National WORDS Competition 2017

This post is about the WORDS Competition in Indonesia sponsored by Fulbright and AMINEF.

The first time I heard about the WORDS competition was in Washington, D.C. back in June 2016. The ETAs who were coming back for a 2nd year were gushing about the event. They claimed it was the highlight of grant and I just didn’t get it. It seemed like the cool event but highlight of the grant? That’s bold.

This year’s National WORDS Competition was April 5th through April 8th 2017 in Jakarta and now I know exactly why it was the highlight of the grant for many ETAs.


The National WORDS Competition is a national English speech and talent competition that was created 10 years ago as a former ETA’s community engagement project. It’s grown into something truly spectacular.

ETAs from across Indonesia first held local competitions at their schools in February and March. This year’s theme was “Cicak on the Wall”. “Cicak” in Bahasa Indonesia is “gecko” or “lizard”. They are found everywhere here–classrooms, houses, office buildings and more. They small, sorta cute and just chill on the walls while eating bugs. It was our attempt at Indonesian-izing the American concept of “Fly on the Wall”. (This was so difficult to explain…!)

The students had to write a speech that was at least 2 minutes about where they would go, why they would go there, what they would experience and what they would see. Then they would perform a talent. The whole performance with speech and talent had to be under 5 minutes total.

SMA Khadijah’s WORDS Competition

Getting this event together at my school was slightly stressful because sometimes it’s difficult to get things done in Indonesia. I called on my teacher boos and the admins for help. I delegated the setup tasks because I wanted to focus on speech writing with the kiddos. I’m glad I had that opportunity because some students that signed up for this competition never speak in class. I learned so much about my students through one-on-one speech help sessions after school. I loved it! It gave me the chance to push their critical thinking and demand more out of them intellectually. I spent hours with the students trying to get thoughts out of them and forcing them to think about larger concepts and issues. This was thoroughly exhausting and it was like pulling teeth at times, but I think it made a difference. 

Surprisingly, the event went off flawlessly minus the last minute dropouts. We had doughnuts and food, a break-time Saman Dance Performance and another music act while the judges deliberated. My 2 emcees, Ihwan and Veronica were rockstars. My 5 judges were Kelly, Ibu Ony (English teacher at Kelly’s school), Lusy (Airlangga University student), Moriah (English Learning Fellow from Surabaya) and Heather (English Learning Fellow from Makassar). We even had a crowd!!!!! These photos were taken as we waited to start the competition. 

My students wrote about:

  • The first cicak astronaut in space (Indonesia doesn’t have a NASA equivalent)
  • Hospitals and inaccessibility to proper healthcare in Indonesia
  • Taylor Swift’s studio when she recorded the song “Fifteen”
  • Indonesian independence
  • Bullies in the classroom
  • The death of Archimedes
  • Om Telelot Om (Check this link out to learn about this phenomenon) 

AHHH! I felt like an incredibly proud mom by the end of the show! AHHHH!!!! They worked so hard and it was wonderful seeing my students showcase their writing skills, English speaking skills and talents! THEY’RE SPECTACULAR!

Judges and me with the Saman Dancers


Inaya, a 10th grade Social Science student, won the competition at my school. After the competition, the teachers, students, judges all went to Pizza Hut to celebrate!

All contestants and judges

I also had the opportunity to judge Kelly’s competition in Sidoarjo and Caroline’s competition in Malang a week before and a week after my competition.

National WORDS Competition in Jakarta

Fast forward about a month, Inaya and I flew to Jakarta with Kelly and her student Tyo. The first evening we were there, there was a welcome dinner. We took TONS of selfies! A few Fulbright Alumni and AMINEF staff attended. Other ETAs and their students from around Indonesia were present. Students from Kupang, Manado, Makassar, Gorontolo, Labuan Bajo, Magelang, Semarang, Malang, Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Salatiga, Bringin, Kudus, Bandar Lampung and Belige were there.

The next morning we started the competition bright and early. Inaya was actually the first one to go! OMGGGG! She did an phenomenal job. Her speech about bullying was written from her soul and I think she’s an incredibility brave young woman for reciting that speech in room full of strangers–about half of them were foreigners and native English speakers too. For her talent, she recited Lewis Carroll’s poem the Jabberwocky from memory. Memorizing this in old school English and reciting it with that much conviction takes some serious talent–especially when the author does make up a few of his own words.

She did something I don’t think I would have had the guts to do when I was 16 years old. I’m sure most of my friends and I would be crying if you told us we had to fly to Washington D.C. to give a speech in Spanish or French in front of over a 100 people and compete against brilliant students from around the country. I would have crawled into a hole! 

My Baby Bintang, Inaya!

Anyway, what Inaya did was extremely difficult. She set the tone for the competition because she got on stage and hit the ground running. Words will not express how proud I am for pouring her heart into her work. I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to work with a kind, intelligent and eloquent student like her. I’m excited to see where she goes in the future because I know it will be nothing short of amazing. She wants to be a writer when she grows up and I know she’ll succeed.

