Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

January 28, 2019

How to Write a Dissertation

by Tabitha Kidwell

You may have noticed that Keeping Tabs has been pretty quiet for the last… (a-hem)… three years or so. I hope you will trust me that this is because I have been busy writing something else.  And if you don’t trust me, I would be more than happy to send you my 315-page dissertation as proof!

That’s right – the wonderful day has come that I am finished with my dissertation!  Well, almost. I finished proofreading a very final version last week, and I have scheduled my dissertation defense for February 25th.  In most cases, if your advisor says you are ready for the defense, that should mean that you will pass.  My advisor is particularly helpful and responsive, so I should be okay… but I will still be a nervous wreck! At the defense, the 5 faculty members on my committee will all have suggestions about things I overlooked and ways to improve the final dissertation.  My earning a PhD is totally dependent on these 5 people’s judgement, so I will basically smile and say that I’ll make any changes they suggest.  And then, they will also smile and will say “you passed!”  And then everyone will be like this:

At least that is how I picture it going.  In any case, my dissertation is not actually “done.” I will have to make changes based on the feedback from my committee, and then I’ll submit it to the university by April 16th.  But it is very, very close, and I am very, very relieved.  I think most people think of “grad school” as a one- or two-year program, so people have been asking me, “are you almost done?” for almost four years.  But now, I am almost done!  I’ve been “writing” my dissertation for almost two years.  That process included reading a lot of research, writing my comprehensive exams, applying for grants, designing the study, proposing it to my committee, collecting data in Indonesia, analyzing that data, and then – finally – writing.  Along the way, I was given a lot of advice, and I learned a lot about how to get though the “dissertation writing” process successfully. Here are some of the lessons I learned:

Just Do One Small Thing After Another

I hated grad school my first semester.  At winter break of my first year, I was convinced that I would leave after the spring semester, and find a nice teaching job with a spot at the MA+20 spot on the pay scale. I was stressed, anxious, and totally overwhelmed.  Basically like this:

A lot of the anxiety I felt stemmed from the sheer volume of work I knew was still ahead of me.  How could I hope to write a dissertation, I asked myself, if I didn’t even know my own research interests?  Well, what I learned as the semesters ticked by was that I had already started building toward my dissertation without even realizing it.  By moving through coursework week by week and semester by semester, I was preparing for the dissertation, and for a continued career in academia (if I so chose…).  I wouldn’t have been able to write a dissertation without building an understanding of the field of education research and learning about research methodologies.  The readings I did and the papers I wrote for my courses during the first two years of grad school laid the foundation for my ability to conduct a study on my own.  In fact, some portions of the course papers I wrote actually ended up in the final dissertation.  And BUNCHES of the articles and books I had to read ended up being cited.  Especially once I started planning the study, collecting data, and writing, I would periodically freak myself out by thinking too much about everything left to do.  I was happiest when I could just keep my eyes on the task ahead of me – just transcribe this one interview, just analyze this one set of observations, just write this one section.  Sometime midway through the writing process, I read a profile of the prolific television producer Ryan Murphy, and ripped out this quote to hang above my desk:  “Energy begets energy.  He is intensely organized, with a plan for every hour: if you just do one small thing after another, he told me, you can create something immaculate and immense.”

Treat it like a Job

Creating something immaculate and immense doesn’t happen all at once. I worked a little bit every day, and I also tried to learn to know when to stop.  Most days, I put in about two good hours of dissertation work in the morning, and then switched to other work (which paid me money).  I didn’t work evenings, and I didn’t work weekends.  I was helped in this by having a full assistantship and flexible work I could do from home in the afternoons (or from Indonesia, while I was collecting data).  I know a lot of people write a dissertation while they are working a full-time job, so this advice won’t work for everyone’s situation.  It also helps that the years spent writing my dissertation coincided pretty exactly with the period of time when I met my husband, got engaged, and got married, so I had a lot of positive things happening in my life that sustained me through stressful moments.

I started feeling happier in my doctoral program, however, once I started to think of my studies as a job.  Part of the difficulty of my transition to grad school was readjusting to being a student. Science or humanities doctoral students often go straight into grad school after undergrad, but most education doctoral students are more mature.  After almost 10 years of teaching full-time, I missed the interaction of the classroom and the pace of the school year.   I missed feeling like I was contributing to society.  It took me some time to figure out how to manage my time and keep a work-life balance.  For me, that meant working from about 9 AM to 6 PM everyday, often with a break for yoga at lunchtime.  Even though no one cared when or where I worked, I felt most productive when I worked from home and started and ended at a consistent time.

Park Downhill

When I did stop working, I made efforts to leave myself in a good place when I started the next time.  You want to be able to start out rolling everyday. This is based on advice from Dr. Beth Cohen, who taught one of my methodology classes. It’s amazing how much time can be lost getting “back into” work from the day before, and how little recollection I had about work I had done just 24 hours earlier.  There are large swaths of my dissertation that I must have blacked out while writing.  On several occasions, I went to start a task and realized it was already done.  Or, I more often, I started doing it, then thought “I think I already did this,” and found that work done somewhere else.  To try to avoid occurrences like these,  I kept careful notes about what I had done each day and what needed to be done the next day.

I really got into the groove of keeping track of my progress after I had defended my proposal and started conducting the study.  During data collection, there were so many details to keep track of that clear record keeping was essential.  I had spreadsheets keeping track of participant information, data collection events, data transcription status, and data organization.  I wrote an update in a google doc at the end of every week to summarize what I had done that week, what I needed to do next, and what I had been thinking about.  This was really important when was writing my my methods chapter and had to go back and try to figure out what I had done when, and why, and what I had been thinking at the time.

Once I started analyzing all the data I collected, I kept a “data analysis log” and literally “logged in” and “logged out” everyday.  I noted when I analyzed each transcript or set of field notes, and then noted when I went back through groups of documents to code or re-code them.  After I got into a good routine of data analysis, I had a clearer vision of what needed to be done, and I scheduled tasks to do on future dates.  At the end of every session, I entered what I had done that day, and noted what I should do tomorrow.  Sometimes I made notes to myself to “think about this for next time.”  As I look at those notes now, I have almost no memory of writing them, and I would have had no memories to draw on when I had to write my methods chapter, either.  I continued the same process once I started writing, keeping a “writing log” in the same folder I kept all my in-progress dissertation chapter drafts. I haven’t looked at it since November 16, when I wrote “Read over Ch. 5; Put everything together!!!”  At the end of each writing session, I noted what I had done, what I should do the next day, and where to look for any information I needed.

Keep your Butt in the Chair


As I look back at all those logs now, I’m amazed by how much work I actually did and how slow progress actually was.  But still, everyday, I kept my butt in my chair and kept working.  This advice comes from my friend Andrene Taylor, who said the best way to write a dissertation is to just keep sitting down with it in front of you until it is finished.  And that is basically what I did.  I worked really hard, I didn’t cut corners, and I didn’t skip steps.  I spent about six months just “analyzing data,” a process that led to a lot of notes, memos, and documents that would be incomprehensible to anyone but me (and actually, some are incomprehensible to me, too).  Somehow, through that process, I ended up with a really interesting (I think) set of findings that hold concrete implications for language teacher education.  If I had tried to start writing last March when I finished data collection, it would have been a mess.  I had to put time into thinking about and organizing the data in order to write thoughtful and organized findings.  And when the findings weren’t particularly thoughtful, I had to revise and rework them until they were.  Sometimes, this meant cutting and re-writing whole sections, but it resulted in not having to do many revisions once my advisor took a look at it.  A 315-page manuscript probably seems like a lot of work, but it is actually even more work than I expected (much to my chagrin!)

