Let’s set the scene first. Back in July last year I received the offer of a job at Bawah Reserve, a luxury 5 star resort hotel on a small remote island in Indonesia called Bawah!. It’s pretty remote, an 80 minute sea plane from Batam or 10 hours on a boat.... Our closest neighbour is about 35 miles away I believe.
I officially started at the end of August and off I went, my life boxed up to either take or leave behind in Singapore (thanks to a friend) and there I was living on an island in the middle of the Natuna Sea working in an industry I knew nothing about other than as a guest (although not to 5 star places I hasten to add....) and working with mainly Indonesians.
To set the scene a tad more, my job - to teach Pilates - easy lah! To work with guests - also easy lah, to teach zentangle style art to guests - fun, and to teach staff English...... Here I shall take a moment to tell a story.
Imagine a room - the ‘training room’ and also the local mosque. Long and rectangular, one wall filled with shuttered windows, the others solid and no chairs or tables. My classroom. Picture a Tuesday evening, one of my first classes to the landscaping and maintenance crew most of whom do not speak much English. Then there’s me with very little Bahasa Indonesian, standing in front of 24 guys all willing to learn. It’s like being on stage, all of a sudden the comic, actor, singer and dancer in me start performing. The few words of Indonesian I did know came in handy along with manic hand signals and a lot of laughter.
Then it was time for me to step into the classroom again, this time as a learner as I signed myself up for 60 hours intensive Bahasa Indonesian classes. Intensive - 6 hours a day for 10 days although I compressed mine into 9 and did 7 hours some days.
You are more than welcome to think I am crazy.
Here I sit typing this at the end of those 60 hours, having spent a few days free from lessons but speaking the language most of the time.
Not bad hey!!
It all sounds rosy so far right, off she went with a trumpity trump to Yogyakarta to learn. Easy Peasy lemon squeezy.
I shall stop your thinking right there... I cried some elephant tears, with a few howls thrown in for good measure and dramatic effect. After 7 days I became my 6 year old.
Please feel free to laugh - it is funny!! And I am Super Glad for my melt down - but I go too fast, one thing I am good at!
The course was excellent, taught by the Direct Method which means the teachers only speak Bahasa to you. Kinda makes you learn and frustrated! I had 3 different teachers, actually 4 - one needed a break from me... LOL Nah!!! She fell ill for a few days so another stepped in ( I think I petrified her though...). Day 1, 2 and 3 - fab knew some of it, had heaps of vocabulary scribbled in my book, and felt quite good. Happy to have a day off though and go hike and explore...
Monday - okay so far my dear reader. I did like Monday.
Tuesday - not bad, my age regressed a bit I will admit. Question structure - WTF.
Wednesday - a break for batik class - bliss. Afternoon lesson - 6 year old appears. Yup I lost it, teary eyes and a desire to not show it, sobbing silent child inside. A relatively adult discussion about how I was not doing well with grasping the concept of questions and how they are formed - I NEED STRUCTURE and oh my god - grammar......!! Noted by teacher, homework to write the form of questions. Homework done, sort of and the next morning breathe...... breathe some more...
Thursday - class begins, start going over homework but stop - passed a handout to fill in the question to the given answer. 10 minutes later Lisa is her 6 year old sat outside the classroom on a bale, openly crying and wondering why it was so bloody hard when it really wasn’t....
A-ha : the joy of not being able to do something and get it. High expectations and desires and complete frustration at my own inability.
I did and didn’t want to continue!!
Bless the teacher, out she comes, looks at me like only a teacher or Mother to an upset child can and gave me a hug. More tears...
Seriously - I was so overwhelmed and had so many words buzzing in my head and wondering how I was ever going to have a conversation. I’d gone for a walk that morning and taken a wrong turn ( no surprise there really). I had a feeling it was wrong but as I walked I thought “Could I ask a passer by how to get back to the Homestay”...... I don’t think I could. That was a problem, to be in a country, in the middle of fields, along a mainish road and not know whether I could ask to get back to my home after 7 days of learning..... If I hadn’t had lessons, no problem - but I had.
Sigh - to myself, to the little one in me and to the big one who at least was able to let out what she was feeling inside... I felt a bit sorry for the teacher - how was she going to help me?? Another hug, dried eyes and back to the room. We got on with it and I simply felt better for letting it out but still tender/raw/unbalanced.
That’s what it’s like to be out of ones comfort zone and I knew it and also knew I had to embrace it.
The day went and I did no Bahasa that night, I needed a break. Luckily Friday was a field trip the whole morning!! YAY less learning... I know I know.
I did some googling though about adult tantrums. We all know kids have them and then at some point they kinda stop. But did you know it’s okay to have them? I KNOW!! Permission granted to stomp ones feet, have a whine and let out the feelings inside. A BIG YAY. Basically it helps to get rid of the stress, clear your mind and release pent up emotions. We all kinda know that but do we do it? Not saying in the middle of a management meeting it’s the thing to do, but I’ve found in meetings when I get passionate or highly charged about things I’m asked to bring it down....
What’s wrong with showing emotions about whatever is happening? When a kid does it it takes them about 10 minutes maybe and then done and dusted and move on. Isn’t that better than stewing on it for - well who knows how long??
I say a big YAY.
How did the rest of the course go?
Great - I spoke better, got things clearer - questions almost there and I simply felt happier, calmer, less pressure and more confident.
Weird huh? Or is it?
Saturday was my last day and as much as I was glad it was I was also sad.
Now Sunday was a very interesting day. I went on a day trip to Temples and the city. The driver was one of the drivers for the school who picked us up many mornings and we’d chatted (in Bahasa Indonesia) but not a lot - the niceties. What can I tell you it was one of the best days ever - we laughed, spoke about some interesting topics and managed to converse pretty damn well for two people who couldn’t speak the others language fluently.
The next day I had a tour of the city in a motor bike car thingy... no idea what it is but you get the gist. Again fun conversation with the driver who told me my Bahasa was good....
I have found myself speaking in my own head in it and reminding myself of words.
Can I ask questions? On the whole yes - except for bagaimana - it really bugs me!!!!
I (of course) have a way to go but it worked, the method worked and being in the car for close to 12 hours and having to figure shit out was a huge learning for me. I feel more confident, less stressed about not knowing (getting it wrong is ok - not knowing is different) and want to speak in my new language as often as I can!!
So after all that, what did I learn about myself and about learning and teaching???
1. I am not good at not knowing or not getting it. My obstacle to learning....
2. It is hard to learn, especially as we age and it takes heaps of balls to try, but braving that fear is totally worth it.
3. I like teaching, there is a logic and a puzzle element to it and that I fund fun!
4. Spending time with someone as I did that Sunday and having to figure out how to communicate is a big learning for communication in general. We had to stop and make sure the other person did understand and not simply assume they did AND admit when we didn’t. If we all did that more in the same language it would be so much better!!
5. As frustrated as I got, I like learning
6. Bahasa Indonesia is as complicated as it is simple
7. Learning most certainly is outside our comfort zone.
8. I am hard on myself and forget to have fun and enjoy the process sometimes. I’m okay with it but also need to acknowledge when I am and ask if it’s worth it as some situations do require it.
9. Teaching and learning take patience - as a teacher I am, not quite so as a learner.
10. I have gained more insights and empathy to those I teach whatever it is I might be teaching….
Life is about growth and to grow requires challenge. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about movement - an area that is my comfort zone. I live and work and now begin to speak outside my zone - and I love it…..
Thanks for reading to the end - I hope you found it useful and please embrace your fears…..
Sent from my iPad