Archive for March, 2011

Important Visitor

On Thursday, we met the Vice Ambassador to Indonesia, or “Ted” as he introduced himself. No big deal, right? He stopped in Palembang to see Sampoerna Academy. He told us about the American Embassy and how it is their goal to increase exchange between Indonesia and the US. He was pleasantly surprised to meet us (especially to hear we were from Iowa State) because he had no idea we were here. One thing he mentioned is that Putra Sampoerna (the founder of our foundation) has negotiated a deal with Iowa State University so that students from Indonesia may be eligible for in-state tuition if they choose ISU. Pretty cool, right? Anyway, the highlight of his visit was a traditional Palembangese dance performed by 5 students. Many regions in Indonesia have traditional dances. You may have heard of Balinese (from Bali) dancers as they are the most famous. I wish I had video to post, but you’ll have to make do with pictures. 🙂




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To the jungle and back

We hiked through the brush for about 30 minutes to get here, the student campsite.

Well, it has been a heck of a week! We had the opportunity to supervise the students’ leadership and survival camps for the past few days. After several days in the hot, humid, mosquito-infested Indonesian jungle, I am quite covered in mosquito bites but only slightly sunburned. Oh well, such is life… the experience was certainly worth a few bug bites!

We started off on Saturday at survival camp for grade 11. The goal of this camp is teach the students to survive in the worst conditions possible… literally in the jungle, living off the land. As we drove to the campsite, it was clear that we were in a new part of Indonesia. The roads were no longer paved (yes, we saw the stereotypical dirt roads) and they were littered with holes and puddles. When we arrived, the students were in the middle of outdoor orientation where they were not allowed to speak. It was truly amazing to see a group of 40 11th graders completely silent and engaged in what they were doing.

Teachers stayed in much nicer accommodations than students. We ate fresh fish from the pond in the back.

After orientation, we walked about a mile and a half to the actual campsite. The students were busy learning how to make their personal tents out of ponchos, so we sort of just hung out. We were sitting around (trying to stay in the shade) when we realized that we had no idea where the other teachers were. Teachers weren’t in charge of the camp, there were guides who were running everything. All of a sudden, one of the teachers came and found us and told us that we didn’t have to stay at the campsite with the students. All the other teachers were about a 10 minute walk away, staying in a house. WHAT!?! You mean we don’t have to sleep on the ground with only a poncho as our tent?! So we walked over to the house where the other teachers were staying where we found a house, a hammock, shade, and delicious food and water. I was so relieved!!

Students and teachers join together for evening prayer according to Islamic tradition.

After feasting on DELICIOUS fresh fish, we headed back to the student campsite. When we arrived, it was a very interesting experience. Guides were yelling at students, criticizing them and breaking them down. I have never been in the military (nor do I ever have plans to join), but I can imagine that it was something like what boot camp is… an intense exercise in conditioning that strengthens both the mind and the body. Students were building their tents. Essentially, they were taught how to use a poncho, a couple sticks, and some twine to build a one-person tent. They would be sleeping on the bare ground with no blankets, pillows, pads or anything. Talk about roughin’ it! After tents were finished, the students and staff who are Muslim–which is most people–took time for their evening prayer. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Muslims pray five times each day facing Mecca, and it was truly wonderful to see this done outside, at dusk.

Students ate with their hands from banana leaves. Meals consisted of rice and noodles with some assorted canned meat.

After prayer, it was dinner time. Students were given only a small amount of food and water that was to be rationed over three days. They were split into groups of 8-10 students and cooked their own food using one pot. They were required to eat all food off of banana leaves and were not given any utensils except for one spoon used to stir their rice. As they ate, they were instructed not to waste a single grain of rice. Quite a feat if you ask me! As students were cooking, we walked around and talked with them. One of the highlights for me and the students was when Nick decided to perform a song for everyone. He rapped “Ice Ice Baby,” and it was completely hilarious. The students provided backup vocals (dun dun dun duh duh dun dun – duh dun dun dun duh duh dun dun) while Nick recited every word to the song.

All students were required to take a mud bath after the first night in the rain. This small group said it was fun!

