- What are the living arrangements?
- What’s the culture like?
- What’s it like being a Western woman in Indonesia?
- What about the food? Being vegetarian?
- What can I do outside of work?
- Are weekend breaks possible?
- Is transport expensive (relatively)?
What are the living arrangements?
In general, most of the teachers in our teacher’s houses are in their twenties/thirties and come from the UK, Australia or North America. The houses are usually shared by 3 or 4 teachers. They are located close to each other and, in Surabaya, are about a 15 minute taxi journey from the schools. In Malang, the EF housing is very close to the school.
Most of the teachers houses don’t have air-conditioners, but they do have ceiling fans and stand fans, which are adequate. You will have your own bedroom. The houses are furnished and if there is something that your room doesn’t have when you arrive we are happy to provide it. You won’t need to sign a lease as these houses are rented by the school. The houses have Western style toilets but most of them have Indonesian style washing facilities (” mandi “).
In the EF houses, most of the bills are paid by EF except the telephone bill, which are shared by the teachers living there. It is normal practice to have a maid as household goods like washing machines are very expensive – washing sheets by hand is not easy. The maid generally cooks & cleans for the whole house.
Individual accommodation is possible within the scope of the housing allowance but apartments are unusually expensive, so those who seek their own accommodation tend to rent a small house; leases are usually 2 years and from present experience in Surabaya are about 15 to 20 million Rupiah. Smaller houses (not in real estate area) can also be found at a cheaper price (between 8-12 million per year).
What’s the culture like?
Indonesia is an archipelago with a diverse culture. The main influences, besides the Javanese, in East Java are Maduranese and third or fourth generation Chinese Indonesians. Madura is an island very close to Surabaya.
Indonesia has been invaded and colonized by many cultures but the most lasting influences on it’s culture come from the spread of both Hindu and Islamic religions. All over East Java it is possible to see the Hindu epics performed in various dance or puppet forms.
Urban centers naturally have a huge Western influence. Although Indonesia has a tropical climate, you are advised to bring a sweater or fleece as it is a lot cooler in the mountainous regions.
What’s it like being a Western woman in Indonesia?
Women in Indonesia – Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation and this greatly influences women’s roles in society. In more rural areas and to some extent in the bigger cities women still have very traditional roles. Although some women choose to wear ‘jilbabs’ (a scarf over their heads) they are not expected to cover their faces and are not subjected to the same restrictions as women in Middle Eastern countries.
Women in Surabaya – In Surabaya life for women is very different to life for women in the country. Surabaya has a large Chinese Indonesian community who are mostly Christian or Buddhist. Because of this large mixed community Surabaya is a much more liberated place for women.
Western Women In Surabaya – For most Indonesians, their only experience of western life and opinions of western women come from the media, television shows such as Friends and Heroes are shown weekly. Naturally, this influences the way many people, particularly strangers, interact with us. Most teachers here feel comfortable wearing the same clothing here that they would wear in their own countries. As at home there are places here where short skirts and sleeveless tops are acceptable and there are places where they are not.
Women’s Safety – In many ways Surabaya is a much safer place to live and work as a woman. It is not possible to take public transport and not usual to walk alone at night, therefore most people take taxis from reputable companies if they want to go anywhere in the evenings. Taxis are well within our budget and are easy get at any time during the night.
Nightlife – For a city of five million people Surabaya does not have as many bars and clubs as you would expect. However there are still plenty to choose from. In many of these places the staff and customers are used to foreign teachers and will always remember your name and go out of their way to be friendly. I find this a particularly reassuring thing and would never feel uncomfortable going somewhere alone in order meet up with people. All of these places will be more than happy to call you a cab at the end of the night.
What about the food? Being vegetarian?
Indonesian food can be very spicy and has rice or noodles as it’s staple diet. It’s possible to buy pork but Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country so eggs, chicken and beef make up most of the protein in the diet. Having said this, there are a few peanut based vegetarian dishes – namely “Sambel Tempe” (an East Javan favourite) which consists of a shallow fried peanut and soy paste laid on top of ground tomatoes and chilies. Seafood and fresh water fish are also commonly available and of excellent quality.
