A goal of the Fulbright grant is to foster connections, and that’s certainly been a highlight of my 5 months here. And, some of my most memorable Indonesian connections originate back in the U.S. and through the University of Rochester. I’ve written elsewhere about how this grant period included an opportunity for Puji and I to reunite with a Fulbright and UR/Warner School alum, Yanti, in November. Another Rochester – U.S. connection happened through the Fulbright Indonesia – AMINEF network. On the day I was departing the U.S. back in late August, an email appeared in my inbox, with the subject: “Fulbright ETA near Semarang // U of R connection!” I was intrigued to say the least, and while on the plane heading overseas, I read the gracious note from a young woman who was little more than a month into her own Fulbright experience, as an English Teaching Assistant at a school site about an hour’s drive from where I was heading. She told me a bit about her experience so far, her background, and her Rochester connection through a beloved professor from her undergraduate program. And, she offered friendship and help. I was touched. Here are some excerpts so you can get a sense of how kind this young woman is:
Selamat pagi! My name is Tessa Sontheimer…I am placed at SMA 2 Demak…I heard you don’t arrive until September–I am excited to meet you!
…I hope that we can connect, get meals, and I can help you with anything when you arrive. …My Bahasa Indonesia skills are coming along and it’s been a joy to be part of a cultural exchange. I also have a site mate named Maddy Mele who teaches at SMA 1 Demak. She’s about 10 minutes away from me.
While at Penn State I worked closely with a professor named Theodore Alter…He fundamentally shaped me as a scholar and global citizen. His teaching, pedagogy, and reflexive engagement were one of my big inspirations for pursuing Fulbright. He’s a U of R graduate so I’ve heard much about your campus and culture he was thrilled when I told him you were nearby.
…Enjoy your remaining days at home. Soak up the veggies! I look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to Central Java. Meliora!Connection Made! ~Email received from Tessa on 30 August, 2019 – I had no idea how much I should have listened to her guidance about the veggies 😆
Because of how quickly I hit the ground running here in Indonesia, it took until 20 October for us to finally have our schedules align to meet up for Sunday brunch in Semarang. And, Tessa brought Maddy, whom she mentioned in her initial email, and Kush Mansuria, from another nearby site, the vocational high school SMK Raden Umar Said, in Kudus. We all hit it off, and more connections were made.
Over the months that followed, I stayed in touch with Tessa via WhatsApp, and met her a few more times, including when I saw all three of these new friends and the 25 other ETAs currently working in Indonesia when I gave a workshop in Jakarta for their Mid-Year Enrichment Conference in January. introduced me to the woman pictured with us below – Bu Ernest Ceti Septyanti, the head of senior high school curriculum development in the Central Java Provincial Government office.
Discussing Digital Literacy in Demak
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Tessa, Maddy, and Kush in Demak, when they organized a Digital Literacy workshop for teachers from Demak and Kudus as part of their Fulbright “Community Engagement Project.” We had conceptualized this workshop awhile back, and then they gave me feedback after my participation in the AMINEF Mid-Year Enrichment Conference that was instrumental in helping me shape the content to be relevant to their host teachers.
Each workshop or lecture I give is unique in its own way, even if largely composed of content that I’ve delivered in multiple settings. I’m learning how to tailor the message of digital literacy in ways that connect with the local context, relate to the Indonesian national curriculum, and dispel common myths that Indonesians have and hear about young people, social media, technology, and digital literacy. In this particular workshop, I really slowed down my explanations, offering more time for the teachers to share with each other, and gathering regular input from participants from all parts of the room.
I’m happy to report that the teachers seemed to get some good take-aways and ideas from our time together, if their responses to the ETAs’ exit survey are any indication. More than 90% of the responding teachers indicated that the workshop was useful and that they will use something they learned in their classroom. The Q&A session was also really generative, allowing me to introduce teachers looking for engaging, digital ways to encourage a love of reading to Goodreads.com and the idea of an online book review, instead of writing traditional “summary” or book reports.
What I have also loved to do with my workshops and lectures is to disrupt Indonesians expectations of Americans, of “bules” (foreigners), and of what learning and professional development or workshops look, sound, and feel like. I do not stay attached to the podium, but move about the space in a manner that aims for more inclusion and engagement of the audience in what I’m sharing. In this workshop, I took that to a new level, even for me!
More Connections Made
This recent trip to Demak also gave me the opportunity to meet Tessa’s host family, to stay in her family’s home overnight, to try their favorite “nasi goreng”, to explore Demak’s parks and the famous mosque/museum, to experience the abundance of fruits/veg available at the Demak market, to cook a fabulous curry lunch together, to meet the neighborhood kiddos who participate in her English Club, and to meet some of Tessa’s favorite educators: Bu Yogi, another English teacher at her school, who is a graduate of the English teaching program at UNNES, and Yuta Otake, a Japanese-American educator currently traveling around Indonesia doing paid workshop gigs at institutions with the budget to pay so that he can afford to offer pro-bono workshops to schools and pre-service teachers who cannot.