Keep your Butt in a Comfortable Chair

This is something I hadn’t expected – that writing a dissertation would be so physically demanding.  Basically, I injured myself by sitting too long and too often in a bad chair.  It wasn’t a particularly bad chair, it was just a typical office chair, but I sat in it for hours everyday, hunched over my laptop.  After about 6 months of that, I had to start seeing an occupational therapist because I was having so much pain in my lower back and hips.  They gave me stretching and strengthening exercises to do, but I also invested in my work space.  I got an external monitor so I could look straight ahead and not hunch so much, and I got a kneeling chair so I could sit more ergonomically.  It took some getting used to – the first few weeks, I would switch back and forth to the office chair – but now I sit in the kneeling chair all day and have very little back pain.

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Little changes – big difference!

Research Something You Love – Or Figure Out How to Make it Something You Love

This is probably the most important lesson I learned.  Writing a dissertation takes so much time, that there is no sense spending all that time on something you are not passionate about.  When I first started  working on my dissertation, I didn’t really see how it would be possible to research something I loved because I didn’t really want to research anything. I wanted a PhD to be qualified to support and prepare teachers, so I was willing to write a dissertation to be able to do that.  I was pretty ambivalent about the research process, though, and didn’t see myself as a researcher. The dirty truth is that, when I was planning my dissertation, I didn’t really want to research anything.  What I did want to do, however, was go back to Indonesia and spend time with the community of teachers I had worked with previously.  So I figured out a way to do that within a dissertation study.  I think scholars are supposed to say that they sought out a compelling research study and were motivated by that, but I was motivated by the opportunity to spend 6-10 months living in the tropics again.

Much to my surprise, by planning my dissertation around something I loved, I ended up finding a compelling research study – and I was happy doing it. Sure, there were times I was NOT happy, but overall, it was an enjoyable process (or at least I can say so now that it is done!). The great thing about a dissertation is that you can design the study yourself (or you should be able to), so I was able to work directly with teachers and to be in classrooms throughout the data collection process.  One of the most valuable parts of the study, from my perspective, was bringing my novice teacher participants together as a professional learning community to discuss their teaching together and share ideas.  Many of them were my former students from when I had taught there from 2011-2013, so it was really rewarding to see them in their own classrooms and to support them during their early teaching careers.  If that is all I had done during my 8 months in Indonesia, that would have been enough to justify the time and effort.  The dissertation is a bonus.  Looking at the full 315 pages now, the most meaningful parts are the sections where I include participants own voices and share their experiences.  I didn’t anticipate how rewarding it would be to share their stories and to build on those stories to find meaningful implications.  Now that I’ve finished conducting my own study,  I can see myself continuing to do research in the future.  I don’t know where I’ll be next year, but I’ve applied to a few assistant professor jobs that require both teaching and research.  Wherever I’ll be, I know that I’ll be happy if I find ways to work in settings and on ideas that are interesting to me.  And if I have a comfortable chair.  And maybe some champagne.

June 4, 2018

How’s Wedding Planning Going?

by Tabitha Kidwell

People keep asking me: “How’s wedding planning going?”  I find this stressful not because I find the process of wedding planning overwhelming or upsetting, but because of the expectation that it should be.  Before I planned a wedding, I thought it would be stressful, too.  I’ve asked many people this question, and had a vague assumption that they spent the 6 months prior to their wedding trying on veils, tasting cake, and licking envelopes.  I have done all of those things, and they were time consuming, but then they were done.  Wedding planning is often portrayed as a season of life, but for me it has been more like a checklist.

This is great news, because I love checklists.  I have found great satisfaction in finishing each little project – setting up the registry, mailing the invitations, ordering the flowers – and once each is done, I don’t think much more about it.  I’m also helped by the fact that there are many items that I have basically crossed off the proverbial wedding to-do list.  Actually, it’s not proverbial – it’s’s checklist.  I just deleted half of the crap on there. Envision your wedding. Have been doing that since I was 12. Save groomswear photos. Not my problem. Book your cocktail hour musicians. Not having any.  Other stuff was “checked off” within about 1 second. Decide on a city and season. Columbus, Ohio, as soon as possible. Book your officiant. My uncle, who is a minister at my family’s church. Think about wedding flowers. Okay, thought about ’em.

So, I haven’t put a ton of energy into the details.  Every  now and then, I come across photos of some gorgeous wedding on Instagram or Pinterest, and I feel guilty that I have not poured my heart and soul into having a stunningly unique event.  And then I feel angry that I have been made to feel guilty by social media’s unreachable and unreasonable standards.   And then I remind myself that very few people will even notice if I have a lot of cute sayings written on chalkboards,  if guests release Chinese lanterns as we depart, or if my 17 bridesmaids all have wisteria tucked in their updos. It’s a lot easier to plan a wedding when you’re in your thirties and have attended approximately a bajillion weddings.  Some of my friends obsessed over wedding details, some of them spent a ton of money, but I don’t remember much as a guest besides how much fun the party was.  And we know our friends and family are bringing the party.  We’ll have a good DJ, an open bar, and filet mignon.  Otherwise, I’m not pulling my hair out over centerpieces or cake decoration.

I’m also helped by the fact that my mom and Jim’s mom did a lot of the legwork at the beginning. Since Jim proposed approximately 8 hours before I left for Indonesia, we didn’t have time to find the perfect venue.  Here’s how the early stages of wedding planning went: 1. My mom drove by a place she thought looked nice; 2. She called them to ask what dates were available; 3. We booked one of those dates.  It’s fine.  What I like most about it is that it is a 5 minute drive from the church and next door to the wedding hotel and the after-party bar. The theme of the wedding is “easy to get to.”

And probably the biggest reason that I am not stressed out by wedding planning is that I have a super flexible schedule right now.  I’m writing my dissertation and doing freelance work online.  Writing a dissertation is a huge project requiring a lot of brainpower, with an indeterminate end date. Planning a wedding is more like a series of easily accomplished tasks that each require very little brainpower, with a very set end-date.  Planning has been very satisfying and a good break from dissertation writing.  Plus, I have the flexibility to take those breaks.  When I went to Columbus for a week in April, I visited the church, met the florist, tasted cake, tasted reception food, dropped my dress off at the tailor, got engagement photos taken, and made no progress on my dissertation. And that was fine.  When the invitations came on the Thursday afternoon 8 weeks before the wedding, and I felt like I needed to send them immediately, that’s what I spent the whole afternoon doing.  If I were working full-time right now, I would have had to take time off work to travel back and meet with vendors.  I would have made Jim help me stuff and mail the invitations after work when we were both tired and cranky.  And I would probably be way more stressed.  So that definitely helps!

So, that’s the extended answer.  Wedding planning is going great.  There’s a lot left to do in the next few weeks, but plenty of time to do it.  So far, I am enjoying the planning process and trying to keep the stress to a minimum.  It will not be the most dazzling affair in the history of the Internet.  But it will be a day for Jim and me to celebrate our union in the company of all the people we love most in the world.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



March 4, 2018

Good-Bye, Nana Bets

by Tabitha Kidwell

My grandmother died last week. But really, Nana Bets has been dying for a long time. When I saw her last July, I knew it would be the last time. All through the fall I was waiting for a call from my dad to let me know she had passed. And even before that, she had been fading away, little by little, for almost the past decade. We had started worrying about her memory before my grandfather died in 2010. By the time she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014, she would forget if she had eaten, and would cycle through the same conversation topics every ten minutes. When I saw her last summer, she had forgotten the very mechanics of eating, pulling sandwiches apart layer by layer. Extended conversation was out of the question. She seemed to still remember me, and would smile and laugh when I showed her pictures of our family, but there was very little left to remind me of the Nana Bets I remembered.

