Melissa

Indonesia

Meslissa is a teacher at the Bandung Alliance Intercultural School

Tell us a bit about yourself, how and where you grew up, where you went to school.
I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. All my family pretty much still lives there. We have an adventurous spirit that has been modeled for us by my Grandfather. He was born and raised in one of the Carolinas; I don’t remember which one right now. He tried everything to move to Alaska as a young man, even joined the army hoping to get stationed there. After his two year service in the army, he bought a 1940-something army ambulance and drove it from Carolina to Alaska. He lived in Alaska for the rest of his life. I remember growing up, sitting around the table listening to his stories of adventure in the wilderness, hunting along the Yukon River, sacrificing the comforts of the modern life for the joy of living in Alaska, and how the Lord used those years to grab his heart and grow his faith. I would often think to myself, “If Alaska is normal, where is my wilderness? If Alaska is my home and my comfort, where is my adventure? What will God use to teach me faith?”
What made you decide you become a teacher?
Well, that is a hard question to answer. When Pete Simano lived in Alaska, we worked together with the youth group. He knew my heart was work with teens. He encouraged me to apply, telling me that I wouldn't really be a teacher, I would be doing what I love. Working with teens, building relationships, and showing them how to take better pictures. I didn’t go to school to be a teacher. I was hired to research and create a dorm house for BAIS and to co-teach a photography/graphic design class. After just a few weeks of being here, it became apparent that we could not have a dorm. The area that school is in would not allow us to do that. Yet I had signed a contract for two years. My focus and job changed. I was already co-teaching the one class, but that wasn’t enough to keep me busy all day. I became the school’s building sub. I loved it! I had the opportunity to work with all the students in the building. I had the best job, spending time with the kids, and I didn’t even have to lesson plan. WIN!
How did you first hear about opportunities at NICS?
From Pete. He encouraged me to apply. I don’t think that he thought I actually would.
Did you speak any languages beyond English?
Nope. I took Spanish in high school, but by the time I moved to Indonesia the language was gone. Or at least I thought it was. While learning my numbers in Bahasa, the Spanish came back so quickly.
What did your family say when you told them you were teaching in another country?
My folks were and still are very, very supportive! Although, there was a day that I thought my Ma was going to put her foot down. You see, I was scheduled to fly out of Alaska at the end of July. On the 17th of July, 2009, there was a bombing in Jakarta. My Ma freaked out. No. No. No. It’s not going to be okay. We spent a lot of time in prayer that day. I knew that this is what God wanted me to do, there were so many different ways that He had confirmed that, a small bomb in a hotel in a city that I would only be driving through was not going to stop me. But I wanted my Ma to have peace about it. God answered that prayer.
What was the biggest barrier keeping you from signing on as a NICS Teacher?
The 2 year commitment. I thought that since I was good friends with Pete, the school director at the time, that he would allow me to sign a one year commitment.
What convinced you to overcome that barrier?
Have you met Pete?! He can pretty much talk people into doing anything.
What was your biggest fear once you signed up?
That I would get my hopes up... That I wouldn’t get approved for a visa... That BAIS would realize that they didn’t want me or need me. That I wouldn’t have the opportunity to live overseas.
Did your family encourage you to go? If so what was the most encouraging thing they did?
My family is great! They still are. They are always asking how they can be praying for me and offer financial support.
What was your biggest fear when you first landed in your new country?
I don't think that I can focus on just one. There were so many different things. I’m a larger girl. I’m tall. I’m from Alaska. So living on the equator with a bead of sweat running down my back at all times - not my favorite. Being taller than most people. Let’s be honest, I get stared at A LOT. And then there was the food.... I look back at my 2009 self and think, what a lame person, scared of so much. Just try the food, tell yourself you are going to like it because there will be a time very soon that you will crave it. To be honest, my biggest barrier was myself. You see, I didn’t finish college. I went, but decided I wanted something different. My education is in Cosmetology - it’s a fancy title for doing people’s hair, nails, waxing, and facials. Remember I was hired to be a Dorm Parent and teach a photography class. Once I got here and realized that I was working in a school. IN A SCHOOL. A college prep, academically advanced school. I was surrounded by people with master's degrees and people who valued education. I was a college drop-out. I was afraid that people would find out. That people would know I wasn’t smart. It has taken years. It has taken me sharing my fear. It has taken the Creator speaking into me and my life for me to feel comfortable here.
What was your favorite experience living in a new country?
Everything was new. I knew nothing. I had to trust that the Lord was going to take care of me. That He would help me find my way home the first time I got lost driving my motorbike in the city. That He would be my strength when it looked like Indonesia was not going to renew my work visa because I was not educated to be a teacher. Praise God for my education in photography, because of that certificate I am still here, doing what I love.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you as you acclimated to a new culture?
Indonesia is all about saving face. So the one time that I walked into the men’s bathroom while at the mall, and the bathroom attendant told me it was okay. Well, now that I think back on it, she may have been telling me that I was in the men’s bathroom and use the women's, but since I didn't know the language....
Tell us your favorite story from teaching at your NICS school.
So many. Mentoring students. Class trips. Reunions with students. Making lifelong friends that you travel the globe to see. Making friends that you get to travel the globe with. Knowing that America, that Alaska will never be ‘home’ again, but that Indonesia will never always be ‘home.’ Knowing that the world is so HUGE, but that it’s really not.
What makes teaching at NICS so special?
The support. IMPACT - I refer to it as camp for the adults that are getting ready to do something amazing with their lives.
How did your experience with NICS help you grow as a teacher?
YES! Teaching photography, something that I was already knowledgeable in and good at, made me realize that I didn’t know why I was doing what I did. Once I started explaining things, I realized that there was still so much that I wanted to learn. Because of that I have gone on in my education, especially in photography. Working for BAIS, I have seen my skills grow. I’ve mastered new programs, learned people skills, improved my spelling and grammar, (but still not great at proofreading my own words)
What do you wish you knew before you signed up?
That I’d still be here nine school years later and committed to another year. I should have just sold all my house stuff instead of storing it my folk’s house.
What would you tell someone considering becoming a NICS teacher
Do it!
What is your best advice for getting used to a new culture/climate?
The power of positive thinking. And the joy of finding a working Air Conditioner and standing in front of it until you are no longer a dripping mess. Only to step outside and begin the search for the next air conditioner all over again, till you make it home. My first year here, my housemate's alarm clock had a temperature setting on it. - Let’s step back for a moment and remember I’m from Alaska. Wealthy Alaskans heat their houses to about 72F. I was raised to just get a blanket as our house was heated to 68F. In the summer, our hottest days can be up near 95F, but our houses never seem to get that hot. Back to the alarm clock, I remember my first night being so tired from the 58 hours of planes, airports, and the drive from Jakarta to Bandung, that nothing was going to keep me awake. But that next night.... Our house was 82F and that was after the sun went down and it had started to cool off. I was always sweaty. Walking to school in the morning. Sweaty. I didn’t like it.
What final words of encouragement do you have for someone considering a job with NICS?
Do it with your whole heart. Dive in. Be open. Realize that you are going to make mistakes. Laugh at yourself. Learn to apologize and mean it when you mess up. Learn to apologize and mean it even when you don’t think you’ve messed up - with different cultures, we see things differently. I have hurt feelings and offended people by just joking with them the way that I would with an Alaskan. FYI: Indonesians are not Alaskans, nor do they even begin to understand my Alaskan ways.

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