The Long Goodbye – Part 2

By Will

In Part 1, I talked about the weeks leading up to our departure from Ngoro. Here we start with our departure to Surabaya on June 11, which, like our two years here, was filled with surprises.

The day before we left, we received several visitors at our house and then we made the rounds in our village. We finished packing around 1am and crashed to get about 4 hours of sleep.

June 11 – Amy’s School Takes Her to Surabaya

Amy left for Surabaya around 8am and was joined by her counterparts, her principal and the vice principals from her school.

Their plan was to go up to Surabaya early and then jalan-jalan (or, hangout) until my school arrived at the hotel. Once in the car, Amy discovered that they were going to Radio Suara Surabaya, a popular news radio station broadcast around Surabaya and parts of East Java, to join the celebration of the station’s 31st anniversary. Amy and I had been interviewed by station 18 months ago because one of the journalists is somehow related to our host family. So, it was no surprise that she was again interviewed and broadcasted to the millions of listeners. While there, Amy also bumped into the American Consulate General who we had befriended during our time here which just added to the surreal nature of the day.

After a few hours there, they left to bring Amy to the hotel where all exiting Peace Corps Volunteers were staying in Surabaya. After my school dropped me off, we went upstairs with Amy’s teachers and spent a few more minutes in the hotel lobby.

All the folks from Amy’s school then left, except for Bu Kis who stayed behind. Her family was driving up to Surabaya to see us one more time so we killed time by taking her to our favorite coffee shop and treating her to her first cappuccino. Once the rest of her family arrived, we all went to McDonald’s. Amy and I felt conflicted about introducing them to one of the worst parts of American culture, but they enjoyed the experience of what is considered a luxury here.

It was a really fun afternoon, so much fun that the goodbyes weren’t tearful, but happy. After spending so much time with this family over the past two years, we don’t even question that we will see them again down the road.

June 11 – Will’s School Takes Him to Surabaya

Pak Eko picked me up at 6:45am to take our bags to school. Why did Amy’s bags come with us? Because my school rented a bus, with plenty of luggage space, so everyone could accompany me to Surabaya! The school had arranged for a lunch and ceremony (for me and the retiring teachers) at a restaurant outside of Surabaya, so we made a day of it.

Before leaving, I was first able to make the rounds at school and say goodbye to the students one last time. It was hard and sad and I won’t forget those last moments with the students who I had taught for two years. The bell then rang, signaling that classes were finished, the students could go home and the bus was leaving for Surabaya.

We boarded the bus and took off. As is the norm here, as soon as the bus got moving, the karaoke started. I was happy to oblige in singing (badly) one last time. We stopped for the lunch and ceremony, which was really nice. All of the school leaders spoke about the retiring teachers and me. Then my first counterpart, Pak Eko, gave a speech about me which was so nice and touching. He talked about how uncomfortable things were when I first arrived, as we were both nervous and didn’t know what to expect. But then, our friendship formed.

Next the teachers all hugged and shook hands with us, wishing me luck in my travels and wishing the other teachers luck with their retirement. We were presented gifts, which for me included batik from the school and traditional Javanese shadow puppets from my close friends. I still can’t believe how nice the gifts are.

Finally we boarded the bus again and made our way toward the hotel. After we arrived, the teachers all got off the bus and said goodbye to Amy and me one more time as we exchanged hugs and tears. Finally the bus pulled off and my life as a teacher at SMA Ngoro had ended.

June 13th – We Become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

After our schools dropped us off, we spent the next two days in paperwork, exit-interviews, and last medical appointments. We were tired and exhausted, but finally on Friday around 3pm, we were finished. Peace Corps Indonesia has a tradition of the exiting Volunteers giving a short speech and then ringing a gong to symbolize the end of our service.

We celebrated that night at our go-to dive bar in Surabaya before waking up way-too-early on Saturday to head to Kuala Lumpur. As the plane took off, there was a real rush of emotion – excited about the next chapter of our lives, but conflicted with not wanting to close the previous one. Two years is a long time to spend in a foreign country and in a foreign culture, but we don’t regret a single second of it and we can’t wait to come back and visit.