Now that she is no longer physically present, tethered to the earth by a body and mind that are gradually failing her, those memories seem more solid. Now that I’m not worrying about the life she is leading, I can be grateful for the life she led.   I’ve been reminded of details I hadn’t thought of for years. How she always had packs of Big Red and Juicy Fruit in the glove box of her car, along with a kangaroo-fur pouch full of cash that she called her “mad money.” How we would stop to buy berries at roadside stands on the way to summer vacations on Lake Erie. How she would give us grandkids $20 or $30 cash for our birthdays, and would take us to any stores we wanted to spend it. The real treat of that present was to have someone willing to take you to the dollar store and Toys R’ Us and watch while you decided what color of silly putty to buy.

In short, Nana Bets was an exceptional grandmother. Even more than that, she was an exceptional person. She skipped the second grade. She briefly worked as a fashion model in her late teens. She went to college as a single mother in the 60s and earned a degree in education even though she was never able to pass the required swimming test. She taught elementary school in Columbus Public Schools until she left the classroom to help start the school counseling program. She married my grandfather in the living room of the house where they lived for the next 44 years. They went on bike and ski trips, traveled all over the world, and got their pilot licenses and a little Cessna airplane.

I wish I knew more about the life she led before I was a part of it, but once I thought to ask about those memories, they were already lost. What I do know is that she had a huge impact on my life. She taught me to be curious about the world. She took me to movies and bookstores. She came to my band recitals and to my school plays. She insisted on hugs when she arrived and departed. She purposefully, unquestionably let me know I was loved, even through the teenage years when I felt decidedly unloveable. She has been a positive presence throughout my life, and has helped make me who I am. Even though she is no longer here, her legacy continues to shape who I am. I wish we could have had more time together, but I am so grateful for the time we had, and for the person she was.

November 11, 2017

What my Research is All About

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I was in high school, people started using this phrase: “I’m all about…”  I thought this phrase was really stupid, but because I was in high school and the people around me were all saying it, I said it too.  “I’m all about cool ranch doritos!”  “I’m all about the Spice Girls movie!”  “I’m all about that inflatable sofa!”  I can clearly recall one summer night at Camp Akita when every member of the high school work crew had to introduce themselves and say what they were “all about.”  I might have said I was “all about” grilled cheese and tomato soup. Frankly, I have no clue now what I was “all about” at age 16, and I probably didn’t know then, either.

When you’re doing dissertation research, or preparing to do dissertation research, people always ask “what’s your research about?”   Here’s a little experiment you can do: find a doctoral student, ask them this question, and watch carefully. You will be able to see a little piece of them die before they answer.  I have answered this question a thousand times, a thousand different ways.  Sometimes I say, “the learning, beliefs, and practices of novice Indonesian English teachers.” Other time I say, “how English teachers learn to teach about culture, and how they do so during their early years of teaching.”  Here in Indonesia, I can just say, “my research is about English teaching,” and people will accept it because they think it is so darn great that I decided to come to Indonesia for my research. One of the greatest parts of being here in Indonesia is that I am spared the never-ending introductions and queries about “research interests” that happen on university campuses in the US

So, my research is about all of those things, but most of all, it is about English teaching in the Indonesian context.  Indonesia is the fourth-most populous nation, is home to more Muslims than the Middle East, and is dizzyingly diverse, but we hear almost nothing about it in the U.S.  A recent series of stories on NPR is a welcome exception, and I recommend reading or listening if you’d like to learn more about Indonesia.  Most of those stories start something like this:

“As home to 250 million people speaking hundreds of languages and spanning some 17,000 islands in an area as wide as the continental U.S., Indonesia is one of the most populous and diverse countries in the world.”

This is all true.  Indonesia is home to Sumatran Muslims who practice Sharia law, to Balinese Hindu women who carry offerings to the temple every morning, to cosmopolitan Jakartans who shop at Cartier and Versace, and to Papuan men who wear penis gourds.  To unify this enormous mishmash of cultures and peoples, the Indonesian founding fathers were very deliberate about crafting a national identity.  The best example of this is the Pancasila, the nation’s official philosophy, which includes a commitment to social justice and unity across diversity.

Education policy plays an important role in sustaining that national identity.  For instance, in recent years, Pancasila has become a required subject on all college campuses, perhaps in an effort to remind Sumatrans, Balinese, Papuans, and all the other residents of those 17,000 islands that they are Indonesians first.  Another example is the most recent primary and secondary school curricula, issued in 2013, which requires teachers of all subjects to infuse “character education” into their teaching by addressing one of 18 “values that form character” in each lesson.  Some of these values are rather benign, like “loving to read,” “friendliness,” “caring for the environment,” but others are more ideologically charged, at least from my American point of view, like “discipline,” “religiosity,” and “nationalism.”  Most national public education systems implicitly expect schoolteachers to help their students become good citizens who contribute to society and conform to societal expectations.  Few systems are as explicit as Indonesia regarding the teacher’s role in sustaining the nations cultural values.

My research looks at how novice English teachers balance this demand with the teaching of language, which is already a culturally-laden subject.  Culture and language are so interconnected that teachers can’t help but expose students to new ways of thinking and seeing the world while teaching English.  Language teaching requires teachers to act as cultural mediators and help students see the world and their lives from an intercultural perspective.  It could be difficult for new teachers to sustain Indonesian cultural identity while also teaching about new cultures in language classes.

Or at least that is what I thought.  That’s what my dissertation proposal says, that’s what the fancy academic research says, and that’s what I thought based on my own experience as a foreign language teacher.  After 3 months of data collection, I’m not so sure.  Over the past 3 months, I’ve done 10 interviews and 3 focus groups with novice teachers; I’ve done 42 lesson observations and interviews with English teachers from elementary school to university level, including in teacher education courses; and I’ve led 2 teacher professional development groups.  After all that data collection, I have the impression that it’s actually pretty easy for new teachers to sustain Indonesian cultural identity because they don’t do much teaching about new cultures in language classes.  In other words, the systemic pressure to focus on Indonesian culture seems to be so strong that new English teachers don’t feel comfortable or able to also address the “intercultural perspectives” that the fancy academic research talks about.

So, I’m at a point in my research where I need to figure out what this is “all about.”  I’ve done all that data collection.  At first glance, what’s happening isn’t what I’ve expected.  But I haven’t done much more than a first glance.  This week marks the end of the first phase of my research, where I’ve been observing what is happening without any efforts to change it.  I’m curious about how teachers are teaching about culture, but I haven’t explicitly talked to them about how they could be teaching about culture or addressing intercultural perspectives.  At my next professional development meeting with the novice teacher participant this afternoon, I’ll open up a discussion about culture and model some techniques they could use to teach about culture.  I’ll do that again at meetings in December, January, and February.  As I continue to observe and interview these teachers every month, I’ll look for times when they do address intercultural perspectives or engage students in critical thinking about cultural issues.  I’ll look for what circumstances and factors support their ability to do so.  My research isn’t quantitative, so I’m not looking to provide any kind of causal link between teacher’s practice and the professional development I’m providing them.  Instead, I’m hoping to see when and how new English teachers teach about culture, and tell the story of how that happens, so that other teachers elsewhere can follow their lead.

That’s the fun part of my research.  The less fun part, for me at least, is analyzing all that data I have collected – pages and pages of field notes from lessons and transcripts from interviews.  Before I get too far into helping teachers teach differently, I need to look at how they’re teaching now – and I need to look carefully at all that data to see if what I think at first glance is what’s really going on.  It probably isn’t – what people say they are “all about”, and what data seems to be “all about”, is often not the whole story.  So I’m going to take a break from data collection, bring my computer with me to a quiet string of Islands just north of Java, and spend the next week digging into what story the data is actually telling.   Another one of the greatest parts of being here in Indonesia is the chance to make data analysis more fun by doing it in sight of the ocean.  And I’ll probably find a little time to relax, as well. Because, you know, I’m all about beach vacations!


