Home Sweet Home

Hello from Jogja! More specifically, from the safe haven of the school computer lab where there is air conditioning, peacefulness, and most of all, carpet, which means everyone takes off their shoes. After three back to back classes of being on my feet in super hot and muggy classrooms, I couldn’t be happier to set my toes free.

I don’t have wifi at home, so I’m going to get right to it.

Pics of my new home!



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This simple showerhead that only puts out cold water is all I think about towards the end of the sweltering hot school day.

Now for my second home.


SMA Negeri 1 is a public high school, and from what I’ve been told, it’s also one of the best in Jogja, which is saying a lot because Jogja is a huge center of education. A full score on the national placement exam is 40, and the students at SMAN1 have 37s or higher.

One of my favorite authors once said his best word of advice is to “always count something.” Thus, I give you

SMA N 1 in numbers

Students in the school: ~600

Students in each class: ~30

Boys in each class: 6-10 (aka not many)

Teachers: 60

Classrooms: 30 (each with a projector that sometimes shuts off randomly)

Computers: 50 (impressive)

Floors: 3 (each with multiple jam packed trophy cases)


In the front lobby is this magnificent display of traditional gamelan instruments. Gamelan is kind of like an orchestra of percussion instruments, and it’s an afterschool activity for the students here at SMAN1. I’m dying to see a performance.


Each floor belongs to a grade. Tenth grade students are on the top floor, which is the hottest floor. Guess which grade I teach.


The school library, in which I strategically position myself so that I can oversee the students working on their group projects while being downwind from the air conditioning.


Each classroom is designated for one class of students, and the teachers, not the students, move from classroom to classroom when the bell rings.


If there’s a portion of a wall long enough to fit a trophy case, there’s a trophy case. Inside are the winners from national competitions in biology, chemistry, physics, economics, etc.

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I love how open the school is to the outside. A lot of the walkways connecting the different parts of the school are outdoors, and the walk from the classroom to the library is a breath of fresh air.

Even at home, the very center of the house is completely open to the outdoors.


It’s great for letting in light and a nice breeze. Terrible for letting in mosquitoes and ants. The ants I don’t mind. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, have gotten every piece of me from my head to my toes. I was slightly shocked when I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time at school (there’s no mirror in the house) and found bites all over my neck. Hickies, my roommate called them. I slept with the covers sealed tight around my neck that night, and I woke up with two bites on my forehead. It’s a good look.

Oleh Oleh

It’s a tradition to bring small items to share with everyone as a sign of thoughtfulness when returning from your travels. They also make for good icebreakers. I brought bags of tootsie rolls for the school teachers, and a Rutgers mug and t-shirt for the Headmaster/principal and vice principal. It just so happened that it was also a teacher’s birthday that day, and so before I had even gone to my first class I was being encouraged to try a bowl of green bean soup (which is actually a home favorite of mine, except here they add a spoonful of sticky rice and coconut milk which is as good as it sounds) and different types of noodles (Medan vs. Javanese). I thought my bowl of tootsie rolls would be completely overshadowed by this birthday feast, but a little while later I looked again and the bowl was empty.


Class is awesome. The students are extremely polite and bashful, and they applaud and cheer after I say just about anything. There are frequent uproars of boisterous laughter when a gutsy student drops a daring one liner, or after anyone raises their hand to speak, really. There’s normally a moment of silence as they listen intently to whoever’s speaking, and then a tsunami of a reaction immediately ensues, usually a storm of giggles or an outburst of woahs or ayyyyys and laughter. Lots of laughter. Indonesians love to laugh. They make a raucous when I crack the slightest hint of a joke. It’s like the best laugh track any comedian could ever hope for. (not a comedian, but these students are feeding my humor ego with steroids)

Questions for Julia?

After I introduce myself to each class, Bu Ami (the Indonesian English teacher that I’m assisting) opens the floor for questions, which gradually emerge from lots of giggles and/or students egging on other students to ask.

How old are you? (Guess!) Where in America are you from? (New Jersey!) Why did you choose to teach in Indonesia? (Because I want to learn about Indonesian culture!) Who is your idol? (My mother) Do you like K pop? (No not really! – I regretted this answer immediately because the girl looked absolutely heartbroken)

In one class, I was asked what my favorite Indonesian food is and I answered “lotek”, which looks like this:


It’s full of vegetables and sticky rice mixed in with a peppery (spicy) peanut sauce.

Later that class, three students bashfully presented me with a bag of take-out lotek that they ran out and bought during the fifteen minute break. Then they asked for my picture. Hands down the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.

My favorite part of class is when they break off into group work because:

1) I get such a kick out of their reactions when they find out who is paired with who. The girls are absolutely elated to be partners, and there’s usually a groan when a girl is paired with a guy, but every once in a while the room erupts in OOOOOOOOOOOHOHOHOHs when a particular girl gets paired with a particular guy and I’m just dying to know the back story there.

2) I can go around and talk to the students more candidly. This is when I test the waters and see which students are down to make small talk in English. They usually ask me about America, where I’ve been, or how I’m liking Jogja. A lot of them have never been outside of the island of Java, but they’re all super active on social media. I’ve been asked many times for my Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Line, Twitter, the list goes on and on. They’re incredibly active, and they demand you follow back.

Indonesians are possibly the most friendly and welcoming people I’ve ever interacted with. They’re always offering snacks or sweets and asking about where you’re from. A common reaction that I’ve gotten from some teachers and students is “You’re from America? But you look Asian!” The melting pot version of America hasn’t completely reached Indonesia just yet, and American still seems to mean caucasian to the majority of the people here, but after I explain to them that my parents are Chinese and that I was born and raised in America, they seem to get a kick out of the idea that I speak Mandarin in addition to English. Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll be able to tack on Bahasa Indonesia to that list as well.

Last but not least,


Despite the sweltering heat and humidity, Indonesians dress fairly conservatively and usually wear long pants/skirts and shirts with long sleeves. There is a Muslim majority in Jogja, and most women wear a jilbab, but Indonesians by no means lack creative expression in the way they dress. Indonesians in Jogja wear these beautiful elaborate and colorful patterns – known as traditional batik. Batik is made by crafting extravagant patterns on fabric using a dye-resistant wax so that when you dunk the fabric in a certain color, the parts of the fabric covered by wax remain untouched. Indonesian batik was designated by UNESCO as a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Seeing as the teachers wear batik to school, I went shopping for batik in the bustling street of Malioboro, where the colors were dizzying and the fabrics never ending.



Ta da! My first, but certainly not last, batik.

All in all, a wonderful first week in Jogja! More pictures on vscocam. (juliaxia.vsco.co)


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