The Long Goodbye – Part 1

By Will

The last few weeks in Ngoro were one endless emotional and joyous goodbye as we packed up our lives and prepared to end our Peace Corps service. There were tears, hugs, smiles and laughs as we spent our last moments in our village and at our schools with our close friends and colleagues.

Saying goodbye to our friends was the hardest. Harder was having to do it spread out across weeks when we would realize that there were certain people we wouldn’t see again. We did our best in visiting everyone we love. We made it to Batu one more time to see our original host families there, and then they returned with us to our village to see what we had been up to for the last two years!

In addition to our families and schools, we said our farewells to all of the small communities that we found ourselves in during these two years. Amy said goodbye to her aerobics club and we visited all of the food stalls where we had become regulars (and left with recipes or gifts from all of them!). We paid a last visit to our friends that ran the local photocopy shop (you know you are a teacher when…) and the village shops where we regularly stopped for ice cream, flour, eggs and sugar. Our informal english lessons wrapped up with a graduation ceremony for one and a dinner out for the other.

Where we couldn’t say goodbye, because friends had moved away for school or work, there was a flurry of Facebook and text messages.

Our schools held events for us, we threw a going-away party ourselves to treat our friends, and finally our schools took us to Surabaya where we finished our service on June 13th.

Here is an overview and photos of some of the events leading up to our departure. Our next post will focus on our trip to Surabaya and finally becoming Returned Peace Corps Volunteers!

May 27 – Farewell at Amy’s School

Coinciding with the national holiday for the Prophet Mohammad’s ascension to heaven, Amy’s school held a morning-long celebration for the holiday that ended with celebrating Amy’s time at MAN Genukwatu. It was a sweet ceremony as the principal spoke, followed by two students and then Amy’s counterparts. Amy’s counterparts gave a heartfelt and touching speech as they talked about what their friendship with Amy meant to them.

The students presented a series of drawings to Amy, her counterparts gave her a purse and jewelry and her school gave her a gold ring engraved with the school’s name.

Amy then gave a beautiful speech in bahasa Indonesia about all the things that the experience had given her and how much she would miss being part of MAN Genukwatu. The students then all salim‘ed Amy (brining Amy’s hand to their forehead) and the ceremony ended.

June 3 – Farewell at Will’s School

A week later, my school held a farewell party for me and three teachers who are retiring this month. We held it in our school yard and it was very emotional as there were speeches from students about the teachers, as well as farewell songs from the school choir.

I gave a speech to the assembled students thanking them for their friendship over the last two years and then one of my classes surprised me by singing an Indonesian song that we had translated into English a few weeks prior.

At the end of the ceremony, all of the students salim‘ed me and the retiring teachers. Following the ceremony, I visited all of my classes to give them my contact information and wish them luck with the end of semester tests that began the next day. As I was making my way back to the teachers’ office, a student asked me to return to the yard, where a group of students were circled around the keyboard and speaker that had been used for the morning’s ceremony. After Amy and I joined them, they sang me a song in bahasa Indonesia about leaving and then they sang Adele’s “Someone Like You” as many of the girls (and I) cried through it. It was definitely one of the saddest things I have ever experienced.

June 9 – Our Community Farewell Party

Two days before leaving, we threw a party to treat our friends and colleagues. Amy’s counterpart, Bu Kis, worked with us to put together the party and offered her home as the location. We rented the tent from the father of one of our informal English lesson students and he gave us the seat covers for free. The cake came from a neighborhood baker and all of the drinks were prepared and donated by the female teachers at Amy’s school.

We invited the teachers from both of our schools, people from our community, friends we had met throughout our time here, and English teachers from other schools we had worked with. We had a great turnout and we spent a very hot afternoon with speeches from our principals and us and ate food from our favorite warung in town. We received some really nice gifts and everyone that came was invited to take the clothes or other things we brought to be left behind.


