Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sedikit Sedikit...

Sedikit sedikit lama lama akan terbiasa berbicara Bahasa Indonesia. Little by little it will become easier to speak Indonesian.

At least, that's my hope now that I've started my Bahasa Indonesia classes at ICRS. Every Monday and Thursday as of this week I'll be meeting with Mbak Nina for an hour and a half lesson. RD (from Iowa) and Lily (from Burma) are also taking the class. They're both PhD students at ICRS and Lily is actually in my academic writing class. I think this marks the first time I've ever taken a class with one of my own students!

Admittedly, I didn't have high expectations for this class going in. Last year Amber had studied at Wisma Bahasa, the premier language school on Java, and I had hoped that I would be sent there as well. My housemate Anastasia goes to classes there four times a week and meets all sorts of interesting people sponsored by the embassies and big international organizations in Jakarta. What's more, she told me Wisma Bahasa really tailors their lessons to students' ability levels. This sounded perfect to me because I'm what you'd call a 'false beginner' in Indonesian. I've never had a formal class before, but I've lived here for a year so I know a lot of random vocabulary and I can hold basic conversations. But Wisma Bahasa is pretty pricey so ICRS decided to have a current PhD student teach us instead as part of her work-study program. I was a little disappointed to hear this news, especially when I found out I'd be lumped together with actual beginners and that Mbak Nina had never taught a Bahasa course before. How could this be a good thing?

To my great relief, however, the class at ICRS is really exceeding my expectations. It turns out that even though Mbak Nina has never taught Bahasa Indonesia before, she has 10 years of experience teaching English as a foreign language and clearly knows what she's doing. She also speaks Indonesian nice and slowly and with such a beautiful intonation that I find myself wanting to imitate her. It's also working out fine that we're starting the course from scratch. On day one we learned how to introduce ourselves, how to say the letters of the alphabet and how to spell our names. Really basic stuff, but still useful. We're also filling in gaps in our cultural knowledge. For instance, today as we reviewed the material from Monday with flashcards of political leaders around the world, we digressed briefly to talk about Indonesian presidents. So now, for the first time in a year, I actually understand the difference between President Sukarno, who was the first Indonesian president after the country gained its independence in 1945 and regarded as a national hero, and President Suharto, who held the presidency for over 30 years after Sukarno and was seen as corrupt. This distinction is tricky because their names differ by only two letters. 

Having RD and Lily in the class makes it more fun, too. RD's background is in sociology and team building and he is just so supportive of everyone. He's quick to say, 'Thank you, Julianne, for asking that question. I really appreciate it.' Or if Lily or I say something correct, he'll quickly congratulate us with a Bagus! (Good!). I'm also fascinated by watching him learn Indonesian because he's never studied a second language before. Watching him struggle slightly through these first few lessons really makes me appreciate how my previous experience with language learning really does make learning additional languages easier.  

I'm really happy to be back in the language classroom again as a learner. Taking language classes as been a hobby for most of my adult life, be it French, German, Spanish or Swiss German. I love those little moments when the light bulb goes off and you finally understand something you didn't before. I also like guessing spelling and meaning correctly and having it confirmed by the teacher. Most of all, I like the digressions and the cultural tidbits and sharing the learning experience with others. It's too bad I didn't have this opportunity last year, but I'll try to make the most of it this year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Teaching Academic English

I've finished my first month of teaching! Well, perhaps I should clarify that by saying that although I've finished teaching for the month of September, I've only actually taught four classes. My first week at ICRS was spent settling into my office and modifying the syllabus put together by Amber last year so that I could actually teach it. Then I went off to Bali for 10 days for the Idul Fitri holiday. And then I came back to teach my awesome schedule of only two classes per week. So now that I have this first month (or 4 classes) under my belt, I thought it was time to give an update on my teaching situation this year.

