My Time as an EL Fellow in Pontianak, West Kalimantan
Indonesia, AY 2010-2011
Where I Went
A Culturally Diverse Community
West Kalimantan province, on the island of Borneo, is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in Indonesia. Pontianak, the capital of the province, is home to three major ethnic groups: the Malays, the Dayaks, and the ethnic Chinese Indonesians. Many other groups, such as the Batak, Madura, Sunda, and Bugis peoples, are also well-represented in Pontianak society.
Islam is the predominant religion throughout most of Indonesia—but not everywhere. About 88% of Indonesians country-wide are Muslim.
Pontianak has a large Christian community, with many Protestant and Catholic congregations representing the Batak, Dayak, and Chinese-speaking communities.
A drive along the West Kalimantan coast will take most visitors through ethnic Chinese towns and villages, where Buddhists and Confucians often worship in adjoining temples.
Rapid modernization has made provincial capitals, like Pontianak, into places of great contrast where traditional markets….
exist alongside multi-story, ultra-modern shopping malls.
A Regional State University Focused on Pre-Professional Training
Pontianak is home to Universitas Tanjungpura, a state-run, regional university with pre-professional programs in law, business, medicine, agriculture, engineering, and teaching. The program in English teaching is housed in the same academic unit as the training program for science teachers.
What I Did
All of my students were 17 to 20-year-olds who were preparing to teach junior high school EFL in the host country. My host institution had not understood that my qualifications were for adult ESOL and not for teaching K-12 methods courses; nevertheless, we were able to utilize my skills as a native speaker for basic speaking, pronunciation coaching, cross-cultural studies, and research writing
classes—thus saving the project.
My first week at Universitas Tanjungpura was filled with plenty of culture shock, as cattle were slaughtered in the parking lot outside the window of my office for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, and then the meat was hung on the veranda of the education faculty building. Quite a first day at work!
I always enjoyed office hours, since students would often drop by to practice English. Informal practice was probably the one thing that helped them most, since many had never had the opportunity to hear a native speaker’s voice in person.
During my time away from campus, I tried to blend into the community as best I could, though unfortunately, I never learned Indonesian. Most of my friends outside work were other English teachers who worked for private schools, and they always wanted to speak in English.
Meanwhile, on campus, students were encouraged to speak with me only in English. This made life interesting—and sometimes frustrating—in almost every public space where I needed to communicate in Indonesian, but could not.
EL Fellows are encouraged to plan events, and event planning has never really been a great skill of mine. Still, I was able to put together a reading and speaking competition called Reading Expo, with the help of Angela Potts, another fellow who was visiting Pontianak. Whenever Indonesian students agree to participate in something that is not required, it’s important to acknowledge their work with a certificate. Only the best performers actually got prizes—which of course, were books in English.
Before leaving for my fellowship, I had been an outreach worker for my local public library, which included visiting schools on a bookmobile. One goal I didn’t get to work toward as much as I would have liked was encouraging more collaboration between the local public library and the university’s English teacher training program, though I did get to ride on a bookmobile in Borneo and introduce a few people to each other who might not have met before. I felt this was an important goal, since second language reading remains an area of opportunity for young adults to develop themselves academically in the community where I was serving.