Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Day in Gorontalo (Part II)

Having gotten some positive feedback from you, my faithful blog followers, I have decided to write another “Day in Gorontalo” entry. Actually, I think I will try to do at least one a month for the rest of my fellowship. It’s a nice break from the theme based entries I usually write and it paints a pretty good picture of the highs and lows I experience on any given day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

6:00 a.m. My alarm goes off early because I intend to mark some essays before breakfast. I then hit the snooze button repeatedly for an hour.

7:00 a.m. I am up and puttering around the house wondering when Nita will arrive with my tea. Yesterday she brought me tea and homemade cookies for breakfast. But today she doesn’t appear at all. So, I make a cup of instant Indocafe Cappuccino instead and sit down with my stack of essays from my Writing IV class.

8:00 a.m. Distracted by the sound of water coming from the front of my house, I tear myself away from my essays and angrily head towards the door. People are constantly helping themselves to my water supply because the gate that’s supposed to be in front of my house still hasn’t been finished yet. Prepared to confront the trespasser, I throw open the door and am stunned to find a young man washing his face and feet not with the hose connected to the house water supply, but with the waste water in the dirty old bucket left under the dripping air conditioner. My annoyance suddenly turns into pity for this young man who apparently has nowhere else to clean himself. I say good morning then go back inside.

9:00 a.m. Taking a break from the drudgery of marking my essays, I decide to make myself a pancake breakfast. These are absolutely delicious and I wonder why I haven’t been making these more often. Galael sells a Pancake & Crepe mix. All you have to do is all water and an egg. So simple, so good.

10:30 a.m. As I make my way through the stack of essays, I discover that an alarming number of students have turned in work that is clearly not their own. For this assignment, students had a choice of four possible topics, including describing interesting places in Gorontalo or Indonesia. One student’s essay had the following sentences about Kuta Beach, Bali: “Rapid development and an influx of visitors haven’t kept the surfers away and Kuta still remains one of Bali’s best surfing beaches and a great place to enjoy a beach lifestyle. While the surfers are still part of the Kuta scene, it’s the shopping, nightlife and party vibes that attract thousands of visitors.” Perhaps this student is quite gifted. Perhaps these sentences were not lifted directly from some tourist website. But then consider that the same essay opens with “Indonesia is a country that popular with beautiful scenery and also tourist attractions” and closes with “In conclusion, there are three tourist attractions in Indonesia. It is interesting to visit.” Nope, I don’t believe for one second that the body of the essay was the student’s own creation. What baffles me is that the students have the gall to submit such work. I had been warned that plagiarism was a big issue in Indonesia, particularly at my university, but it’s appalling and also a little bit devastating to see it done in my own classes.

10:45 a.m. Once again I am distracted by the sound of water coming from the front of my house. When I peek out of the window I see that someone is at work washing his car in my driveway. Honestly! Again, I throw open the door and prepare myself for a confrontation. I ask the man in English what he’s doing and point out that this is my house. He answers in English, “I know, I know. Sorry!” Then he laughs and drives off. I glare at him as he pulls out of the driveway. I just don’t get it. Why do people think it’s OK to come over and help themselves to my water supply?

11:00 a.m. Fed up with my plagiarizing students and my water-stealing neighbors, I decide to calm myself down by taking a shower and getting ready to head to campus for my afternoon class. Since the water in my shower is usually on the cold side, I turn it off while I lather up. When I go to turn the water back on to rinse off, just a trickle comes out. And then it completely dries up. I feel that the water karma gods are getting back at me for denying my neighbor the water to wash his car. Either that or he used it all up. In any event, I need to get rid of all this soap. Dripping in sudsy water, I tramp over to my other bathroom and try my luck with that faucet. Luckily, there is just enough water in the pipe for me to splash off the suds.

1:30 p.m. Having finished my lesson planning for my CCU class at 2:10, I head off to the café down the street for a quick lunch of instant noodles and a hard-boiled egg. On the way, I stop to buy a bottle of MiZone to drink during class. While I’m making my purchase, a student approaches me and asks if I can pray for him. Taken aback, I ask him to repeat himself. Turns out he isn’t saying “pray” but “buy”. He wants me to buy some him some lunch because he’s hungry and has no money. Is this true? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but I know that I can’t go around providing free lunches for everyone who asks. So, I regretfully tell him that I can’t but suggest that he ask his friends to help him out.

