Lessons From a Balinese Classroom: Our Visit to an English Class in Jimbaran

As I go through life, and especially when I travel, I am reminded of a lesson from Mark Twain:

We are all alike, on the inside.”

Regardless of where I have voyaged around the world, I have drawn the same general conclusion: people around the world might be culturally different, but they have similar desires. Individuals wish to lead happy, healthy lives. Parents want their children to get a quality education. People of all ages yearn to feel connected with their community in some way.

As a former teacher who believes in the power of education, I was utterly thrilled to have been invited to visit an elementary school not far from our Jimbaran, Bali guest house last week.

Strolling through a neighborhood district with few tourists, I saw children in blue and white uniforms. Then I stumbled upon Jimbaran School No. 5.

Instantly, I was introduced to Miss Erna, the English teacher. Erna invited Shawn and me to visit the school again the following day – not only to take part in her 5th grade English class, but also to observe as the school’s children participated in a full moon celebration.

Armed with miniature bags of German gummi bears for the class and a desire to learn more about Bali’s schools and celebrations, Shawn and I returned together the next morning. We felt like instant celebrities as children flashed wide-toothed smiles, hearty waves and boisterous Hellos.

The majority of the children in attendance at the all-school ceremony were dressed in special Balinese ceremonial dress – the girls wore radiant tunics, long skirts, light sashes at their waists, and flowers in their hair, whereas boys sported white shirts, sarongs, and scarves tied on their heads in the traditional Balinese manner.

Young boys roughhoused, until being corrected by their teachers. Girls huddled together and giggled. With such mischief abounding, I was reminded of similar antics I’d seen in classrooms in the United States.

The children then performed ceremonial prayers, as the smoke from the incense sticks at their knees danced through the air. Each student walked to the school’s temple and placed a canang sari offering before returning to the ground to rest. (Canang refers to the tray, which is often woven out of coconut leaf, while sari refers to the offering itself, which ranges from a small amount of money, to coffee or cigarettes. The items are placed on a bed of colorful flower buds.) While waiting their turn to make an offering, boys sat cross-legged, while girls rested on their knees and the tops of their toes.

After the ceremony had ended, Shawn and our ever-growing entourage of children, led by Miss Erna, walked to the second-floor English classroom. Upon our arrival into the airy room, 28 students chanted, in unison, “Good morning.”

Several pairs of children had the unexpected surprise of performing their dialogue exams in front of not only their teacher and classmates, but also two American visitors. How intimidating it must have been to have two native speakers there as they exchanged greetings.

Child 1: “Good morning.”

Child 2: “Good morning.”

Child 1: “How are you?”

Child 2: “I am well. Thank you.”

Child 1: “At what time did you wake up today?”

Child 2: “I woke up at half past six.”

Child 1: “What time did you have breakfast?”

Child 2: “I had breakfast at seven o’clock.”

Child 1: “Thank you.”

Child 2: “You’re welcome.”

After the dialogues were complete, Shawn and I circulated through the classroom, extending the exercise. Neighboring classmates giggled as we approached a student to pose various questions. Sometimes, the child whom we’d chosen to dialogue with cradled his or her head on the school desk and laughed incessantly. After the laughter subsided, we learned about favorite foods (chocolate ice cream) and morning rituals (most of the children walked to school; sometimes the commuting distance kept them from eating breakfast).

As the thirty-minute English class drew to a close, we engaged in a bit of gummi bear diplomacy, sharing an individual bag of the German treats with each student. Children who had previously been shy to engage with us had grown increasingly playful as the morning went on, and they now tossed about a surplus of English words and phrases.

A group of children encircled us as we proceeded through the classroom door, down the staircase, into the sunny school courtyard. With an energetic “goodbye” they bid us farewell as we reached the school’s gate. An incense stick’s smoke wafted in the breeze.



Miss Erna and I discussed the possibility of establishing a pen pal correspondence program with her students and native English speakers. Having done this myself, as a high school French student, I know how the experience of corresponding with a native speaker can heighten a desire to learn a foreign language. Regular exchanges also made my studies holistic in that I had a real reason to study beyond textbook exercises. In fact, I am still in contact with one of the French students I was introduced to 18 years ago!

