Category Archives: Teaching


“And remember, too, you can stay at home, safe in the familiar illusion of certainty. Do not set out without realizing that ‘the way is not without danger. Everything good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things.’ It will cost you your innocence, your illusions, your certainty” (Kopp, 1976).

“Home,” of course, should actually be taken in both the literal and metaphorical senses. Getting yourself out of your comfort zone doesn’t really necessitate moving to Southeast Asia, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. So interesting to me, too, how much the idea of getting on the path means letting go of some innocence: if my path is self-discovery or self-realization (whatever that even means) through the emotional and spiritual journeys that started in my young adulthood, there’s no question whether a loss of innocence occurred. Mostly here I’m thinking about the loss of idealism I experienced during Peace Corps. It’s easier, in many ways, to be more at home in idealism than in realism. The cost is, arguably, a jolt to one’s own sense of meaningfulness and importance, but what’s gained, maybe, is maturity and vision (in the sense of perspective). Not that I’m mature and understand much, though.

I’m very tired today. We’ve been fixing up the house and organizing things. I think I’ll be able to start living there at the end of the week… and I decided today that I’ve got to throw myself a housewarming party. I think I’ll make some pasta.

Tomorrow’s the start of the semester, both at UMM and with the online tutoring gig I’ve got going on. It’s going to be a rough and exciting week, I think. Trying to hold on to Kate and SK’s optimism that once I establish the routines and get my home furnishings in order, everything else will fall into place.

What’s most exciting to me about this semester is that I’m “just” working! No hot and heavy academia stuff (though I’ve got some goals for myself on that front regardless), just focusing on tasks, teaching, and bringing home the bacon. It feels good to have what feels to be a lighter load; I think it seems “easier” to me since I’m not putting any intense pressure on myself, or at least not pressuring myself in the same insane way I do when I’m doing academic work. I’m in a magical place of feeling very competent and confident in my ability to do what needs to be done and not having to constantly judge myself or worry that everyone is thinking poorly of me. So, really, I’m back in a comfort zone, then, aren’t I? But maybe not; “just” working and seeing where it takes me, going out into the world without much of a concrete plan, and allow myself the luxury of doing things slowly and focusing on pleasure, achievable tasks, and mental health (self-care!) aren’t things I normally do so much… to my own detriment, I think.

Well, my eyeballs are about to fall out of my head from tiredness. Three for three on the daily blogging thing! Feeling great about that! #babysteps

❤ Sam


real smiles

The English language workshop crew at the end of the day last Monday. I love this picture. Every single lovely person is giving a real, real smile, and it warms my heart! Even little Kiki in the corner there is thrilled. From L to R, clockwise: me, Grace (ETA), Nahal (PCV), Ferry (AmCor), Camille (PCV), Sarah (ETA), Heru (AmCor), Obbie (photographer & AmCor student staff), and Kiki, there in the corner (AmCor student staff). Still feelin’ warm and fuzzy when I remember this fab collab. Great work, friends!!

influence, influence

something new: i’m tutoring a college sophomore in English, at my house. he’s an amazing kid from the next town over from my village. he wants to become a veterinarian in korea or the states, so his tefl scores need to be high. luckily i can help him out… for free.* to protect the the innocent, i’ll call him the kid.

when i first arrived here, lots of students came by asking for private English lessons. they’d hear a rumor that a foreigner was here and assume that i’d be offering or selling lessons. at that time i was very averse to the idea; i was so busy adjusting and working on lesson planning for school that i couldn’t afford to spend time that way. i couldn’t see the efficiency of working with one or two students for even a few short hours a week—i was focused on giving group lessons or starting English clubs so that i could reach more kids.  plus, i needed evenings to myself, for downtime.

but now, things are different. this kid, my student, showed up one evening at my front door. he requested lessons for the months of his summer vacation from college. he didn’t use any Indonesian during the conversation—something the others didn’t do—even when he had to struggle a little bit for Norm to find the file. he had a specific idea of what he wanted to study as well as a clear idea of why he needed to improve his English. he came to my house three times before he caught me at home.

this was back in June. since i knew Ramadan was coming and the lessons would be temporary, and because the kid seemed very with it and motivated,
i agreed to teaching the private lessons. i had been looking for a way to fill my extra hours since extra-curriculars hadn’t yet started at school (still haven’t). i had also come to realize that working one-on-one with somebody isn’t any less valuable than working with a group, though it may not fit the ideal model of sustainable development in the pc sense. i agreed to help, acceding that a few hours a week of extra English practice could open some very big doors for this kid.**

the kid rides his motorcycle over to my house a few days a week, in the afternoons, and we work on conversation, grammar, and vocabulary. we use the grammar bible—azar—and I share magazines, science articles, and books. it’s been lovely getting to know him. his English is already great; besides the English teachers at my school, his language is the best in town. we’re learning lots and i’m getting the chance to teach some higher level grammar stuff (noun clause? let me look that up real quick).

