If you are considering volunteering to teach English or even just curious about our experience, this blog is for you! It covers what to expect when Teaching English in Indonesia including Top Things To Do in Cianjur; and a summary of our expenditure!
In the weeks leading up to our Teaching English in Indonesia adventure we didn’t know what to expect. We had secured a volunteer position in West Java but never taught a class before. Our only experience teaching English was in Luang Prabang, Laos at the Big Brother Mouse Learning Centre having an informal chat with some locals for 2 hours (read more about it in our Luang Prabang Guide).
To add to the suspense of this upcoming adventure: days before our departure all we could see on Facebook and in the news was severe flooding in Jakarta – which was not too far away from Cianjur. We saw videos of cars being carried downstream and the destruction of homes. Questioning whether the Gods were giving us a sign to stay away, we weren’t ones to give up so easily. So we packed our bags and went for it.
After 2.5 weeks of living with a local family in Cianjur and teaching across many types of schools: Christian, Muslim, private and public…we both agree it was one of the most enriching experiences we’ve ever had! The best part was engaging with the locals: learning about their country and culture first hand, exchanging beliefs and dreams with each other and building friendships.
Where is Cianjur?
The small city of Cianjur is located on the island Java, two hours South-East of Jakarta, and has a population of about 200,000 people.
This Javanese city is out of the way from any major tourism routes, so the first thing which became clear was that not many Westerners visit these parts. You can imagine how we (especially Manu with her blond hair and blue eyes) stood out! Upon arrival, we immediately felt like celebrities: local children following us down the streets, adults smiling and shouting out to us, and seemingly everyone wanting to take a photo with us.
Which volunteering program did we join and how did we find it?
We found the volunteering program on workaway.info. In case you’re not familiar with this website: Workaway is a platform through which you can find a large variety of volunteer projects all over the world! For a small yearly registration fee you can create a profile and start browsing through the many possibilities. Most volunteer projects offer free accommodation in exchange.
We knew we wanted to help Teaching English in Indonesia but had no specific location in mind. The volunteering project we found and were accepted for is called Volunteering in Java Indonesia, helping with English.
Our host Iwan Kumis is truly passionate about helping his students learn English. He is an English teacher at a local primary school, and in the afternoons he tutors at his own private Language School ‘Rumah Inggris’. Kumis is a very energetic man who welcomed us in the warmest way and made sure we were having a great time.
The exchange was quite simple and straightforward. For 5 days per week we volunteered 2 to 4 hours of our time at a blend of public and private schools. In return we stayed at our host’s home and lived with his family (who are absolutely lovely)!
Our ‘Teaching English in Indonesia‘ experience
The schools in Cianjur have different levels of strictness and discipline. The attentiveness and mannerisms of the students reflected this. However, every class had happy and excited students…so happy to see ‘strange westerners’ in their classrom. It’s not often that westerners teach at some of these schools. It is actually a really big deal for them. We could feel that we were important.
We especially felt important at this one rural school, where we walked into a hall with nearly 100 eager students ready to learn! Dan felt like a motivational speaker, someone like Tony Robbins, getting students pumped up, screaming out answers together and even singing along to Karaoke. Most of the kids loved singing along to Bruno Mars – Just the way you are.
If you have never taught a class before, have no worries at all! There is usually no curriculum for you to follow. The teachers are just looking for a native speaker to speak about anything. In Dan’s case, he spoke about himself, interesting things about Australia and what he knows about coffee.
For example: My name is Dan. I am from Sydney, Australia. Australia has many dangerous animals……etc. My occupation is Barista, and I love to make coffee…etc.
The students usually have minimal English skills so we often found ourselves asking them:
- Do you have any pets? What does your pet usually eat? Where does your pet sleep at night?
- What is your favorite food? What is your father’s favorite food? How do you cook this dish?
- What do you want to be when you are older? What are your dreams? If you had 1 Billion IDR, what would you do with it?
Sometimes, teaching or ‘presenting’ to the students was a creative challenge for us. Occasionally, we had a particular classroom of students that were just too quiet and not engaging. To avoid the awkward silence, it was up to us to disarm their shyness and get them sharing, laughing and talking.
Playing ‘Hot Potato’ was often a success for making them excited and focused. Essentially, we chose a topic such as ‘Occupations’ and with the students standing in a circle, one at a time they had three seconds to name an occupation. Going in a clockwise direction, if they took too long to answer, or repeated the answer of an already mentioned occupation, they were eliminated. It always came down to an electric stand off between the quickest students.
