues of students being noisy, not paying attention, and not doing their work over the past few weeks which wastes class time and leaves my counterpart and I exhausted after these two particular classes.
Again these are issues we had last year. Students start to get more comfortable and push their boundaries. That and things are heating up with the muggy rainy season now upon us which just makes everyone more restless and less focused.

So today we laid down a bit of a smack down. One class we created a seating chart. BAM! Your privilege to sit by your friends, gone. In the other class, I was flying solo without my counterpart. So two students got warnings and another three got kicked out of class and a stern talking to afterward. They aren’t permitted to return until they can commit to behaving in class. We’ll see how all this works out as it really is the strongest test thus far of my counterpart and I’s commitment to more sternly and consistently enforce rules around here. Which isn’t done all that often.

The school bell rang, signaling the end of the break. I gathered my things, my counterpart in tow, adrenaline pumping. A teacher who had overheard our conversation with the students just prior leaned over and whispered behind me “patience”… and walking out of the teacher’s room and into the sunlight headed towards my next class, all I could think about was that scene from Cool Runnings.

And in the name good fun and for the sake of memeing I’ll leave you with this gem. Maybe I’m just out of it after a long day but it had me in tears laughing. Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t but some of these just ring so gosh darn true.


A different kind of celebrity

18 Sep

Note: Some may be wondering what the response has been here to the YouTube film that has sparked protests around the Muslim world. While there have been protests in major cities, so far the protests have been relatively peaceful. Police have had to use tear gas and water cannons to control the crowd and there has been burning of American flags. This is obviously unsettling, but I just want everyone to know that where I am I have been largely unaffected. So far I have not felt any adverse reaction to this being an American living in East Java. All of the Muslim people I know are peaceful and life has been going on as usual. Additionally, Peace Corps does an excellent job of keeping volunteers updated on developments as volunteer safety is a priority. If you are curious to see where protests have been happening The Atlantic Wire has a map of where protests are taking place. I think it’s also important to remember that words said or actions taken by some do not represent everyone or even the majority in any given group. It saddens me that individuals can incite so much anger and hate, especially as someone who works towards breaking down stereotypes and barriers everyday between Muslims and Americans. That’s all I will say about that, and now to our regularly scheduled programming…


It’s not a word that’s meant to be derogatory, but it still gets under my skin.

It means foreigner. Typically it refers to Caucasian people, but it can suffice for any foreigner.

There’s also Tourist and Mister. The latter of which I believe is actually intended to be polite.

Regardless, to me it says, you and I? We’re not the same.

You’re different.

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Peace Corps Mood Swings

4 Aug

I believe I’m right about where I should be. Wait, let me check…yup, feeling low. Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for a no good, no apparent reason. The sun was shining, and it’s wasn’t nearly as wearyingly hot as it is most days. That was a definite plus.

During pre-service training, Peace Corps gave us a handy visual that charts the mental and emotional ups and downs we would face throughout our Peace Corps service. I’m no Dr. Leo (the staff doctor here), but I’d venture to say that our mental and emotional health is just as important as avoiding malaria or some other physical ailment induced by a nipping mosquito. During training we talked about these various phases of adjustment and that we should anticipate this.

This is a handout provided by the Peace Corps illustrating the craziness of our lives.

Apparently, this is the case no matter which country you serve in. There are waves of excitement, fulfillment, discovery and joy, spotted with times of extreme loneliness, sadness, irritation, frustration, etc. We were also provided with a more detailed version. So far they are all pretty spot on.  Sometimes I can’t tell if the low points feel so low because the high points are so high or vice versa.

For instance, the other day I was giddy after introducing my host family to the joy that is eating a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven atop a small mound of ice cream. Absolutely giddy, I tell you. I felt like a proud parent watching their child’s first steps as they took their first bites. I tried to imagine what is must be like to never have experienced this, and I was glad I could share that tiny morsel (pun fully intended) of American culture with them. It was an amazing moment. And now here I am four days later, succumbing to the peer pressure’s of our good friend Negative Nancy.

