On one of his first days as an English co–instructor for the Peace Corps, Keenan Hickman ’14 thought he was being asked to lunch by his counterpart. But in Indonesian, what he interpreted as, “Come to lunch,” actually meant “Come to the gravesite.” So, instead of going to a restaurant, the duo spent the day at the memorial site for Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president.
The language and cultural barriers have all been part of an exciting experience for Hickman during his stay on the Indonesian island of Java.
“I joined the Peace Corps because I had an interest in going someplace totally new and foreign where I could use my skills to better someone else’s situation, all while learning a brand new culture,” Hickman said. “I wanted to challenge myself in a major way that would undoubtedly help me grow as a person.”
Hickman, who majored in English at Randolph, has lived in a small village in the mountainous East Java district of Tulungagung with a host family since 2015. He works at MtsN Pucanglaban, an Islamic middle school where he co–teaches English classes by day and hosts informal English language clubs for interested students and teachers in the evenings. Because many of the students’ parents work long hours or in jobs outside of the village in order to provide for their families, Hickman has found that students often spend more time at school than at home.
“The teachers are very accommodating, friendly, and play the role of mentor to students more so than in the states,” he said. “I’m amazed to see students and teachers at school when there is no class, and it’s just a testament to how strong the school community is.”
Two of Hickman’s favorite parts about Indonesian culture are the relaxed lifestyle and the people’s love for humor and laughter. And like any educator, one of his greatest joys is seeing his students succeed.
“I get pumped seeing my students get a kick out of learning and challenging themselves in ways they never would have before,” Hickman said. “Another high point is when I see them applying things I taught them in the classroom outside of the classroom, like practicing speaking English. I don’t get to see immediate results of how I impacted an individual every day, but when I do it’s a great feeling.”
Though his two–year contract with the Peace Corps will run out this summer, Hickman plans to continue his adventurous way of life.
“Long–term, I’d like to put myself in a position where I can continue to be of service to others, especially those who are marginalized for whatever reason,” he said. “I also intend to keep traveling and exploring new cultures.”