November 5, 2017

Everyday Adventures

by Tabitha Kidwell

My approach to life here in Indonesia is very different from when I was here before.  Over the two years I was here as an English Language Fellow, I traveled to all the major islands and a lot more not-so-major islands.  There’s a patriotic Indonesian song that extolls the beauty of the country “from Sabang to Merauke,” the two farthest cities in Indonesia – one on an island perched just above the northern tip of Sumatra, the other on the southeast coast of Papua, almost to the border of PNG.  I didn’t make it all the way to Meruake, but I did get to Manokwari, on the northern coast of Papua.  That is still 500 miles away, but a lot of people don’t even make it all the way out to Papua.  And I did go to Sabang, 2700 miles northeast, and to dozens of cities between the two.  Because I had friends working as Fellows in major cities all over the country, and because those friends often hosted teacher workshops that needed speakers or facilitators, I was able to travel all over the country, and often had it paid for through my professional activity allowance.  During those two years, I also traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia.  Even when I wasn’t setting out on big trips, I would leave Salatiga every few weeks, often just to visit friends in Jakarta or in Yogyakarta, a city about 3 hours to the south.  I somehow found time to do my actual job in Salatiga, and even to make friends here, but I did my best to see Indonesia during my time here.

This time is different.  Maybe it’s because I’ve already been everywhere I wanted to go (with the exception of a couple of remote dive resorts that are probably still out of my price range).  Maybe it’s because I have a clear project here – with only 7 months, my data collection schedule is pretty full, and I can’t be jetting off every weekend.  Whatever the reason, since arriving in Salatiga in mid-August, I have left town overnight exactly twice.  Both were for trips with clear purposes – first, to attend a conference in Semarang, a town an hour north of me, and then to shop for a wedding dress in Singapore.  Otherwise, I’m happy staying here and sticking to my routine.  That isn’t to say that life here is boring – for instance, as I write this, I am distracted by a wedding down the street with very loud speakers and very amateur karaoke.  Life offers up surprises every day here, and those little surprises are probably another reason I’m happy just staying in town.  Even my daily routine is a departure from daily life in the US.  Here’s a typical day:

I start to wake up a little before 5, when the call to prayer starts, but I don’t get out of bed until 5:30 or so.  I do yoga or go for a run past farmers in the rice fields and children headed to school.

Most days, I go to observe and interview an English teacher at a local school.  My arrival usually involves stares, giggles, general merriment among the students, who are not accustomed to seeing foreigners come to their school.  If it’s an elementary school, I’m usually mobbed by children wanting to shake my hand; if it’s a middle school, brave students are more likely to shout out “wass-yoh-nem” and then beat a hasty retreat into a group of friends; at high schools, the mobile phones come out, and I pose for a few dozen photos.

Sometimes I even lead an impromptu song and dance session!

If I don’t go to a school, I ride my scooter to campus, past rice fields and views of volcanoes.  I hang out in the office, chat with colleagues, and try to do a little work, before heading out for lunch. Sometimes I go fancy places with waiters and menus (for less than $5), sometimes I go to street food stalls (for less than 75 cents), but recently I’ve been going to a little Javanese cafeteria that lets you choose among dozens of Javanese dishes.  I fill up my plate, then the lady at the end calls out a price.  The price doesn’t always seem to correlate with the contents of my plate, but it is never more than $1.50, with a drink.

In the afternoon, I might go back to campus, unless the gamelan orchestra has practice.  I’m more likely to go work for a few hours at a coffee shop, or to go to a local hotel and read by their pool.


I’m usually home for the evening by 5.  I have dinner at home, and read or watch TV until I go to bed around 9. I’ve read the full New Yorker most weeks, and have even gotten through most of the Economist some weeks, which I consider a real accomplishment.

So, three months, and only two trips away.  This time around, I’m much happier just leading my quiet life here in Salatiga.  Even if some days, like the days when there is a wedding down the street, are not so quiet.  At least I can always head to that hotel pool!

October 4, 2017

Wedding Dress Shopping In Singapore

by Tabitha Kidwell

My fiancé Jim proposed to me the night before I left for Indonesia.  The last-minute proposal was a good thing because I didn’t spend the last week in the States trying to plan a wedding.  I was able get ready and spend time with Jim without having that added stress at the last minute.  The last-minute proposal was also a bad thing – because I didn’t spend my last week in the states trying to plan a wedding.  It turns out, there are a lot of wedding-related tasks that are a lot easier to do in America.  Like getting your ring properly sized.  Or finding a venue.  Or buying a wedding dress.

The first problem was easily solved with some dental floss:


The second problem was solved by the world’s best mother and future-mother-in-law, who have already booked the church, reception venue, and rehearsal dinner venue, with virtually no help from the bride or groom.  They also already bought their dresses:


Jim and I have also been working on DJ, photographer, flowers, cake, etc., from out of town/country, and that is all going fine so far.  But that final problem was something I just couldn’t do here.  This photo of the local wedding dress shop might explain why:


Pastel ball gowns aren’t exactly my style.  I looked into shopping in Jakarta, and there were some possibilities, but it didn’t seem too promising.  I thought about flying to Australia for a weekend, or flying home to Ohio to buy a wedding dress over Thanksgiving, but before traveling to another continent to shop, I headed to Singapore to check out the options there.

I did some research online and found some VERY expensive stores where you could buy designer gowns (e.g., Oscar de La Renta, Carolina Herrera, Elie Saab)  that were WAY out of my price range.  And I found some places that offered to make any gown you brought a picture of, starting at 89 USD, which seemed WAY too cheap.  And then there were some goldilocks, just-right boutique.  I made appointments at a few of those mid-range stores.  As I started making appointments, I realized most of the stores were located on the same two streets.  I’ve written before about how Indonesian people are cooperative and tend to put businesses of the same type on the same block.  It turns out Singaporean people are the same way:  There were like 10 bridal shops on two streets in Chinatown. I made appointments at a few of those, and also at The Gown Warehouse, which was located near the U.S. Embassy.

Shopping for wedding dresses in Singapore was an interesting experience for a few reasons.  First, apparently Singaporean brides usually rent several dresses, including one for pre-wedding photos that is not meant to be walked in (and certainly not danced in).  That meant that some of the dresses I was shown were totally impractical.  I asked how the train of one dress would be bustled, and the saleslady told me, no, that dress was just for pre-wedding photos, NOT for walking.  Also, the fact that dresses are typically rented means that if you’d like to buy one, it is made to measure, and you can typically customize it.  A lot of brides go a step further and have a dress designed and made from scratch, often copying the design from a photo.  Because they’re worried you’ll copy their design, the dress boutiques don’t let you take photos unless you are in contract to buy the dress!  This doesn’t totally make sense, because they all have photos of their dresses on their websites, but they have signs up threatening to end the session if you take out a camera.  I almost started crying at my first appointment because I was already a little sad about shopping for dresses by myself, let alone not being able to send photos to my mom and sister.  Sensing my panic, the saleslady let me take a few photos, and I knew from then on to take pictures surreptitiously in the dressing room before the ladies came in to  zip me up:

As you can see from those photos, I tried on a bazillion lace, boat-neck, mermaid-cut dresses.  I ended up buying the first one I tried on – which is not pictured here (but looks more or less like all of those).  I started at the Gown Warehouse because I had seen a design I liked there, and that design ended up being the one I compared everything else to.  In my opinion, The Gown Warehouse had lower prices and nicer dresses than the stores in Chinatown.  A taxi driver told me this was because I needed to bargain in China town, which I believe (most of them quoted a price of 3000 USD to have a dress made!) but didn’t try to do so myself.  For fellow Southeast Asian resident brides-to-be, if you want to keep the process simple, spend a reasonable amount, and have as close to a “western” wedding dress shopping experience as possible, I would recommend The Gown Warehouse.  They are making my dress to measure, and are even customizing a few features so I can have exactly what I want!  I’ll go back in January for the first fitting, then may have to go back again in March if alterations are needed.  I’m so relieved to have this taken care of – and so excited to wear the dress next June!