The Nickel Tour – Amy’s School

By Amy

A couple of weeks ago, you got the cheap and quick tour of Will’s school. Now, just before the buzzer, you get mine. Here we go:

My school is much different than Will’s. His is nearly 700 students, while mine is only 300. His school sits on one of the county’s busiest roads, while mine was dropped in the middle of a bucolic setting surrounded by rice fields and farm land.

A pleasant ten minute bike ride on a small road takes me to my school where I am greeted by a tree-lined driveway with fields on either side.


This is the driveway into my school. This is the view from my school looking out to the road.

Visitors to my school often comment on how green and peaceful it is. During flag ceremony there is often a silent prayer. You can’t hear anything but birds and insects. It’s so nice.


There are a handful of outdoor covered walkways. Each classroom is entered from the outside.


Bu Kis and I walking to the auditorium for my going away ceremony. 



Though my school is small we have a library, a science lab, a computer lab, a language lab (in disrepair), a canteen, a cooperative, a large multipurpose room and a musholla (small Islamic prayer building).


Our “musholla.” This is a small prayer building. It’s different from a mosque, which is much larger.

I’ve really enjoyed my two years at my little country-side school. I will miss it!


Some students buying some snacks or school supplies from the cooperative.



114 Down


By Amy

I have a very clear memory from our pre-service training in Batu. It was the end of the first week. Will and I were walking home from class and he said, “Well, one week down, 114 to go.” It felt so daunting.

Just a few weeks in

Just a few weeks in

Somehow, we now find ourselves on the other end of that—114 weeks down, one to go. Never again in our lives will we measure a two year period (or 26 months to be more accurate) with such precision. While the time went fast, it was still two years, and things have changed for us and things have changed in the world.

In our time here the Kentucky Wildcats won their 8th NCAA basketball championship (and almost their 9th). There were tragic mass shootings including one at Sandy Hook elementary school and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Barack Obama came out in support of gay marriage and was re-elected. Syrian protests escalated into a civil war. A new and more progressive Pope was chosen. A royal baby was born. There was a tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon. 7.1 million people signed up for the Affordable Care Act. Same-sex marriage became federally recognized (and the Peace Corps started accepting same-sex married couples). Nelson Mandela passed away. Putin invaded the Ukraine and a Malaysian airplane went missing. Oh yeah, and Beyonce came out with a killer album.

For friends and family back home there were some wonderful life events. Several good friends got married. Sixteen of our close friends brought new people into the world. To Maddy, Eleanor, Lila, Amelia, Max, Lucie, Davis, Addie, Louis, Beckham, Camden, Jamie, Katie, Nina, Matteo, and Brady congratulations on being born to some truly wonderful parents.

There were personally sad times during these 26 months. Three friends lost parents while we were gone and we wished we could have been closer. And then we did too. We’ll be going back to a very different world without Will’s dad and my grandma.

While we were here we made some amazing new friends. Real friends. Friends that really pull through for you in hard times. Friends that can make you laugh. Friends that share their care packages.

We learned a new language together. We learned to cook a Mexican meal from scratch. We learned how to fry tempeh. We learned how to eat with our hands and our bodies became used to spicy food. I learned that getting deodorant on the knees of my pants is just a hazard of the squatty potty. We learned what it feels like to chew on volcanic ash.

We saw my parents Peter and Debra, Will’s mom Betty Jane, my cousins Steve, Stephanie and Brent, our former boss Ben, and our friends Michael, Scott, Carolyn and Mitch here in Indonesia—many of them came to our site. How lucky are we?

We met orangutans and lazed about on white sand beaches. We saw ancient temples. Will ran his first half marathon—around a volcano. We visited Australia and Malaysia. We went to Bali seven times.

We held camps, started clubs and connected with our students. We were accepted into families and we will be sad to leave our adopted mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews. Life will be a little different when our weeks don’t include the usual visits to our favorite food stalls in our village, playing Uno with our 9 and 10 year old neighbors, or having the daily exchange with the people on our street that we wave and yell good morning to on our way to school.