it’s so strange to think of myself as occupying a big place in a young person’s life, which i’m sure i do being for many of them the first foreigner they’ve ever met. even stranger is to think of how i’m (potentially, negatively, positively) influencing these kids. of course, as teachers, we do indeed make impressions on our students, but teachers with whom we have very close one-on-one relationships are all the more influential. my two flute instructors, Stephanie and Carmen, were a couple of the most influential people during my adolescence; they taught my private lessons. i can confidently say that if i hadn’t known Stephanie, i would not have moved toIndiana. that’s a huge amount of life-changing influence. those two ladies had an enormous impact on me in other ways, too,, more so than most if not all of my high school teachers (and my teachers’ influence was considerable).

it’s hubristic to think that i’m influencing this kid in the same way as Stephanie did me, though nice to think that there’s a possibility of it, or a possibility of having a small fraction of that type of positive influence. i know the value of having in your life an older person who’s a young adult, not too much older than you, who’s a good role model, a source of inspiration, someone different than you to help expand your mind. someone still relatively young and hip.*** given the range of our topics of conversation—colonialism, pop culture, plastic surgery, American and Indonesian history, love and marriage, genealogy, religion—i’m sure he’s learning more than just English.

peace corps volunteers can have huge influence. that’s undeniable. one of the pcvs in my group, luke, met a pcv in his small village inPolandwhen he was a child. luke moved to the states when he was fifteen and always remembered that pcv. now, he’s a volunteer himself. of course, that’s a horribly abridged version of the story, but you see.

so, i wouldn’t have moved toIndianaif it weren’t for Stephanie. back to me and the kid. what if this kid gets a motivation boost from me, studies English until he’s nutty, passes the tefl test with flying colors (because he’s only got a short way to go before his ability is high enough for this to happen), goes to korea to study and work, and then says he wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for me? even the possibility of that happening—however slim or great—is a huge motivation for me. i know how amazing it is to achieve the dream of working and living abroad. if i could help one kid do this, or be the final push he needs towards ensuring that he makes it happen for himself, i’d consider this pc service a job well done.

of course, that would be a very concrete piece of evidence that i have influenced my students. thinking about the tiny ways in which i influence them, especially
the very young ones, is strange. like, realizing fifteen years after the fact the ways that babysitters or older cousins positively or negatively influenced me, or remembering the sense of loss when one of them faded out of my life. and what do i remember about them? i told lauren once about how i remembered a lady named sandee, a college-aged supervisor at my elementary day care. i remember she had short blonde hair and wore grey sweatshirts a lot, and could make neat sound effects. weird, huh? but i remember her being very positive and loving, a good force, a cool role model. did i aspire to be a blonde, sweatshirt-clad voice actor? obviously no. there was something more subtle, something less easy to pinpoint.

what will the kids i teach here remember about me, after i disappear from their daily lives? will any of them end up doing something great and saying—like i do
about Stephanie—if it weren’t for sam, i wouldn’t be where i am today? or will they remember me as influencing them in more subtle ways? either way, that’s sustainability, creating positive change that lasts long after i’ve gone. this is why the relationships i have with these kids are the most important part of my life here. of course, it makes me feel like i’m working all the time and pressuring myself to perform, to go outside and interact when i want (and sometimes need) to stay in and relax, but… in the end, what’s better than hanging out with kids all day? it’s good for the kids and good for the soul, and it’s the real path to sustainable change.^



*i did take the new harry potter off of his computer, though. and requested that he help me teach les to the little kids. promoting volunteerism! excellent!

**some of the kids who came to my door back when i first arrived could barely speak any English. i wonder what the ethical debate would look like about refusing to spend large amounts of one-on-one time with students who have studied for years but have no grasp of basic English versus jumping at the chance to spend large amounts of time with someone who has advanced skills in the language. of course, very big doors could be opened for any Indonesian kid who becomes proficient in English, and i’d like to help them all. but based on the pc framework, i don’t have to give private lessons, and anyways, can tutoring one student be considered sustainable development work (it is direct skills transfer)? does this fit into the project goal of working with youth to help improve their employability? does it count if it’s one kid? i can probably get the kid closer toward his absolutely achievable goal in the short amount of time i’m here than if i was starting with someone else from square one, someone who may be less motivated or capable to continue studying on their own once i’m gone, someone who may want to work abroad but would need to put more work into their English than a couple extra hours a week. is it justifiable for me to have turned the others away but to have accepted the kid as my student? if the others had shown up again now that i’ve adjusted and have extra time, would i teach them? maybe. bottom line: tutoring him is better than not tutoring him, and my time is available.

