One Sunday around the same time as Eid al-Adha (beginning of September), I got up at more of a weekday time, 4:30 am. I had breakfast, got dressed, and when Ibu and I were ready, we walked around the corner to a big stage set up in the middle of the street. It was 6:00 am and music was blasting. The event hadn’t begun yet, but the music reminded everyone within a mile that it was happening. It was time for jalan sehat.

Neighbors from up and down the street gathered in their sportswear. Some very energetic women on the stage led everyone in a lively aerobics routine. I ended up in the middle of a gaggle of small children. After the warm-up routine was finished, everyone did an about-face and started walking toward the main road. We walked for several kilometers, partly along the main road, which had been partially blocked off for us, but mostly through beautiful rice fields. Two boys from the gaggle attached themselves to either side of me for a good stretch of the hike. When they ran off, I mingled with neighbors I had only seen and never spoken to.

After we made it back to the stage, the organizers started a raffle (we had been given tickets about halfway through the hike). As numbers were called, prizes were handed out: everything you can imagine, including books, bikes and birds. One lucky winner was handed a live rooster. At one point, I was pulled on stage to help call out numbers, which I did for a few minutes. A drink and a few chats later, I decided to go home.


Later that afternoon though, I got a second wind and decided to go for a run. My ibu asked, “Kurang capek?” Aren’t you tired enough yet? I guess I wasn’t. I didn’t have a route in mind, but I ended up combining several and running farther than I have in a long time. Eventually, I ended up somewhere completely new, a tiny village, far removed from any main roads. My sense of direction told me I couldn’t really be too far from home, but I stopped to ask if I was going in the right direction.

An older woman confirmed that I was going the right way but told me to come in for a drink of water before I left. I sat my sweaty self down on a bench in her parlor and one of her grandchildren brought me a bottle of water. We chatted for a while, mostly about me, and took a few pictures. Then as it started getting dark, I took my leave and ran home.


I decided not to edit this glorious portrait of the matriarch, her son and myself.





The unfinished blog posts are piling up. This one reaches back to the beginning of September, but I didn’t want to ignore it completely.

This past September, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Adha, a feast that pays tribute to the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son. All Muslims gather in the morning to pray, and those who can afford it, sacrifice an animal. The meat is traditionally divided into three parts: one for the poor, one for friends and family and one for those who made the sacrifice. Sometimes extended families, entire villages or even communities such as schools sacrifice an animal together. My extended host family sacrificed 5 goats.


I missed the first goat’s death, but I watched the next two meet their end. I didn’t take any pictures, because there are enough out there already, but I’ll describe the process just a little. Skip ahead if you’re squeamish. Needless to say, it was a bloody affair. A deep hole had been dug in the yard to collect blood and other unwanted bits of the animals. Each goat was laid down, head over the hole, its neck resting on a banana stem. As the neck was slit, a conveniently placed banana leaf prevented blood from spraying everywhere. I obviously don’t have much experience to judge from, but it seemed to me that the third goat was dispatched much more quickly than the second. However, neither was instantaneous. After the life had slipped from each animal, it was strung up on a bamboo pole for skinning and carving. Several men took part, quickly and efficiently removing skin and innards before cutting off sections of meat. Then the meat was divided up. Some of it was turned into satay almost straightway. For the rest of that day, there was goat satay everywhere you looked.

I’m glad I got to witness the sacrifices. I was vegetarian for a long time before I came to Indonesia. When I first got here, I ate whatever was given to me, including lots of meat. During the last year, though, I’ve reduced my meat intake considerably. At home I’m vegetarian, but if I’m on the road or someone else’s guest, I’ll eat whatever is provided, especially if it’s something I’ve never had before.