We were high school English teachers. We were Peace Corps Volunteers. We had two years we will never forget.



Iku Dudu Bukuku, Iku Bukumu!


By Will

*Javanese: Those aren’t my books, they are your’s!

The books arrived! The kecamatan of Ngoro is now home to three schools with English libraries! See our thank you video here and read the backstory and see pictures of how this came together below:

In October of 2012, Ginny Smith from Altrusa International, Lexington, reached out to me about a project with her organization and the International Book Project (also based in Lexington) to bring English libraries to schools in Ngoro. I immediately turned to my closest friend, Pak Hindin, to see what he thought about the idea. Pak Hindin had told me about his journey in learning English, which began when he was inspired by English books that were available in his high school’s library, so of course he agreed that this would be a great idea. We were off and running in what we thought would be a sprint, but ultimately turned into a marathon.

We spent months juggling phone calls and emails to customs agents, shipping experts, tax officials and the education ministry, trying to figure out what we would need to do to ensure that the books would reach our school without any fees or fines (or be shipped back). Every answer seemed to contradict the previous one and the firmest answer we got would have involved Pak Hindin and I traveling to Jakarta, twice, to an office that no one was sure existed. I even sent a friend to the Indonesian embassy in DC. No luck.

This spring we finally decided, along with Altrusa and International Book Project, to reduce the number of books in the shipment in order to hopefully get around censorship laws. We crossed our fingers and had the books shipped while hoping that they would make it all the way, past the customs agents who may or may not choose to enforce rules against book donations, or censorship. Somehow, they made it. 

On the other end of things, it couldn’t have been smoother. Todd Johnson at the International Book Project was incredibly easy to work with and we were able to choose the books that we thought would best match the needs of an elementary school and our two high schools. Ginny Smith and Altrusa worked with students at Harrison Elementary in Lexington and at the University of Kentucky to suggest books for our students and included notes on why they were selected.

Eight boxes of books arrived in April and some of my students helped us sort them between the three schools. 

A few days later, Pak Hindin, Pak Eko, Amy and I delivered the books to MI Darussalam, an Islamic elementary school. 

A few days later, we held a ceremony in my school’s mosque to welcome the books and Pak Hindin explained where the books came from and encouraged the students to use them. The girls who had helped with the unpacking were symbolically given the books by our principal. 

A week later, we had a similar ceremony during the weekly flag ceremony at Amy’s school where the principal symbolically gave a book to a representative of each class. 

As you saw in the video, the books were put to use immediately. Students have shown me the books they have checked out and occasionally I’ve caught some not paying attention in class because they were so engrossed in their new reading material. Last week, I invited one of my conversation clubs to our house to celebrate the end of the semester. I asked if they had borrowed any books yet and all replied that they currently had books–four even had the books with them! 

Needless to say, it has been a success and we are so happy that this happened before our departure. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Ginny Smith and the members of Altrusa International, Lexington; Todd Johnson and the wonderful people (and donors!) at International Book Project; and Pak Hindin of SMA Ngoro. Our deepest gratitude goes to them and the work they all do on behalf of students here in Indonesia and around the world. 

Amateur Photography

By Will

A month ago, we gave the kids that hang out at our house Amy’s camera and asked them to take pictures around the village. We wanted to get their perspective of their lives and they were excited to do it. What we got back was pretty great. Lots and lots of selfies and posed pictures of them, their families and their friends as well as pictures of their homes and surroundings.

First, the photographers:

Some of our favorite pictures the camera came back with are here, unedited and #nofilter, as the kids say these days:


The Nickel Tour – Will’s School


By Will

Throughout the last two years, you’ve seen glimpses of ours schools as it plays the setting for a number of our stories and photos. For this post, though, SMA Ngoro will take center stage as I give you a quick tour of my home away from home (away from home).

This is the front of my school :


Once you enter the school through the front doors, or around the side, you will encounter the school field that is in the center of the school, surrounded by classrooms. The field is used for many different extracurricular activities, sport class, and the weekly flag ceremony (more on that later). It has also been known to host some of my impromptu yoga classes when my English conversation club hasn’t felt like conversing in English.