If you are a teacher with a classroom of native-speaking English students, or if you know of a teacher who would be interested in connecting with a class of Balinese students who are learning English, please contact me so that I may put you in touch with Miss Erna.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

29 thoughts on “Lessons From a Balinese Classroom: Our Visit to an English Class in Jimbaran

  1. Tricia,
    I am proud to say that my daughter taught in Namibia for a year. And, this year she is teaching social studies and geography to a group of fifth graders in a school in the Bronx. I’ll pass along your post. Wouldn’t it be nice if the two classes linked up.

    1. Victor, I am so thrilled to hear that this might be a possibility! The age group sounds perfect, and your daughter obviously has a love for international relations due to her having taught in Africa. So impressive! You might mention to her that a challenge might be the fact that the school in Bali does not have a computer lab. Their teacher does have internet access, though, so I feel confident something could be worked out.

      Thanks again for stopping by and for passing along the idea to your daughter.
      All the best,

    1. Hi TBM and thanks for your kind compliment! It’s such happenings that make me never want to stop traveling.

      Twain is also one of my favorites – he has such a great range. (His essay, ‘the Awful German Language’ is quite funny for anyone who’s ever attempted to learn German, as I have.)

      Look forward to reading more from your 50 Year Project, and hope to see you again!

      1. I feel the same way. I never want to stop seeing new places. I’ve learned so much from traveling. I haven’t read that essay by Twain. I’ll have to find a copy. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Amazing !!!
    Great experience of share and care !!!
    and Congratulations from bottom of heart …
    Warm regards,
    Subhash Parmar
    Shri Vijay Vallabh School,
    Pune 411002. India.

      1. Dear Tricia,
        Many thanks.
        I have done my graduations in Commerce and Law from University of Pune,India and now in family business of Constructions and Building Materials. I am Chairman at Shri Vijay Vallabh Schools, Pune having 1400 students studying from Prep to Secondary and also at Institute of Education and Career Development. I have an interest in the field of education and social work and look forward to getting associated with your unique projects.
        Warm regards,
        Subhash Parmar
        Mamata Villa, Subhash Nagar Lane 5,
        1258 Off Tilak Road,
        Pune 411002. Maharashtra.
        ( + 91 98230 16171 )

      2. Subhash, you have such a varied background – commerce, law, education and social work? That’s quite impressive.

        It was our hope to visit India during this sabbatical, but I’m just not certain that we’ll have enough time. Nevertheless, let’s stay in touch, and see what projects we might be able to collaborate on.

        All the best,

      3. Many thanks.
        We shall be pleased to welcome you to Pune, India.
        If convenient kindly make this possible .. let me know details of plan ..
        and of any projects ..
        which address we can send you .. say our School Magazine,Newsletter ..
        Let’s be in touch ..
        Warm regards.

  3. Glad to another from another culture through you. I am an English Teacher based in Saudi Arabia but hopefully would find out if I can connect some teenagers to Balinese children. You’ve inspired me tonite.
    Have a great life.

    Kind regards

    1. Greetings, Toyin – it’s a pleasure to meet you and to have a reader from a new part of the world! Thanks for your kind comment.

      I visited Bahrain several years ago and was wishing I could’ve had some time to visit Saudi Arabia too. The hospitality in the Middle East is renowned, and I could see why when I went to Manama.

      Do let me know if you’d like your English students to connect with the Balinese class. Do you teach high school English students?

  4. This is very inspiring. Thank you for posting this. I am an English teacher in the Philippines and I’ll keep you posted when I get to find out if I could have some children to connect with the Balinese class.

    They are not native speakers but they are fluent in speaking the language. I am so inspired with how you extend an extra mile to help these kids!

    1. Mheg, that would be wonderful if a letter writing partnership could work out between your class and Erna’s! What age are your students and what part of the Philippines are you in?

      My husband and I are now in Manila awaiting our flight to Bangkok. We’re thrilled with all the natural beauty we’ve been able to see here in just 14 days, but I know there’s still so much left to explore. It’s a beautiful country!

      Thanks for your comments and look forward to hearing from you again!