It was time for bed, so we headed back to the house. Then, the rain came. It proceeded to pour (like torrential downpour) for about 6 hours. I was safe under a roof, but I can’t say the same for the students. They were stuck in their tiny little poncho-tents sleeping on the bare ground. When we met up with the students that morning, I didn’t hear one complaint–not one student whining. It was honestly inspiring to see their discipline and strength of character. However, I’m not sure it’s fair to require a group of 16-year-olds to adapt to such harsh conditions. In America, that would never fly. In fact, I’m sure there would have been a lawsuit if such a situation arose in the US.  I know I would have made myself sick if I had to sleep in those conditions. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me, and the students of Sampoerna Academy must be so proud of themselves for making it through the whole camp–I’m certainly proud of them.

Students competed in team relays all day. In this game, they had to transfer water to a bottle at the end of the line while pouring it over their heads.

We only spent one night with grade 11, then we came back to Palembang early Sunday evening. On Tuesday, it was back to the jungle (further away this time) for grade 10’s leadership camp. Once we arrived there, it was a whole different atmosphere. The main goal of this camp is to build confidence and improve teamwork skills. Students are split into houses with different animal names. I become the “house mother” for the eagles (we fly high!) during camp, and they were awesome. Their house cheer consists of an acronym they made from “eagle” which is “Enjoyable, Amazing, Gorgeous, Lovely, Educated. To end the cheer, they

Teams had to fill the pipe with water while plugging the holes with their hands.

say “we fly high!” and make eagle noises while flapping their arms like birds. It’s awesome! I had a ton of fun watching them complete various team challenges and group games. One of the hardest challenges took place in the mud and water. Each team had to fill a large pipe that had holes all over it to the top with water. All team members had to get in the water and plug the holes while a couple team members used small cups to fill the pipe. It was very messy, but I think they had a lot of fun! The only downside to these activities is that they were all outside in a completely open space with no protection from the sun. I managed to limit my sunburn to my face and arms, so I was pretty lucky. It took me less than an hour to start turning pink. Sunscreen is definitely a necessity when you’re this close to the equator!

All students and any teachers that wanted to had the opportunity to ride the zip line during camp.

On day two of leadership camp, students were to participate in the “high rope” activity. When I heard this, I thought that meant they were going to climb a high rope or do a ropes course or something. It turns out that they were going zip-lining! How fun is that?! We got to do it once the students were done, and it was a great time. It was a little scary jumping off the side of a tall building, but it was totally worth it! I highly suggest that anyone does it if they ever have the opportunity!

Another highlight of the leadership camp was this random elephant that was in the field where we were doing activities. We managed to get pretty close (it had a chain around it’s legs), and it was a lot of fun. You don’t see random elephants just hangin out in the US!

We ran into this guy near the campsite. Indri and I managed to get within touching distance!

For those of you who are still reading this, awesome. I know it’s been really really long… sorry about that! There was just too much information, and I didn’t want to split it into two posts!  It’s been a pretty intense week, but I’m glad I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve done. The students here surprise me every day with the courage, and I’m learning so much from this experience!

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I successfully taught my first lesson today! I was a little nervous, but I think it went pretty well. It was my first experience with a block schedule, so it was hard for me to judge time as I went. I taught a lesson about sines, cosines, and tangents and all the fun things you can do with them. The students are pretty advanced and they already have quite a few things memorized, so they’re really fun to teach! I’m so happy because going through all of this trigonometry stuff is helping me remember why I love math (nerdy, I know). I’m having so much fun working through the identities with the students, and I think that they are actually learning, which is a ton of fun to see. Note to math people: Indonesian trig identities are WAAAAAY more difficult than American ones. Crazy, right? They’re really fun though! I had to ask my cooperating teacher** how to do a few different things because I couldn’t figure them out.

