Thursday, October 15, 2009

Life, School, and Violent Handwashing

I know I said in my last post (like a month ago) that I was sorry for the lack of updates and that I would do a better job of posting things. This time i'm actually sorry, and promise to post things more frequently.

In the past month a lot of things have happened. I moved into my big empty apartment in Semarang, I began teaching at MAN 1 Semarang, I turned 23 years old, and I visited Bali amongst many other things.

My first day of school at MAN 1 Semarang (Madrasah Aliyah Negeri 1) just happened to coincide with the end of Ramadan. After Ramadan, it is custom to go to all of your friends, family, and neighbors to ask for their forgiveness (regardless of whether you've done them wrong). To celebrate this tradition at my school all of the students line up (all 1,300 of them) and shake each teachers hand. I'm personally no germiphobe, those of you that know me well would probably agree, but in this case the idea of shaking so many kids hands they day after they arrived back from their villages seemed like the best way to spread/create a megavirus if I had ever heard of one. Standing in the hot sun shaking students dressed in identical uniforms was quite nauseating- waves of white blue swirling before my bule (term for foreigner) eyes. After the ceremony I ran and washed my hands as though they were fire. I've never scrubbed so hard. This is not hyperbole.

Other than the violent hand washing on the first day, school has been pretty good. Most of the teachers are very excited about learning English, and often come to visit me throughout the day to practice conversation or to bring me some sort of Indonesian snack. I get alot of Cassava chips, fried tempe (fried everything really),little fish things, mangos, pears, uber sweet juices and soups, and gado gado (spinich, onion, tofu, with chili peanut sauce served at room temp)- by far my favorite.

In between classes I have taken to playing ping-pong with some of the other teachers. I'm learning to put spin on the ball, forehand, backhand, and SMASH! as they love to yell at me. Sometimes i'm good and can keep up, but most of the time my performance is inconsistent with a few flashes of brilliance. I hope to be good by the time I leave.

Things in the classroom have been a little slow. I spent the first week observing the different English teachers and the second sitting around while students took exams. This week I am finally in the classroom teaching, trying to gauge the various speaking levels of my students and put together a plan for how I want to approach each level. Teachers and older students at the school seem to have a good understanding of grammar and comprehension. The major issue at stake is that neither the students nor the majority of the teachers speak English well. A lot this has to do with the shy nature of the culture, and the limitations placed on schools by rigorous state exams, which only test students on grammar and comprehension (not speaking). My role is to make brave English speakers out of both the students and the teachers. A tall task if i've ever heard one. I must say though, that I have high hopes for the school. So far, teachers and students alike have shown a great interest in improving their speaking skills, hopefully I can deliver.

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