American, Irish-German. My Dad’s people came to San
Francisco from Prussia in 1850, and my Mom’s emigrated
from Ireland to New York City in the early 1900s. I’m
the product of a WWII romance. California, where I was born,
is home, and although I’ve lived on the East Coast,
I’ve always considered myself a Westerner.
What is your professional background?
Can’t say I have one. My bachelor’s is in history,
and out of school I worked in engineering, where I got into
purchasing and contracting. Later, I got an M.A. in
Creative Writing, and an ESL Certificate.
What are your hobbies? What are you passionate about?
I don’t really have any. Guess I’m just
plain lazy. Taking up woodworking or something seems suspiciously
like work to me. And sports don’t ask.
I’m a klutz.
I love the water. In Wind in the Willows, Rat says something
like there is nothing in life so worthwhile as simply knocking
about in boats. Snorkeling, diving, inter island boat trips,
or just hanging at the beach, that’s for me.
You could say that Indonesia has been my hobby. For
decades, I’ve been reading and collecting books on these
islands. I read Kompas and Tempo to keep up, as well as follow
the rapid changes in Bahasa Indonesia.
Language is my passion. Savoring the well-written word means
as much to me as fine claret does to some. I know literature,
but what I find most exciting is the clean prose of the best
American detective writers, and new voices from the developing
What kinds of jobs have you had in your life?
First was as a laborer in a printing plant in Costa Rica.
Fifteen cents an hour. My family lived there, and a
school friend’s‚ father got me the job.
He didn’t think I’d last the summer, but I did,
learned Spanish, and got promoted to printer’s assistant,
with a raise of two cents. In college, the usual: dishwasher,
short order cook, and agricultural labor.
The best was in Kalimantan in the 70’s. I had
a helicopter on call, flew around buying lumber and cement.
In the 80s and 90s I got involved in the transition from mainframes
to distributed computing. I got to deal with all the
big names in Silicon Valley.
How did you ever wind up in Indonesia?
I still have my first passport with a visa for Indonesia.
My father was an engineer and in 1961, he took the family
to Sumatra. The place knocked me out. The greenness,
the great reach of the river with the jungle all around, an
overarching sky. I’ve been coming back ever since.
How did you get into the English teaching business?
A career change resulting from burnout and corporate reorganization.
The irrational exuberance of the dot com boom gave me the
(brief) illusion of wealth, so I pulled the plug, sold out,
and here I am.
What are the biggest challenges you face teaching English?
Being fun! I learned Latin and French the old-fashioned way,
memorizing irregular verbs, all that. Few students will
put up with that now. I keep up with popular culture,
to come up with stuff that my mostly young students like.
It’s a struggle, but the upside is that it keeps ME
from getting bored. I’ve learned to be a performer,
even a clown, at times.
What do you like most and least about your job?
When things go well and students get beyond their fears. A
great lesson goes beyond language points and becomes pure
communication. Students here are always ready for a goof
and they can be quite uninhibited. On the other hand, since
they resist studying and memorizing, a lot of small stuff
never gets fixed. You get tired of adding “a”
and “the” and apostrophes to their papers.
The real challenge is just getting them to think. There
can be a lack of intellectual curiosity. Perhaps it’s
because, until recently, this country has been ruled top down.
People wait to be told what do, and to think.
Are there teaching techniques used peculiar to teaching ESL
Games, games, games! Things that might seem silly to a classroom
of bored U.S. high school students work well here. And,
although we’ve got cable, the Internet and the latest
technology here, there is still a great lack off knowledge
about the outside world. So, you have to make lessons students
can relate to.
Is there anything different about your method of teaching
and those methods employed by other teachers?
Yes. I have the advantage of cultural and linguistic
background. Everything I do, I relate to Indonesian
Are there any differences between teaching English in Bali
and teaching English in E. Java (or other parts of Indonesia?
For people in hospitality jobs, English is the key to survival,
not just advancement. In Bali, I found myself teaching
vocational language, with a lot of emphasis on customer service.
What tips can you give prospective students of English? What
are the most effective, fastest and easiest ways to learn
Just do it. Talk, read, and write. Movies, cable
TV, Internet, especially chatting, are great resources.
Do you run any other businesses or do you have any other sources
I wish! I do some translating, and I’m pretty
good at that because I get the cultural nuances, and, in both
Indonesian and English, I have a lot of specialized business
and technical vocabulary. Something fun is copywriting for
local firms, which I do once in a while. I’ve done some
travel writing, and would like to again, if I can find the
time to go anywhere!
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Copyright@2005 Al Hickey
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