      1. I am in Marikina and I am assigned in Grade two this year but school year in our country is almost finished. I used to teach Grade six I’ll work if I could get to have them get in touch with Ms. Erna’s class.

        I am so glad you got to visit our country. We have a lot of tourist spots pristine beaches here! Hope you come back.

      2. Me too, Mheg! Now that I’ve been exposed to snorkeling, I think we definitely will return there someday…

        Second grade is such a fun age group to teach – you must be happy that summer break is just around the corner! Do any travels await?

      3. Indeed. I love my kids no matter how difficult they get sometimes.

        My travel plan is already lined up. Gonna spend holy week with my hubby and a few relatives in Batanes. Then, we’ll go to Banaue the following week. And after that Boracay.
        Glad to know you’re coming back, Tricia. There’s more to explore here.

  5. Hi Tricia,

    If you are still looking for a pen pal class for Miss Erna’s class, our school is a small rural school in Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Our students learn Indonesian from year reception (foundation) until year 7 and many continue with their studies at our local high school in a neighbouring town. Our students come from a mainly agricultural background, although we do have families involved in aqua- culture. As an isolated rural community of mainly anglo saxon background, we have been trying to set up a sister school relationship for several years. If Miss Erna is still interested, we would love to begin communications!

    Sampai nanti,

    Bu Ellin

    1. Belated greetings to you, Penny! I’m sorry for my slow reply. When in Ukraine a few weeks ago, we saw a kitten discarded on the street right before our eyes. We took him with us, traveled 1,000 km. overland to Germany with him via trains, buses, and trams, and are now looking for a new home for him. (Since we are nomadic, we cannot be good pet parents right now.) As you can probably imagine, this little guy has been keeping us busy! https://triciaannemitchell.com/2014/10/26/homeless-kitten-ukraine/

      It’s kind of you to reach out, expressing interest in corresponding with Ms. Erna’s class. Your school’s philosophy and curriculum sounds quite interesting (I’m a former teacher myself). I’ve written Erna via Facebook to see if she’s still teaching, and if so, would this interest her. I have your email address registered privately in my blog’s comments. Is it okay with you if I share your email address with Erna by email?

      1. Hi Trish,

        Your travels sound amazing…

        I would be more than happy to share my email address with Miss Erna. Even if she is no longer teaching, I would love to have a chat with her about teaching and learning in Indonesia.

        Terima kasih banyak!

        Penny Ellin


      2. Penny, indeed, we’ve had some amazing experiences. We’re very fortunate. :) Bali was one of our highlights in Southeast Asia. Just the other night, we dined with a family friend who is Balinese. From her incredible (spicy!) cooking to chats about life on the island, she had us wanting to hop on a plane and travel back there, right then!

        I’ve just written Miss Erna via Facebook and shared with her your email address. She is indeed still teaching, but at a new school. I’ve also asked her to give me her email address, and when she does, I’ll put you both in contact. Glad I could connect you. :)

  6. I feel lucky to have found your blog regarding Bali. We will be going there early in 2016 and was hoping to find a way to connect with an elementary school as we will travel with our grandkids who will be 9 and 11 at that time. They live in Durango, Colorado. Their teacher would be interested in doing a pen pal interaction for her 4th and 5th graders. Do you have a possible contact for us? Thank you very much.
    Ike Turiel

    1. Greetings Ike – it’s exciting that you’re Bali-bound! We haven’t been back since 2011, but have a dear Balinese family friend in Europe that cooks us delicious and traditional Balinese food from time to time. That helps with our homesickness for the region.

      I’ll touch base with the lovely teacher we met, Ms. Erna, via her Facebook account. In the event that her class can connect with the classes of your grandchildren in CO, do you have a Facebook account at which you can correspond with Erna?

      1. sorry I did not check comments earlier -thought reply would be through email. My daughter has a facebook account. Her name is Rachel Turiel

      2. Thank you very much Tricia. I just told my daughter to check. So nice of you to help Ike Turiel

        Sent from my iPhone


      3. Hi again Ike,
        Rachel and I have just connected, and I sent an introduction email to Erna and to Rachel via Facebook a few moments ago. I hope the classroom visit and pen pal letter exchange will work. Please keep me updated as I would love to hear how it all goes. :)

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