September 6, 2017

Navigating the RISTEK-DIKTI Visa Process: Advice for Foreign Researchers in Indonesia

by Tabitha Kidwell

To be able to conduct research of any kind in Indonesia, researchers need to get a foreign research permit. Actually, that’s only the first of many documents you need to obtain. I’ve collected over a dozen official documents, and I’m not yet finished with the immigration process. I’m sure all those permits and letters serve important purposes for different people or offices, but the labyrinthine bureaucracy makes it all blend together. In this post, I’ll try to explain my experience through the whole process. Depending on a researcher’s nationality, research topic, or location in Indonesia, your experience could be quite different, but I hope this will be helpful to future researchers in Indonesia. I’ve divided the steps up into three stages: applying for the FRP & getting a research visa, paperwork in Jakarta, and Immigration and residency paperwork. I suggest only thinking about one stage at a time, otherwise the process seems too insurmountable. Completing all the required paperwork to do research and live in Indonesia is a long and tedious process, but anyone with enough tenacity will be able to complete the process.

I. Applying for the FRP & Getting a Research Visa (At Home in your Country)

This is much easier than it used to be now that the process is online – I have friends who had to send their application in paper copy just a few years ago.  Here are the steps you should follow.  When I can, I’ve included copies of the documents I submitted.  I was accepted on the first try, so my documents must have been okay.  Even with being accepted the first time, I didn’t get my visa until about 3 months after I applied, so that would be the bare minimum.  I recommend applying at least 4 months before you hope to go to Indonesia.

1. Create an account at

2.  Complete the initial application. This asks for your demographic and personal information, information from your CV (education, research experience, professional experience, and recent publications), information about your study (title, objective, abstract, location, duration, funding), information about your counterpart, and information about your advisor and department chair from your home institution.  If you are a student, be sure to indicate that when asked for your “role” or “position” so that there is no confusion about you paying the (significantly smaller) student research fee.

3. Obtain and upload the following documents:

a. A formal letter of request to conduct research in Indonesia

b. Your CV

c. A passport photo with a red background

d. A color scan of your passport photo page

e. A letter of acceptance from your Indonesian counterpart

f. The Indonesian Counterpart’s CV

g. Your detailed research proposal (I had trouble later because I did not include a cover page, but RISTEK-DIKTI accepted this version.  I’d suggest including a cover page with the title, your name, and your institution,  just to make this easier later)

h. A letter of recommendation from a university official (I had my department chair write this)

i. A letter of recommendation from a Senior Scientist in your field (I had my advisor write this)

j. A health certificate (I asked my doctor for a letter saying I was in good health).

k. Letter of Recommendation from the Indonesian Embassy or Consulate where you will apply for the visa (I found an e-mail address for the embassy nearest to me, and e-mailed them to request a letter of recommendation)

l. A list of the research equipment you will bring to Indonesia (I uploaded a short letter saying I would bring my laptop and an audiorecorder)

m. Letter guaranteeing sufficient funds (I asked my department’s secretary to write a letter saying how much funding I had from my home university).

n. A letter telling which Indonesian Embassy or Consulate you will visit to apply for your visa  (They ended up e-mailing me to ask this again after I had been approved.)

o. Bank statement (They e-mailed me to ask for a more recent one after I had been approved. I have heard that they want to see at least 1500 USD in the account.)

p. A letter committing to joint publication of research results with Indonesian counterparts. (I wrote a letter myself.)

q. If you are coming with a partner, family, or research team, you also need to upload their passport, photo, CV, recommendation, health certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.

4.  Check all that over, hit “submit,” and celebrate – you have completed the first major hurdle in this process!

5. Now you wait.  The approval committee meets monthly, and you can see their meeting dates and minutes here.  They could ask you to revise your proposal or your documents, or they could contact you or your counterpart to Skype into a meeting and present about your research.  You are probably more likely to encounter difficulties if your research topic is something sensitive like police corruption or deforestation.  Mine was pretty benign – about English teachers – so I was approved on the first try.

6.  Eventually you will hear that your application was approved.  Then you wait some more. It took about 6 weeks for me to receive the visa authorization “telex” that let me apply for my visa.  Once you have that, you can move on to the next step….

7.  Apply for your visa.  If you have lived or worked abroad before, this stage will be similar to your previous experiences getting visas.  I was able to start my file by registering online with the embassy in Washington, D.C., then I had to give them 105 USD, my passport, passport photos (with a white background this time), and a copy of the telex I received from RISTEK-DIKTI.  I also had to show my round trip airline ticket. Processing the visa took 7 working days.  Since I lived in D.C., I dropped it off and picked it up in person.  Check with your embassy or consulate about their required documents, fees, and timelines.  Once you have your visa, buy your plane tickets input your arrival date at, and get ready to go to Indonesia!

III. Paperwork in Jakarta

No matter where your research will take place, you have to start in Jakarta – and you probably need to plan to stay about a week and a half, unless you have a friend or hire an agent who can pick up your document from Kemendagri.  Bring plenty of passport photos with a red background (get a bunch of these taken before you go – I just took a photo with my iPhone, edited it to the right size, and printed out a whole page of them on photo paper), several copies of your passport, and make extra copies of any documents you are given along the way. Here are the steps you can follow:

1. Go to the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education (Kementerian Riset, Teknologi, dan Pendidikan Tinggi, or Ristek-Dikti) to get your Letter of Research Permit (Surat Izin Penelitian, or SIP).  Their office is on the 20th floor of BBPT building 2 on Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta.  This was the most pleasant and quickest of all the offices.  I went right at 8:30 the first morning I arrived, and the place was very calm.  I completed a form, gave them passport photos, and paid the 1.6 million Rp student research fee.  You can’t pay at the office itself – you have to leave the building, walk out to the road, go to the Mandiri bank in the next building over, pay it there, get the receipt, and go back to the Ristek-Dikti office. I had to wait few minutes, then they gave me my SIP, a cool laminated Research Permit Card, and with 5 copies of my SIP with cover letters to give to the rector of my host university, the immigration office, the police headquarters, and the ministry of the interior.  They were really nice, and the whole process took maybe 45 minutes. If you do this in the morning, you can easily hop on a go-jek or in a taxi to go complete the next step on the same day.

2.  Go to the National Police Headquarters (Markas Besar Kepolisian Negara Republic Indonesia, or Mabes-Polri) to get your traveling permit (Surat Keterangan Jalan, or SKJ). This is located at Jl. Trunojoyo no 3in South Jakarta.  If you ask around about where foreigners should go to “lapor” (report), people in the police complex will point you to a waiting room at the back of a building.  You take a number when you enter.  I had to wait about 45 minutes, then I completed a form, gave them two photos, and the packet that Ristek-Dikti had made for them (which included a cover letter, my SIP, and photocopies of my passport and visa pages).  I finished this just before noon on day 1, and they told me they would have the SKJ ready the next morning.  I returned the morning of day 2, and didn’t need to take a number. I just went to the same window as the day before and asked if my “SKJ” was ready.  I waited about 5 minutes, and they called my name and gave me the letter.  There is a copy shop just down the way from the waiting room where I made a photocopy.  That left me enough time on day 2 to submit the documents for the next step.

