I met Lukáš in Pilsen – my hometown in the Czech Republic – just a few months after he came back from Indonesia. He spent there almost two years, working for a non-profit organisation and teaching English at school.
“I think I travel because I get a lot of energy and inspiration from that. I love to explore new cultures, get new experience. There are a lot of things I would like to do one day. And very often it’s something like Go to the middle of Indonesia and live with locals,” he told me.
We talked about the culture in Indonesia, teaching in a state school for prison officers and about a huge couchsurfing community in Jakarta.
Did you plan to stay in Indonesia for two years when you were leaving the Czech Republic?
No, I originally went there for one year because I had signed a contract there. I worked in Jakarta for a non-profit organisation and helped them with marketing and public relations.
So why did you stay for almost one more year?
I finished the intership for the non-profit and I still didn’t want to go back home so I let my return ticket to expire and stayed in Indonesia. I tried to find a job in marketing or PR but I didn’t speak Indonesian good enough to be able to do it. So I found a job as an English teacher and just wanted to try it for two or three months and to see how I would like it… And I stayed one more year.
What kind of school it was?
It was a private Muslim “eco” elementary school and I taught there English, IT and geography. And I would like to mention that children there speak three languages – English, Arabic and Indonesian – fluently when they are only 10 years old…
Do you have any qualification as a teacher?
I just have an official English exam and it was enough for them. Later they asked me to use my IT skills as well and geography which is quite easy for travellers.
You told me you started to teach English even in a school for prison guards. How did you get there?
It was quite funny, one afternoon a mother of one of my pupils came to me and asked me to join her for some kind of evening class. I agreed so she picked me up and drove me there. Suddenly we arrived to a strange building with a huge gate and I really didn’t understand what was going on. Then I found out it was a state school for guards.
The lady wanted me to have a class there twice a week. But it was not a class you might imagine. There were around 70 students in each class! So I had to use a microphone and every time I entered the classroom they had to salute as if I was a superior in the army. And it was really funny, you know. I was 27 and they were just a few years younger. They had to obey and if they didn’t I had to send them out to wash their face with cold water. There had to be really strong discipline all the time. But it was really interesting experience and they liked it very much even in these conditions.
How long did you stay there?
From January to June. And I continued one more month on Skype – they wanted me to finish the semester.
How did you feel after coming back home?
I was fuc*in’ cold! (laughing) I was happy to see my family and friends after two years but the people here really surprised me. You know – Czechs and Indonesians are completely different. People in Indonesia are relaxed, always smiling, they don’t talk about their problems… And people here complain about everything. We really don’t have any reason to complain about medical care for example – but only those who had to go to Indonesian hospital understand what I mean (laugh).
Would you go somewhere else for such a long time again?
I would, definitely! Living in Jakarta had a huge advantages and disadvantages at the same time. The worst thing is smog and endless traffic jams. But there is an airport from where you can fly to many places for such amazing prices!
So did you travel around SE Asia a lot?
I tried to travel every weekend. There was a big couchsurfing community in Jakarta and we hitchhiked a lot. Any time we had holiday I travelled further – Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia.
Can you tell me more about the couchsurfing community?
When I came to Jakarta I was alone and I had one week free time so I asked on couchsurfing website if someone could show me around or just to take me out for a beer or coffee. And step by step I became part of the huge community there. And I really mean HUGE! There are almost 200 000 people registered!
It’s very easy to get into it and there are lots of people like me. They work during weekdays and they want to get out of the crazy city on weekends. I found a lot of friends there and I’m still in touch with many of them. When I started to work at the school it was quite hard to meet people in the city centre because it took at least two hours to get there. So I started a community in my neighbourhood and we often went for coffee, beer or karaoke and did some trips at weekends.
Did you find any girlfriend there?
When I was leaving my home I still had a girlfriend here but it didn’t work with so huge distance… At the school one Muslim teacher fell in love with me but there was a problem because of her religion. And in the centre of Jakarta there are a lot of girls called bule hunters. They just look for guys from countries they haven’t slept with anyone yet. Crazy… So when any girl like that came to me I better stayed with a group of my friends.
Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world. How did you feel there?
It’s different then in Europe. But after one year I started to call the place my home. One becomes used to it quite fast. It’s usual that your friend takes you to his family and starts to think about you as a relative. They invite you for weddings, graduation ceremonies, birthday parties and many other family gatherings. This is what I really love in their culture. But of course when I came with jet lag and I was woken up by the sounds from minarets I hated all of them (laugh).
Islam is not just their religion – it’s a part of their lives and they try to live as they should according to Koran. When they do it right it makes them good people because they have strong moral rules. I think it’s the same as in every religion.
I recently had a chat with my friend who spent a long time in muslim countries and he told me that the only thing that used to make him feel a bit uncomfortable was the hospitality of people there. It was just too much and you can’t refuse.
Yea, that’s true, sometimes. In Indonesia they never say no. It’s great but on the other hand it is pretty crazy because when you ask something and need yes/no answer they don’t say no even when they should do so. They use the world “insa allah” which means “if Allah will agree” – it should mean it’s 95 % true but it usually means no in Indonesia.
For example when I asked my students “Is your project going to be ready tomorrow?” and they answered “insa allah”, I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t finish it. But when you go to the immigration office they are able to say no easily (laugh).
What are your future plans?
Good question! I came back in May and I took two months off after that. But since July I go to work and try to save some money. I have been checking on international opportunities but I haven’t found anything I would really like to do. So to fill the time I want to visit one new country every month and I’m pretty successful with that.
Is there something that makes your life really meaningful? Is there a job you would really like to do?
I didn’t take the job in Indonesia because of money. For me it’s more about the feeling that I did something good, something useful. I also love when people remember me just because of what I did. The kids I taught, for example – we’re still in touch via Skype or Facebook and it’s great to know that I have influenced them somehow.
So I would like do something to inspire others and also be inspired by them. At the software company where I am working now I cannot get any feedback from the customers, that’s strange. So I really would love to do something where I can see the value for people. But I don’t know what it should be yet. And I want to travel of course!
Why do you travel?
My sister always asks me what do I run from. I think I travel because I get a lot of energy and inspiration from that. I love to explore new cultures, get new experience. There are a lot of things I would like to do one day. And very often it’s something like “Go to the middle of Indonesia and live with locals”. When I travel somewhere I always want to try things on my own. When I taste new food I really don’t mind if is it sour, sweet, spicy… I just want to get as deep into the culture as possible.
Stop sitting in front of your TV, guys! Go, explore, make your own picture of the world! When you travel you very often find out that the reality is completely different compared to what they show you on TV. When you travel you learn a lot. And that’s something that will stay with you for all your life…