Loralee Simonitch is a 30 year-old English teacher from Santa Rosa, California.
After obtaining her BA in English from UC Davis in 2007, and then a Master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in Medieval Studies in 2010, she went to St. Giles Academy at San Francisco to get her CELTA, which enables her to teach English to adult learners around the world. I met Loralee at St. Giles and had the pleasure of being her classmate. After our class parted ways, she found a teaching job in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she has been living the past two years. I was thrilled to catch up with her via Skype last month as she was coming to the end of her contract.
What led you to get your CELTA?
I desperately didn’t want to be working for my parents anymore. (laughs) It was good of them to give me a job right out of graduate school because I had no money, but I was in my late 20s and working for my parents, so there was this underlying pressure of “I need to be doing something else.” I always knew people taught abroad. When I lived in New Zealand, most of my friends were doing that. They were teaching abroad and coming to New Zealand for vacation, and I thought, “That sounds awesome!” So, it had always been in the back of my mind, and then I finally had the opportunity to do it.
How did you end up in Indonesia?
After CELTA, for about a month, every single day, I was on Dave’s ESL Cafe or tefl.com, searching for jobs. I was applying everyday to this place and that place because I had no preference. I applied to almost every country short of the Middle East. I got a bunch of responses and a couple of interviews. Indonesia was the one that would let me stay in California until after Christmas. I wanted to spend that Christmas with my family, so that’s ultimately why I decided on Indonesia!
You get off the plane. What’s your first thought?
F***, I’m sweating already! (both laugh) Within minutes, I started to sweat. Now, I don’t even notice it. It’s hot, but I’m used to it.
My second thought was, “God, I hope my ride is here!” because it was chaos at that airport. Tons of people everywhere. None of them are speaking English. And, immediately, you are bombarded by taxi drivers who are desperately wanting your fare because you’re white, and you don’t know what the fares are supposed to be, so they can charge you whatever they want. I remember looking at them, thinking, “Somebody needs to have my name on a card, and I need to find that person.” (laughs)
So, you’re used to the heat, you said?
Yeah! I mean, there are days when it gets really hot and I think, “Thank God there’s air conditioning!” But, for the most part, it’s not too bad. It stays almost the same temperature almost every day and night.
Wow. So, what’s a day in the life like there? A typical work day.
A typical work day…I try to wake up at 8, then inevitably turn my alarm off and go to sleep for another hour, hour and half. I finally wake up at 9:30, and then I have my coffee and do some lesson planning, answer emails, talk to people back home. I have a special window — early morning and late evening — when I can talk to people back home because the time difference is so big. My classes don’t start until 2p, so I go to work at about noon, prepare, set up my room…if I’m teaching a social event later, I set that up as well… Then I teach three classes, have an hour break, teach three more classes, then go home. Once the classes start, you have an hour then another then another, then a break, then three more hour classes, so your timing has to be flawless. Everything feels stressed out and hectic. I eat dinner during the one hour break. After school, I come home, have a snack, and if nothing’s happening, I go to bed. Sometimes, though, I go out with other teachers or go see a movie. You need a wind down time after that intense afternoon/evening.
What’s your average class size?
Actually, only about four people.
Yep! Sometimes I teach what’s called a “complimentary class” — when we do some activities that are non-graded grammar activities, so there’s no pressure. It’s a good way for the students to practice their grammar and not worry. And that’s about eight people. Then the social events can be between ten and thirty people. It’s a way to get the students to do a large group activity. And that’s a part of my six-class day.
Alright, enough about school. I want to know about your excursions! I saw pictures on Facebook of a Komodo dragon sanctuary…? SCUBA diving and nearly running out of oxygen? Volcano climbing?
My first vacation happened about three months after I got here. I went to Pulau Macan, which means “Tiger island.” It’s one of the Thousand Islands. These islands are tiny…just big enough to have one resort…so they’re mostly vacation resorts. You get there by speedboat. A friend of mine (also a teacher) came to visit me on her Spring Break. So we went to Pulau Macan, which is basically the kind of place where you just sleep in a hut, hang out on the beach, eat barbecue fish, and do nothing. There’s no electricity, no internet…nothing out there. It was wonderful!
