Exchange Matters / September 1, 2017

IVLP Volunteer Experiences the Power of Exchanges in Indonesia

By staff at Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC)

Christy Weitz, a teacher in Iowa and a board member for the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC), a Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Member, traveled to Indonesia as a fellow in the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program (TGC).

American teachers Christy Weitz and Jennifer Kelly pose with their host teacher, Lasma Sihite, and students from the English Club at SMAN 4 Bandar Lampung in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia. Photo credit: Christy Weitz

“What does the average school day look like in the U.S.?” “How does your school use technology?” “Is it true that Americans are afraid of Muslims?”

These were just a few of the questions posed to Christy Weitz on her recent travel to Indonesia as a fellow in the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program (TGC). The TGC Program offered Christy, a teacher in Iowa and a board member for the Council for InternationalVisitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC), a Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Member, the chance to experience the power of exchange from the perspective of an international visitor instead of a local volunteer.

The Teachers for Global Classrooms Program is a year-long fellowship for U.S. teachers, administered by IREX, and funded by the U.S. Department of State. The program is divided into four components: a ten-week online global education course in the fall, a Global Education Symposium in Washington, DC in February, a two to three week international exchange in the spring or summer, and a capstone project, in which teachers produce a global education guide for their school district. This year, program participants traveled to Colombia, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Philippines, and Senegal.

As a fellow in the program, Christy traveled to Jakarta and Bandar Lampung, Indonesia. “It was fascinating to be on the ‘other side’ of an exchange program after volunteering for many International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) projects and with the Mandela-Washington fellows,” said Christy. “I was struck by the profound responsibility and enormous privilege it was to represent my country abroad.”

She added, “My favorite parts of the exchange were the one-on-one conversations with teachers when we could share our teaching methods and strategies as well as ask questions about each other’s culture. Since I was traveling in a predominantly Muslim country, I was asked often about Muslims in the U.S. I was able to share that as an English language teacher in Iowa, most of my students are Muslim. This surprised many people who I met and was a great bridge to deeper conversations about the role of religion in Indonesia and the U.S. as well as chances to clarify our perceptions of each other’s viewpoints.”

Fourteen American teachers, including Christy, participated on the Indonesia exchange. The program began in Jakarta, where the teachers spent the first week together visiting schools and cultural sites. During the next ten days, the teachers split into pairs and traveled to seven locations across Indonesia to spend time working with one teacher at a local school in a host community. All of the teachers reconvened in Jakarta for the last three days of the program, where they debriefed one another on their host community visits and discussed ways to incorporate their travel experiences into their teaching.

The SMAN4 Bandar Lampung students hold postcards to exchange with Christy’s students in Iowa City, Iowa. Photo credit: Christy Weitz

Christy and Jennifer Kelly, another TGC participant, traveled to Bandar Lampung for their host community visit, where they spent time in their host teacher’s school and spoke about their home states of Iowa and Louisiana, respectively. The pair visited an elephant sanctuary in Way Kambas, and in Pesawaran, they learned about making tapis fabric – a traditional cloth from Lampung Province. A highlight of their visit was a welcome program presented by the students in the Bandar Lampung English Club, complete with U.S. and Indonesian flags, singing, games, and a short skit.

Christy’s previous experience with international exchange came from her work as a board member and volunteer for CIVIC, a Global Ties U.S. Community-Based Member since 1986. CIVIC hosts approximately 125 international visitors each year, the majority of whom come through U.S. Department of State-sponsored programs such as the IVLP and the Mandela Washington Fellowship. CIVIC serves all of eastern Iowa, an area that offers a diverse economic and social landscape. International visitors to the area have access to agricultural expertise, the University of Iowa’s cutting-edge research and outreach programs, the thriving entrepreneurial environment of Iowa’s Creative Corridor, and an engaged citizenry actively working to enhance the quality of life for people at the local, state, national, and international levels. Christy feels honored to have had the opportunity to experience the power of exchange from both the local and the international perspective.

Christy, Jennifer, and students from SMAN 4 Bandar Lampung in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia hold up four fingers to represent the school’s number. Photo credit: Christy Weitz