Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Decision time approaches

 A couple weeks ago my head of department (h.o.d) passed out a simple sheet to each teacher.  It had a space for my name and date and two boxes.  One said "I want to renew my contract"  the other said "I do not want to renew my contract".  I looked at it and put it in the filing box on my desk, still in plain view.  An hour later she said Melissa?  I turned to see her holding up the sheet.  I confirmed I had one.  She wanted it back with an answer, right then.  I'd had a whopping hour to thing about next year. I understand that I am a special case here at JIKS.  I am the only female native speaker and the only American.  I am the only one who is single and one of only three without kids.  I've also been here just over a year.  The other eight people in the department have been here 1/2,1 1/2, 2, 8, 6, 12, 15 and 18  years respectively. You can see that most of the group doesn't move on and the other relative newcomers have Indonesian wives so, 'nuff said.

I have no specific obligations that would keep me here or anywhere really.  For the entirety of my summer traveling I mulled over my options for next year and beyond.  I started weighing pros and cons. I daydreamed and theorized what would happen if I stayed, if I went.  And if I went, where would I go? Back to Spain, or elsewhere in Europe? To the US? I loved Vietnam, maybe head there for work? lots of thought for little action thus far.

I pushed back and said there was absolutely no way I could tell her just then.  "The end of the day then?" She said hopefully.  I just laughed.  I literally laughed in her face.  "No way." She hemmed and hawed. I reminded her that next year's school year didn't start until February.  She said they'd need time to find a suitable replacement if I left.  "five months? You need five months to hire one person?" I said incredulously. I took into account that this is a Korean school in Indonesia but that still seems like ridiculous leeway.  I was assured they did, even though they'd hired me in three week (an emergency situation she said). I volunteered "If I must make a decision I can tell you by Friday" (it was Tuesday) and she jumped on the suggestion.  "Ok, but you have to take it to Mr. Lim (the vice principal) yourself" she added. 

Ok, whatever. I spent a good part of my office time the rest of the day ranting to my native teacher coworkers.  I know most of them stay year after year but that doesn't mean they can short change me on the time I get to decide. One coworker, Scott, reminded me that the most recent hire, Stephan, is wholly loathed and isn't doing a great job.  Maybe that's why they want more time to hire someone.  It was also Scott to rationally talked to the h.o.d and convinced her to give me more time to decide.  I now have until the end of October to give them a decision.

Now comes the tricky part.  Making the decision. Life in Jakarta is easier in a lot of ways than other places I've lived. I have a maid who comes once a week, cooks, cleans, shops.  I never drive anything - taxis, buses and ojeks are plentiful. I can get a cremebath and pedicure for less than $20.  I can travel a lot because I get sufficient days off work and it's cheap to travel in Asia. I make enough to pay my bills, travel and never really watch what I'm spending for food and drinks. My girlfriends here are amazing.  We have a fantastic little community. Work has given me some opportunities - like writing a whole year's curriculum and making the book to go with it.  I'd like to see how it grows and works for the students over time.

Jakarta is a lot more frustrating that most places I've lived.  The pollution is stifling, literally, as the heat can be. There are many transport options but none of them can really subvert the horrendous traffic jams that occur everywhere. There isn't a park, river, lake or walking/biking trail to be found in Jakarta. All we do is eat and drink as there are few other options.  It's more and more difficult to be in Jakarta between trips away. The BS at my school is generally knee deep. The dating options here are worse than slim to none if you aren't into Asian guys, which I'm not for the most part. I can't imagine myself staying here indefinitely, or even still being here in five years. I've maxed out professionally here.  I can't move up to a top tier international school without a degree in education.

I'll take insight, advice, observations and general heckling from you, my blogging community. The opinions and information should vary greatly between those who are here in Jakarta/Asia, and those who aren't.  Between those who know me in person and those who only know my internet counterpart.  Thoughts?


  1. Thought I'd offer my two cents, not sure how helpful my experiences will be, but let's see...

    I'm not very good at planning more than one year in the future. In fact, when I started teaching I wasn't even happy committing to more than 6 months anywhere. Now I'm happy looking a year ahead.

    With this in mind, moving to Japan was difficult because I couldn't tell how long I'd go for, where I'd go next. At the end of my first short contract in Japan, deciding what to do next took a HUGE A3 sheet of pros and cons and options, with 5 different paths, and after a day of staring at it, I could knock one plan off, saying the other options were better. Then a day later, another, and then just ages deciding over my last three plans.

    The moral of this part of the story is: as long as you've put a lot of thought into it and weighed up everything that could go wrong, and still gone for it, it's going to be a good decision. Even if it's not the best decision, you're not going to look back on it and regret it. The other moral, I guess, is not to think of it as a two option tick box like the paperwork you got.

    In the end, 5 months later, I decided to come back to Spain. But I did it with a whole load of key objectives, important things to decide that meant that I wasn't just returning to my old life. That felt like a backwards step, and I don't want to go backwards.
    I achieved MOST of the things I wanted to come back for. I got work with a new company that is more intellectually stimulating. I moved in to a place by myself and furnished it myself. I got more seriously into performing stand up comedy. And now, I'm starting a Masters course.

    The moral of this bit is: just "going back" feels like failure, feels like giving in. Take what you've learnt in Indonesia and see what you still want to learn. It's not just about what you miss, but about what you can get and take and keep and benefit from elsewhere.
    But staying where you are just because it's comfortable is no answer either. You can stay where you are and bring out a Whole New Plan in Indonesia if you want.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Flip a coin.

    Not because it will give you the answer. But because in that 1 second it is in the air you will know what you really want.

    You already know what my advice will be. Jakarta sucks ass. Get out of here and go somewhere that is more livable. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand are all better options. South America, Africa or Australia.

    If it wasn't for my career there is no way I would stay in this stinking city longer than a year. It's adding little value to my life.

    Vote 1 Vietnam.



  3. Those who care for you will support you, no matter your decision. Those who truly love you will continue to love you, no matter where you are geographically located. As for the decision itself..... have your heart and your gut steered you wrong yet?