Now I don’t mean to alarm anyone who may be reading this…family, friends, Peace Corps applicants, fellow PCs, staff, etc. Most days I’m generally happy here. This is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. So I grin and bear my way through the small frustrations and annoyances. I laugh at myself along with everyone else (see last post ). This isn’t the first time I’ve felt down, and it won’t be the last. Typically, I try and avoid any negativity in my posts. But then again, this is all part of the “Peace Corps experience,” and it shouldn’t be omitted.

I call all of this Peace Corps Mood Swings. Though,  I have no authority, I’m going to go ahead and deem this as a medical condition. It shall thus forth (in this blog post) be referred to as PCMS.  In case you are unaware of the severity of PCMS, then by all means, let me educate you:

PCMS is a serious but treatable condition and includes the following symptoms: extreme cheerfulness, irritability, increased energy, lethargy and generally wavering between extremes in moods. The onset of PCMS is subtle and is oftentimes preceded by DPCMS (Daily Peace Corps Mood Swings.) While it may not be entirely preventable, regular exercise, rest, and a healthy diet can lessen the effects of PCMS.  If you haven’t been prescribed it, talk to someone about getting a good attitude. Positivity is said to also greatly reduce the effects of PCMS.
When seeking treatment for PCMS, results may vary. Putting forth a consistent effort greatly reduces the chances of relapse.  If left untreated it could lead to ET, also known as Early Termination. The chart below suggests the typical course of treatment and recovery of those suffering from PCMS.

This is another chart provided by Peace Corps that shows more ups and downs over the course of service as well as when people typically Early Terminate, or go home before finishing their service. Areas shaded in Green = higher levels of anxiety; Black = periods of greater depression; Red = frustration and anger.

It should be noted that DPCMS is a less severe condition with many of the same symptoms but encountered during a shorter duration. Mood swings and temperament will waver throughout A 24-hour period. To treat DPCMS go to your local Indomart or neighborhood kios  (store) and indulge in ice cream and/or cookies which have been known to relieve the symptoms of DCPMS.

Transition times have always been tough for me and met with resistance. I cried after attending my jr. high school orientation because I wanted to stay in grade school forever. (Who doesn’t?  I miss painting with my fingers and mommy calling it a masterpiece.) High school was, well, high school. College was scary at first, but ultimately liberating and really fun. Then there was a brief period of limbo known as post-graduation life in which I pretended I was still in college  while waiting to leave for the Peace Corps. And now here I am, going through another life transition sans the comforts of home, like my wonderful, wonderful bed.

I once heard, there’s beauty in breakdown…hey isn’t there a song about that?  And according to my guilty pleasure, Psychology Today,  big breakdowns lead to big breakthroughs.

I know I’m not the only one having breakdowns and breakthroughs. My fellow volunteers are having revelations on a daily basis. Then there’s my friends back home who are also transitioning from college and facing the big, bad real world. I take comfort and look forward to the breakthroughs that will inevitably come and the days when I’ll look back and wish I was positioned exactly where I am now.

Bonus Material to this, probably my longest, post:

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29 Jul

It turns out an unresolved issue deciphering my right from my left, coupled with a surprising lack of coordination served me well during a marching competition of sorts. On Wednesday I “marched” five kilometers with four other teachers down the main road of our town while standers-by pointed, stared, laughed and snapped up plenty of photos and videos to commemorate the day I lost my dignity and self-respect in a bright yellow track suit. Being the optimist that I am, I’m hoping my willingness to publically humiliate myself will earn me a little street cred. Some may argue it possibly had the adverse effect…

School has been in session for a few weeks now, but a predictable and consistent schedule has yet to be established.  This is primarily because, well, things are just different here. However, there are several other contributing factors including:

  • There is a current lack of classrooms for the number of students. This splits up the school day. Some students attend class in the morning and some attend class in the afternoon. So I’m expected to come to school at different times on different days.
  • Ramadan is about to begin. This means what schedule there was is about to change. During Ramadan Muslims fast, have increased prayer activity, and odd hours of sleep. So classes are cut shorter to compensate.
  • Lastly, special events for the upcoming Hari Kemerdekaan (Indonesia’s Independece Day), like this marching competition, can take priority over class time.

So, I’m still trying to figure out how things work around here. It doesn’t seem like I’m any closer to understanding anytime soon. Although several teachers speak decent English and my Bahasa Indonesia is, of course, stellar, there are still many times when I just don’t know what’s going on. Ok?