Teachers usually have their maid buy some fruit for breakfast and cook an evening meal, which is the most economical way to eat. Prices in local markets are substantially lower than those in the supermarket. If you are vegetarian, you can either ask your maid to cook without vegetables or teach her how to cook the meals you like.
It has become standard practice, for our teachers, to give the maid the whole weekend off (although whatever you do – she’ll insist on cleaning on Saturday morning as the norm is a 6 day week). The maid can also cook your lunch, if that’s what you’d prefer. We advise our teachers on how to pay their maids as it is common practice to give bed and board to the maid, outside of her wages.
Besides Indonesian food, which offers some excellent vegetarian dishes, there is also an excellent range of low cost Chinese & Seafood stalls. There are a few Western Restaurants and the food in the 4 & 5 star restaurants, except for imported beef, is quite reasonably priced.
What can I do outside of work?
Teachers come to Indonesia for a variety of reasons and amongst the most common is the urge to travel and experience living and working in another culture. There are several points of interest around the East Java region – the most famous of which being Mt. Bromo – a smoldering volcano within a huge volcanic crater.
Surabaya and Malang both have a variety of activities as they are both large commercial centers. Surabaya has many exclusive shopping malls, as well as theatre, night clubs, cafes, and restaurants which can be easily found on the major streets.
In Indonesia, eating out seems to be a national pastime. People travel across town to eat at roadside stalls with good reputations. These stalls tend to specialize in 1 or 2 dishes so the produce is always fresh. Try to avoid stalls, or empty restaurants, with too much choice on the menu as this will help to reduce your chances of getting stomach problems.
There are no restrictions on alcohol and although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, drinking is socially acceptable and it is readily available as there are several licensed restaurants, bars and discotheques.
Are weekend breaks possible?
We strongly advise prospective teachers to research Indonesia in publications like The Lonely Planet. Overland travel is extremely reasonable and there are several points of interest in East Java.
Common weekend breaks include Bromo, Jogja, Sendang Biru (dry season), Trawas, Madura and North Bali. Bromo is one of Java’s most beautiful live volcanoes. Jogja is very close to Borobudur Temple (one of the world’s largest Buddhist monuments and is one of the 7 wonders of the world) and is one of Indonesia’s four special districts, as it maintains a traditional Sultan and his palace.
Sendang Biru is an isolated island in one of East Java’s National parks. Located on the South Coast, it is completely untouched by tourism and is a popular spot, amongst teachers, for free camping during the dry season. Trawas has an environmental centre very close to a popular mountain resort called Tretes (about 45 minutes from Surabaya). Hiking and camping is also quite popular among the teachers, as some camping grounds have good public facilities at reasonable prices.
Madura, Bali and Lombok are very close to Java. Madura is home to the infamous annual Bull races and is off the main tourist trail supporting some excellent beaches (3 hour drive from Surabaya).
It’s also possible to fly to Denpasar in forty-five minutes from Surabaya airport (at roughly 10% of a first year teacher’s wage). Most teachers go to Bali during the weekends by using land transport or airplane.
Lombok is popular for good snorkelling and scuba diving with quieter beaches and less tourists (compared to Bali). Accomodation, food and land transport can easily be found at very reasonable prices in all three islands.
Is transport expensive (relatively)?
Overland travel is extremely reasonable and teachers can afford to travel in comparative luxury. The majority of teachers take Executive class for long train journeys as these are usually overnight and it’s easier to sleep with AC, etc. In Economy class seats are not designated and it can get quite crowded.
The most expensive road travel is from a Transport Company where the customer either buys a seat in, or charters, a minibus or van. The bus system works similarly to the train system and it is a lot better to get an express bus and not a local bus.
Air travel is a little bit more expensive in a country the size of Indonesia but long distances Manado, Sulawesi or Sumatera remain possible if you are frugal. Flights to Bali & Lombok despite the crisis have remained around 10% of a teacher’s monthly salary.
During major holidays (especially the Muslim festival Idul Fitri) flights are often overbooked and competition for all travel tickets can be fierce – it does pay to book well in advance.
What’s a “mandi”?
The ‘mandi’ is a traditional Indonesian bathroom. It comprises of a large vertical water tub and a small hand held bucket. The idea is to use the scoop to wash yourself without getting soapy water in the tub. The excess water drains away. Some of the EF houses have these washing facilities and Western style toilets.