East Meets West: A Showdown

Never before have I valued my high-school’s almost prison-like atmosphere.  That is, until I began working for a regular school system in Jakarta.

As someone who always tries to find best practices and appreciates practicality, it amazes me that 1.) my crappy little school system in PA actually did some good things, and 2.) Indonesia needs wide-spread change in the education system as well.

In the middle school and high school I work for, students don’t have lockers…because they don’t change classes.  This reminds me of my elementary school days where your desk was sacred because everything you needed for the day was stored inside.  With the exception of gym and the arts, all the other subjects are received in one classroom, with all the various teachers coming to the students.

I pretty much reject this idea.  This creates an environment of ownership in the classroom that doesn’t belong to the teachers, but to the students.  Subcultures form unnecessarily from this arrangement.  Students feel that this room is an extension of their home, and being teenagers, they don’t treat the property with respect.  They mark up their wooden desks, leave trash and wrappers everywhere, (because there is no actual cafeteria…with students allowed to eat in the rooms), and they don’t end their conversations when a teacher enters a room.  There are also between 36 and 41 kids to a class instead of the 20-25 I had experienced years ago.

Timing of the classes are about the same with roughly 45 minutes, and 8 or 9 periods a day, but the organization is crazy.  I rather liked my old system of 42 minute classes with a 3 minute break in between.  It was just enough time to get to your next class and go to the restroom…or maybe stop at your locker if it was on the way.  My Indonesian students have a few classes back to back and then a break of somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the time of day.  Because of this, students are always asking to use the restroom because they don’t have time to in between classes, and by the time the end of third period in a row is half-way finished…the kids have already mentally checked out, because they know a larger break time is coming up.

I also find that having the students stay in one classroom all day lowers their attention span, diminishes any ‘sense of urgency’ they may have had and takes away from their education, considering how many minutes are lost or wasted between the bell always ringing late and teachers rushing to get to their next class.

Being in the room all day makes the kids numb to certain things, feeling as though the next teachers to come is someone who is over their house for a visit…and not necessarily that important.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m well-liked by the students, but it still takes me a little while to start the class to really get going.  Perhaps before my year is over, I can make some slight improvements in my own little way.  I may not be able to change the country, but I’ve got 1,000 students in one school complex that will be exposed to a Western woman’s ingrained sense of efficiency.  I feel that only positive effects can come from that.

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I want a man…

I want a man who is a good person, a good kisser and a good hugger.

I want a man who likes to cuddle and who will read a few pages of my book to me when                       my eyelids grow heavy, but I refuse to succumb to sleep.

I want a man who gives me compliments like “your hair smells amazing,” and “your skin is                 so smooth.”

I want a man with an active mind and creative nature so that life is never boring.

I want a man who can make me laugh to always keep me youthful.

I want a man with nice arms to put around me, broad shoulders to cry on and a strong                         back to help carry the weight of a momentary burden.

I want a man who listens to me.

I want a man who calms my fears and encourages my ambitions.

I want a man who is proud to hold my hand in public.

I want a man who is excited about life and likes to travel in all forms…including road trips.

I want a man who is comfortable with himself and accepting of all nice people.

I want a man who will share his own fears and insecurities, but is not plagued or held back                 by them.

I want a man who is confident in making his own decisions and comfortable when he is in                   control.

I want a man who will come to the rescue and kill a spider if he hears me scream like a                         little girl.

I want a man who is willing to hang out with my family, because my family is freaking                         awesome.

I want a man who doesn’t take life too seriously, isn’t old before his time, and doesn’t                           create stress where none exists.

I want a man I can learn things with, have fun with, and consider a life partner.


…I want a good one.

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Leaving the 95 degree weather with 89% humidity of Indonesia and being greeted by the -20F weather with 0% humidity of Canada was like a slap in the face…literally.  But Canada is not only magical in the wintertime, it’s also where my sister lives and I was so happy to get to visit for just over two weeks after my year away.  And truth be told, after being hot and sweaty for a year, the cold of Winter was actually refreshing.


After some rest, relaxation, book reading and movie watching, I was able to help my sister with some home projects and still have time to have some fun.  Holiday decorating, bowling and sledding were all on the agenda.  Having never been on a toboggan before, that outdoor afternoon excursion was probably the most memorable.