I won’t go into why I prefer to be a vegetarian in this blog post. Suffice it to say, I have no problem with meat consumption in general, but I believe everyone could do with a little more appreciation of where meat (or any food) comes from, particularly in countries like the US, where contact with food has become far removed from farms. Watching those goats be slaughtered was one thing, but every day, I also see people in rice and sugarcane fields, working very hard to make everyone’s lives a little starchier and sweeter.

Participating in Muslim holidays and traditions has also been interesting, but I’ll write about more of those later.

TESOL | Sentence Auction

The sentence auction is one of my all-time favorite activities for intermediate to advanced students. However, slimmed down to basic examples, this activity can also be used with beginners.*

It serves several purposes: firstly, it trains students’ language instincts, helping them recognize and/or correct mistakes, but it also lets them practice managing money and risk. The auction definitely requires a bit of preparation, but the students can help.


First, you need sentences: some right, some wrong. I recommend two ways of getting them. Personally, I like to have the students write the sentences used for this activity, usually during the session before game day. From experience, I know there will be some recurring errors in the mix. Otherwise, the teacher can come up with each sentence for more targeted, intentional practice.

Student-created sentences: If I asked my students to, “Write me five sentences,” I would get blank stares. Give your students a prompt, somewhere to begin.

Grammar: Get your students to write sentences using a particular tense: present, past, future, etc., but rather than asking them to use the tense, give them a time frame—every day, last month, next year, etc. Then, remind them which tense they’ll want to use in that time frame.  Ask them to include a question or write all questions if that’s the topic du jour.

Vocabulary: Give your students a vocab prompt. Use the words you’re currently working on. Of course, you can also use the opportunity to review. For example, ask for five nouns, five adjectives and five verbs. Tell them to write sentences using at least one of the words per sentence or at least one of each part of speech per sentence, etc.

Once you have your sentences, take some time to actually read them; survey the errors and decide how many and which sentences you want to use.

Teacher-created sentences: Decide how many sentences you want to auction off and what typical errors you want to tempt the students with. This means a little more work for you, the teacher, but this way you have more control over what the students are practicing.

Game day

Divide the class into teams. It’s up to you to find the right balance for your class. If the teams are too big, individual students might not have a chance to participate, but if there are too many teams, the activity can become difficult to manage. I find it helpful to recruit one student as a score keeper and helper. Though not necessarily concentrating on the sentences, this student will still be very much involved. He or she must keep track of which team bought which sentence for how much money—in English. This could potentially be a student whose math skills outshine his or her language skills or a student who might otherwise be disruptive.

Ask the students if they are familiar with an auction. They might not know the English word, but a brief demonstration will hopefully help them connect the dots. If you think your students are completely unfamiliar with the concept, it might be a good idea to explain it during the session before game day, perhaps with a video.

Tell the students you’ll be auctioning off (their) sentences. Some will be correct; others will have errors. Clue them in on how many of each type of sentence are for sale.

Give each team a budget. Make it enough money so the teams won’t run out too quickly, but don’t give them too much; make the students practice taking calculated risks.

Set the rules on how often you’ll repeat each sentence. This will encourage students to be quiet while you read the sentences and help spare your vocal chords. If students are writing the sentences down, you may also want to set a time limit on how long before you close bidding.

Checking answers: It’s possible to check each sentence after it’s sold, distributing points right away, but this interrupts the flow of the activity and takes away from the suspense. I find it more enjoyable to go through all of the sentences at the end.

If you have the resources, you may want to give your students a worksheet with the sentences you auctioned off and have them follow along as the appropriate corrections are made. Otherwise, if you have time, have the students write down each sentence as you go through the corrections.

Scoring: There are different ways you can keep track of the score.

PointsMost simply, give points for correct sentences and take points away for incorrect sentences. Add some nuance and a challenge to the game by giving extra points for successfully corrected errors. That way, students will bid for more sentences and give each a second thought.

MoneyAlternatively, use money to keep score. Tell students the balance of their budget will disappear after bidding has ended, but they will get some or all of their spent money back for correct and/or corrected sentences. This will encourage students to make higher bids and take risks.