Let's backtrack to my first week at ICRS. I spent most of this week being alternately extremely grateful for all the files that Amber had left behind and also super intimidated by the work she had done. She was the first ELF at ICRS and she literally wrote the book on the academic writing curriculum here. Seriously. She WROTE A TEXTBOOK as part of her project last year. And while I was very thankful for all her groundwork and clearly labeled folders and documents on the hard drive, I also grew increasingly worried that I was in over my head. Amber is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition. Not too surprisingly, her extremely thorough syllabus is peppered with jargon from her field: discourse communities, genre analysis, rhetorical sequence, rhetorical situation, summary reminder phrases, and rhetorical prospectus. Fear raced through me as I read over her syllabus for the first time. How was I supposed to teach students to write a rhetorical prospectus if I didn't even know what that term meant? And, I wondered, if I had trouble understanding the terms on her syllabus, how did her students feel?

Fortunately, a nice long chat about expectations with my counterpart Ipung helped calm me down. Taking into account that my background is in TESOL, not rhetoric and composition, and also considering the feedback from last year's students who felt they had more work then they could handle in the academic writing class, Ipung and I decided that I could tweak the syllabus a bit. So, I went back to the drawing board and hashed out an adapted version of Amber's syllabus that I felt much more comfortable teaching. I took out the year-long research paper project (complete with annotated bibliography, lit review, and rhetorical prospectus) and focused instead on 4 distinct assignments each semester. This term I'll have my students write a personal literacy narrative, a summary of a religious studies article, a reaction paper and a final writer's reflection paper. Next term, I'll assign an editorial and response, a comparative summary of two religious studies articles, a book review and a film critique. Then they'll have a final publication project where they select and polish two pieces of writing from the year to be published and distributed to all members of the class and the ICRS office. My hope is that my students will see my class as a workshop where they can get comfortable with the conventions of writing in academic English. For most, this semester will be their first experience doing so since their bachelor and master's degrees were entirely in Indonesian. (As a side note, all ICRS classes are conducted in English. ICRS is an international, interreligious PhD program that attracts applicants from all over the world.)

Even after feeling good about my changes to the syllabus, I was still nervous for the first day of class. I was about to step foot into my first classroom of PhD level students. Many of them are currently lecturers at other universities on Java and have published numerous articles and books (in Indonesian) on religious studies, a field I know extremely little about. My students are Muslim, Buddhist and Christian and are comfortable tossing around buzzwords like 'interfaith dialogue'. This is completely new territory for me. Luckily, our first few sessions together have gone extremely well. There are only 12 students in the class and they all seem very approachable and eager to learn about academic English. I have a feeling that I will learn just as much from them this year about religious studies and 'interfaith dialogue' as they will (hopefully) learn from me about academic writing in English.

As part of the course, my students are required to come see me at least once per assignment for a 30 minute individual consultation session. This is a time where we can talk about the feedback they have gotten from their peers, the revisions they are working on, grammar points they want to clarify and anything else that comes to mind. I've had a handful of sessions so far and was, in a sense, relieved to hear that my students are still looking for help with things like prepositions and thesis statements. These requests I can handle, since they're much more within my realm of experience than, say, research proposals or rhetorical moves.

To finish this post, I'd like to share a funny anecdote from a recent individual consultation session. The student came in, sat down and handed me the first draft of his essay. I glanced over it and asked him, "Do you have any specific questions about this essay?" To my surprise, he started listing the places he had visited in America. He rattled off numerous states and even mentioned attending some sort of month-long program in Hawaii. I listened politely while trying desperately to figure out the connection between his list of places visited in America and draft 1 of his essay. Finally, he stopped and said, "No, I've traveled a lot there. I don't think I have any specific questions about the USA."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

May I Take Your Picture?

I love my new Canon G11 so much that I find myself spending a good amount of time playing around with it on land. I've never really been much of a photographer at all, but now, after venturing into underwater photography and having this great little camera on my hands, I feel inspired.