**My cooperating teacher = GENIUS. I’m not just saying that because he’s good at math. Aside from being a brilliant mathematician, he can actually explain complicated mathematics in layman’s terms. I’m pretty sure he can do calculations in his head faster than my calculator can do them. Oh, and he speaks five languages–Indonesian, English, German, French, and his hometown special Indoesian language– fluently. Oh, and he’s extremely kind and personable. Oh, and he’s only 26. No big deal or anything…

Anyway, I’m pretty sure the lesson went well because I had so much time to prepare. Here, teachers have a lot more prep time than in the US. I was able to get a ton of stuff read/learned/memorized/practiced prior to actually teaching, which made me so much more comfortable in front of the students today. Earlier this week, I made flash cards to help me re-learn my trig stuff. I’m pretty much a whiz now at all the basics, which I have to say I’m pretty proud of. Alright, I’ll stop gloating.

All in all, teaching math at Sampoerna Academy is pretty cool. I only wish I had some more time with the students so that we could do some more discovery-based lessons instead of lectures. But hey, I’m working on finding ways to get students involved in the lesson by having them come to the board and interacting with them one-on-one. My principal watched my second lesson today (I taught the same thing twice), and she said I did a great job of involving the students and keeping them engaged with my humor… haha. I’m here to learn and practice, and I know it only gets better from here. 🙂

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Jalan jalan…

This past weekend, we got to go on a couple adventures in Palembang. The Indonesians would say we went to “jalan jalan” which just means we went around, hanging out. There’s another American at our school, Emily, and she’s a Fulbright scholar. She’s been very nice and acted as a tour guide this weekend. She knows a lot because she’s been here for about 6 months.


The first thing she did was show us how to use public transportation. We were spoiled last week because the school driver came and picked us up every morning. From now on, we’ll be taking angkots to school. Angkots are these cars that have been converted into taxi/van things. They are color coded and they have routes… however, there’s nowhere the routes are written down. Everyone know just kind of knows which one they’re supposed to use. I was a little apprehensive at first, but it was a lot easier with Emily’s help.


After we learned the angkots, we went down to the Ampera bridge. The bridge is what comes up in the photos if you google Palembang. It was nice to be by the water, but it didn’t take long for us to be surrounded by locals. Some days it’s okay to be stared at, but sometimes I get a little agitated. We had to leave quickly because there were so many people surrounding us. They say things like “Bule!” and “Hi mister!” It’s kind of funny because they say mister to the girls, too, because they don’t know enough English to know the difference between miss and mister. We did not leave before tasting something called martibak (see picture to the left). It’s an egg pancake thing with a whole bunch of crisco, condensed milk, and a chocolate peanut sauce. Super greasy, and super delicious. There’s no way one person could finish an entire one. All 5 of us struggled to finish just one. When we were done, the box, and our hands, were drenched in grease… yum!


After hanging out for a little while, we went to a tiny outdoor restaurant to have some fish. Okay, it was more like a picnic table with a blanket blocking the street… cute, right? The fish was covered in an orange sauce that was flavored with durian. Now, durian is a fruit that is unique to SE Asia, and the smell is so strong that it has been outlawed in many hotels and other establishments. People say that it tastes good… if you can get past the smell. The sauce on the fish was very unique. I cannot think of anything that it reminds me of. I wish I would have taken a photo, but I forgot to. We did get to eat it with our hands, though. Food just tastes better when you eat it with your hands.


On Sunday, we went on a boat tour down the Musi River ending at Kemora Island. The ride to the island was very interesting. The weather was beautiful and the boat was very open, so we got a great breeze. Allalong the riverbank, there are homes. It’s hard to look at because you can see the poverty. We passed people bathing in the river next to their dilapidated homes. Seeing these things really puts life into perspective and makes me thankful for everything I have. On the other hand, I guess it was nice to sit on the boat in the breeze and enjoy the Indonesian weather, but It’s just hard knowing that people here are living on less than $3 per day.