I’ve used this activity a number of times, with varying degrees of success, but each time, the students have gotten very animated. If you want to try it out, I encourage you put a lot of thought into your preparation. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t. Then you can tweak it to perfection. Going once; going twice; three times! And sold to you!

*For beginners: Consider auctioning off single words or phrases. You probably won’t want to confuse your students by giving them incorrect forms. Instead, auction off base forms and ask for variations: irregular plural nounsirregular verbscomparative and superlative forms of adjectives, etc.

TESOL | Another 5 things

Just a little update on the activity 5 things. The first few weeks of school I’ve used it to elicit vocabulary for subsequent teaching topics. When students were required to talk about their lives and introduce their friends and family, I had them come up with five words for family members.

In another class, the students were supposed to make suggestions, so I had them come up with five activities they’d like to do with their friends. They still acted like they didn’t have any ideas for their suggestions, but their excuses were weakened by the fact that I made each of them come up with five, not to mention the list I had collected on the board. Not knowing what to write is something my students often claim, but more often than not, I’ve given them the tools they need.

Two steps closer

Continued from One step closer

I got to Jakarta relatively late, but that proved to be an advantage. I was able to avoid the traffic that the city is so well known for. In general, I found the city to be much more manageable and much less chaotic than I had heard, but I only saw a tiny bit of it.

IMG_3463The day of the GRE, I walked from the hostel to the testing center. Much of the walk was down small, tree-lined, residential streets. The trees were much appreciated; Jakarta is hot. Every time I leave my site, I’m thankful that I was placed in Malang, which even Jakartans know for being ‘cold’.

The GRE went well enough. I got to the testing center early and was allowed to begin right away. I skipped the breaks, so I finished much earlier than I expected to. Before I left, I chatted with one of the test coordinators, about Spain of all things. He wants to continue his education in Madrid, so I told him about my semester there (11 years ago).

IMG_3469The day after the GRE was Indonesia’s Independence Day. I went to the National Monument, lovingly referred to as Monas, with a German traveler I met at the hostel. There were lots of people around, but the crowds weren’t overwhelming. Umut had just arrived in Indonesia, so he had a few questions I was happy to answer. I asked him if he had been in any photos with Indonesians yet. He hadn’t, so I told him he most likely would be today. Within about a minute, my prediction came true. I told him that lots of volunteers avoid photos, to which his response was, it’s not that bad. I just smiled, because I knew we’d be in for a few more. After about the fifth photo request in ten minutes, he changed his mind and said he imagined it could get to be a bit much.

I generally don’t mind the pictures. I still prefer to be asked, and I prefer to be asked nicely, but even surreptitious shots don’t bother me as much as they used to.

IMG_3479The next day, Umut and I took the train to Bandung, my second train in Indonesia and my first trip to West Java. The train was very cold, and I didn’t have my sweatshirt, so I dug out my sarong and wrapped it around my shoulders. Of course some of the other passengers thought this was too good not to photograph, but I pretended not to notice. I understand the motivation. How often do you see a foreigner wearing a Javanese sarong around his shoulders?

I ended up getting off just before Bandung to go to a friend’s site, a volunteer I hadn’t seen since training. Zach picked me up at the station and brought me to his house. Later that afternoon, we went into the big city. It’s always interesting to see new places in a country I’m still just getting to know.

The next day, we went to his school for English club. It wasn’t 100% clear when it would start. We were under the impression that it had been pushed back two hours, but then we got a visitor who asked us why we weren’t at school. We set off right away, and several students were in fact waiting when we got there. We played a few games until Zach’s counterpart came. Then, the students explained a Sundanese game to the two foreign English teachers. This is how I understood boi-boian.