After that, I went to Bromo, which is in southern Java. And like in Pulau Macan, not a lot of electricity, not a lot of internet… Freezing cold, actually. I had to wear a sweater! The elevation is so high and there’s no humidity, so it’s super cold and rainy. And really dark and no noise. It was wonderful, especially coming out of Jakarta, where there is noise 24/7. Bromo was fabulously quiet.
There, at 4AM, you get up and go to the lookout point and watch the sunrise behind the volcano. After that, you can go down to the volcano and walk to lip. And there are no handrails…you’re literally just standing on the side of a volcano thinking, “I’m gonna fall in.” (laughs) But yeah, it was gorgeous. You could rent a horse to go up it, but I wanted to save the money so I just climbed it.
Afterward, we had a driver — in Indonesia, almost everywhere you go, you have to have a driver because public transportation is so poor — so our driver didn’t want to get stuck in traffic on the main road, so instead, he drove into the volcano valley and into a marshland. In this little, not-a-four-wheel-drive van, so the entire time, I’m holding onto the “oh shit” handle thinking, “We’re gonna get stuck we’re gonna get stuck we’re gonna get stuck in the mud.” (laughs) But he got us out! Past all the traffic. There were some times where we almost got stuck or the road got so narrow that we felt like we were going to fall off the side, and the entire time, I’m thinking, “I’m one of THOSE tourists who dies in a wreck that everybody hears about and thinks, ‘Well, duh, you died.’” But we didn’t! Looking back on it now, it was super fun and exciting. Then our driver took us through some mountain villages, a waterfall, and a drive-thru safari where the animals come right up to your window. We had a lion came up to the side of the car and just look through the window. You’re looking into a lion’s face and it’s half a foot away from you. But about 100 yards out, you can see a guy in a jeep with a dart gun who’s watching. I don’t know if I trust that dart 100 yards away…(laughs). But that was my Bromo trip, which took place in the span of about four days.
And the Komodo dragon sanctuary…?
My mom and I took a joint birthday trip. I asked her, “Where do you want to go? An orangutan sanctuary, where they just come out of the jungle and you feed them…or we can go see the Komodo dragons.” She’s a lizard person, so she definitely wanted to see the Komodos. So we took a five-day boat tour from Lombok (near Bali). And we went island hopping, and we saw a pink beach…a beach covered in tiny red rocks. Then, at the end of the tour, we got to Komodo Island, which is literally just Komodos and oxen. When we get there, one of the first things the guides ask is, “Is anyone menstruating?” We shake our heads “no,” and he says, “Well good, because they can smell it.” Apparently, the Komodos are attracted by it and can be more aggressive. It was one of those moments where you go, “This is not something to lie about.” (laughs).
So, as soon as we get there, we see Komodos sunning on the beach. They spend all morning getting warm on the beach so they can then go inland and eat. And they’re huge! Massive. And terrifying. You have people with sticks that have a rope to wrap around a Komodo’s neck. You know, just in case. But in the end, it’s just a stick! And these things are big and strong…they can take down an ox! And so these guys are just standing around, watching the Komodos. I was always thinking, “Now what’s the distance between the guy with the stick, the komodo and me?” I got a few pictures where it looks like I’m right on top of the Komodo, but really, I’m 15 feet away. We just managed to get the angle right.
How fast are they?
Really fast. When they get going, it’s like a full-out sprint. When I was taking a picture with my mom, one of them got up to move. By the time we turned to look at it, 15 feet had turned into 5, so we walked away. (laughs) I think it just wanted to get to a sunny spot because it sat back down once it found one, but it was a scary moment of thinking that dragon was a certain distance away then it wasn’t. It was amazing, though. They were everywhere! There was one, too, that must have just fed because there it was, sunning, with a bone sticking out of its mouth. I zoomed in with my camera and said, “Yup, that’s a bone.”
