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Teaching around the World: Interviews - Teaching in Indonesia

Following on from our Reflections on Teaching Abroad series of articles, the Teaching around the World interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we will be speaking to an English Language Teaching professional about their experience of living and working as an English teacher in a specific country. The interviews will be available in two formats: an audio link for you to listen to or a summarised transcript of the audio.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures. 

Teaching in Indonesia

Bill Farquharson interviews Rebecca Curry

Rebecca with Young Learners in Indonesia

This interview is conducted by Bill Farquharson with Rebecca Curry on her experiences of teaching in Indonesia. Rebecca Curry works at Wits Language School in the English as a Foreign Language unit as a language teacher.
To listen to the audio recording of the interview, click here. Or read the transcript of the interview below. 

How did you get into teaching English abroad? 
I’ve always been interested in travelling, so after completing teacher training in Budapest I was really interested in teaching English as a foreign language to foreigners in their own home countries.

How long have you been teaching for? 
For about 6 years

When did you live and work in Indonesia?
I arrived in Indonesia in October 2006 and arrived back in South Africa about 2 months ago

Ok, so about 5 years?
Yup, that’s correct.

I assume you enjoyed it there?
Yes, I did, very much so

How did you find your teaching job there?
Very easy to begin with because the people were so welcoming and friendly, and of course, it was my first teaching job, and there were difficulties at times, but everyone was so helpful that you got by, and I really enjoyed it.

What school or organisation did you work for?
It was a private language school called ‘Celt’ and it was based on the second largest city on the Island of java called Surabaya.

Ok, so you were on an Island, great, how does one find a job like that?
The Internet!

What was it like to live in Indonesia? 
Hot! This was perfect for someone like me because I don’t like cold weather, so I enjoyed a tropical climate 365 days of the year. And like I said before, the people were just so lovely it was easy to make friends and easy to live there.

Sunset over the Ocean in Indonesia

It was hot… but lovely people. What was the cost of living like?
That was probably one of the best things; it was from cheap to affordable. Umm, with a teacher’s salary you’re earning enough to eat out and travel, and see and do different things pretty much every weekend

Great and how much would you say the average EFL teacher could expect to earn? 
I’d say starting from $1000 a month, plus you are able to pick up private students for extra money.

That sounds fantastic, if it provides a decent standard of living?
It does, I lived like a queen.

Can you describe one thing you love, perhaps one thing you hate about Indonesia?
I loved the food, it’s very spicy, colourful and variable, but the one thing I hated was the pollution, it is a very dirty country. But there are so many other things that make up for it that I could live with it.

And did the pollution affect you personally at all, or was it just ugly?
No, it was just ugly, I was never sick, but it’s just not pleasant to see. It’s still a developing country, they’re still ‘getting there’ nothing has really been implemented yet…
Yeah, when I was in Vietnam I got a similar sense that pollution wasn’t really top of the agenda. 
No, it’s employment and things like that.

Do you have a funny/strange/scary experience to share from Indonesia? 
Not one that stands out at the moment, but one thing I did find amusing was for the 5 years I lived there I was constantly called ‘Mister’ because in the Indonesian language they don’t distinguish between male and female. So, yeah, I was always ‘Mister’.

Mr. Rebecca?
Yeah, Mr. Rebecca, I was never able to upgrade to Miss or Mrs.

Would you recommend Indonesia to other EFL teachers?
I certainly would, it was a great experience, you learn so much about yourself, as well as the culture, religion, and the way of life in Indonesia, which is very diverse as well. And all of the friends I met there, the other teachers who lived there loved their jobs, and living there, so it’s top of the list.

What about language, how easy was it for you to, you know, fit it and get around, and even pick up some of the language?
Because we were in a city there were quite a few people who could speak English, so when I arrived I could go shopping for food and groceries and things like that. But as you start travelling out of the city you realize how few people can speak English, and it’s a matter of sink or swim so you have to learn the language quite quickly, and fortunately it’s very easy. A very, very easy language

That’s good news…
And if you put it into practice, it’s great.

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching abroad? 
In general I think you have to be very open minded and adaptable, and I think you need to be respectful of the different cultures, traditions and religions, in each country that you’re living in, and hence you have to be adaptable.

Rebecca, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences of teaching in Indonesia, it does sound like a wonderful place, maybe when I can afford to, I’ll head out there myself.