Last year I applied for an AYAD assignment in Indonesia. AYAD stands for Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development and puts skilled young Australians into developing countries where they can help to build the capacity of a local host organisation.
I had previous experience teaching English in Adelaide, on Christmas Island and in Indonesia. The assignment I found was a perfect fit – I would be working as an English language trainer at the investment coordinating board for the West Nusa Tenggara government (known locally as BKPM).
My office was located on the beautiful island of Lombok and my students were the public servants who work there. Lombok is an attractive location for foreign investment and there are many foreigners who regularly visit the office. My role was to improve the conversational and business English of the BKPM staff – so that they can be more effective in their interactions with English-speaking investors.
It was a challenging job at times. Working with the Indonesian public service is very different to working with a group of fee-paying students. Learning English is not the main goal of the staff – they are there to do their jobs. My English lessons were seen as a novelty; an added bonus; or sometimes – when things are very busy – an unwelcome distraction. Attendance fluctuated unpredictably and putting together any kind of class schedule was almost impossible.
Often it was a lesson in patience. Knowing that things rarely ever run on time helped me to relax a little and become more flexible. The locals call this jam karet which means ‘rubber time’.
Cultural factors also play a large part in the success of my teaching. In Indonesian culture a workplace is like a family. I have found that one of the most important parts of my job is simply socialising with my workmates. Sometimes having a chat over coffee is a good time to sneak in an English lesson too.
Life in Indonesia is great. The people are very friendly and welcoming. They have mastered the art of ‘hanging out’ here – called nongkrong – and they know how to have a good laugh. Being a white person is strange sometimes. In the remote areas you will get a lot of attention. But it is very easy to make people happy, and everyone loves posing for photos!
This assignment has been a very rewarding experience. I have learnt a lot about the local culture; I slowly picked up the local language; and I have made many great friends.
The ‘AYAD experience’ is something that I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in international development. It is a good chance to share your skills while learning from people in a completely different culture. Check out their website at www.ayad.com.au