The competition lasted from about 8:30 am to 1 pm. There were 29 participants so it did take a while. Each student’s performance was impressive. The speeches were so creative and the talents were unique. Student brought aspects of their lives, hometowns, regions, and interests into their work. We ETAs were floored by all the students and they’re all winners. A girl even wrote her own song and sang it on stage while playing the piano. Another girl spoke about being present when her father went into cardiac arrest and not being able to do anything for him because the hospital was too far. She then discussed the importance of providing proper urgent care for people around Indonesia. One boy’s talent was beatboxing! I could gush on and on about the contestants.They certainly made it very difficult for the judges to pick a winner!

The Winners

In the end, Bobby, Caroline’s student won the competition. His speech was about going to the moon and seeing the first man walk on the moon. For his talent, he sang “City of Stars” from La La Land and mentioned how he wanted to shoot for the stars and be an actor in the future.

It was fantastic seeing him win in Malang at Caroline’s WORDS competition then again in Jakarta. I could tell he worked hard on it.

Other awards and winners were:

  • Best Use of Theme went to Tyo from Sidoarjo, East Java (Kelly’s student)
  • Best Talent went to Chalvyn from Malang, East Java (Shreya’s student)
  • Best Use of English went to Kezia from Manado, Sulawesi (Mei Lin’s student)
    Best Costume went to Muhammed Hilmi from Gorontalo, Sulawesi (Carolyn’s student)

Other Shenanigans

After the competition, everyone was exhausted. Later that evening, we took our students to go watch a movie at Grand Indonesia which is an extra bougie mall. The mall also had a small Indonesia culture space where Sam, another ETA, and I made batik postcards. 

Then the next day the students went to MONAS which is a national monument while the ETAs had some sessions with AMINEF. Then early afternoon, we all met at @America which is a space in another mall. We had an English Fun Day event there where our WORDS students and students from other local students came together to learn about English and American culture through games and activities lead by ETAs. It was pretty cool! I didn’t get any good photos but the @America space is lovely. We even had enough room to do the Cha Cha Slide with the kiddos. 

The students and ETAs all had a great time! After the event, we rushed back to the hotel and changed. We then made our way to the U.S. Embassy Residence to eat dinner with U.S. Deputy Chief of Missions, Brian McFeeters. It was a really awesome experience for the students and ETAs! Also, it was absolutely precious when a girl hopped on the piano within the first 15 minutes of the event and started playing John Legend’s “All of Me”. Everyone started to sing along too! AHHH SO CUTE.

Final Reflection

It was a crazy few days in Jakarta. We did a lot. Inaya is from the 2nd largest city in the country and she’s been to Jakarta before so she wasn’t shocked by her surroundings. However this was her first time on a plane. Actually, it was a weekend of firsts for many students who had never been to Jakarta, or on a plane. Some students had never been to a mall or to the movies or on an elevator or escalator! (One student had to hold her ETA’s hand on the escalator because she was scared. This melted my heart. It was such an AWWW moment.) 

I took selfies like a mom who just got an a new iPhone this weekend…sorry kids!

When I asked Inaya what her favorite part of this whole trip was, she replied, “making new friends from around Indonesia.” She also said the bus trips around Jakarta were so fun because they were so crazy! Lots of group singing involved! Many of the other students said this too. It was great seeing the seeing the students build these connections with fellow Indonesian students from around the country and American ETAs as well. Although these students barely knew each other, they joked around like old friends. They were using a lot of English too! Literally, we ETAs just stood aside and swooned over everything these kids did. Our hearts were fluttering at how cute all the kids were and their interactions with each other. We took on temporary parent roles that weekend and referred to our students as our own kids.

We were saying things like: 

“I have to tuck my kid into bed!”

“Omg! My kid and your kid are best friends!!!”

“Your kid is so cool! She knows all the American slang!”

“My kid is so tired right now.”

This was funny and cute…or as we would say in Bahasa Indonesia– LUCU LUCU!

I’ve taken so many selfies that I’ve lost my mind!!!

Overall, this whole experience was just magnificent. I’m smiling just thinking about this competition. The National WORDS Competition 2017 was definitely one of the highlights of this Fulbright grant for me. I am so grateful for the opportunity. Special shout out to the Fulbright Program and AMINEF for making this event happen. 

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Fulbright ETAs and high school students from across indonesia spent the past few days in Jakarta for the National WORDS competition which is an English speech and talent competition. It was AMAZING. The students were brilliant, energetic, kind and curious. I'm glad they had the opportunity to network with fellow Indonesian students from other islands, ETAs and professionals. A special shout out to my student, Inaya, who is wearing a brown and white outfit in the middle of this picture. She worked very hard on her speech and set the tone for the competition by going first! I am so proud and unbelievably lucky to work with a student like her. On our last evening in Jakarta, we had dinner with the Deputy Chief of Mission (aka Vice Ambassador). Thank you to @fulbrightindonesia and @the_fulbright_program for making this happen. This program and events like this are so important for students and couldn't be possible without you! #indonesia #fulbright

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