IMG_3498Two teams stand around a tower of shoes (or rocks). The teams take turns trying to knock over the tower with another shoe (or rock). As soon as one team knocks over the tower, the other team scatters. They must avoid getting hit by a paper ball (not a shoe or a rock!!) while trying to rebuild the tower. Zach and I weren’t the only ones unfamiliar with the game, so the first attempt was a bit chaotic, but we got the hang of it in the end.

That afternoon, the two of us went for a hike. This particular route had a few traditions associated with it, one of which is that you’re supposed to hike barefoot. We accepted the challenge. It rained a little bit, but the ground stayed more or less dry.

IMG_3510At the top of the hill, we had a beautiful view of the city and the mountains all around us. We were alone, but you’re never really alone on the island of Java. We heard construction in the valley below us and possibly a wedding in the distance. Finally, after our eyes had had their fill, we carefully made our way back down and went home clean up and eat.

I’m glad I got a chance to see a little bit of West Java. It’s always fun to see other volunteers’ sites and schools, and meeting their students and counterparts is a pleasure. Perhaps I’ll have another opportunity to visit the ‘wild west’.


One step closer

We had our weeklong Mid-Service Conference(s) (MSC) this month: first West Java volunteers, then East. I took the train from Malang to Surabaya, my first train ride in Indonesia. I thought I’d be alone, but two other volunteers happened to get on the same train. We found it a bit difficult to sit together, because we hadn’t reserved seats together, but we only had to move a few times. The ride was quick and comfortable, and the train station in Surabaya was within walking distance of our hotel.

IMG_3453The conference was fun. At times it felt repetitive, but it was good see old topics from a new perspective. It was especially nice to see other volunteers as well as their teaching counterparts, who joined us for a few days at the end. There was lots to talk about now that we’re more than halfway into our service. We discussed our work and our feelings, our successes and less than successes. Some volunteers gave presentations about projects they’ve done at their sites with some tips for those of us thinking about doing similar projects of our own. We also talked a little bit about what awaits us after Peace Corps.

After the conference, with my own eyes on the future, I flew to Jakarta to take the GRE. The morning of the flight, I got an e-mail saying my flight time had been pushed forward 5 hours, but there were enough other flights that I was able to simply cancel and rebook. My new flight ended up being delayed, but that didn’t come as a surprise to me. I passed the extra time in reflection. I quietly strummed my out of tune ukulele, harmonizing with the children shrieking at the top of their lungs all around me. I smiled to myself; not too long ago, this situation might have driven me nuts. During MSC, we discussed our continuing challenges in Indonesia, but we also dug deep and asked ourselves why some things bother us. It’s a strategy I’ve tried to use since I got to Indonesia. If a dozen screeching kids doesn’t bug anyone else here, why should it bother me?

To be continued…

TESOL | 🎲 Roll and Tell

Since the new school year began this week, I thought I’d post an ice breaker for new groups, large and small.

First, students write down 6 facts about themselves. If they know enough English already, they can choose what they’d like to share. Alternatively, the teacher can give them questions to answer or sentences to complete. With my high school students, I like to include a sentence that I always hope proves enlightening: I think English is [easy / hard].

Dice are a great classroom tool!

The reason for 6 is that students will roll a die to determine how many facts they must share with the class. The teacher can demonstrate the process, once students have finished writing.

The chance factor adds a little excitement to the activity, and if students roll a 6, it’s not the teacher’s fault! This may put some shy students at ease. On the other hand, if an especially confident student wants to share all of their facts, a low number shouldn’t stop them.

See what your students come up with when they roll and tell.

Fits and starts

IMG_3368The new school year started with a pop yesterday. Lined up at attention on the basketball court, the new 10th graders were welcomed with an opening ceremony. By my count, only one student fainted and needed to be carried off to recover.

fullsizeoutput_3aa4After a speech by the principal, a big bunch of balloons was sent skyward. Amusingly, the balloons got caught on one of the tall trees in the courtyard, and proceeded to pop in succession during the group prayer. I just pretended it was an artillery salute.

