Volunteer Teaching Batam Indonesia
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
I travelled to Batam Island in Indonesia to volunteer as an English Teacher after finding this awesome opportunity via Workaway.
Check out just how amazing a volunteer experience like this can really be.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
The students love going to their classes! Every day they are full of energy, playing with their friends, talking to their teachers & smiling! The students really enjoy learning English from volunteer teachers who can share stories with them about their home country. The Kindergarten students have class in the morning and the Primary students learn English after they finish at their local school.
For High School students, their day might start around 6 am and not finish until 9 pm or later. The students were very respectful, polite and kind. I had free time in between classes to explore town or go for lunch. School here is very important and highly valued and the high school students have goals of studying at University.
The food here is nothing like what I had assumed it would be like and that was my first lesson - never assume! As I have travelled to Bali and Ubud I had some idea but the cooking and availability of produce is really different in Batam. The staple, of course, is rice, but many locals enjoy all kinds of dishes including fried rice, fried noodles, fried chicken or fish and coconut-based sweets.
Tea and coffee shops are everywhere and ginger tea and a local ginger coffee are popular and delicious. The food at roadside restaurants is cheap even by Southeast Asian standards and are easy to find. The shopping malls feature large food courts, bakeries, grocery stores, fast food chains and plenty of Indonesian snacks. The iced tea stands are amazing; try iced tea with red bean or iced green tea with tapioca pearls!
Vegetarian-friendly - Tofu and Tempeh (made from soybean) are vegan dishes and served fried with garlic ginger, turmeric and soy sauce. If you are plant-based I highly recommend it. BBQ corn with herbs, chilli and fresh coconuts are the best budget afternoon snack (just ask for no butter).
Oh, and the food is super spicy!!! The local cooks are friendly and helpful, but you will need to learn some of the local words for ingredients if you are out of the city centre and want to tailor the dishes to suit dietary needs. If you are not concerned, a bowl of noodle soup with everything in it will cost just $1. A large amount of the local food is fried and fresh produce can be hard to find, however, by the road or at the markets you can find endless amounts of tropical fruit for a cheap price!
Batam is an island city and it is much further developed than I anticipated. It is the largest city of those that make up the Riau Islands and three of the islands are connected by the impressive Barelang Bridge. The island is located south of Singapore and on a clear day, you can see the buildings of Singapore from the shore of Batam.
Its tropical, humid and experiences heavy rainfall so pack a rain jacket and lightweight clothing. Because Batam is one of the largest ports of entry for Indonesia, you will always see large cargo ships out in the ocean; it's spectacular to see as they make their way across the strait.
The island can experience power outages during storms and dirt roads easily turn to mud! Pack accordingly as is can be hard to find suitable shoes and clothing unless you purchase it in Singapore.
The students are very smart and even though they are shy at first, a few lessons with them is all you need to start to see progress. I was so impressed with the senior students and their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings about global issues with me. We had many conversations about travelling, studying, religion, food, art and culture. The majority of each class is spent sharing stories and encouraging students to speak out loud in English and talk to one another.
Students are keen to build their confidence so be patient and kind towards the cultural differences here in Indonesia. Each lesson should include reading, writing and speak throughout the duration of the week and art is very popular so creating different projects with your class will be a lot of fun!
I met some lovely people who worked in the local shops near the school such as the family who cooked my dinner at the local night market, the lady who did my washing at the laundry and the local security guard who allowed me to borrow his helmet. I had a wonderful time sharing my adventures with Sabrina and her friends and family, they welcomed me into their home without hesitation and demonstrated such warm hospitality.
I was instantly a part of the community in Batam and everywhere I went people would smile and offer their help as best as they could with the language barrier. Kids are always out playing games in the street, friends enjoy a day at the mall to escape the heat and it is common to go out for drinks and karaoke! Relax and enjoy a traditional massage or day at the spa. You can also book a night away at one of the hotels in the city for a very good price and take advantage of the buffet breakfast, swimming pool and gym. Coffee shops and restaurants provide a great spot to sit and watch the world go by.
Here is a summary of my expenses in the Australian Dollar at the time I visited in April of 2017. It is optional to go island hopping or to see other parts of the city if you need to stick to a budget its achievable with a little extra planning. The island has an airport though it is very easy to get to Batam by ferry from Singapore. I had no complications with buying a ticket at the ferry port.
* Ferry Return Ticket $40
* Food on the island costs between $1 - $3 for street food and tea or coffee less than $1
* Bottled water 50c - $2 for a large bottle (try to buy bulk to reduce plastic waste)
* Food in the shopping malls or restaurants can average around $3 - $5 (western food)
* Laundry is per kilo at $1 - $2 (extra cost if you want to collect it on the same day)
* Hair treatment, shampoo, blow dry and cut $6
* Massage treatment $5 - $10 for 1 - 2 hours
* Moto Taxi (Go Jek) ranging from $1 - $5 average cost was $3 but it depends on the distance
* Starbucks or Franchise coffee (free Wi-Fi) average $4 for a large cup
* Local minivan (local mode of transport) $1 - $2 depending on distance
* Fruit from $1 per kilo (local market)
* Boat transfers from $1 - $3 around the island
* 5-star hotel from $50 a night
* 3-star hotel from $15 a night
* Typical Breakfast: A vegetable or chicken curry & roti $1.50 + hot cup of tea 50c
* Lunch at School: Tofu with vegetables and rice or vegetable soup (provided to volunteers)
* Dinner: Fried rice with tofu $3 + iced lemon tea $1 or Tempeh and vegetables $2
It is easy to eat for under $5 a day and you can buy drinks cheaper at a local supermarket in bulk. The local street food may be a slight culture shock if you have not experienced food in the region of Indonesia.
I always requested no MSG and less spicy and it was never a worry. I really enjoyed the variety of vegetable dishes and the local ginger tea which is served hot and helps if you are feeling sick. Donations such as school supplies, stickers, books, stationary are always welcomed by the students and they will love any additional materials that they can use to learn English!
It is also important to note that the ATM cash machines on the island have a withdraw limit of around $100 AU per transaction. It is a good idea to travel with a small amount of cash when you arrive to pay for immediate costs such as transport or snacks.
Batam is a unique destination and it is a great place to really focus on gaining further teaching experience because the students really want to learn and engage in English conversation. I will definitely be back - I have made life long friendships and have loved being a part of this amazing community.