The Republic of Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,000 islands that stretch from mainland Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea. The country's far-flung geography and many islands have historically ensured the development of incredible diversity among its peoples. Many larger islands served as waypoints for Indian, Arab, and Chinese traders dating back to at least the 7th century, and in these areas, cross-cultural influences remain strong. However, many less accessible societies have also developed independently from external influence. Thus, today, Indonesia is home to more than 700 living languages and an equally pronounced degree of cultural diversity.
Current Indo PCV's serve on Java, Indonesia's economic and political center. In terms of area, Java's 128,000 kilometers squared is comparable Florida. However, the island's advanced agriculture and rich, volcanic soils support an astonishing population of more than 135 million, or approximately 58% of the country's total population. Volunteers serving in Java are also able to witness and take part in an important period of national identification for both the country and its people. Although Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population, the vast majority of its people are committed to the tolerance and openness exemplified by "Pancasila," the nation's philosophical foundation, which calls for social justice, religious pluralism, just government, and democratic rule. As Indonesia continues to embrace and develop its recently reformed democracy (1998), the country has the potential to stand as a powerful political example both within Southeast Asia and beyond.
Peace Corps History in Indonesia
Peace Corps initiated its first program in Indonesia in 1963 and sent a total of 46 Volunteers to work in sports coaching and physical education over a three-year span. The program closed in 1965 through the mutual consent of the two governments against the backdrop of political unrest and concern for the safety and security of the Volunteers.
In October 2006, the Republic of Indonesia Government invited Peace Corps to send an assessment team to look into the feasibility of re-establishing a Peace Corps program. After a comprehensive assessment in 2007, the respective governments completed negotiations in November 2009 and a formal Memorandum of Understanding was signed on December 11, 2009. Peace Corps signed Implementing Arrangements with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Ministry of Education and Culture on June 15, 2011.
Peace Corps Indonesia focuses on high priority needs identified by the RI Government. At present, Peace Corps Indonesia supports the development of the education sector, with a project focusing on English teaching (TEFL) and teacher training.
Since the first 18 Volunteers arrived in March 2010 to teach English in Ministry of Education and Ministry of Religious Affairs schools and madrasahs, more than 200 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Indonesia. Initially Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) were placed in the province of East Java, and in 2012 Peace Corps expanded its presence to the province of West Java
Peace Corps Indonesia works closely with an inter-Ministerial Steering Committee, which includes the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS), the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, State Secretariat, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, other ministries, and Provincial Government representatives.
Peace Corps Indonesia is aiming to expand its program in FY 2016, and expecting a steady growth by 15 percent each year, having more than 200 Volunteers in country by FY 2019.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
All volunteers live with host families. Living with host families can initially be challenging however your host families will be integral in exposing and helping you better understand Indonesian culture, customs, and most importantly with community integration.
Peace Corps Staff, in collaboration with the selected school will find living arrangements that meet Peace Corps standards. Prior to site placements, there will be a brief interview in which you can discuss specific requests about your arrangements. All volunteers will live in homes with running water and electricity. You'll be provided with a bed, desk, and dresser. You will be given a small readjustment allowance to purchase any additional items you may need to make your new living situation more comfortable, including money for a bicycle.
Most volunteers will have access small family-operated shops that sell basic amenities, markets, post offices, internet cafes, and some form of public transportation (though that doesn't mean it's consistent).
In the home, it is most common that your host family will provide meals. Most Indonesian homes do not have laundry machines. Laundry will usually be hand-washed by the volunteer, however there are places in most neighborhoods that offer laundry services. As for bathrooms, most volunteers will be using squat toilets and taking bucket baths at least twice per day.
PCVs receive a comfortable monthly living stipend provided by Peace Corps. With this, a Volunteer pays their host family for their room, electricity, and water, as well as 3 meals a day (although this is optional).
It is possible for most PCVs to have internet in their homes, however most schools have WiFi. If a Volunteer's school does not have WiFi, warnets (Internet Cafes) are very common in Indonesia and cheap.
Generally most PCVs will come to find that they are living quite well with what they are given.
Pre-Service Training is an intense 10 week program that prepares volunteers to be successful in their final post. Indonesia’s PST consists of cross-cultural, language, TEFL, medical, and safety & security training. Because PC Indo is set up to be a Community Based Training program, trainees live in small villages and receive a large amount of training there. Trainees live with a host family in order to gain access to the language and community quickly and more fully. During PST, trainees are also required to teach at a practicum school (2 weeks) to learn about how Indonesian schools and classes are run. PST for the ID4-ID9 groups has been in the city of Batu, East Java.
Healthcare & Safety
Peace Corps provides all PCVs with adequate healthcare during training and throughout service. Upon arrival in Indonesia, the Peace Corps Medical Officer will equip you with a medical kit (a list will be posted soon) that can be refilled with anything you need at any time. There is no need to bring basic medicine from the States.
During training and throughout service you will participate in a number of detailed medical and safety sessions that will prepare you a variety of situations. Malaria and Dengue are endemic to Indonesia, and Volunteers will learn how to best prepare and guard against these. Volunteers are required to take a malaria prophylaxis throughout their entire service. Other commons illnesses are diarrhea and infections. Overall, many Volunteers do not have major health issues during their service in Indonesia.
If you have any concerns, you are encouraged to contact the Medical Officer, who remains on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Cultural and Work-Related Challenges
Diversity of site placements and Volunteers’ personalities guarantees that each PCV has a unique, in-country experience. That said, both staff and Volunteers respect each trainee’s right to “figure out” Indonesia for him or herself, to write his or her own story. The list of “cultural and occupational challenges” included here, then, has been simplified. Its contents target only some of the broadest obstacles we face as Indonesian PCVs.
- “Jam Karet” ("Rubber Time")
- Conservative dress expectations both in and outside of school
- Lack of privacy
- Lack of independence sufficient to perform everyday chores and activities (more so for women)
- Food variety
- Frequent, unexpected class cancellations
- Teaching counterparts unaccustomed to participatory learning techniques
- Poorly written textbooks
- Large, multilevel classes
- High expectations from administrators and counterparts
- Limited access to teaching resources (photocopiers, basic supplies, etc.)
- Motivation from Counterparts
Advice (will expand in the coming months!): Pack minimally. Don't be too surprised as you will be able to find most things you need in Surabaya. If you need items from a special brand or company, you may have a little trouble but getting items shipped over is not too difficult, though fairly expensive. It is suggested that you buy high quality and durable items in the States as foreign brands can be more expensive overseas.
Before you purchase some major items, be sure to check out discounts that are offered to Peace Corps Volunteers, this can save you a lot of money!
Keep in mind, you have an 80lb weight limit and you will be charged at the airport if you exceed this.
Clothes: Many of you, male and female, will be given a uniform by your school. Knowing this may reduce the amount of “teaching” clothes you feel you need to bring.
- Tailoring is very cheap here, so don’t be afraid to pack lightly for service and plan on having some things made once you arrive.
- Indonesian teachers dress very well; don’t expect to wear t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops to school.
- Higher-quality clothes which can withstand two years of hand-washing are preferred. You’ll also appreciate clothes made of lightweight and/or fast-drying cloth.
- You can find most clothing you need here, though average (or above) sized Americans may have difficulty and will need to get things made, especially shoes.
- Leather bags or jackets may mold quickly here. It's true.
- Female volunteers comment that women shouldn’t bother bringing anything low cut as you’re unlikely to wear it within your communities.