2:10 Time for CCU! I love teaching this class - I get to learn all sorts of interesting things about Indonesia from my students. Today’s topic is classroom behaviors. We start off with a little situational quiz about what to do in certain classroom situations in the US. To extend the activity, I ask the students to get into groups and make a list of some of the differences they have noticed between Indonesian and American classroom behavior. I learn that my students have a lot of criticisms of Indonesian teaching styles. They find most of their Indonesian teachers to be very serious and authoritative in the classroom. Punctuality, on the teacher’s side, is also a problem. Classes might start late because a teacher sends a student out to make photocopies and then everyone just sits around waiting for that student to come back with the copies. Sometimes the teachers just write an assignment on the board and tell the students to have it finished by the following week. If students are late or don’t have an assignment they are sometimes punished by being forced to sing a song or recite a poem in front of the class. They even admit that they are afraid of their teachers most of the time. In contrast, my students seem to really like the American teaching style. They like that American teachers are friendly, informal, interactive and non-threatening. They also appreciate our punctuality, organization and use of body language to make difficult ideas understandable. I wish I could spend more time on this topic. I feel we are just scratching the surface of things we could talk about - things like plagiarism, sharing among students, saving face in the group, how students and teachers address each other, who asks questions, what topics are appropriate for discussion or writing assignments, the amount of experiential learning vs. rote learning, speech acts like greetings and how to start and end a class, social distance between students and teachers, etc. I think classroom behavior is a fascinating subject to study cross culturally.

4:00 p.m. Since the Internet isn’t working for the 7th day in a row in my office, I plug in my USB modem and wait a painful 20 minutes for something to happen. For some reason, the connection is being ridiculously slow and I consider shutting everything down and going home but then the rain comes. Rainy season in Gorontalo has officially arrived. So, I do like the Indonesians do and decide to just stay put until it passes.

5:30 p.m. On the way home I stop by my counterpart’s office to pick up some package notification slips that he texted had arrived for me. Packages!! Few things thrill an expat’s heart more than packages from home. I wonder who they’re from. Probably from my mom, as I know she’s shipped several packages of reading material, vitamins, dental floss and other essentials. Or they could be from one of my friends who responded to my Facebook plea to please send Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Oh what excitement! I’ll have to go to the post office tomorrow right away after work. I love having things to look forward to.

6:00 p.m. Back home, I decide I need to resume my paper grading work. The plagiarism issue is really bugging me because I have now identified 6 out of 18 essays read so far that clearly have something fishy going on. So I send a text to my fellow ELFs asking for advice on how to handle the situation. Suggestions and support pour in instantly; Maura reminds me that plagiarism is culturally acceptable here, Amber promises to send me some great paraphrase citation exercises tomorrow, Stephanie recommends underlining the text I’m suspicious of and then asking the students where they got it from, Courtney advises me to speak with each student individually, and Mark says he’ll read my book when I figure it all out. Ahhh…what would I do without the other ELFs? They are a constant source of support and their humor helps keep me laughing too.

6:23 p.m. I finally get to work on the next essay in my stack. I tell myself that I will mark essays for an hour or so and then take a dinner break.

6:25 p.m. Mati lampu!! Plans to grade papers are foiled by another of Gorontalo’s infamous random power outages. I need to get these papers done tonight so I debate between firing up the generator and relocating to the Quality Hotel for a couple of hours. I opt for the generator.

6:30 p.m. I drag it out of one of the spare bedrooms and hook it up to the power source outside. I’m about to go through my start up checklist when Sarah calls. Sarah always has perfect timing. Some strange sixth sense leads her to call me just at a moment when I’m dying to complain about the latest Indo curveball. As per our standard routine, we update each other on the craziness of the day and talk about how we’re looking forward to seeing all the other ELFs for our early Thanksgiving in Yogya this weekend. I treasure these conversations with her; I think we help each other stay sane in a very challenging country.

The rest of the evening is filled with making a pasta dinner, finishing my grading, and writing this blog post. And now I’m off to bed. Another day in Indo is done.


  1. Hi Danna, I love your "Day in Gorontalo" posts. Hearing about how rampant plagiarism is over there reminded me of a great story I read the other week by M. Garrett Bauman in The Chronicle of Higher Education . For academic purposes, I'll share it with you and your readers here. I hope doing so doesn't qualify as "stealing." Love, Banny

  2. The Chronicle of Higher Education
    October 5, 2009
    CSI: Plagiarism

    By M. Garrett Bauman
    It's the final week of class. Two colleagues and I pant following an hour of racquetball that should have released the tension. But it's not enough for the youngest man, who declares he uncovered a dozen cases of plagiarism in his final set of papers. He smashes his fist into a metal locker. "What's the matter with these kids!" he roars. "I want to kill them!"