3.  Go to the Office of National Unity and Politics (Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, or Kesbangpol) at the Ministry of Home Affairs (Kementerian Dalam Negeri Republic Indonesia, or Kemendagri) to request your Research Notification Letter (Surat Pemberitahuan Penelitian, or SPP).  The Kemendagri complex is a huge collection of big white buildings on the road north of the MONAS (Monument Nasional) complex, conveniently called “Jalan Merdeka Utara” (North Independence Road).  This confused my Go-Jek driver, who kept trying to take me to “Jalan Merdeka Timor” (East Independence Road).  When you find KEMENDAGRI (No 8, Jalan Merdeka Utara), the Kesbangpol office is on the ground floor of building B.   Enter the complex, walk straight ahead, turn right before the banks, and the office will be the last door on your left.  You need to give them a copy of the documents collected thus far (SIP, SKJ, cover letter from Ristek-Dikti), a copy of your passport, and 2 passport photos.  They give you a little yellow form and tell you to come back in 5-7 business days.  That form has a phone number you can call to ask if it is finished, but it took me 4 or 5 times before anyone answered the phone. If you need to get to your research site right away, someone else can collect the SPP for you, but if not, enjoy your week in Jakarta.  It took 5 business days for my SPP, and it took about 10 minutes to pick up.  They also gave me copies of the SPP addressed to the regional governor at my research site and to the regional police office at my research site – more about that later.  Once you have your SPP, celebrate with a nice dinner in Jakarta before you head to your research location and begin the next round of paperwork!  You got your SIP, your SKJ, and your SPP, and you deserve a treat!

III. Immigration and Residency Paperwork (At your Research Site)

Once you leave Jakarta, you might be tempted to relax and feel like your paperwork woes are finished, but they are actually just getting started.  The Jakarta offices are accustomed to issuing the paperwork you need, but the local offices often don’t encounter many foreigners. Even in Central Java, a fairly well-connected area, many of the civil servants I met with seemed a little confused or flustered about what paperwork I needed to submit or be given.  This can make the process more complicated because you may go one day and be told you need to collect a certain number of documents, then come the next day with those documents only to learn that you need something else, too. Also, in these offices, there is often only one person who is in charge of paperwork for foreigners, so if they are out for a few days, it can really hold you up.  But don’t lose hope – everyone I encountered was very friendly, and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment after you finish all your office visits and get all the letters you (may or may not) need.  I’ll explain my process below, but your process is almost guaranteed to be different.  There was a lot of confusion for me about which paperwork needed to be done first – I was told by one person that I needed the residency letter to get the KITAS, and by another that I needed the KITAS to get the residency letter.  It’s best to just proceed step by step.  If you can get one letter or visit one office every day, you’ll be done in under two weeks.

1. Go to the local police office to get the Letter of Report (Surat Tanda Melaporkan).  I gave them copies of my passport and various letters (I honestly don’t recall which ones).  This took one day in Salatiga, but then the person responsible was out of the office, so I couldn’t pick it up for a couple of days.  You need this letter for the next step.

2.  Immigration paperwork.  Within 30 days of your arrival in the country, you need to visit the local immigration office to request your Limited Stay Permit Cart (Kariu Izin Tinggal Terbatas, or KITAS), and your Multiple Exit Re-Entry Permit (MERP).  At least in Semarang, this was a surprisingly easy process. It used to be that you would have to go three times – once to apply, once to take photos and fingerprints and pay, and once to pick the document up.  But because I completed my forms online at http://izintinggal., I was able to do my photos, fingerprints, and payment on my first visit, which probably lasted about 30 minutes total!  They need a letter of guarantee from my counterpart, the Letter of Report from the local police office, copies of my visa, arrival stamp, and photo page in my passport, passport photos, and a copy of my original visa telex.  I also included a cover letter, and almost had the whole thing rejected because the two letters were written by different people, but instead, they just gave the cover letter back.  I’ve heard that some immigration offices also need a letter of residency from the RT/RW, so you might want to call your office ahead of time to ask what you need.  The office will take your passport, then you should be able to return after 4 days to take it back with KITAS the stamps inside, and also a KITAS card.  They also e-mailed me two documents.  I didn’t receive a MERP blue book like I did last time, but they assured me that it was now electronic and I didn’t need the card.

3.  The SKTT.  This is the one that really takes a lot of time, and that must proceed in a certain order. You can start this before you have your KITAS.  I’m not totally certain I needed to do this one, since I only plan to stay 7 months and will not need an extension, but I’m a rule-follower, so I did.

a.  You should start by visiting the Local Agency of National Unity and Politics (Badan Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, or Kesbangpol) to ask what paperwork you will need and get forms that will need to be filled out or stamped by lower levels of government.

b.  Then, you visit the Ketua RT, the head of the neighborhood.  Ketua RT is the lowest level of government, but he is unpaid, so you just go visit him at his house.  He is in charge of about 50 households, and will probably want to chat a little bit and offer you snacks.  He should have a little booklet of residency forms (Surat Pengantar).  He will complete one in duplicate using carbon paper, and will sign and stamp it.

c.  Then you go to the Ketua RW, the community unit cheif.  My Ketua RW oversees about 4 RTs, so this level is just a little above the neighborhood level.  The Head of the RW is also unpaid, so again, you’ll visit him at his house in the evening, he’ll offer you snacks, and he’ll sign and stamp your document.

d.  The next step up is the sub-district, the Kelurahan.  This is the lowest level of official government, and it seemed to me that there were about 20 people working in the office.  They take the letter from Pak RW and replace it with a more official Residency Letter (Surat Pengantar Keterangan) signed and stamped by the Lurah, the head of the kelurahan. They also sign and stamp the forms for the Kesbangpol office.  I had to give them copies of my passport and several other letters I had been given previously (including copies of cover letters addressed to other people, which made no sense, but whatever), so just be sure to have plenty of copies of your SIP, SKJ, and SPP, and really anything that looks official or important.

e.  Then, you take your letter and forms to be signed and stamped at the Kecematan, the district office. Again, I had to give them copies of my passport and the various letters I had received.  I had to wait a day for the Cemat, the head of the Kecematan, to return to the office.  Be sure that all the forms and letters are signed and stamped when you pick them up – they forgot to stamp one of mine, which meant I had to go to the Kecematan four days in a row!

f.  Then, you can go back to the Kesbangpol office.  They will actually supply you with two documents:  a Request for Residency Letter (Permohonan Rekomendasi Surat Keterangan Tempat Tinggal, or SKTT) and the Research Recommendation Letter (Rekomendasi Penelitian).

To get the SKTT Request letter, I needed copies of the forms that had been signed at the Kelurahan and the Kecematan, a letter of request from my host university, the Letter of Report from the local police, and a copy of my KITAS from the Immigration office.  It was unclear if I did, indeed need the KITAS, or if I could have done this without the KITAS – I was told different things by different people at the Kesbangpol office, so this could vary from place to place.   To get the Research Recommendation Letter, I had to give them a copies of my proposal, student id card, drivers license, passport, and a letter of request from my host university.

I returned after a couple of days, and received copies of each letter, as well as a sealed copy of the Research Recommendation Letter to give to the Rector at my university and to the Regional Planning, Research, and Development Agency (Badan Perendanaan, Penelitian, dan Pengembangan Daerah, or Bapelitban). Someone from the Kesbangpol office just walked me to the other end of the city government complex to the Bapelitban office, and I handed it to a dude in the lobby smoking a cigarette who may or may not have worked there but who seemed official. They also gave me a copy of my Request for Residency Letter to take to the next office….

g.  The Department of Population and Civil Registration (Dinas Pendudukan dan Pencatatan Sipil, or Disdukcapil).  This is the office that finally issues the SKTT after all those visits.  They needed the form that I had been given at Kesbangpol that had been stamped at the Kelurahan and Kecematan, the SKTT Request Letter from Kesbangpol, copies of my passport, KITAS, Police Letter of Report, and a photo.  They gave me a receipt and told me to come back in 2 weeks for the SKTT.  I asked if I needed to take the SKTT to any other offices, and they said I didn’t, so I’m hoping that this will be the end of my visits to government offices!

