A Long Day and a Good One

Week Two and we’ve started with two very different days. On Monday after lunch Tara and I had a surprising day. We knew that we’d have a different day as we’d been told that everyone would go to the main campus across town for a ceremony with the Rektor and Vice Rektor i.e. the university president and vice president. I’d hoped we’d have an earlier day than usual, but knew that there was no telling.

I was impressed by the large campus with stunning architecture. While the grounds were stark they, buildings were colorful and for me exotic.

As is not unusual, it took awhile for people to assemble, which is common for Indonesia. The ceremony was supposed to start at two and at 2:20 I wasn’t sure when we’d start. Then a woman holding two headscarves approached Tara and I. She asked if we’d wear headscarves so that “everyone could look the same.” I didn’t have much time to really think about it before we were whisked into a side room to put on headscarves. When we went to the big mosque on Saturday, we had to put on headscarves and take off our shoew, which I gladly complied with as it was a way of respecting a religion. Now I was caught off guard and not sure how to decline. This was just a meeting and some women in Indonesia don’t wear headscarves. This group did, but they also want to become an internationals school with students from abroad and the lecturers want to go to America to study. They’ll have to be around women without headscarves. Anyway, we went along and as soon as we put on the scarves, the woman who gave them to us told us we looked beautiful. It seemed awkward to be told that now that we had scarves on we were beautiful. I’m not sure what to make of that. Some of the folks on the planning committee were apologetic and I think embarrassed about this last minute headscarf thing. People have been so hospitable and gracious, but there still are some awkward moments.

Eventually the meeting started. First the head of the organizational committee spoke, explaining its goals (i.e. to prepare young lecturers to speak in international settings like conferences and to enable them to write for academic publication. It’s a loft goal since a lot of my students can’t write an outline let alone a solid paper. Also the Vice Rektor stated that within about 10 years the government wants all lecturers, not just assistant professors to have PhDs. Now 30% do. To top that off, this university wants to be in the top 500 universities in the world by 2030, which considering that the library doesn’t subscribe to many databases or have a collection of books needed to do the research needed to get highly ranked means it’s sort of a Don Quixote impossible dream.

We’ve got three weeks to teach or perhaps explain the main skills needed to write an article that would be published in an international journal. (I say explain because to me “teach” implies that at least half of the students can do at least a so so version of the taught skill. Here I think a lot will just be able to talk about it and will need more practice before they can apply what’s been taught.

The Head of the Language Center spoke and I was surprised how much of his talk was administrivia (e.g. we reserved the hotel for the teachers on July 16th, I’ll fill out the forms for their stipends on Tuesday, and things of that ilk, which we’d just handle through email or less formal meetings).

So all the department leaders, Tara and I and two students all spoke. One student included a lot of religion in his speech, which I doubt would have been included in a similar speech at a Christian university.

So the meeting finally ended and then people took a lot of photos before finally leaving.

We’d driven with an administrator named Fuzan and a lecturer and were going to return with him. But a very bright outgoing student offered to drive us to the hotel. Fuzan politely, but firmly said he would because he’d been assigned to. We thought we’d just go with whomever was less inconvenienced. There was quite a lot of back and forth and finally the program director intervened and had us go with the outgoing student. OK. Maybe he lives closer to our hotel.

Well, once we got driving this student told us he’d like to make a stop at his sister’s boarding school. She’s 14 and at a girls’ school where only Arabic and English are spoken. Mind you even during the meeting I had a great need to use the loo, but wanted to wait till I got to the hotel where I knew it would be clean.

What could we do? He drove to the school and we chatted with him and the other student who seems to be his girlfriend. At the school he spoke to the girl at the guest relations desk and she got on a bike and rode into the school proper to bring the sister back. While we waited we learned that the sister doesn’t like the school. She hates it and wants to go to a boarding school in London. (We have no idea why she thinks that’s affordable or possible and both our parents would have simply said that that’s out of the question. ) Our driver cum student asked us to motivate her to stay in this school since it’s a very good school.

Huh? We don’t know the school, the sister or the options. How could we weigh in? Why would she listen to two strangers who’d come to Indonesia for three weeks?

Anyway the sister eventually came and we had a half hour meeting with her. Our student had told us he’d only talk in Arabic with the sister since this week Arabic was the designated language. (English and Arabic alternate.) Yet most of the time he spoke to her in Indonesian. Just amusing. We gave a half-hearted, uninformed pitch for staying at that school. I did it but didn’t try hard because nice guy that he is he did manipulate us into driving with him and really, this is not our issue. It’s a family issue.

On the way home, we found that the school was a good half hour in the opposite direction of our hotel. The driver/student stopped on the way home and got us a box of tasty Indonesian snacks which we did appreciate, but that appreciation was tinged with feelings of being used. The way the meeting played out and the whole episode of going to the boarding school just show how we never know what a day could bring. And there’s also no way to control anything.

We have been treated to so much kindness and hospitality, but it is curious what comes with that.

Tuesday was a regular teaching day, but was extra good as when they gave us the first installment of our stipend the program leaders explained that they’d found a way to pay us 3 times what we’d been told. Yippee!

I had looked at this as a semi-volunteer experience, but really it’s a full job. What’s more this payment was in Indonesian rupee, but they asked if we’d prefer US dollars in the future. So we won’t have to change a lot of rupees when we go back home.

The classes Tuesday did bring me down to earth. In the meeting with all the grand plans and short time lines, I admit I got carried away. Then in class I saw that students are using source material from local journals with grammatical errors and confusing logic. Don Quixote indeed.

As I reflect on all the communications, short daily meetings we hold and the students’ engagement and overall kindness, I’m taken aback. I can’t help noticing how much more appreciated and supported I feel here compared with my normal job. Something to mull over.