    I understand his rage. Cut-and-paste theft saps time and energy, insults professors, creates distasteful confrontations, and damages the integrity of education. Almost as maddening, our culture's tolerance of dishonesty in business, government, sports, and the arts makes academic ethical standards seem quixotic. Perhaps we need to approach plagiarism differently to spare ourselves apoplexy, moral nausea, and bruised knuckles.

    In my first plagiarism case, more than 30 years ago, when I confronted the burly perpetrator, I expected him to hang his head and apologize. Instead, he glowered: "I came to college to get a job, not write papers. I don't need this bull. You give me D's for my ideas, so here's the fancy crap you want." I was so dumbstruck by his response—his belief that I played an unfair game that deserved a reply in kind—that I ended up letting him redo the paper and lowered his final grade by only one letter.

    To document cases back then, one hiked to the library to pore through volumes of the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature and other indexes. If a student purloined from an obscure magazine that indexes didn't include, then tough luck. Teachers recognized plagiarized work but often could not nail the felon. I recall one frustrated professor interrupting a department meeting for help locating the source of a plagiarized paper on Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." She read long passages from the paper until a bored, waggish professor announced, "Whose words these are, I think I know. …"

    Today, Google and Turnitin crack cases in minutes. Most plagiarists are pitifully inept. They steal work that doesn't match the assignment. They leave Web addresses at the bottom of the page. My department chair received a paper with a receipt for the purchase stapled as the final page. Two of my students collaborated on source stealing and then used the same paragraphs in their papers. Of course, detection engines rarely catch college papers actually sold online. Vendors block scanning because if they let prospective buyers read papers first, students would (gasp!) steal from them.

  3. Today's plagiarists grew up believing they had a right to steal music through Napster and paste other people's photographs and private information into their own blogs. Appropriating other people's ideas seems an established cultural norm.

    One woman in my Shakespeare class turned in a professional article as "her" final paper. (Never mind that the Bard "borrowed" the plots to all of his plays.) Unlike my first plagiarizing student, she was motivated and literary-minded. She had earned a B-plus average on surprise quizzes and participated in class. She didn't want to escape college; she wanted an A. But after I gave her a final grade of F, she didn't contact me. Was she too ashamed?

    Foolish me. When I ran into her the next semester, she glared and hissed, "Why did you fail me?" She stood with hands on hips as the aggrieved party. Did she think cheating merited only a penalty, like a speeding ticket? I suggested she visit my office. "It's too late. I'm taking the course over." She snorted as if it were my fault.

    After long wrestling with how I should react emotionally to academic theft, I have concluded that since we can't alter the cultural climate, and since becoming furious upsets only us, we professors should entertain ourselves with plagiarism cases. Let's respond to plagiarists' self-righteousness and trickery with some of our own. You could indulge your puritanical side by delivering a passionate lecture on plagiarism. Appeal to the integrity of the intellectual community and threaten, threaten, threaten! Propose penalties worthy of Torquemada. Why settle for a simple F when you can drum a student out of class in a ceremony designed to inspire terror and honesty? Tell them you will display a "Wanted" poster with their picture online and around campus. You will notify their professors next semester and any future colleges they attend. You will tell their fiancés that they cheat.

    After students plagiarize anyway, release your inner crime-scene investigator and make catching them a sport instead of a chore. For example, you can amuse yourself by directing your own morality play to lead a felon to his fate. Here's how I did it once:

    David's shoulder-length hair, trimmed beard and mustache, soft eyes, and mild manner were reminiscent of Jesus. His writing was clichéd and immature. Then he handed in a scintillating paper containing words like "winsome," "beguiling," and "Krishna." I called him to my office. "This is quite a paper, David."

  4. "Thank you." He blinked his Jesus eyes and stroked his long, soft hair.

    "I do have a few tiny questions. Here on Page 2, you used the word 'charlatan.' What does that mean?"

    "Don't you know?"

    "Enlighten me."

    "Uh, well, it's like an idol that people worship. I think he was a king."

    "Kind of like Charlemagne?"


    "I see. How about 'salutary' here on Page 3?"

    He shrugged. "That's being alone."

    "I think that's 'solitary.' This is 'salutary.' See?"

    "I guess I typed it wrong. I meant 'solitary.'"

    "'Solitary' makes no sense. 'Salutary' fits perfectly."

    "It does?"

    "Yes. Actually, it's quite professional." I tapped the paper, leaned closer, and whispered confidentially: "How is it that you use such words and don't know their meaning?" Delightful little beads formed on David's forehead.

    He blinked several times. "Uh, I guess the right word just comes to me."

    "Like, you're inspired?"

    "Exactly!" He hugged the word "inspired."

    "Amazing. You must have been catatonic when you wrote it."