Once we got to Kemora Island we had fun just walking around. The island is rooted in Chinese culture, so we got to see some fun things. Emily told us the story of how the island came to be. I don’t remember the full story, but it’s something about a Chinese prince who fell in love with an Indonesian girl and they weren’t allowed to marry… you know how it goes. I was surprised to see random roosters running around. Wild roosters are not something one comes across very often in America, so I had some fun running after a few of them. There was a giant pagoda and a statue of Buddha, which were fun to look at. I even climbed the Buddha statue and rubbed his belly for good luck! My favorite thing was the big tree. Supposedly if you climb the tree, then you’ll find the love of your life. We all took our turn climbing some of the branches (it was a very strange-looking tree), and we had a good time taking posing for photos on one of the branches. As we were leaving, there was a group of Indonesians that stopped us so we could take a picture with them. I’m starting to understand why celebrities get in trouble for doing things to the paparazzi. Not that I would ever purposely hurt someone (physically or verbally), sometimes it is difficult to be friendly when people are constantly giving you so much attention.

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I survived my first week!

The 4 of us on our first day of school

I just realized that I have yet to talk about the school and teaching, so I guess I should do that! I am teaching grade 11. The students here are responsible for learning a couple different curriculums. First, they do IGCSE (an international curriculum from Cambridge) for a year and a half (grades 10-11), and then they do the National Indonesian curriculum for the next year and a half (grades 11-12).

I’m happy to be getting experience with an international curriculum, because I’m seeing what students are doing globally. The downside to IGCSE is that it’s based solely on tests. It’s unfortunate because the students’ entire futures are based on the results of the IGCSE exams that they take during grade 11, which are happening in April. I will be responsible for preparing them for those tests. No pressure, right?!!? I will be teaching a class that meets once a week for an hour and a half that is literally just drill and practice for the IGCSE exam. I’m a little bit nervous because of the way my cooperating teacher runs the class. He’s brilliant at math, so he just walks in and says “Okay, what do you have questions about?” and then he goes from there. When I watched on Wednesday, the students asked about vectors, so he gave an impromptu lesson on vectors. Basically, the entire textbook/curriculum is fair game. I’m going to have to be at the top of my game mathematically.

The Indonesian curriculum is kind of intense. The students meet for this class once a week for an hour and a half. Right now they are doing trigonometry. The students don’t really work with calculators (not graphing ones, anyway), so they have memorized basically every single trig identity (even the ridiculously hard ones), and they can rattle them off with perfect accuracy. I found out very quickly that the students here take math very seriously. Many of them can do calculations in their heads faster than I can on paper. Whoa. Their arithmetic is perfect, so they don’t make tiny errors. Ever. On Friday, they were working on some trigonometry in class, and one student asked me for help on a problem. I was so excited to do some math! The question was too hard for me though! I was angry with myself because I couldn’t figure out how to do it! I asked one of the advanced students if he knew, and even after working on it for a few minutes, he couldn’t figure it out. Finally we got the attention of my cooperating teacher, and he explained it like it was so easy. He’s brilliant! Unfortunately, the textbook is in Bahasa, so I’ll be sort of working from my own bank of knowledge and whatever resources I can find online. I know that my cooperating teacher is here to help, too.

There is also a class called additional math. These are the very gifted students. There are about 8-10 students who take additional math, and they are incredible. I could hardly keep up as I was taking notes. I am astounded by what they are able to do in their heads. Basically, their brains are like little computers that make calculations perfectly and instantly. The students and teachers are really going to push me to be better, and I am so excited/nervous/anxious/ecstatic!


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Biggest fear about coming to Indonesia: the food.

Truly amazing thing about Indonesia: THE FOOD!!!

Oh my gosh, the food here is incredible. We’ve had the opportunity to try some pretty wonderful things while we’ve been in Palembang. And of course, every dish is served with plenty of rice. Don’t be fooled, the rice isn’t necessarily just a side dish all the time. The rice has so much flavor and is often the main component of a meal. I fear I’ll never eat rice again when I return to the US since it just won’t taste as flavorful.

We tried the traditional local dish, Pempek. The k is silent, so it’s pronounced like “pem-pay.” Some people lovingly refer to it as “fish balls.” It’s basically fish and flour that’s been mashed, rolled together and then steamed. Some of the rolls have egg in the middle. You dip the little balls in a very spicy (but also very delicious and flavorful) brown sauce. It sounds absolutely disgusting, but it’s honestly very good!