***i wear chucks now.

^coming soon: what is change, who’s changing what under whose terms, what are the positive and negative changes i’m making and experiencing, and who says what i’m doing is right at all? i’m still not convinced that this peace corps thing isn’t some weird sort of neo-colonialism or feel-good political insurance policy. stand by!


i’ve been writing a few little paragraphs here and there, but nothing worth posting. the new school year and the new (positive) feeling of the pressure of time have been keeping me very busy, as have our mid-service conference, preparing to take the gre, working on essays for various applications, and lots of delicious reading. i’ve spent a fair amount of time preparing a few packages, letters, and post cards to send home, too, though i haven’t been able to get to the post office. here’s to this week.

my new students are fun though adjusting to the change has been tricky. the students are adapting to me and i’m still getting over the sadness of seeing last year’s kids move on. unfortunately, i haven’t even met all of my new students: we’re building two new classrooms and while we wait the 10th grade students i’m supposed to teach have been distributed amongst the other 10th grade classes, which i don’t teach. but my other sections are 11th graders, whom i’ve met and teach for all their English hours. getting to know them is nice. there’s an additional challenge of trying to read the kids and identify who may have special needs; there’s no real system of support for kids with special needs, at least in more rural areas of the country. as much as i disagree with some of the ways students with special needs are served in our country, a poor system is better than nothing, and the situation here seems a shame (from my perspective).

but there are positives. so far, everything about this new school year is easier than last year. it seems simple enough that year two would be easier, but it’s impossible to imagine accurately just how profound the difference is. i’ve been describing to some of the volunteers who experienced their first year of teaching last year that i feel just as green as if i hadn’t had any experience teaching in the states, especially in a formal setting; though i had a decent grasp on basics, co-teaching a new subject to an unfamiliar demographic was just as difficult as my first year. now, i’ve got more language, more good jokes to please indonesian teens, lesson plans to reflect on and adjust, and lots more motivation because i know what to expect. that’s the biggest difference—i feel so much more in control because i now have the foresight to understand that there’s little i can control beyond myself.

and then there are those good things on the horizon: workshops for teachers, textbook collaborations, English camps, a big leadership summit. feeling the pressure of nine months is a good way to focus rambunctious energies.

thusly i plod, loving and supporting the students and trying to stay patient with everyone else (including myself). please send me a little positivity so i can find the time and dedication to keep updating this for you.

xo. sam.

happy independence day, august 17

i know there’s good in him

War stories for my high-flying compatriots, those golden morning rays, walkers of history, sturdy cowboys in the sunset, my salty old dogs…

What on earth have I been up to this spring? Seems my time is structured away into doing my duties and keeping my head. Morning/afternoon routine still the same: wake up, go to school, come home, give lessons to loveable neighborhood mongrels. Actually, my after-school lessons have become increasingly frequent since the national exams. My high school students were on vacation while the seniors sat for the tests, so I spent a few days visiting local elementary schools (one state madrasah, one private madrasah, and one public elementary) and advertising my free English lessons. The entire third grade of the neighboring private madrasah is now my Wednesday afternoon lesson group. Great!

Evenings have been spent reading, drinking coffee with powdered milk (the newest probably-would-be-gross-if-i-ever-ate-it-the-states-but-i-am-so-deprived-of-“normal”-food-or-even-just-variation-since-i-basically-eat-rice-and-tempe-everyday-which-i-admit-i-like-but-it’s-hard-to-stomach-sometimes-and-it’s-real-repetitive-so-i-need-a-guilty-pleasure-like-oreos-or-peanut-butter-type addiction), watching basically any American TV show or movie from the last fifty years I could dream of. Who knew that by joining the Peace Corps I’d develop the best collection of TV and movies this side of the Pacific? Thanks, Noel and everyone else who wasn’t a jerk and brought an empty-hard-drived laptop (cough cough Sam cough). And by the way aren’t we lucky that we’re alive at this moment in history so we can enjoy the multifarious pleasures of the fruit of George Lucas’s mind…grapes? Eh, I thought I could make it work. Wine of the mind grapes? Grape jelly of the mind grapes?