Of course we didn’t want to leave out the veteran students. Their ceremony took place a little later in the morning and was followed by halalbihalal, a ritual during which participants line up, shake hands and, in the spirit of Ramadan, ask for forgiveness for any misdeeds or sins they may have committed.

During the faculty and family halalbihalal a week ago, the most important people in the room—the principal and his guests—lined up first. Everyone else formed a separate line, which moved and passed by the principal. As each person reached the end of the principal’s line, they joined it themselves. This continued until every single person had greeted every other person in the room.

Yesterday’s teacher / student halalbihalal differed in several ways. First, to save time, female teachers only greeted female students and male teachers only greeted male students. I say greeted, because ‘shook hands’ wouldn’t be quite accurate.

A quick aside

Students are typically expected to salim teachers (and anyone older than them). Young people take their elder’s hand and raise it to their own face, typically either the nose, cheek or forehead. I usually avoid saliming my students, instead going for a fist bump, but I didn’t want to confuse anyone or break the rhythm, so this time, I played along.

The salim is something that has grown on me over time. When I meet new children for the first time, I let them salim me. Parents encourage it essentially from day one. Adults even go through the motion with infants. As soon as older babies understand the word, even before they can really speak, they’re expected to do it when prompted. They don’t stop saliming when they turn 18 either. They continue to salim their parents and other older family members, and potentially even family friends and former teachers. I’ve even seen a 50-year-old salim an 80-year-old.

Back to school

While this was going on, several male students and teachers sang an Islamic verse in Arabic. When everyone had finished, upperclassmen went back to leading the orientation for the 10th graders and teachers went about their business.

Today was much quieter. For the 10th and 12th graders, it involved marching practice. The 11th graders stayed home, but it’s their turn tomorrow. Classes are scheduled to begin on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to finally meeting the new students and implementing a few new ideas with my colleagues. By then, I should have gotten feedback from all of them about my schedule. Fits and starts, but starts all the same.


I recently took a trip to Bali and Flores with my dad. We had a nice two weeks, a good mix of being active and relaxing. We saw a ton and met many interesting people. For me it was particularly fascinating to see new parts of Indonesia. I won’t write about the whole trip here, but I’ve posted a selection of photos to the album below. Enjoy!

liburan juni 2017


Many motivational quotes focus on regret. They threaten with lifelong disappointment if you don’t do… whatever it is you’re thinking about doing. Those maxims are based on the idea that regret is inescapable and enduring, but I disagree with that premise.


In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

Yes, regret is a part of life—there will always be missed opportunities—but I see no reason to dwell on them. At some point, time spent regretting is time that might be better spent moving on.

Life is filled with options, and one isn’t always better than the other. It doesn’t have to be fulfillment vs. emptiness. Any number of choices can be equally rewarding if we decide for ourselves that they are. If I can enjoy this, why should I dwell on not having chosen that?

When it comes to taking action, there’s something to be said for pushing oneself and letting oneself be pushed to try new things and leave one’s comfort zone, but not under the assumption that the alternative is inherently worse. Over the course of a lifetime, we can do a lot—perhaps we can even do more as a rule—but we can’t do everything, and that’s fine. Non-participation is not necessarily the same as missing out. Choosing not to take part in an ostensibly fun activity does not automatically condemn me to boredom.

I don’t appreciate so-called motivational posters that come with seeds of doubt or threats of regret. I believe true motivation sparks confidence that we’re doing it right; it inspires us to be happy with our choices and gives us the courage to deal with our mistakes. Words like shoulda, coulda and woulda have their place—we can learn from them—but they are not words to live by, and they are definitely not the coal in my furnace wind in my turbine.

My life is not a checklist with ticked and unticked boxes. That’s not to say I don’t have goals. If we absolutely need a metaphor, my life is a canvas covered in splotches of paint, and it has been from day one. I wasn’t born to fill emptiness; I was born to add layers.