4.  Other: Again, I’m not sure I needed to do these last steps, but I’m a big rule-follower.  To do my due diligence, after having been given sealed copies of my SPP by Kemendagri, I reported to the Governor of Central Java, and to the Regional Police Office’s (Kantor Police Daerah, or Kapolda) Director of Intelligence and Safety (Direktor Inteligen dan Keamanan, or Intelkam).  This resulted in a major run around, as it seems that both of the offices that handle receiving this kind of paperwork have moved several times in the last several years in Semarang.

From the governor’s office, I was directed to the “One Stop Integrated Service Center” (Pelayanan Terpadu Satu Pintu) to get another “Research Recommendation Letter”.  The idea of having a one stop service is a very good one, had I known from the beginning where that “one stop” would be.  In any case, once I arrived, I was informed I could have done the paperwork for the Recommendation Letter online at (this is the link for Central Java), but I just did it online at their office that day.  I had to upload my proposal (with a cover page!), passport, and a couple of other letters (again, I don’t recall which – I was carrying around copies of about a dozen documents at this point), and they e-mailed me a “Research Recommendation” (Rekomendasi Penelitian).  I’m not really sure about the purpose of this letter, or to whom my research is being recommended, but I guess it’s nice to have another letter.

From Kapolda, I was directed to the Intelkam office, which was in another location.  This was my favorite office – two bored police officers were just sitting around.  One barely looked at me, opened my letter, scanned it, stamped it, and handed it back, without even losing any of the ash dangling precariously from the end of his cigarette.  I was at the Intelkam office for about 20 seconds.  I’m not sure if I actually needed to go to either of these offices, but I guess it didn’t hurt to do so.

And then you are done!  It’s time to celebrate, and time to dig into your research.  Before you know it, it will be time to submit your exit paperwork, which should be simpler than the entry paper! I hope so, at least!

September 1, 2017

First things first… the Indonesia permit process

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve been here in Salatiga for about 3 weeks now, and things are going well.  I’m recruiting potential study participants and doing initial interviews, which is exciting.  I found research assistants and have gotten all my project documents translated.  But the most time consuming activity over the past few weeks has been the seemingly insurmountable permit process.  If you’re considering undertaking research in Indonesia and you’d like more details about the minutia of the process (or if you just have a lot of free time to read blogs online), I’ll be publishing a post next week about all the different documents I obtained and how I got them.  Otherwise, this blog is more of an overview of the process and my reactions to it.

I started the permitting process back in April, when I submitted over a dozen documents online to the Foreign Research Permit office.  I had to submit my research proposal, my CV, my transcript, a copy of my bank statement, and letters from my advisor, department chair, department secretary, host institution, local embassy, and doctor.  Then, after waiting over 2 months for them to send my visa authorization letter, I rode my bike down to the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, only to find that it was closed and would remain closed for the next 5 days because of Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan.  But I returned after the holiday, and was able to get my visa by Mid-July, which was perfect for my intended departure date of August 1.

Once I arrived in Indonesia, I stayed in Jakarta a week so I could report and complete paperwork to the Ministry of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, the Ministry of the Home Affairs, and the National Police Headquarters.  Then, once I got to Salatiga, I had to report at the local police office, the neighborhood head, the community head, the subdistrict office, the district office, the city office, and the census bureau.  I also had to go to Semarang to visit the Immigration office, the Governor’s office, and the Regional police office.  I went to some of these offices two or more times, and have collected over a dozen official letters.

IMG_1049 (1).jpg

This is not even all of them.

For most of these letters, I had to submit copies of my passport, visa, various other letters I had been given previously, and passport-sized photos.  Luckily, before I left the US, I had Jim take a photo of me, and I printed a page full of passport photos at CVS.  Because Jim had been doing this when he was supposed to be taking the photo…IMG_0890.jpg…my passport photos for all of these paperwork show me looking tired and unamused, which is an accurate depiction of my feelings about the process:


The amount of paperwork that needs to be completed to live and do research in Indonesia approaches the absurd.  There may be an equivalent amount of paperwork for foreigners to live in the US, but I don’t think they need to register with every level of government, right down to the neighborhood level.  At least, I hope not. I was amazed at the amount of paperwork that is being filed and recorded, and by the numbers of people involved in filing and recording it.  The small city of Salatiga must employ thousands of people, just to manage its bureaucracy.  Even the smallest government office, the sub-district, had about 20 people working in it, and I think there are more than 20 sub-districts in Salatiga.  I guess it is a good thing to keep so many people gainfully employed, but otherwise, I’m not really sure what purpose all this paperwork is serving.  I have a bunch of letters of recommendation and residency and permission, but I’m not exactly sure what they are all for.  I’m not sure the civil servants who prepared them did either.  At several offices, they had to hunt around for another foreigner’s file to look up what documents they needed from me and what the final paperwork should look like. For the most part, I was able to muster enough patience and tenacity to stick with the process, but the several times I was close to losing it were the times when I came to an office with all the documents they had requested the day before, only to have a civil servant pull out another foreigner’s file, notice that they had a document I didn’t have, and ask me to come back again with that additional document.

In any case, I am close to finished now.  I have received my residency permit and multiple entry permit, which are the really essential ones.  I’ve also received Letters of Research Recommendation from the local, regional, and national level, though I am not certain to whom my research is being recommended.  All that remains is one last office to get my residency letter.  At least I hope so.  What will I do with all my free time when I don’t have go to government offices everyday?  I don’t know… maybe I’ll write a dissertation.  Maybe I’ll plan a wedding.  Maybe I’ll learn to juggle.  We’ll see!

August 19, 2017

The Return of Keeping Tabs

by Tabitha Kidwell

Great news, everybody – Keeping Tabs is back!  My return to more regular blogging is largely motivated by the fact that I, myself, have returned to Indonesia, to do my dissertation research!  I arrived to Jakarta on August 2, and to Salatiga about a week ago, and I’m already far more motivated to blog than I was at home.  There are a lot of reasons for this – I have more free time, I have fewer people to talk to in English – but mostly, life just seems more interesting here. I’ll post soon about what I’ve been doing since I arrived, but first let me fill you in on what I’ve been doing over the past year or so!

I advanced to doctoral candidacy and passed my dissertation proposal

When I say I’m a Ph.D. student, people often ask, “How long does that take?” or “How long until you graduate?” or (maddeningly) “Are you almost finished?”  I suppose, technically, I AM almost finished now, but it will still take almost 2 years for me to finish my dissertation and officially graduate.  But it is true that I am at the point where I “just” have to write my dissertation.  To get to this point, I spent two years (and a summer) doing coursework.  Then, I spent the fall semester 2016 writing my qualifying papers, which are the gatekeeper for being able to call yourself a “PhD Candidate.”  In some Ph.D. programs, I think especially in the sciences, you have to take comprehensive exams to advance to candidacy. In the olden days, that meant  sitting in a room every day for a week with a blue book and a bunch of pencils, but now I hear that “comps” are usually take-home exams given over a stressful 24 or 36 hours.  For my program, I was required to write a couple of long papers that basically end up being the introduction, conceptual literature review, and empirical literature review to lay the foundation for my dissertation.