Another view of the field, with our school’s still-unfinished mosque peeking over the school’s roof.

DSC01727Corridors like this one surround the field and provide cover from rainy season (and the general heat from the sun) for the students moving around the school. Between classes and after school, these corridors are filled with students working on projects, playing guitars or just hanging out.


Students or teachers in need of school supplies, or a snack, can stop by the korporasi seen here. I’m a frequent customer, as my red and blue grading pens are always disappearing. I’m sure there’s a reason that doesn’t involve students not wanting me to grade their papers, right?


If a snack from the korporasi isn’t cutting it, students and teachers can head to the kantin. We have four at our school. Two are seen here, although the one on the right was closed the day I took this picture. My claim to fame here is that I introduced the concept of iced coffee to our school. Now the women working here don’t give me quite the look of disgust anymore when I order it. It also helps that a few other teachers have joined the iced coffee bandwagon.


The kantin is next to the parking area for our students’ motorcycles. Students arrive at school a number of ways: bicycle, bus, public transportation van, and on motorcycles (or their parents’/friends’ motorcycles). From the view here, you can see which is most popular.


This is a look inside one of my classrooms, which all look pretty much the same.


Behind the main ring of classrooms is the basketball court, three new classrooms (you can see them in the picture) and a new science lab which is under construction. I’ve enjoyed playing basketball with my students here and some of my favorite memories come from this area.


We return back to the front of the school where we find the mosque. Our school is a public, government supported school, so it is not Islam-only like Amy’s, but the majority of the students are Muslim. Last year 10% of our students were Christian and we had 1 Hindu student. The mosque was originally started with the donation of an alum a few years ago, before I arrived. Now the construction continues as donations are received. It is a slow process, but the building is beautiful and it has been interesting to watch it being built.


Bonus – the day I took these pictures, our school also had a flag ceremony where the students all lineup in a military fashion, raise the flag, sing the national anthem, pray together and hear a speech from the principal. On this day, members of the military post in our town joined, so they led the ceremony rather than the school administration. These are some of my favorite pictures from that morning:



The Rest

By Will

Since the New Year, we have been incredibly busy as we’ve tried to soak in everything we can before leaving Indonesia. Here are some of the highlights of those 5 months that didn’t make it to the blog:

We rang in the New Year on the island of Flores. Well technically, a near-deserted near the island of Flores. We were there with Scott and Carolyn. Sadly, due to the New Year, we couldn’t get to Komodo Island to see the dragons. That one will have to be on our list of places to visit whenever we come back to Indonesia. 

After returning from our vacation, we spent our first Sunday back at site visiting an orphanage with Bu Ndari, her husband and the Jombang Volkswagon Club as they delivered a donation to the orphanage. It was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories behind the kids, but meeting the caretakers and talking to the kids themselves really demonstrated the epitome of the Indonesian phrase samangat, or, spirit/motivation. 


At the end of January, our friends Jessica and Paul, who live in Kuala Lumpur came to visit. We spent a weekend as “tourists in our own town” as we explored all that Surabaya has to offer, including trips to Bromo volcano and Surabaya’s famed cigarette factory (with plenty of eating in between).

Late March and early April had us in Surabaya a few times for medical appointments that are required before we go home. Luckily these coincided with the NCAA tournament.

In April, we hosted some of the newest Peace Corps Trainees who will officially become Volunteers in less than two weeks. They saw our community, taught our classes and met our neighbors. If the rest of the new group are anything like Theresa, Roy, Jen and Craig, Peace Corps Indonesia is in good shape for the future. 


Jen, Craig, Theresa and Roy killing it in my classroom.

Earlier this month, we learned that our host sister is engaged! After dating her fiance for a number of years, we were very excited to learn this news. And, just a week later, our host brother proposed to his girlfriend as well! Unfortunately, the first wedding will take place just a few days after we leave. But, in the meantime, we’ve been able to attend a few of the ceremonies for both of them celebrating their engagement.