At our host’s language center ‘Rumah Inggris’, on the other hand, you will find more structure. Kumis and the other teachers start with the revision of irregular verbs, continue with vocabulary regarding a specific field (e.g. occupations, pets, food) and exercises to practice. At the end, a sheet with questions to ask is handed out and the focus lies on conversation. These classes are joined by school students and young adults who see the importance of learning English and decide on their own account to improve their skills.
What is there to do in Cianjur and the surrounding area?
While Teaching English in Indonesia at this particular workaway project, you will have a lot of time for yourself. You can explore the area, hang out in one of the great cafes of Cianjur or spend time with the lovely team of ‘Rumah Inggris’.
Kumis is a wonderful host and puts a lot of effort into showing you the best places of the region. On our days off he even took us on day trips to an ancient archaeological site, mud bathing pools and a white crater volcano. We were surprised how many great things can be seen in this ‘touristically’ unpopular region and have put together our favorite things to Do in Cianjur and the surrounding area:
Explore an ancient site: Gunung Padang Megalithic Site
- Exploring an ancient megalithic site wasn’t something we’d expect to visit during our time in Cianjur. This site is one of the largest archaeological sites in South East Asia and some reports suggest it dates back about 20,000 years ago.
- When visiting Gunung Padang Megalithic Site it was clear there was some form of structure from all of the misplaced stones, however most of the site has actually been buried. More research needs to go underway to determine what is beneath the rubble and how big the chambers are. Until the government approves for more funding, we can only imagine how big this site is.
Relax in natural hot springs and treat yourself to a mud bath at the Cibuni Rengganis Crater
- Whenever we have an opportunity to visit a natural hot spring around the world, we jump at the thought of relaxing and soaking in hot water. There is also something about the sulfur egg smell that Dan seems to enjoy 😅
- This place is more of a hidden gem for the locals, and for a small donation of 2,000IDR (0.10€) you can get a bucket of hot mud and have a mud bath.
- Tip: one bucket is more than enough for two people.
Admire the White Crater Volcano (Kawah Putih)
- While you are in the Cibuni Rengganis Hot Springs area, it is worth checking out the White Crater Volcano. It’s a stratovolcano which has a relatively stable volcanic system – and no reported significant activity since 1600’s.
- The lake in the crater is acidic and depending on the concentration of the sulfur or temperature of the water the color can change from whitish green to bluish.
- Foreigners can expect to pay around 105,000IDR (7€) for an entrance fee and return shuttle to the top.
See a floating village
- The man made lake of Cirata has become Indonesia’s largest fishing project since its creation in the 1980’s. The village itself is a collection of floating bamboo huts with thousands of fishing farms.
- There is no electricity in the village, but you can hire a boat for approximately 150,000IDR (10€) to take you out to the village, marvel at the many breeds of fish and feed them (you can find a boat here).
- The lake has a large population of fish, so you will even see many fishermen on the shore patiently waiting for their catch. Watching them in action was enough for us, so we didn’t opt for the boat hire.
Find peace at the Cibodas Botanical Gardens
- There is a lot of hustle and bustle of beeping cars and motorbikes in Cianjur, as with any typical Indonesian city. Along the slopes of Mt Gede about 1 hour from Cianjur you can find this piece of heaven, a peaceful break from the busy streets.
- The botanical gardens offer 85 hectares of beautifully landscaped sections, walking trails, wild forests, waterfalls and space to lay back and relax.
- The entrance fee is 16,500IDR (1€) per person, and within the gardens you can hire bicycles for 25,000IDR (2€), hire golf buggies or ride a shuttle bus to explore the big gardens.
See the sunrise on the summit of Mt Gede
- As we visited Cianjur during the rainy season, it was not possible for us to summit this volcano. Authorities close access for climbing between Jan to Apr. However, it is definitely worth mentioning if you plan to visit Cianjur during the dry season (May to Oct). You can climb the volcano on a 2 day 1 night adventure.
- Hiring a guide/porter for the hike is not a must, however, it is recommended. You can do so when you register at the national park gate.
- Along the way up you can find Telaga Biru (small lake covered in blue algae), Cibeureum waterfall (50 m waterfall), hot springs, the peak and crater of Mt Gede, and an Alpine Meadow.
- For more information including the national park entrance fees click here.
Walk through the ‘Street Art Alley’
- This spot is a hidden gem in Cianjur and actually not shown on any maps. We volunteered at the Kanaan Catholic School, and discovered the street art alley (map – located between the school and the bank).
- The street art has been designed and painted by the students of the same school as a project of creative expression and community rejuvenation.
- Tip: after you walk through the alleyway, you can have an amazing lunch at a small restaurant called Cahua’s store. A heaped vegetarian dish with loads of veggies cost us 15,000IDR (that’s only 1€!!).
Stroll through the local rice paddies
- Being a small city, Cianjur is scattered with plantations, fish farms and rice paddies. The rice paddy plantation below was one of our favorites, especially as it is within walking distance from our hosts house.