My next stop was Pittsburgh, PA.  I’ve only been to this city two or three times before (years ago when I was still in college).  I was excited to do some exploring…and it pays to have a friend who lives in the area.

After a stop at the Mattress factory (a really neat, installation art museum) and trying a famous sandwich at Pamani’s near the strip, I got to walk around the Christmas village where crafts of every material were on sale before the holidays.  It was great to have a hot beverage in my hand and walk around with the other cozy shoppers.  There was also an area nearby where adults and kids alike could try their hand at ice skating on that very brisk day.  And just beyond the skating rink was a building that housed life-sized Santa’s from around the world.  An orchestra was playing Christmas carols as the crowd wandered around, learning about the names, customs and traditional dress of the jolly gift-givers in different countries.  That was a real treat for me.


As quickly as my week in Pittsburgh began, so too did it end, and I was once again on a plane.  This journey took me to the lovely state of Rhode Island…my former home.

The benefit of visiting right before Christmas was that friends who have gone far and wide were back in Lil’ Rhody for the holidays.  It was wonderful to have a wide range of friends in the area to say ‘hello!’ to.


I was able to visit dear friends in the town I used to live in, and they were nice enough to have a holiday get-together during that particular week to ensure I’d get to see as many people as possible.  Those people are true gems!


Then I spent some time catching up with former co-workers, who have remained very close to me.  From playing darts at a local bar, to going to the movies, to having a day-trip in Boston, to visiting my favorite place in the world…located on the East Bay Bike Path, I was able to spend time with so many who are very important to me.


And after another blur of hugs and kisses, it was time for my last stop…home, to Halifax, PA, to visit my family.

After one complete day of resting and being lazy, ,it was time to wrap some gifts, make some cookies, hang out with my awesome nieces and enjoy a wonderful Christmas.  There were so many people I needed to see and visit with…it had been an eventful year.

Questions answered, hugs given and belly satisfied, it was time to turn my attention to New Years.  This holiday season worked out great with my parents having two very short work weeks, so I was happy for the time spent hanging out, cooking and watching old movies.

New Years was uneventful, as usual, with me being up past midnight, but forgetting to turn on the TV to watch the ball drop!  But it didn’t matter.  I was happy to get New Years messages all day from people back in Indonesia, and I was happy to spend the day reflecting on the awesome 12 months I was leaving behind to make room for the next 12 racing towards me.

Saying goodbye is always bittersweet, but it’s never actually “goodbye,” it’s really just “see you later.”  I realize that the important people in my life are worth the effort needed of staying in touch, and those who value the personal connections will honor your efforts and never really be far away…no matter the distance.

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Annus Mirabilis (a year of wonders)

When I started writing this blog, I made it private for two reasons: 1) I was writing it for me, and for my sister, and that’s all that mattered.  And 2) I thought no one would want to read it anyway.

After a while I invited a few people to the blog because they knew I was making plans, taking trips and writing a little something about the experience.

Then I thought… “Why NOT make the blog public?”  I figured since not many people would read it anyway, there would be no harm.  And just maybe, in time, I could actually connect with other travelers.

After about five years, I’m still writing the blog primarily for myself, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the stats.  I have received 1200 views by readers in 21 countries this year alone.  I know in the grand scheme of things these numbers are small.  (Just look at the YouTube sensations who get millions of hits in a few days.)  But for me, these numbers are not only impressive, they are meaningful.

It has truly been a wonderful year for me.  In many ways it’s been one of my best, and I’m so happy more and more people are sharing this time with me.

As 2014 comes to a quiet close, I find myself doing what I always do: looking back over my old monthly planner, reveling in the memories of all I was able to experience and accomplish in a quick 12-month time period, and scratching down tentative goals and opportunities for my up-coming year.

Stay tuned! :-)

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How do you measure a year?

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2 houses

3 months of flooding

2 bouts of food poisoning

30 days of fasting for Ramadan

7 modes of transportation

1 favorite coffee shop

17 books read

1 bangin’ tan (by my own personal standards)

3 dirty old men who thought they had a chance with me.