Last week, I joined my school’s 10th graders on a trip to the Central Java city of Solo. Known as one of the cultural hubs of the country, we spent some time in the city as well as visiting the museum for the UNESCO site where Java Man was discovered and the palace of the previous Sultan of Solo, currently housing the royal decedents of his family. 

This past Sunday, we had an opportunity to finally visit the neighboring town of Mojowarno. Mojowarno is famous for its Christian church, which was the first built in East Java in 1879. A beautiful building featuring Dutch architecture. On the day we visited, it was the site of the famous Unduh-unduh, or, rice harvest festival. There were parade floats, performances and an auction to raise money for the church community. My friend Arles and his girlfriend served as our guides for the day.


Oh, The Places You’ll Go – A Year Later


By Will

Exactly a year ago, this post went up, detailing my first experience with an Indonesian high school graduation. I remember hearing about the coming ceremony and expecting caps and gowns and something similar to what we have back home. As I detailed in the post, it was much different and it was, as often happens here, strange to be in the midst of something without knowing what was going on (if that’s not a general statement for life in the Peace Corps, I don’t know what is).

The students, in their nicest batik and traditional Javanese clothing, salim'ing the teachers.

The students, in their nicest batik and traditional Javanese clothing, salim’ing the teachers as a show of respect.

This year was different, though. I had a rough idea of what to expect, I knew about a number of the performances that some of my students would be participating in, and I was genuinely sad/proud to see some of the kids that I’ve known for the past two years finish their time at SMA Ngoro. Combined with this being one of the symbolic ends to my tenure here, it was an emotional occasion. And, as I wrote last year, again it was one of my favorite days at school.

A number of the SMA Ngoro teachers. Not sure why I'm sitting on the stump, but it is nice having a picture where I'm not towering over everyone else.

A number of the SMA Ngoro teachers. Not sure why I’m sitting on the stump, but it is nice having a picture where I’m not towering over everyone else.

Going through events like this for a second time has served as a marker for the time that has passed. I look back at the pictures from last year’s graduation and can notice the huge changes that have happened in that short time. My counterpart from last year has become a Vice Principal. One of my good friends has since taken her life-changing trip to Mecca. Several teachers that I didn’t know well have become good friends. And I am more in the information loop at school – enough this year to get the memo on dressing up for graduation and not wearing a normal batik shirt.


English teacher selfie with Pak Eko and Pak Bahrul (or, as I prefer, Jarul). These guys looked sharp!

Celebrating through the graduation ceremonies with only a month to go (and now just three weeks) really brought home exactly how much I’m going to miss this place and these people.

Here are photos from this year’s ceremony (be sure to click for descriptions):

Ayo, Makan!

By Will

Ayo, makan! = Let’s eat!

Somehow, after more than two years here, we’ve neglected to devote a post to the food we eat on a daily basis. Not sure how that happened, but we’ll rectify it here.

Food in Indonesia has a number of influences from surrounding countries, as well as a whole host of foods and snacks that originated here (satay and tempeh being two of the bigger ones). I won’t be able to touch on everything, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what we’re eating on a weekly basis. Click on the photos to read more about each food.

Starting off is where Indonesia really shines, fruit! Fresh, tropical fruit that we’ve definitely taken for granted:

Next is the food yang biasa, or, the usual. This is what we’re most likely eating at our schools, or when on the road and someone else is treating:

These are our local favorites. About six months ago, we negotiated with our family that we would cook or buy all of our own food, to iron out some wrinkles we had with the food situation at home. When we aren’t cooking ourselves, these are the four places we usually hit up for lunch or dinner:

Last, but not least, are our own creations. It took about six months before were were really comfortable using our family’s kitchen without getting weird stares or incessant questions. Since then, we’ve done our best at eating western food using what’s available (like tempeh based meatloaf and hamburgers). If I was on my own, I doubt there would be much cooking done, but luckily I am married to an incredible cook who trusts me to chop vegetables and make tortillas.