After advancing to candidacy, I spent the spring semester of 2017 writing my proposal, which consists of the revised versions of my qualifying papers plus a chapter describing the methods for the dissertation study I proposed.  I went through a few rounds of revisions with my  advisor, and once she was happy with the proposal, I scheduled my dissertation defense with the five professors on my committee.  I defended my proposal in early June, made some revisions based on their feedback, and then I was cleared to do the study.  So, that is what I came to Indonesia to do.  My study is a qualitative case study of the teacher preparation program at a Muslim university in Central Java, complemented by embedded case studies of several recent graduates of the program, investigating learning, practices, and beliefs of novice Indonesian teachers of English.  If that sounds interesting to you, I would be happy to share my 175-page dissertation proposal with you!

In addition to all those milestones, I applied for lots of different grants to support my research here.  The program at Maryland was kind enough to find a 10-hour weekly graduate assistantship that I can continue to do remotely.  That covers insurance, tuition, and provides a small stipend that would actually probably be enough to cover most of my personal expenses here, since cost of living is so low.  To help buy research equipment, pay research assistants, offer travel allowances for study participants, buy snacks and drinks for meetings, and pay my immigration and research permit fees, I’ve applied for at least six grants.  I got one small one, I didn’t get a couple of others, and I’m still waiting hopefully on others. Even if I don’t get more funding, I think I’ll be okay because of the next thing I have been up to…

I’ve been freelancing 

Being a graduate student for five years has motivated me to look for opportunities as an “Education Consultant,” which is a nice way of saying “underpaid doctoral student.”  During my first year in the program, I started scoring assessments online, including the TOEFL speaking exam, which international students have to pass to study in the US, and the edTPA, which is a requirement for an initial K-12 teaching license in a few states.  The TOEFL was painfully boring, but the edTPA was pretty interesting.

During my second year, I continued scoring both of those, and also presented on culturally relevant language teaching for the Department of State’s American English Webinar Series (you can see one of the summary videos here).  I also started reviewing candidates for the English Language Fellow Program, which was the program that brought me to Indonesia for the first time back in 2011.  This involved reviewing candidates’ written applications, interviewing them on Skype, and writing up an overview of their skills, experience, and interview performance.  I really loved this job, especially interviews, because the group of people interested in teaching English in Indonesia, Azerbaijan, or Uganda is a pretty interesting bunch.

In the third year (last year), things really picked up – enough that I could drop scoring TOEFL exams, though I continued scoring the edTPA and reviewing Fellow candidates.  I got selected for an English Language Specialist grant that sent me to Rwanda and Ethiopia to do a teacher training on project based learning. I did another webinar for the American English Webinar Series, this time on intercultural language teaching (check out the summary video here).  I wrote a teaching tip article for English Teaching Forum (forthcoming).  And I started helping to make some of the graphics for the American English Facebook page. In addition to all that, I was also teaching a class and supervising student teachers for my graduate assistantships at University Maryland.  Oh, and I got certified as a vinyasa flow yoga teacher.  With all that work, it is amazing that I had time to do this one last thing…

I got engaged!


I met Jim in October, 2015, at one of the bars where they show Ohio State games in Washington, DC.  He was there with his friend Elise, who was there with her husband Dick, whose fraternity brother Joe came, and Joe works with Andrew, who is my cousin Kelly’s fiancé, which is how I was there.  Got it?  We figured out that Jim also is a childhood friend of my cousin Bobby, so it would have been a lot easier to just meet through him.  Jim is also from Columbus, Ohio, and my mom and his dad even graduated from the same high school class at Upper Arlington High School!  This is not as uncommon as you might think – if you scroll down about halfway on this page (the class of 69 is very well organized), you will see that Frank Guglielmi’s son and Ed Rhine’s daughter ALSO got married!!!  I don’t know any of those people.  But it seems that Jim and I aren’t blazing any trails.

In any case, after we met in 2015, we became Facebook friends but basically didn’t talk for a year.  Jim was taking the “slow burn” approach.  Then, I invited Jim (along with everyone else I knew in DC) to my birthday party in September, 2016.  But he didn’t come.  He suggested we get a drink.  We didn’t do that either.  But we did meet up to go watch another football game, and this time, none of our intermediary friends could come.  My friend Alisha did come, though, and when Jim went up to get a round of drinks, we agreed that we both seemed to be on a date with Jim, and that it was going really well.  I don’t know if Jim asked Alisha out again, but he asked me, and we started dating from there.

By the spring, it was pretty clear to both of us that we had a good thing going, so I informed Jim I would like to be engaged before leaving for Indonesia.  He replied by asking “what’s your ring size?”, which is the appropriate response to that kind of ultimatum.  But then we basically never talked about it again, and I languished waiting for him to ask me (which I really can’t complain about, since we had only actually been dating a few months) until THE NIGHT BEFORE I LEFT FOR INDONESIA.  He really knows how to keep a lady on her toes.  But it’s okay, because the proposal opened up the floodgates of wedding planning – a little on my part, but mostly on the part of both of our mothers.   This is great, since I am in Indonesia for the next seven months, and somebody’s got to plan this thing.  It was also really nice to spend our last weeks together enjoying each others’ company rather than booking a venue, negotiating on guest numbers, and debating wedding colors.  Jim immediately suggested going with scarlet and grey, and I immediately regretted explaining the concept of wedding colors.

So, I’ll be in Indonesia until March, collecting data for my dissertation, working online, and trying to plan a wedding from 10,000 miles away.  And also, of course, blogging on Keeping Tabs!

January 23, 2017

America and the Women’s March

by Tabitha Kidwell

In the days following the election in November, some of the most interesting exchanges I had were with my Chinese students, who are here on student visas getting their masters’ degrees in Chinese language education.  For one, they weren’t very clear about why everyone in our very liberal region was so concerned about the president-elect. Trump’s conflicting campaign rhetoric about China seemed to have resulted in mixed messages in the Chinese-language media and social media.  The electoral college was also something of a mystery to them (as it is to many of us) and they were not entirely sure the election was actually over.

The most interesting comment by my Chinese students, however, was this: “At least you can vote. We have waited 5000 years.”

So, I suppose we have that. Of course, the Chinese and American political systems are not the only options, but if I had to choose between the two, I would choose ours. Even if that means I have to accept the current president as my own.

As much as we liberals complain about the American system – the electoral college, the gerrymandered districts, the two-party gridlock – we do not want to lose it. We may have hoped that Jill Stein’s recount efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would turn something up, or that the electoral college would elect someone else, but we also wanted a peaceful transition of power. We may have lost our faith in the American electorate, but we will return to the polls in 2018 and 2020. We may hate hearing Trump and his supporters’ rhetoric, but we want them to enjoy the same freedom of speech we do.

Many of us exercised our freedom of speech this past weekend, in Washington and in cities around the globe. I attended the Women’s March on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and it was in incredible day. The crowds were larger than those on inauguration day (“alternative facts” notwithstanding). There was not a single arrest. There was no violence. I did not have to use the bandana I brought along in case of tear gas. Women came from Ohio, New York, North Carolina, and farther, wearing pink hats and carrying signs. There were old women, young girls, women carrying infants, women in wheelchairs, and quite a few men.

The March wasn’t perfect. There have been a lot of criticisms posted online, and many are justified.  There should have been more enthusiasm for the “Black Lives Matter” chants. There should have been less enthusiasm for the ones making fun of Trump’s appearance. Protesters should have stopped chanting “let us march” and turned around to listen to Angela Davis as attentively as they did for Madonna. The organizers should have been more open to intersectionality, and people of color should have been more involved from the very beginning stages.

But it was still an incredible event and an incredible day. It could have been better – but it was very, very good. It was the first step in a long fight to make America great on our own terms. We marched for civil rights, health care, equal pay, reproductive rights, and  education. We marched for our grandmothers and for our granddaughters. We marched because we believe our country is very, very good – and because we believe it could be better.

Thousands Attend Women's March On Washington