Monday, December 3, 2012

Work work work

Blogging from work so I don't have the internet speed to upload any pictures, although I have finally managed to get some pictures from my first 2 months here up on Facebook, though I also have a number of really interesting videos that I am still trying to find an internet connection fast enough to upload.

Little by little, I can feel my language skills improving, and with that comes greater confidence as far as approaching people.  My feelings definitely change from day to day but today was definitely an "up" day.

I spent over an hour this morning chatting helping a student who was having difficulty with concentration calculations.  I was really proud of myself for being able to explain the procedure for calculating how much pesticide to add to how much water to make a solution of a certain percentage to add to crops, completely in Indonesian, though with the help of a dictionary to be sure.

I have now created a website and uploaded 3 years worth of the biannual faculty journal publication.  I suggested it would be a good idea to try to get a link to the journal site from the main university website, but I was told that the university website went down about 5 months ago and has yet to be resurrected, so that was a no-go.  I am working on translating the abstracts from the most recent edition of the journal from Indonesian to English before uploading those as well.  Over the past week or so, I have also been working together with the head and assistant head of the department to put together an evaluation scheme for the assistant lecturers in the faculty.

Here in Indonesia, the title of "Professor" is quite difficult to gain.  A Professor is someone who has their PhD, and has spent between 10 and 15 years lecturing doing top notch research, taken on and graduated numerous grad students, etc etc.  It is the absolute highest education achievement one can attain.  Most lecturers have their Masters or Doctoral degrees, but have not yet earned the title of Prof.  Most lecturing and researching staff here at the university are given the title "Dosen" instead, which is one that also comes with it's fair share of respect.  I find that people are quite taken aback when I say I am lecturing in the faculty of agriculture, because that also makes me a dosen. The next question is almost always an incredulous Umur berapa? "How old are you?".  I almost always find a way to avoid answering, as another aspect of the culture here is that respect given is often heavily predicated on how old you are.  The elderly are highly venerated and can pretty much run wild through the streets if they feel like it (thus far the vast majority appear not to, but still) and nobody would say at thing out of respect.  While I do like the culture of respect here, it does put me at a disadvantage as far as my age goes.  My social position is an interesting one:

Being foreign puts me ahead
Being well educated puts me ahead
Being black puts me behind*
Working as a dosen puts me ahead
Being on the younger side puts me behind
Being a man puts me ahead

I'm sure there are many other factors I'm missing but you get the idea.

*As a black person I am lower in status than a white person would be.  People from Flores tend to have skin on the darker side (some as dark as my skin), and I am also sometimes mistaken for someone from Papua, another island in Indonesia where there is a sizeable black population. Like in many other countries, light skin is highly prized here, so you have an interesting situation where people from elsewhere in Indonesia tend to look down on "darker-skinned" islands like Flores. I also get the distinct sense that people from Flores tend to look down their noses at people from Papua.  Despite unity being a central value in Indonesia, this country is still deeply divided in many, many ways.  I also find my skin color to be advantageous often as well, because it helps me blend in here far better than if I had white skin, but it makes explaining the fact that I am in fact Canadian and not African immeasurably more difficult.  It also doesn't help that the other foreigner in town is also black and from Africa.  In short, people are very, very confused and I can hardly blame them as my identity isn't exactly straightforward.

Anyway, as of last year, my faculty (agriculture) was the first in the University to go through the process of hiring "Assistant dosens", recent graduates of the faculty who's job it is to assist the dosens with lecturing, marking, running practical sessions and assist students, in much the same role as a Teaching Assistant at a university in North America.  As this is the first batch, we are really blazing a trail and there is a strong desire to do things properly and establish a protocol for other faculties to follow.  Coming up with an evaluation scheme has been interesting though quite challenging as dealing with assessment categories like "Takes ininiative when appropriate" and "Follows policies and teaching procedures of the faculty and University" are really stretching my Indonesian to say the least.

I am sleeping better here than I ever have before though, as there is not a day where I am not exhausted by 11 and ready to flop into bed.  Being woken by a chorus of the 6am call to prayer and a trillion noisy roosters every morning is also a strong incentive to turn in early.


  1. My favourite part of this post is the mental image of wanton, elderly Indonesians creating chaos in the streets. :)

    It's also interesting to hear about the social dynamics and how you fit in as a foreigner.

  2. There's nothing like being transplanted to make one reflect on one's own identity! At first, being away from home can make it seem clearer, but I'm not sure the clarity lasts.... and perhaps that's a good thing on the whole. As a veteran of several extended periods away from home, you may have your own views on this.

    Love Aunt Mary

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