Maybe it's sort of a natural transition from liking to take macro close ups of fish and such, but I'm starting to get into portraits. There were two events on our recent trip to Bali that set me on this path. The first was one early morning on Nusa Lembongan when Jackie and I went for a walk along the beach. We headed off with the intention of taking some pictures of the Agung volcano looming in the distance but we soon found ourselves talking to two friendly little girls who were making mini Agung volcanos in the sand. We chatted with them in very basic Indonesian and I took several photos. After each photo, I would show them my LCD screen and they would shout, "Lagi, lagi!" (Again, again!). And then I'd take another photo. This one of 7 year-old Dila was my favorite one of the series:

When I showed the picture on my camera to Megan, Noreen and Michaela later they all commented on what a nice shot it was. But I still didn't think too much of it. When we got to Ubud, our next destination, I strolled down Monkey Forest Rd taking pictures of statues and flowers and other non-human things. Looking through the photos later I felt like something was missing but I couldn't figure out what. Then the second big event happened. One day later I wondered into a bookstore and bought a Lonely Planet guide to travel photography. As it happened to be raining that afternoon, I took the book back to the hotel and basically read it cover to cover. I found myself drawn to the chapters about portrait photography and realized what I needed to do to make my travel photos really come alive.

I've always thought that local people make very interesting subjects for travel photography but the whole notion of asking a complete stranger for permission to take their picture has always been super intimidating to me. My general approach for most of my life has been to try to sneakily take photos of people when they're not looking or to stand from a safe enough distance away so that if they got suspicious I could always just pretend I was taking a picture of the tree/statue/storefront next to them. However, living as a quasi-celebrity in Gorontalo last year, I got really uncomfortable and annoyed by all the random people constantly taking my picture, sometimes right up in my face, without even so much as a hello or a nod to their camera phone to ask for permission. Asking for permission is definitely the way to go.

This aspect of photography gets especially tricky in developing countries when many of the interesting subjects you want to shoot are living in such poverty that you feel guilty for wanting to take a few pictures of their daily existence only to wander back to your nice hotel later to play with the pics on your fancy laptop. But I guess the bottom line is it doesn't hurt to ask. Sometimes people will say no and they have every right to do so. But for those who say yes, you might be rewarded with some great photos.

The day after reading the chapters on portraits in my book, I headed off to a market in Ubud to challenge myself to interact with people and see if I could get their permission to take a few photos. I felt like I could at least say "Boleh?" (May I?) in Indonesian while holding up my camera. The first woman I encountered was busy sorting chili peppers. Ah ha, I thought. I can practice taking what my book called 'environmental portraits' or, in other words, portraits that make the picture more interesting by placing the subject in a specific context. I held up my camera and asked, "Boleh?" and then took a few snapshots of this woman at work:

At first glance, this photo might not look much different from your typical photo surreptitiously taken in a market, but because I asked for permission first I was able to stand closer than I normally would and take multiple shots. As a side note here, I like how the camera captured the movement in her right hand.

For my next subject, I employed the time honored technique of buying something first and then asking permission to take a photo. This technique works well because you feel you have established some sort of relationship with your subject before you take their picture. It also decreases the likelihood that they will say no to your request. However, the big drawback to this technique is that it can get expensive when you go around buying things you don't need just to get people's pictures.

Finally, one of my favorite shots of the day was of this sweet 90 year-old woman selling woven boxes. I thought her face was very photogenic but when I first asked to take her picture she said I had to buy a box first. Hmm...I thought. She's been around enough tourists to know how to up her sales! So I thanked her, told her that I didn't really need a woven box and started to walk away. But then she called me back, laughed and said it was fine if I took her picture. She kept saying "Tapi saya tua! Saya sudah 90 tahun" (But I'm old! I'm already 90 years old.) To which I responded, "Mungkin Anda sudah tua, tapi Anda masih cantik!" (Maybe you are old, but you are still beautiful!). She laughed again.

These brief exchanges with the women in the Ubud market were rewarding enough to make me think I might be on to something here. Stay tuned for more portrait photos this year!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy As a Clam

I recently came back from a trip to Bali where I finally got a chance to play with my new toys - a Canon G11 and a Fisheye Fix underwater housing. Hilariously, I found out that my new housing is quite the guy magnet! This is ironic since I'm happily off the market now, but seriously, I had guys coming up to me saying stuff like, "That's a beautiful housing you have there" and "Excuse me, I'm a photographer and I couldn't help but notice...".  Single ladies pay attention. You might want to invest in a nice piece of photographic equipment. I'm just sayin'.

