Becky Coley is the founder of Bukit Lawang Trust.
I completed my placement at the Bukit Lawang Trust July - August 2015.
Prior to teaching at the school I was working as an Education Consultant and Instructor in Hong Kong. As my main teaching role in Hong Kong was teaching critical thinking to small groups of bilingual children, the Trust offered a new opportunity for me to expand my teaching experience in other content areas and with a very different demographic of students. It was a culture shock transitioning from the modern metropolis of Hong Kong to a small village on the outskirts of the Sumatran jungle. No more hot showers. No more bug free sleeping. And most shocking of all, no more cheese. But it only took a night or two before I started to settle in happily.
Of course, it was negotiating new challenges that made the whole experience so worthwhile; ultimately helping me open my mind to a new culture and lifestyle and proving to me that I could adapt and wholeheartedly appreciate a different way of life and of working (the Indonesian work ethic is quite different from that in Hong Kong…). The standout thing which made this so easy was the warmth, openness and kindness of the local people and other staff at the school.
New teachers should be prepared to hear the same questions on a regular basis as caring staff and locals check to see that you’re ok and enquire innocently about your daily activities. Some typical questions include “kamu lapar?” (are you hungry?), “kamu capek?” (are you tired?), “dari mana” (where have you just come from?) and “mau ke mana?” (where are you going?). One question which I heard a lot was whether I was travelling alone and if I was staying in the school by myself which intrigued many of the locals as local custom and religious belief make it unusual for young Indonesian females to demonstrate such independence. Despite sleeping in the school alone and acting fairly autonomously (as the only native teacher in the school at the time) I rarely felt lonely and I never felt unsafe.
This was also thanks to the support through email/Skype from the Trust (especially Becky) throughout my placement, and from Gigin, the local assistant teacher. A highlight of my placement was organising a competition at a local high school in Bohorok (around 30 minutes away), following a kind invitation to visit the school from one of our teenage students. The competition was designed to be a fun, interactive way of engaging students to improve their English language skills. It consisted of 5-6 teams completing a variety of different tasks at different stations; each time with 10 minutes to complete a task before rotating to the next table. The tasks ranged from a grammar quiz to following instructions to build a rocket out of cardboard, to an improvised restaurant role-play to making a poster promoting conservation in the local area. We ran the same one-hour competition two times in succession with around 100 students participating in total. It was brilliant to see the teamwork of the students and witness their enthusiasm as they completed the different activities together.
One thing which really strikes me about children in Indonesia is their camaraderie, especially the older age groups, and this was certainly on display on this day. We had great feedback from the students and the winning teams were delighted that their efforts paid off with a trophy. My experience at the Trust was fantastic and inspired me to continue teaching in Indonesia. After being back in Hong Kong for just one month I returned to Sumatra to volunteer teach for two weeks at a school in Medan. Adding to my experience in Bohorok, this has motivated me to do further voluntary work in schools in Sumatra with students who embrace the opportunity to speak with native speakers and understand English as a subject which can improve their prospects for further study and in later life. I would 100% recommend this placement to any new or experienced teachers. Volunteering for a small and well run charity like the Trust gives you the opportunity to take on a healthy amount of responsibility; this allows you to see the immediate impact of your work, providing a good opportunity for personal growth and fostering a genuine sense of achievement.