- You get a real taste of local life in Cianjur as you walk past a housing area and see the locals going through their daily routine: street carts selling treats, mothers doing laundry in the canal, kids playing on the paths. In a manner of walking 10 minutes from the main street the first rice paddy appears (map).
- It is a stunning combination of an agricultural landscape on one side and homes/buildings on the other side of the path. Walking for another 10 minutes, the signs of the city fade away and the path leads into the hills. There are many other plantations which appear as you start walking up the hills into the mountains.
- Tip: you can complete a full loop and head back to back to your starting point. However, this walk can take several hours. It’s best just to return to the starting point on the route you started, whenever you feel like it.
Enjoy a delicious coffee at Ujala Cafe & Roastery
- You would never expect such a big coffee culture (especially one with high quality, competing with even Australian standards) in a small city like Cianjur. Morning after morning, you would find us at Ujala. Our classic order was an Americano and Iced Vietnamese drip coffee.
- This cafe is special as there is also a roastery attached to the cafe. You can choose from a variety of up to 6 types of beans (local and international). The cafe also offers new and interesting brewing methods of coffee including the Syphon (vacuum drip coffee) and Tobruk (local style of brewing: literally ground coffee mixed with hot water, kind of like Turkish coffee, but with a coarser grind).
- With a variety of food options too, this cafe is a great place to chill out morning or afternoon.
Try some street food
- Located in the center of town is a nightly street food market. With a collection of vendors, we tried a variety of local cuisine: from little deep fried snacks, to main sweet and spicy dishes made of rice and noodles (with a selection of vegetarian options) and decadent desserts (we especially enjoyed the very thick and sweet pancake called Martabek Manis).
- Check out the food review video below (made by our Cianjur friends) of some of the classic local meals we tried. Our suggested Javanese three course meal includes: Karoket (5:43), Seblak (13:04) and Martabak (15:19) 😀
Budgeting: A breakdown of our expenditure in Cianjur
We were amazed when we realized how little we had spent during our ‘Teaching English in Indonesia’ experience. When we add together our transportation costs, our daily spend costs (including snacks, some food, coffee), miscellaneous items (such as gifts and clothes), and activity costs (including entrance costs); we had only spent the small amount of 200€ each!
This really low figure is mainly due to the fact that we saved money on accommodation, as Kumis hosted us at his house. We also saved a significant amount of food related costs, as Kumis usually provided lunch and dinner.
Here is a breakdown of our budget, which will give you a rough idea of costs in Cianjur:
|Cianjur – 19 days – 13-Jan to 31-Jan 2020||IDR|
|Transportation||Cost Per Person|
|Getting to Cianjur|
|– Jakarta to Bogor – 1.5 hour train journey to rendevous with Kumis||Rp8,000|
|– Bogor to Cianjur – Fuel cost for Kumis to pick us up (1.5hr journey)||Rp50,000|
|– Cianjur to Yogyakarta – 15 hour overnight bus||Rp175,000|
|Food, Snacks, Coffee and other drinks, fuel whilst using Kumis Scooter (19 days x Rp125,000)||Rp2,375,000|
|– Lunch and dinner was made for us most days as part of the program – we often paid for our own breakfast|
|– Kumis let us use his scooter to explore the town, in exchange we topped up the fuel|
|Miscellaneous (Gifts and Clothes)||Rp200,000|
|Total Everyday Costs||Rp2,575,000|
|Activities and Adventures|
|Archaeological Site – Entrance Fees||Rp10,000|
|Cibudas Botanical Gardens||Rp16,500|
|Total Activities and Adventures||Rp126,500|
|Total Costs in Cianjur (Per Person)||Rp2,934,500|
|Amount in Euros (Per Person)||196.61€|
Things to consider before traveling to Indonesia
If you’ve already traveled to Asia, you are familiar with the seemingly chaotic traffic, the different hygiene levels and the squatting toilets being used. Be prepared that traveling to parts which are away from the major tourist routes might be even a bit more ‘extreme’. At times you can feel out of your comfort zone as you live like a local.
Indonesia is a mainly Muslim country. As it’s away from the touristic hotspots you won’t find any alcohol in shops or bars. Regarding your clothing, you should choose an outfit which covers shoulders and knees– especially as a woman.
Overall, we had an incredible experience in Cianjur. We felt part of the community as Kumis, his family, all of the students and many locals welcomed us openly. It is an experience we can highly recommend to you!
Please comment below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about Teaching English in Indonesia.
If you enjoyed this blog post please comment and share!
Dan & Manu ❤️
P.S. Check out our Instagram stories from our time on West Java https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/18129115801049615/