May 1st approaches… the first day I have actively planned beginning a process that could lead to the ascertainment of The Next Move. Weird. Just got off the phone with Noel and we figure (or, I figure and force her to agree with me because otherwise we’d have to fight to the death and I’m not ready to accept that challenge because I would certainly be the “the death” part of that whole situation) this summer and fall is apply-for-stuff time, like the stuff we’re going to do next fall. My plan is basically the opposite of when I finished high school (when I applied to one college) and college (when I applied to one job) and when I finished at NMS (apply for one job): I’m going to apply for as many programs and projects and jobs as possible because I really have no idea what I’m going to do next. Something interesting should turn up!

Hey! My stepsister and stepbrother-in-law—what a mouthful—had their kid! A boy! First baby birthed by one of the magnificent four. I always said Kristen would have a kid before me… if she keeps this up she’ll have a few before I’ve even settled down. Go get ‘em, Perfect Ten!

Ok, enough for tonight. I promise to think about trying to be more diligent with this blog. I miss Diana a whole lot but so far I’ve been communicating with Noel more frequently since she’s gone, so… thank god Diana’s out of here, Noel and I can finally be together. Just kidding, Diana (though traipsing around Southeast Asia on an RPCV joyride, courtesy of taxpayer dollars—free from the stresses of PC Indo world—makes you fair game).

Uttini, ya’ll! Send me… your love beams. I’ll strum you a banjo tune, just listen real careful-like in the early mornin’ hours, ear to the east. Peace!


brothers, hold your arms


Sitting in the dark listening to Biggie, the electricity is dead. I sat on the porch and thought about how great it is to have no power and said thanks to the half-full laptop battery when I realized I was over it. I enjoy sitting with my host dad when the electricity is out but he is eating in the dark so I’m going to write a little bit of storytime.

I could just soliloquize about my students for this entire entry. We’ve been having a grand time—or at least I have, and for that I thank them. We spent most of January getting our package prepared to send to Laura at Northside. My students were so dedicated and excited to share… everything. This past few weeks has been our expressing love unit; we listened to a Stevie Wonder song and read and wrote some love poetry. Their poems are very teenaged and extremely titillating. I’m hoping to have some of them on the Right 2 Create blog in the next couple of days. If you end up reading them, please help me out by leaving comments (it will really encourage my kids).

PC Indonesia had a nice visit from our regional director and country desk officer last week. I’m on a committee of volunteers that went to Surabaya to welcome the guests, though the guests themselves picked me up at school. They had two giant white SUVs and quite a gang of folks, Indonesian and American. Unfortunately—fortunately?—the vehicles pulled into the central courtyard of my school. Hoosiers got nothing on the rubbernecks in Turi.

We’re all getting ready and excited for the new group to arrive in April. They’ve been having quite a lot of labored discussions on Facebook about preparations and expectations. We had five weeks to prepare and no resources in-country (no volunteers) and this group has a couple of months and very easy Internet access to us. Comparing experiences will be interesting.



These days are never what I expect them to be. I went to school this morning and my counterpart told me that one of my students had been in a motorcycle wreck yesterday and was still in the hospital. The class I was to teach first this morning is the class that the kid is in. Since the kids stay in the same class all day, they get really close as friends; the kids were real sad, as was I, and my counterpart.

I scrapped my lesson—which was on expressing sadness—and we made get well soon cards for the student. After my second and last class of the day, I went with a four other of teachers and four kids from class to visit the student in the hospital. He looked okay. He wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time of his wreck but fortunately didn’t have any severe head injuries; one of the bones in his right forearm was broken clean in half and he had had surgery yesterday. Who knows when he’ll be back in school or able to write again. Bummer. Brought back some bad memories of visiting one of my middle schoolers in the hospital in Indianapolis last year… a kid I had spent most of the year bending over backwards for put himself in a coma goofing around on a four-wheeler.

Anyways. My student will be okay. I sent a text message to Travis, who’s had numerous kids in wrecks this year, not all of which have been non-deadly. This was the first serious wreck a kid at my school has had, luckily; considering the way people drive in this country and how enough kids don’t wear helmets while riding their motorcycles, I’m extremely grateful and a little surprised that we made it almost through the school year without a serious injury (I’ve had kids coming to school bruised and bloody from motorcycle wrecks, but none of them have landed in the hospital until now).

Strange day. Get well soon, kid!