On Tuesday July 25th, I boarded another plane for Limboto, Gorontalo, on the island of Sulawesi. I was in Jakarta for two days prior to Gorontalo for U.S. Embassy security briefings and meetings with AMINEF staff–the organization that runs Indonesia’s Fulbright program along with other American-Indonesian exchange programs. I will be teaching English at SMAN 1 Limboto (SMAN stands for Sekolah Menengah Atas Negeri). In Indonesia, SMAN and SMK (Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan) are run by the Ministry of Education. Think of SMAN as the American public high school and SMK as vocational/trade schools. There is also MAN (madrassa aliya negeri) which is run by the Ministry of Religion and all are Islamic schools across the nation. Many MAN are boarding schools but not all.
Here is a photo-story of my first week in Gorontalo. In my first week, I met with my school, headmaster (in Indonesia, headmasters are the principals of the school), teachers, and community members. I also traveled to local places such as Malahu and Kota Gorontalo, had delicious food, and more.
After my first week in Gorontalo, I headed back to Jakarta for my two week orientation.
Welcoming Me to SMAN 1 Limboto
July 25th marks the 55th Birthday of my school, SMAN 1 Limboto. There were tons of celebrations all day that I was happy to be a part of. The hospitality of my community is remarkable–I am so happy to be here.
My school was gracious enough to buy my house and have it furnished! They are so kind. My fridge was stocked with food and they made sure I had all my amenities. I am truly blessed to be at SMAN 1 Limboto.
SMAN 1 Limboto opened up a rural campus nearby on a mountain. Limboto, the town I live in, is in a valley surrounded by many mountains. SMAN 1 Limboto opened up the campus a few years to serve the needs of the rural students. It was great visiting them all. It’s a really small school: the total school student population is 24. The 1 hour drive up the mountain is GORGEOUS! It is luscious green filled with rivers, small waterfalls, and massive corn fields, coconut trees, and banana trees.
My next post will detail my two week orientation in Jakarta. After orientation, I will head back to Gorontalo and begin teaching.
11:04 AM in Detroit. 5:10 PM in Singapore. 7:05 AM in Jakarta. These were the arrival times for each leg of my journey. Alhumdulilah*, I finally made it to Jakarta safely. It was a long 36 hours of flight and transits. I flew from Houston to Detroit to Tokyo to Singapore and finally to Jakarta. I met up with a seven of my Fulbright Indonesia cohort in Detroit—it was so good seeing them since PDO back in mid-June. It’s like we never left. Unfortunately, there was a five-hour delay in Detroit to Tokyo which thankfully didn’t make us miss our connection to Singapore. Don’t get me wrong though—if our flight was delayed another 20 minutes we would have stayed in Narita Airport hotel (although that would have made for a cool experience). There were two ETAs who had that fate in a different flight, but by their Snapchats I wish I stayed overnight in Narita-Tokyo.
My last chick-fil-a meal for a year!
Japanese beef dish on the plane ride from Detroit to Tokyo.
Milk in a stick on my plane ride from Singapore to Jakarta.
I flew with Ian Morse, coincidentally my sitemate in Gorontalo and fellow Houstonian. We coordinated our packing by buying each other various supplies such as mosquito net, waterproof phone case, English language learning games, teaching goodies, and oleh-oleh** (which I will detail what it is in another blog post). I can say I am lucky to have a sitemate from my hometown. Ian and I grabbed lunch at Mama Yu in Houston the Tuesday before we departed. This was a great segment into our journey to Indonesia and to delicious spicy food. Here’s to Fulbright Indonesia’s strongest sitemate team—I called it!
I landed in Jakarta on Sunday at 7:05 AM and had a sudden feeling of anxiousness, nervousness, excitement, and a little fear. Did my luggage make it? Is AMINEF staff at the airport to pick us up? Will customs take forever (like they always do)? I am moving to a new nation in which I do not their language, I don’t know their culture and customs. I did all the research I could but theory is never enough—it’s the application that counts the most and that’s what I am experiencing.
Thankfully, Matt, the senior ETA***, and Shelby, the Researcher coordinator, greeted us at the airport. Customs went smoothly—I was surprised at how smooth it was. Everyone also received all their luggage—thankfully no one’s luggage went missing.
Asking about my first impressions of Jakarta? The aroma in the air reminded me slightly of India: a little smog in the air but cleaner (and clearer) than New Delhi. It was HUMID—way more than Houston. I was sweating and had to cool down in the Maxxo Coffeeshop. But the scenery was beautiful; luscious green trees and plants occupy the sides of the highways all around the airport. People did give us looks—I mean we are boleh**** to them. Coming outside of baggage claim to the terminal pick-up, we waited for our shuttle to Ibis Style hotel. It was a fancy hotel with a nice swimming pool and a great breakfast buffet. After breakfast, many ETAs decided to take a dip in the pool—it was relaxing to say the least!