As a new teacher, I’m eager to do a good job.  Part of this is wanting to be involved with my school and my students. So when a teacher mentioned there was some sort of school walk I could participate in, I said sure. I had no idea what I had signed up for. I didn’t know it was competitive in nature until the night before. I didn’t know it was in the middle of the afternoon when the unrelenting sun and humidity are the least tolerable. And I didn’t know I’d be “marching.”  I thought it was just some casual walk-a-thon thing.

It wasn’t. It was Gerak Jalan, or Indonesian marching, which I deem to be less marching and more of a structured walking.

Indonesians learn how to walk with structure from a young age.  They begin Gerak Jalan in grade school to learn discipline and to take part in the Upcara Bandera, the Monday flag raising ceremony that kicks off the school week.

Hence most Indonesians know how to walk  with structure well. They alternate their left arm with the right foot’s step and their right arm with the left foot’s step with ease while keeping pace with their peers. Apparently this doesn’t come natural to some.

Case in point, I’ve posted a video below from a practice session held earlier that day. A kind teacher took it upon himself to upload it to Youtube with the title Bagong, the Indonesian word for puppet, and the description indicating “teacher fails.” Please take note of the hysteria I send the teachers into as they double over in laughter and my obvious dismay and confusion. One teacher was crying, and I’m almost positive another came close to peeing his or her pants. I won’t name names.  Enjoy…

The actual competition went somewhat similarly to this, or at least it felt that way. It also had the added bonus of being painstackingly long. This was especially so, when we had to stop every few minutes to make sure I was ok and get our steps back in sync. Half the time I had a teacher walking several feet in front of me coaching me to “stop thinking, stop thinking…just walking, just keep walking.” It is true. I was rather focused. I haven’t concentrated so hard on walking since I was of a toddling age.  Regardless, I survived all this…the heat, the ridicule, the track suit… and I’d like to think I came out stronger because of it. That and I have a new quest…to redeem myself next year.

At the starting line.

On the topic of anonymity:

8 Jan

Photo courtesy of Banksy.

I will soon be giving up my ability to be anonymous, unknown — blend in. I’ve finally received word on my official destination and accepted an invitation to serve in Indonesia. (More on Indonesia later.)

I’ve been considering the fact that I am going to stick out for better or worse in Indonesia. The Peace Corps even cautions of this in one of its handbooks which addresses adjustments volunteers must be prepared to make. Peace Corps volunteers reach a sort of “celebrity” status in the country they serve in. This is due to the fact that in the areas they go, they might be a person’s only exposure to a citizen of the U.S., Westerner or even a  foreigner. A great deal of interest will be associated with this as many people will be curious to learn about me and what I’m doing there.

So this, coupled with my recent viewing of “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which features, was produced by and directed by the elusive street artist Banksy, has got me thinking a lot of about the luxury of the ability to remain anonymous.

Think about it. It’s apparent some people desire to be seen and known or pop culture wouldn’t be riddled with faux celebrities soaking up their 15 minutes and making careers out of just being seen on TV. These people get paid to attend club events and parties, tweet and more. They want to be heard and seen.  So there’s those people . . .

But, if you ask most celebrities (especially ones with talent and especially über celebrities), I’m sure there are times when they’d give anything to be completely unseen and blend in just like everyone else.  (If you want to refute this, just think of how much they invest in creating a world of privacy around themselves.)

Bansky on the other hand . . . his name is known. His work appreciated. Yet, he retains the ability to get a cup of coffee or a box of cereal and not draw attention. If I may opine, this is possibly the best of both worlds.

Obviously, I haven’t experienced any sort of celebrity.  I’ve lived my life as most, another face in the crowd. I just thought I’d give some thought on anonymity being that it is held to some as dear and to others a plague to be avoided at all costs. (I’m talking about you, Lady Gaga.)

I will have to make many changes when I go to Indonesia, and one thing is for sure: I will be very out of place, and I will be giving up the freedom of going unnoticed while going about my daily business. Whether the attention is sought or not, good or bad,  I think I will enjoy blending in for the time being.

Photo courtesy of Banksy.