I came to Indonesia shortly after completing my CELTA in the UK not really having any idea what to expect. I’d never travelled to Asia, or a developing country. My reasons for coming were that after a lot of research, Indonesia seemed like an excellent place to travel and EF seemed like a good school with which to get a lot of experience with a solid support network to back you up.
Plus the pictures of all the Balinese temples and rice paddies on Google Images looked nice.
After 18 months I’ve taught kids as young as 3 or 4 and have traveled out of Surabaya to small businesses in neighbouring towns to teach groups of absolute beginners in their workplaces. I’ve planned complete conversation courses from scratch and seen a marked improvement in all of my students lesson by lesson. My resume looks a lot better than it did a year ago!
Throughout I’ve had great support from fellow teachers, senior teachers and directors of studies who have always been there to lend a hand, suggest an activity or clarify a grammar point I had to go and teach. Coming here fresh off the CELTA, I still had a lot to learn, and still do! The pressures and strains of living in a chaotic city half the way around the world are thankfully lightened by the managers and support staff. Rent, bills, visas and residency permits are all handled so all you really need to do is put money aside to eat, travel and enjoy yourself. Saving is realistically possible, although whether or not the exchange rate makes that worthwhile is up to you.
The first thing you read about Surabaya in the Lonely Planet guide to Indonesia is that it is a difficult city to love. I’d agree to some extent, although after a while it can certainly become quite comfortable. The EF house I lived in was in a nice neighborhood, and just a short bike ride from the school I worked at. We had all the mod-cons, AC, hot water, internet. Very civilized! There are seemingly countless air-conditioned malls dotted around the city where you can find pretty much anything you could get at home and a few pseudo western bars and restaurants that no doubt you’ll be invited to come and check out within your first few weeks. You can approximate your life back home pretty closely if that’s really what you want to do.
My favorite Indonesian food is Nasi Goreng, (a unique fried rice) and as soon as I’d had some from a warung guy on my street I was hooked. You can eat very well and very cheaply here if you spend the time to learn the basics of Bahasa Indonesia, (which thankfully is very simple and easy to learn.) Other highlights were Sate Ayam and Sate Kambing – skewers of meat in a spicy peanut sauce served, as with everything else on this side of the globe – with sticky white rice. Everyone you see and speak to on your nightly forays out to get food will be excited to see you and ask you questions that you likely won’t understand at first, but take the time and you’ll find Indonesian people are charming and extremely friendly.
On weekends in the city, teachers will often arrange to meet up at a swimming pool, in one of the malls or in one of EF’s shared houses to hang out. Internet is easy to get hold of here, and most of the shared houses already have a connection set up so that’s always open to you. The connection speed is usually just okay and frequently patchy, if you plan on gaming with friends back home you should know the latency is going to be a problem connecting with European or American servers.
When you do get some time off though, and the 15 days leave you get along with a plethora of national holidays allow plenty of that, you’ll find that traveling is where Indonesia really shines. In a little over 18 months I’d been all over East Java, climbed volcanoes on three day hikes, been all over Bali, toured Lombok on a rental bike and visited tropical islands and ancient sites like Boropodur temple. Really, there is so much to see and do here that it’s easy to understand why some teachers never want to leave. I highly recommend getting a bike and learning how to ride it. There really is nothing like riding three hours out of Surabaya up to Bromo with a good friend.
If ever I come back, (which I hope I will,) I’d have to go and see Lake Toba on Sumatra, one of the world’s largest lakes, the orangutans at the reserves in Kalimantan, I’d like to take a boat-ride out to see the islands further to the East. The list goes on. Fully expect to spend a year here, then be amazed when you look at a map of Indonesia and realize that you’ve only just scratched the surface.
EF Surabaya’s recruitment process is generally very good. After two skype interviews where I got to ask as many questions as I could, I was given the e-mail addresses of two teachers I could ask anything else I wanted. Finally a date was set, and I flew to Singapore to arrange my working visa and then on to Surabaya where I was welcomed at the airport and driven to my house where a welcome package awaited me. I did find it confusing as to why I needed to go to Singapore to meet a man to arrange my visa to work in Indonesia, however the whole process is very easy and it’s an excellent excuse to spend an evening looking around Singapore itself which is well worth the extra bit of jet-lag!
Overall, I’d say if it all sounds good, go for it. The money isn’t great internationally but here you’ll feel very well off. I’d frequently eat at restaurants three nights a week, go on week-long holidays at the drop of a hat, would go out for perhaps a few too many drinks with friends and never felt short for money. On the balance, you get a good balance between work, travel and regular social life.
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