Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teaching English in the shadow of Krakatau

For the last few days I've been hanging out in a sleepy place on the west coast of Java called Carita. From the beach the growing volcano, Anak Krakatau, can be seen in the distance. Getting here involved taking a couple of angkots from Cilegon, passing the massive industrial plants that this region is known for, including the Krakatau steelworks; not very scenic and rather smelly to boot. Soon we are passing dilapidated resort by dilapidated resort as we hit the coast and make our way south through Anyer - which has an incredibly tall lighthouse and is the site where the proposed bridge between Java and Sumatra will start from - past Karang Bolang, and finally to Carita. The sandy beach is backed by a continuous strip of run down looking resorts that cater to a mostly local crowd from Jakarta on weekends. I'm here during the week, and the prices are cheaper as a result.

Once in Carita I begin the inevitable wander along the road looking for suitable accommodation, not really having a good idea of which end of the very long strip of beach is my best bet. In the end the choice is made for me by a local man who is concerned when I turn around and start heading back the way I'd come (pretty normal backpacker behaviour really) and insists on helping me out by taking me to see Thommy, a local English teacher, on the back of his bike. Thommy turns out to be a rather diminutive young man who speaks pretty good English and is also a tourist guide as well as an English teacher. He walks me down the road to a nearby hotel, where I check in then join him for coffee and breakfast.

The situation can go so many ways from here. Over coffee I need to work out whether I am entering into some sort of commercial arrangement with this man or whether he is just being helpful. As it turns out, it's the latter and over the next few hours we take an angkot to Labuan to visit the Ujung Kulon National Park Office, have lunch and a scrumptious avocado shake, return back to Carita to be shown where the walk to the waterfall begins and meet one of his friends, another guide. The trip to Labuan was actually so Thommy could get some papers photocopied for his English students and at some point I offer to come to one of his classes to provide some English conversation practice for the students. Most Indonesian English teachers don't even speak very good English themselves because there is too much emphasis on rote learning and grammar, and not enough conversational practice. So why not teach em a bit of Strine??


After a wee afternoon siesta I pop down to the beach to photograph a spectacular sunset and watch the last of the surfers come in from riding some pretty uninspiring waves. A few boys come over to chat and I of course talk up the big waves we get in WA. Only one lady approaches me with the hard sell of drinks and massages, everyone else just leaves me to my photography.


Soon it's time for my first ever English language class. The students are mostly teenagers with a couple of younger girls and a few boys in their early twenties. The group is pretty variable with some only recently having joined the class. Thommy leaves me to it and for 2 hours I entertain these kids any way I can. I ask them questions about their lives, we do some pronunciation ( I apologise for any Aussie twang they end up with!) and they even ask me to explain some grammar! Grammar for god's sake - they know more than me about that subject - so they tell me what all the tenses are called and then we go through usage and I get them to make up examples. I hope I didn't fuck that up too much!! At any rate, I think we all had fun, but I was pretty exhausted by the end of the 2 hours. It had been a long day...

Today I agreed to go with Thommy to the Padeglang University campus to provide some conversation practice with some of the students studying to be English teachers. Thommy is affiliated with this campus, although he studied at uni in Bandung, and believes that the English fluency of the teachers has alot to be desired. This trip involves travelling by motorbike through the backroads, past rice paddy fields and through small villages. What I didn't realise was that I was going to a senior high school as well. I met the head teacher then he took me to teach 2 different classes. All these students have a very basic grasp of English only, so there was me trying to be interactive getting the kids to have simple conversations with each other. At this point I'd like to thank Frankie, whom I travelled with in Laos in 2008/09, for a few tips on conversational English for beginners.


Since it is pouring with rain we take a chartered angkot to the university campus, where I get to do some more conversational English with students who plan to teach English. These students are much more fluent, but there is huge variability in the class with some students being outstanding speakers. A second class have only been studying for 2 semesters and are extremely shy and difficult to engage in conversation. I tell them to accost Westerners whenever they meet one and ask to practice their English. If you're a native English speaker reading this blog and planning on visiting Indonesia, please oblige by spending a little time with anyone who asks. I also shared my Facebook details with them, so if any of you are reading this blog, welcome!


It was a fairly exhausting day and I have nothing but respect for ESL teachers because you really do need a lot of energy to keep the students interested, motivated and not slipping back into their mother tongue when the going gets tough. But I really enjoyed the day and would love to return there, or suggest other travellers take the opportunity to do similar. If anyone is interested in visiting the Padeglang campus, you can email Thommy and mention you heard about it from me. Oh, and Thommy runs trips to Krakatau and Ujung Kulon as well. His website is here.

Tomorrow I head south, independently, to Ujung Kulon. I have a little food shopping to do in Labuan as I'm planning to go hiking for a few days in the National Park and it's time to use the camping gear I brought with me. So I may be offline for a few days.
Ciao!

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