Behold my power combo:

I was very nervous about taking my setup underwater for the first time. It's the single most expensive gear purchase I've made so far for my new hobby and I had nightmares about flooding the camera on my first dive. So I made sure to get some DAN equipment insurance beforehand and then I took down just the housing without the camera on my first dive to test the seal at depth.

The good news is that the camera works wonderfully underwater and did not flood at all. The housing is super easy to use and I just can't get over how much easier it is to press the shutter button on this housing compared to the Canon plastic housings. The ISO and exposure settings are all adjustable from the housing itself which really reduces the amount of time you have to spend fiddling with the menu settings.

The bad news is that I didn't get very many good pictures this trip. I like taking macro pictures and staying in one place for a long time to get that perfect shot by playing with the settings. But we were diving off Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida, areas known for their strong currents and surge. It's not really possible to stay in one place for long. At one point I was finning against the current trying to take some reefscape shots of some photogenic angelfish in a crevice. I snapped four shots and when I looked up I realized that I had lost my dive group! Fortunately the others weren't far away, but it drove home the lesson that I really can't take repeat shots in current. I also learned that photographers swimming against the current use up their air much faster than everyone else.

Of course, I knew that Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida were not ideal for beginner photographers since I had dived there before. But the islands are gorgeous and since I was in charge of showing the new ELFs a good time on Bali, I wanted to take them to this beautiful spot a little off the beaten path. I had also hoped that I would get a chance to practice my manual white balance skills with some of the big fish that come with the current and surge, namely manta rays, mola molas and sharks. To my great disappointment though I didn't see any of those things.

So, here's a sampling of a few shots I did manage to get while finning against the current, swaying in surge, struggling to keep up with my dive group and trying not to crash into the coral or my dive buddies:

Saddleback anenomefish

Sand perch
Swimmer crab
Freckled hawkfish
Despite the frustrations of shooting in these conditions, I LOVE my new camera and housing and can't wait for my next dive trip. Hopefully, I'll be able to take a few long weekend trips to Lembeh and Gorontalo in the next couple of months. If so, I really will be as happy as a clam.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dining Out in Yogya

I'm writing this post while drinking my second cafe latte of the morning, having just finished a big Sunday brunch consisting of an omelet, toast, chicken sausage, melon and baked beans. Oh yeah, and I just ordered a chocolate croissant to go with my second cafe latte.  What's more, I'm connected to the internet because this cafe has fast and free wi-fi! And all I had to do to get here was walk down the street from my guest house. croissant just arrived and it's even warm! I think I might make Sunday brunches at this cafe a regular event. Few things make me as happy as the prospect of a delicious meal.

I am truly in culinary heaven here in Yogya. I spent the past week checking out the various restaurants around town with Ingrid and my housemates. Highlights included spinach fettuccine and a tomato and mozzarella salad at Via Via, a chicken and mushroom brick-oven pizza followed by tiramisu at Nanamia, guacamole with toast and a spinach pancake with homemade cheese and mushrooms at Milas, chicken korma and pumpkin soup at Sangam House, and even a delicious 3 mushroom creamy fettuccine with garlic cheese bread at the Pizza Hut down the street. Italian, Indian, American....I definitely won't starve here!

This is a big relief, since, as followers of this blog know, Indonesian cuisine seldom whets my appetite. That said, the other day Anastasia, John and I were wandering around the kampung by the university looking for a place that was actually serving lunch during Ramadan and stumbled upon a great little warung that had a whole menu of tasty Indonesian options. I ordered nasi goreng tuna (fried rice with tuna) and terong goreng tepung (eggplant fried in flour). Even though both dishes were fried, they were surprisingly delicious! I washed it all down with a fresh strawberry juice, happy that I just found what might become my new regular lunch place.