Before Mr. D, I was a Bule Kampung
I have now 576k followers on Instagram. It’s a pretty big number and I’m hoping to get to 600k before June. A lot of my friends and students have wondered how it’s so easy to have a life in Indonesia as a ‘bule.’ But my time here isn’t as smooth as what most of them thought. I was a nobody when I came here. I had no fame and no money. I think the term here is ‘buleleng’ or ‘bule kampung.’
Before I started teaching, I was an aspiring actor in Hollywood. I starred in a few smaller films playing small roles but I wanted to be like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. Unfortunately, I never made it to the big films and I thought I had to do something or I’d be living with just my cat, Abby, forever. Who’d help me clean my bottom when I’m old and weak? Even Abby would leave me! So, I tried out many things and applied to a lot of jobs including any opportunities abroad.
How did he get into teaching?
Long-story short, English Today Jakarta reached out to me and said they’d hire me under certain terms and conditions. Since I had no teaching experience and no teaching qualifications, they were willing to train me as long as I could adapt to their methods. Otherwise, they’d have to let me go and I’d be forced to pay my own plane ticket and be alone in a foreign country where barely anybody speaks English except for ‘Mister, mister, where you come from?’ – at least, that’s what I thought.
They continued saying that the teachers of English Today Jakarta were elites of the elite, meaning they were all the best – and they are! A lot of the teachers were the Director of Studies of English First, Centre Managers of Wall Street, Senior Product Managers of ILP… and then you have me, bule nyasar.
I thought about all the risks and told myself that life’s short, life’s an adventure. If it didn’t work out with English Today, what’s the worst that could happen? Deported and live with my cat, Abby, who’d scratch my bottom when I’m old? No problem! (No, I wasn’t that optimistic.) So, I told them I’d take the job.
Do you want this out in public for potential future companies to read – that we occasionally hire inexperienced teachers and go on a whim?
My first class in Indonesia was teaching beautiful, gorgeous flight attendants of Garuda Indonesia. I really enjoyed it and I thought this was so easy and fun. Ya… sekalian cari pasangan. But after the class ended, my boss called me in for a chat. He said the reviews we got from Garuda Indonesia were mostly ‘OK kok, bagus.’ I was glad to hear that! That’s great, I thought. Then he explained when Indonesians say that, it means ‘just above average.’ Suddenly, I panicked. I could feel Abby scratching my bottom.
“So, what now?” I asked.
“If you observe some of our top teachers and talk to them after class about how the class went, about lesson planning and teaching methodology, we believe you could be an A-grade teacher,” he told me.
I was glad he gave me another chance. So, I dedicated myself to learning to be an excellent teacher. I observed lots of classes, read lots of books on teaching and shared thoughts with the senior teachers. I gained so much from my peers. Everyone was so caring and passionate of teaching and they perfectly knew what they were talking in class. The energy level in the classroom was always so positive. After a couple of months, I knew everything about teaching; what to do in a classroom, what approaches I should use… I was ready.
I approached my boss and told him I was prepared for another class. Without hesitation, he said, “No, you’re not. You’re still ‘OK kok, bagus.’ You’re never going to be as good as the other teachers in just 2-3 months. The others have been teaching for years, some of them even over 10 years!”
I was confused. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to react. I asked him whether it means I had to go back to America but, strangely, he said no.
“Dennis, be who you are. Find your strength. Find something that you’re good at that the others are not. What are you good at?”
The room went silent for a minute. “I don’t know.”
He continued, “You’re an actor. You’re good on camera. The other teachers are good in the classroom but they’re not good on camera. Face-to-face, you’re disappointing but you’re awesome on camera.”
Put it simply, what he was trying to say is ‘lu ga punya tampang, tapi jayus.’ So, he guided me to making videos about English. He gave me books to read and I learned from them. I researched the use of social media myself and in no time, I made my very first video on Instagram under @guruku_mr.d. Since then, I started becoming popular.
The story didn’t end there, though. I knew the internet can be cruel and mean but I thought I could handle it. Video after video, people were commenting on my teeth! My teeth my goodness! ‘Mister, kenapa ga ke dokter gigi?’ Why can’t they comment on how ganteng I am. In just 3 months, I was depressed. I wasn’t confident and told my boss I couldn’t do it anymore.
He didn’t give up on me though, surprisingly. He said if people kept listening to negative comments, no one would succeed in life and there certainly wouldn’t be Hollywood. Focus on the positive comments and ignore the negative. Eventually, I’d have more followers and enough people to help defend me from the bad comments. He encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing and helped me through the tough times.
From then on, my followers kept growing and growing. I stayed and kept going, focusing on the positives and not much on the negatives. Before I knew it, I had 10k followers, then 50k, 100k, 200k and now I have nearly 600k. And with the growing followers, I get endorsements too. A dentist messaged me one day, offered me to fix my tooth. Hah! No more comments on my teeth! Rasain tu haters! Not only endorsements, I’ve been called to TV shows as well. I was on dahSyat, Hitam Putih, and most recently Ini Talk Show. Bye-bye, bule kampung, hello Mr. D!
So, there you have it. Being bule alone isn’t enough. I came from nothing to something. It wasn’t always easy. I had my obstacles and challenges. But what did I do? I kept going. I focused on the positive and I didn’t give up. You should also surround yourself with good people. I’m blessed to be around such motivating and caring people in Indonesia. I didn’t know anyone but now I have so many friends. Lastly, be grateful and humble. You may not be good at one thing but I’m sure you’re good at something. There’s nothing better than being who you are while doing what you love.