    "Well—" He smiled, hoping I had complimented him.

    "I'm sure the dean would love to chat with you about this—um—ability."

    "Aw, no, he wouldn't." David glanced at the door.

    "Oh, he would. You wrote this with no help whatsoever." I shook my head. "Amazing."

    David snapped his fingers. "You know what? I just remembered that I used the computer thesaurus a few times. You know, to build up my vocabulary."

    "Ah! But isn't it odd you forgot the definitions?"

    "I wrote the paper a while ago." He shrugged off his weak memory.

    "Strange, I read something on this topic recently." I pulled the download from my drawer. "The author uses many vocabulary words you do. Whole passages, in fact. Look here. See? And here." His head bent pretending to read, but his eyes were squeezed shut, awaiting the ax. I couldn't resist one last little twist. "David, do you think some unscrupulous author saw your paper somewhere and copied it?"

    His head shot up. "Really?"

    I smiled beatifically.

    M. Garrett Bauman is an emeritus professor of English at Monroe Community College and author of "Ideas and Details: A Guide to College Writing" (7th ed., Wadsworth, 2008). He can be reached at

  5. Very interesting comments. I'm going to play Devil's Advocate a bit if I may. I do not think that a culturalist reading is the best approach here. In what culture is plagiarism among students not a problem? Educators in the US also find that plagiarism is a frequent problem.

    I think plagiarism becomes a bigger problem in situations in which students don't feel up to the demands of the writing assignment. If this is true, then we should probably expect plagiarism to be a bigger problem when writing in L2 than in L1, regardless of the culture or L1.

    Plagiarism used to be a fairly big problem for me in the US (with international students) but two years ago, after a hiatus from teaching ESL, I realized that it had somehow become much less of an issue. This wasn't due to any real change in the background of my students but was an inadvertent consequence of two changes in teaching methodology.

    What are these changes? The first is that instead of assigning a topic and having students bring their first draft, I spend about 20 minutes of a class discussing the type of essay we're going to be working on over the next 2 weeks. I then have students brainstorm and interview each other in class. Before the end of class, they have to write a thesis statement and at least 3 topic sentences. In a small class, I'll quickly go over these to make sure the thesis is sound and that the topic sentences belong to the proper essay type (narrative, comparison-contrast, cause-effect, etc).

    When they bring their first rough draft to class, it has to follow the outline that's been approved. Of course, there still is ample opportunity for plagiarism, but it seems that once students have already gotten started on an outline, they don't take advantage o fthis opportunity as much as was the case under my older way of teaching.

    The second methodological change was to focus not on explaining that plagiarism is wrong but instead on 1) having them process rules on plagiarism and also 2) giving them specific examples of ways to incorporate ideas in non-plagiaristic ways. For the former, I give them a handout with several hypothetical situations and the multiple choice responses about what students and teachers should do in each. For the latter, I give them several short paragraphs, each of which clearly contains ideas and language not by ESL writers. They then, in small groups, have to process these paragraphs (using citations, paraphrasing, summarizing, etc) to remove the plagiarism.

    These last two processes do not remove plagiarism entirely but they've helped a lot. The biggest change came, unexpectedly, from the in-class writing of outlines (and the requirement that these be approved by the teacher before the rough draft is written).

  6. Julianne, could I ask how big this stack of papers was? It sounds terrifying! I don't think you've been given the luxury of teaching small classes, have you? The most time-consuming part of ESL, I think, is essay writing. Interesting, yes, but so many more hours of prep and feedback than, say, for reading, speaking or grammar classes.

  7. And maybe another reason why I haven't had so much trouble with plagiarism is that I've been teaching High Intermediate classes, in which they really just give their own ideas. Lets see if my good luck holds next term when I teached Advanced, in which students have to find, paraphrase, quote, and cite the ideas of others. Something tells me plagiarism is going to be more of a problem come January.

  8. Two graduate students got kicked out for plagiarism. Its everywhere!!

  9. Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments and ideas about how to combat plagiarism!

    William, the stack in question was about 50 papers high. And I completely agree with your methodology of starting the assignment in class. In fact, for this essay, the students were actually given a choice of 4 ready-made thesis statements and then had time in class to brainstorm topic sentences for each of the 4. Examples were put up on the board and then everyone went home to write their first drafts.

    For the next assignment, my students will read an article and then come up with their own thesis statements. Maybe they will feel more ownership over their essays this way.

    I also tried the technique of asking students what certain words mean, thanks to the idea in the Chronicle article. This worked really well! For example, I asked one student what "manipulate", "sequence" and "massive" meant. She had no idea! What a good technique!