640+ language lessons given

100+ students

1 favorite class.



12 trips taken

3 border crossings

7 islands

12 beaches

2 snorkeling excursions

2 taxi rides where I thought I was going to die

1400 photos

1 well-used Lonely Planet guidebook.



1 moment of weakness

Countless moments of strength

11 meaningful connections

2 visits from friends

1 blast from the past

3 pangs of sadness

2 pieces of advice not taken

1 moment of denial

1 demon exercised.



4 admissions of why I wouldn’t be a suitable girlfriend.



7 family nights

1 fabulous birthday

1 birthday wish yet to be fulfilled.



1 person I will carry with me for the rest of my life

2 people I had to let go.



2 challenges overcome

2 important lessons learned

4 instances of wanting what I can’t have.



3 days of laughing so hard that I cried.

1 day of crying so hard that I laughed.



52 blog followers

32 blog posts added

2,000+ blog views

Multiple shitty internet connections…



6 months of language lessons received

1 language partially learned.



8 job applications

2 job interviews

2 job offers

2 jobs accepted.



3 mind-blowing moments

4 sleepless nights

A few unforgettable late-night conversations.



2 volunteer experiences

4 moments of extreme pride

365 chances to improve the world

1 horizon expanded

1 life-changing, unforgettable experience

1 promise to return.

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Quantifying Progress?

Never before have I had a job in which the quality or effectiveness of my work has been hard to identify or prove.  Like nailing jello to a wall, sometimes it seems as if I’ll never pin down how much I’m delivering and if it’s enough.

And I’m not just talking about grammar points and formulas, but planting the seeds of creative desire, hopefully leading students to yearn for more, to experiment with a beautiful language, even if it’s wrapped in difficulty.

Repeatedly I ask myself questions like, “Have I gone above and beyond?”, “Have I been the inspiration I had hoped I would be?”, “Did I plant the seeds of knowledge and not just weeds?”

I put myself in the shoes of my students and wonder if they can relate to my enthusiasm and passion when their own language has so few words and mine has so many.

In addition to being a grammar instructor, writing coach and professional baby-sitter in some cases, I’ve also found myself taking on the role of female empowerer and tactful debunker.  I sometimes forget how young and shletered my students are.  This is through no fault of their own, but in those moments of realization, I’ve learned to take an opportunity to expand their minds wherever I can.

I know the students and management are very sad to see me go.  I combine that with the notion that I’ve worked my butt off this year, and feel that I’ve done my personal best.  So I absolutely feel successful, even though I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered and learned more than I’ve taught.  But maybe that’s ok.  Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.  If I’m always learning, perhaps I’ll be a better teacher.

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Singapore…part deux

Having only been to Singapore once before…for about 10 hours…I wanted to arrange a weekend getaway to see more of the city/country. It really is a great place to spend a few days.  Although it’s much more expensive than Indonesia, it’s organized and efficient which means you can do a lot in a short period.

After arriving and getting a necessary MRT card, I headed to the Bugis area to find a cheap hostel. (Cheap is a relative term that I use loosely here. I’ve been used to spending $10-20 on a hotel room in Indonesia.  But in Singapore, “cheap” means $60).  It was more than I was hoping to spend, but beggars can’t be choosers.


I love that Singapore is a melting pot of cultures. Just a few blocks away from the hotel was an amazing street filled with all different varieties of food and everything was open late.  After a delicious Turkish meal and then a drink at the nearby café called “Going OM,” which had impressive live music, it was time to relax and head to bed.

The next day was filled with sight-seeing. In the morning, the excitement began with a stroll around Chinatown and continued with an open-air double-decker bus tour of the city.


It was a great way to see all the basic points. I got to see the Singapore Flyer…the large Ferris wheel…and then hoped off near the marina area.


This area was really great. The “Gardens by the Bay” is a wonderful area to stroll around.  There are many fun things to see and everywhere you look there was something new to explore.

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I was able to stop by the ArtScience museum to check out “Flux Realities: A showcase of Chinese Contemporary Photography” which was really beautiful.

At the end of the night, I was able to go to the observation area of the Marina Bay Sands hotel for a beautiful evening view.

I look forward to coming back to Singapore in the future to keep exploring!



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