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January 30, 2017

Alumna shares insights on teaching abroad

On a U.S. Department of State fellowship, Casey Moorman (’09, B.A., Special Education with ESOL endorsement; ’13, M.Ed., Reading Education) spent 10 months teaching English in Indonesia.

Moorman, who was inducted into the FGCU Alumni Association’s Soaring Eagle Society in 2015, was one of only 165 American citizens selected for the 2015-16 English Language Fellow Program. Fellows must demonstrate significant experience teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and a commitment to the field of English language teaching and learning.

Casey Moorman
Casey Moorman

The English Language Fellow Program is the premier opportunity for highly qualified TESOL professionals to enact meaningful and sustainable changes in the way that English is taught abroad. Through projects developed by U.S. embassies in more than 80 developing countries, fellows work directly with local teachers, students and educational professionals to enhance the quality of English language instruction offered at universities and other academic institutions.

Prior to going abroad, Moorman had been teaching English at Bonita Springs Middle Center for the Arts; she previously taught students with learning disabilities in Immokalee and taught English for a year in China.

Moorman answered some questions via email about her experiences in Indonesia, where she taught at Bogor Agricultural University, Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB).

What’s the community like there?

Bogor is a suburb of Jakarta, the nation’s capitol, and it is known as the rainy city of Indonesia. When I think of Bogor, I think of macet (traffic), motorcycles, angkots (public transportation by mini-bus) and rain. IPB is considered one of Indonesia’s top universities. Students are friendly yet timid. For some of them, I am the first foreigner from the western world they’ve spoken to.

What was the lifestyle like? Was it been a big cultural adjustment for you?

If you’re not adjusting to the culture, you’re not traveling right. I came with an open mind and was eager to learn as much as possible. Indonesians are friendly, smile a lot and are very patient. The people I meet are curious about America. They haven’t been exposed to many foreigners, and most of their knowledge comes from what they see in media. They ask a lot of questions and love to take pictures with you. It is common to be asked personal questions: How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? How much money do you make?

Like America, Indonesia is very diverse. Even the simple act of shaking hands can uncover a lot of cultural differences within Indonesia. For religious reasons, some people will shake your hand and others won’t. Some people will shake your hand and then touch their heart to show that they will pray for you. Other times, women will shake your hand and then kiss both cheeks. Children will take an adult’s hand and press it against their forehead or cheek to show respect. Selecting food may have been my biggest challenge in the beginning. I lived on instant noodles the first couple weeks because I thought it was a safe option. In reality I was really missing out on all the delicious food. My personal favorite dishes are rendang (coconut-marinated beef), nasi goreng (fried rice) and pisang goreng (fried banana). Since a lot of Western products are not available, I attempt to cook with the local ingredients. Rice is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sambal (chile sauce) is on the side of most, if not all dishes. And forks and spoons are optional.

The lifestyle is also very different. Getting dressed for work is challenging at times. As a woman in a predominantly Muslim country, it is vital to dress conservatively. Selecting comfortable and conservative attire appropriate for a professional setting—while also keeping the hot and humid climate and lack of air conditioning in mind—has been overwhelming at times. I try to cover my ankles and wrists as much as possible. Additionally, transportation has been a challenge. Waiting for hours in city traffic is common. I’d be in a taxi for seven hours in Jakarta. I made the most of the situation and came prepared with a book and a fully charged laptop. The traffic situation also makes for a lot of pollution. Common habits like burning trash and littering have also been challenging to understand.

What was your “typical” student like?

Most of my time was spent at IPB, the agriculture university. My other time was spent conducting workshops for Indonesian lecturers who teach English in Indonesia. At the university, I worked with postgraduate students interested in publishing their research in English. I also conducted regular workshops for the English language professors at IPB. All my students were working professionals.

What were some of the biggest challenges and rewards?

Honestly, I was intimidated when I first started. I was a classroom teacher months before, and then I’m presenting to teachers at international conferences. Lack of knowledge of the Indonesian language made some things difficult but motivated me to learn. At my site there was a lack of technology like Wi-Fi, computers and email, yet my job was to introduce the latest teaching methods to meet students’ needs. This was quite a challenge. Many of the professors I worked with were aware of theories but had trouble effectively putting them into practice—but when we could work together to make adjustments, the rewards were wonderful.

The majority of my students were very focused and highly motivated to publish their research in English, since they need to publish two articles in an international journal in order to graduate with a Ph.D. It was very rewarding to work with such focused students. Students had taken English classes since elementary school but primarily focused on grammar, reading and writing (for assessments). With this style of language education, it makes it extra challenging to help them achieve their goals.

Was this a life-changing experience?

I’ve traveled and lived in other countries in the past but really didn’t know what to expect before I came here. As I continue to travel, I am reminded more and more how fortunate we are, in the U.S., to have access to clean water, food and a quality education. The world truly is our classroom; I learn everyday. As a traveling teacher, I’ve learned to remain patient, grateful, maintain a sense of humor, practice a new language, embrace differences, to smile more and worry less. I’ve been stripped of all modern conveniences and access to educational resources, and have embraced the lack of resources and started to plan differently. I do feel fortunate to have had this opportunity and share and build upon my strengths.