Sunday night ended with a group dinner consisting of Nasi goreng, ikan, and ayam****. On Monday, after the U.S. Embassy Security briefing, some ETAs were off to their site in Java and Sumatra for their at-site orientation for one week. The Sulawesi, Flores, and select Sumatra***** ETAs left on Tuesday morning. Later that Monday, the remaining ETAs decided to explore Jakarta. We visited Monas, Jakarta’s version of the Washington Monument (although it was closed we saw it from the gate and walked around the park), met up with two Indonesian friends, and took a taxi to Kota Tua, the Old Town district where we had dinner at Historia. Dinner was amazing. I had a chicken marinated in coconut milk broth and mango banana smoothie that was the most delicious drink I ever had.
Tuesday morning at 430AM Ian and I took the hotel airport shuttle for our 715 AM flight to Gorontalo. It is currently Saturday 2:48PM as I type this at the teacher’s lounge and am wrapping up orientation. I am about to head to a dinner social hosted by Pak****** Bupati, the Head of the Gorontalo Province where I live. It’s like being invited to dinner hosted by Governor Greg Abott of Texas—it’s a pretty big deal so I will need to dress up. I will detail my first week at SMAN 1 Limboto in my next post. Can’t wait to share my first week in Limboto, Gorontalo with yall—Stay tuned!
*Alhumdulilah means praise God in Arabic.
**Oleh-Oleh is a tradition of gift-giving.
***ETAs is English Teaching Assistant
****Boleh means foreigners/Westerners/tourists in Bahasa Indonesian.
*****Nasi Goreng is fried rice, Ikan is fish, and Ayam is chicken all in Bahasa Indonesian.
******Sulawesi, Flores, and Sumatra are islands in Indonesia.
It was March 30th 2017. I remember that day clearly. That morning I was proctoring the Texas English STAAR state test. I sat for a quick second with my phone during a restroom break. I had a feeling the email was coming soon. The email I longed for that would determine the next chapter of my life. I knew it was soon but I did not know when.
“Fulbright Application Status” the email read. My eyes slowly blossomed. The first word stood out: Congratulations! I kept reading the email thinking it was some mistake. But no…I made it. Ami**, I made it!
I MADE IT! I was selected as a recipient of the Fulbright grant to Indonesia!
I told everyone. I sent text messages, emails, phone calls, made Facebook posts, Instagram posts, tweets, Whatsapp messages, honestly everything. I received the Fulbright grant to teach English in Indonesia. I thanked everyone for their guidance and support along the way. I would not have imagined being accepted into the Fulbright program without all the support from Penn State University’s Fellowship Office, Teach For America-Houston staff and corps members, my colleagues at Sharpstown High School and all my friends who willingly provided feedback to my application. I am here because of you. Thank you!
In a matter of a few short months, I was in Washington D.C. for the Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation for East-Asia Pacific. I was just as excited as I opened my email informing me of my acceptance into the program. I vividly remember walking up to the Fulbright registration and meeting this one girl whose name tag said “Indonesia.” I was nervous to make the first move and say “hey.” I did notice her from the Fulbright Indonesia Facebook group we have. We didn’t end up talking until we took the elevator and I asked her “Where are you going for your Fulbright grant?” even though I knew the answer. We chatted for a bit until we departed ways. She would later sit next to me at the formal Welcoming Dinner. I still remember her as my first Fulbright Indonesia friend.
The Fulbright cohort to Indonesia is AMAZING. I love these people and am so happy we are on this once-in-a-lifetime journey together. The 19 of us immediately clicked off the start. It was so easy for me to start a conversation with everyone. We are also a diverse group: four of us identify as Muslims, and nine of us identify as a person of color. Each one has such a unique journey that bought them to Fulbright that is inspiring to hear. There are aspiring journalists, teachers, future diplomats, and future doctors. I hope to feature a few on my blog in the coming months. You will most definitely hear from my Gorontalo sitemate, Ian, who also hails from Houston (HTOWN!!).
Fast-forward a week before my grant start date, July 23rd, and here I am scrambling for last minute supplies and clothes, medicines, oleh-oleh and kenang-kenangang (to be discussed in a future post), and anything else I find suitable for my new life in Indonesia.
That’s all for now as I go back to packing! The next blog post will detail what I have done since Pre-Departure Orientation and the events of my last week before my grant start date.
Until then, Sempai Jumpaa!**
*Volume 24 refers to my age. Issue Spring refers to the season in which I found out my acceptance.
**Ami means mother in Urdu.
***Sempai Jumpaa means see you later in Bahasa Indonesian.
Special thanks go to my former Dean of Science at Sharpstown High School, Mrs. Alexander; my Manager of Teaching Leadership Development at Teach for America-Houston, Ms. Milton; one of my favorite undergraduate professors, Dr. O’Hara; and Pennsylvania State University’s Fellowship Office. And finally, to my students at Sharpstown High School. They were the crux of my grant essays and I am forever thankful for what each student has taught me. Shoutout to Sharpstown Apollos!