“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” Okay, tell me about getting your SCUBA license. Did you do all of it in Indonesia?
Yes. I did the whole thing in Indonesia. There is this party island off of Lombok called Gili Trawangan. It’s a tourist island, full of ex-pats. Other than party, the only things you can do there are SCUBA dive and snorkel. So I went to a dive resort that was offering 10% off on their diving course if you stayed at their resort while you completed it. So I thought, “Why not? Let’s learn to SCUBA dive!” And it was really good. They start you off in a pool to get you used to the breathing. It took 3 days total to get the PADI certification. And now I can dive anywhere!…up to 25-30 meters.
And the oxygen tank scare?
So, I went to Raja Ampat for my 30th birthday. It is incredibly beautiful and pristine; it’s hard to access, so there’s not a lot of tourist traffic. Because it is so remote, it really is a place better suited for advanced scuba divers: the currents are really strong and many of the dives go deeper than 25 meters, and there’s no easy access to medical facilities. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, though, so I went anyway, even though I’m pretty new to scuba diving. I ended up using more oxygen than the more advanced divers, however, and during one dive I looked at my pressure gauge and realized I was at 50 psi. For safety reasons, and for the health of the tank, once you reach 50 psi, you’re supposed to surface, but because we were deep, we had to do a safety stop coming back up, which takes two minutes. Realistically, I could have continued using my own tank on the stop, but it’s better to be cautious. It’s not as dangerous and daring as I make it sound when I retell the story, but when you’re underwater and taking your regulator out of your mouth, your mind definitely has an ‘oh shit’ moment!
How have you found traveling as a single woman in Indonesia?
Indonesia is a mostly Muslim nation, so outside of Jakarta, people look at you strange and whisper about you when you have on, say, a tank top and shorts. In Jakarta, you’re fine. In places in northwest Indonesia, though, closer to the mainland, there’s sharia law, so women have the hijabs.
What recommendations would you have for other single women adventurers traveling to Indonesia specifically, or SE Asia in general?
Travelling in Indonesia, and in most SE Asian countries, is usually really safe, and the only problems you should worry about are pickpockets and scam artists. One way to keep safe in Indonesia, especially as a woman, is to wear shirts that cover your shoulders, and long pants and skirts. The majority of the population is Muslim, and while Indonesia is very accepting of other religions and cultures, they also have a strict sense of modesty. The best way to avoid unwanted attention in any foreign country is to research local customs, and I find it’s better to err on the side of caution and dress a little conservative no matter where I am. So, no bikinis outside of the resorts!
Just for fun: What should any expat pack when traveling to or moving to Indonesia?
Every expat in Indonesia needs to bring hand wipes, or hand sanitizer, and Imodium AD.
In Jakarta, public restrooms are sometimes nice and clean and have sinks for you to wash your hands…but sometimes not! Outside of Jakarta or other major cities? No guarantee you’ll get any kind of plumbing or soap. Most toilets in rural areas are squat toilets, and there are no sinks. Also, personal hygiene is hit or miss here, so if you’re eating local food at a cantina, bring the wipes for your hands and silverware.
Unless you’re eating in nice restaurants every day, breakfast/lunch/dinner, you’re going to have some kind of upset stomach. Diarrhea is such a common problem here that Indonesians will ask you if you have it, and they will not hesitate to tell you if they have it as well. Imodium AD can mean the difference between a little discomfort and a trip to the hospital to treat dehydration.
Finally: every female expat needs to bring her own tampons. They are hard to find, usually come in a small box of 8, are expensive, and when you ask for them the sales girls always look a little horrified. Save yourself the frustration and bring a nice big box.
What’s next for you?
While working here, I’ve managed to pay off all of my debt and save a bit, so I want to go backpacking for 7 months. Go around Asia…maybe Vietnam, Burma…then Egypt? It hasn’t been too safe recently, but I really want to go now that things are calming down.