Avocado milkshake. Yes, you heard me right. It’s blended avocado and sugar with chocolate syrup around the glass. Here it’s called avocado juice. It is so delicious! I have a new appreciation for avocados, and pretty much all fruit now. See, the Indonesians don’t drink pop when they go out (or ever, really), they drink freshly squeezed fruit juice. So far, I’ve now tried avocado, watermelon, guava, and melon. All spectacular, and I’ve only just begun. As someone who doesn’t really drink pop and loves fruit, I am soooo happy! Speaking of fruit…

This is a dragonfruit. Very strange looking, but also pretty delicious! It’s kind of like a kiwi. You peel (or cut) the skin, and then the inside flesh is either white or purple. We tried the white kind and it was pretty tasty. We’ve heard that the purple is even better, so I’m excited to taste it. While we’re on the topic of fruit…

OH MY GOSH THE FRUIT HERE IS INCREDIBLE!!! This was our “dessert” when we ate dinner at the floating restaurant the other day. Every single thing on that plate was juicy and delicious. My favorite is the pineapple. I love fresh pineapple in the US, but here it’s even better. It’s very sweet and so juicy. I’m basically in heaven.

Okay, so now for something that wasn’t very tasty. Fried minnows. They aren’t too bad, but they aren’t great either. The worst thing about them is how they look. They literally look like tiny fishies. I had a hard time putting one in my mouth. Once I did, I realized it wasn’t so bad… it was basically just crunchy. No fish taste or anything. I just couldn’t get over the fact that the little fishy was staring at me. I did manage to keep mine down, which is more than Joe can say. He almost threw up. Funny story, really. I won’t get into the details, but basically it involves everyone at the table (including the 2 top people in the Dept. of Ed. – our new BFFs) cheering Joe on as he tried the fish. When he almost threw up, it was the funniest thing Pak Ade (the head of the dept.) had ever seen. Basically we were all laughing until we cried, and it will remain one of the funniest and most memorable moments of this trip I am sure.


Aside from the minnows, the food here is pretty darn tasty. It’s also super cheap! We can go out to eat at a nice restaurant and pay less than 5 dollars for a large meal and juice. And that’s not even talking about the cheaper places… It’s ridiculous! We were happy to find this out because we don’t have a kitchen in our hotel. We are lucky because our hotel does have  a restaurant that is very cheap (and delicious) with free breakfast!

Alright, well I’m sure I’ll try some more crazy food items soon, but that’s all for now. I’ve definitely acquired a new respect for Indonesian cuisine these past few days!

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Never in my life has someone asked me for an autograph. I signed about 50 autographs today. Our principal took us to an elementary school. The children there FREAKED OUT when they saw us! It took a mere 5 seconds for them to swarm around us and shove papers and pens in our faces asking for autographs. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the attention I get here, simply for being white. The children were wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I’ve just never been asked to sign an autograph before. I guess now I know what Justin Bieber feels like…

Today we attended a presentation (done by someone from our foundation) at the Department of Education. Basically, we’ve become BFF’s with the two top people in education here in South Sumatra… no big deal. Daryl, who is Australian (coolest accent ever!) was the speaker. He told us right before he started that we were going to help him. What? He said, “Oh, yeah, I want you guys to present a couple activities to the group that demonstrate active learning. Thanks.” Um… okay…? So we had about 15 minutes to come up with a couple activities to demonstrate to a room full of important people that know very little English. We banged it out real quick, though, and it ended up going really well! Thanks an awesome carousel idea (thanks Elisabeth!) and some sweet technology skills (way to go, Nick!), I think the Indonesians really enjoyed listening to us. Afterwards, Daryl invited us to speak at an educational conference in Jakarta at the end of April. No pressure or anything… I’m sure it will be wonderful! 🙂

The past two days have been absolutely incredible. The only disappointment is that I have yet to watch a lesson in the classroom! I think that I’m only going to have class on Tuesdays and Fridays… whoa! Hopefully I’ll get to sit in on the other math teacher’s classes. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all my extra time at school!

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