Finally leaving the confines of the hotel as a group felt like a long time coming, even though it was only one day holed up at the Le Meridien. Leaving the hotel as a group by walking across the street to a towering unique large office building, with sharp corners on every floor, adorn with hanging grass on the side, we entered the highly secured building to attend a meeting with AMINEF. They are in charge of exchange programs between Indonesia and the United States. With the director being from the United States as well as several coworkers, it felt like a slice of home in the midst of the whirlwind trip. The meeting described the great work by AMINEF and the needs for global relations. Two young American teachers who are part of an English language program described their impressions of Indonesia, further preparing us for what to expect on the grand journey we are on. With a boxed lunch of traditional cuisine, I passed on most of the food due to the similar feeling I’ve been having regarding being fed like cattle with the constant feedings. As the meeting finished, I was able to have a wonderful conversation with some employees of Muslim faith who were interested in American politics and specifically Trump. This being my bread and butter to discuss, but also releasing my conversation will have to be honest yet unbiased since we are traveling on behalf of the United States. Expressing that Donald Trump doesn’t represent the views of all Americans, that many Americans support and welcome Muslims with open arms, and America is very large and Trump’s ideas benefit some people, but not everyone. This was a sentiment shared by the majority of the group we traveled with. Sharing reassurance and goodwill is a crucial component to my time with IREX/TGC. Considering the negative stereotypes that have occurred globally regarding the USA, a poignant message sent to our group was that we play a larger role than just being teachers on our trip. We are global diplomats. Sending an ambassador to a country doesn’t change the minds of most of the people, it’s the work of the citizen ambassadors who on the ground level can influence the most people. After leaving AMINEF, we traveled by bus to our first school, a secondary school on the other side of Jakarta. What continues to amaze me is how expansive Jakarta’s size is. I’ve never seen a city’s boundary lines spread so far apart. To exacerbate the situation is the ever present congestion in the city which makes any journey on two or four wheels take up much more time than any other city I’ve visited. The traffic also has caused a layer of smog in the city, which unless something changes, will only get worst. Amazing in the midst of the bumper to bumper traffic with seemingly no order, no accidents have occurred and people exhibit no signs of road rage. Case in point being our diver trying to weave in seemingly impossible narrow corridors a full size coach bus, never appears rattled. Making our way to our first school, which was Mike and Ursula’s home school, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how we would be received. It is immediately apparent as we pulled through the school campus gates it would be with open arms. The people placed massive customized sign welcoming us to their school. Disembarking from our shuttle bus, we were flanked by several female students applauding us, while wearing beautiful Hijabs and their school uniform. As was much of Indonesia, the facilities on a surface level looked ramshackle, but upon closer reflection appeared to be taken care of with much care and attention. There were no signs of dirt or uncleanliness as we walked through the exotic school entryway. Treated to seeing towering palm trees and a botanical garden in the center courtyard, the greenery contrasting wonderfully with the orange paint, a huge smile was plastered upon my face. Faces peeking through classroom windows, our warm welcome diminished any sleepiness we might have been feeling. Entering a room by taking off our shoes first, another welcoming party treated us like royalty. Large custom banners flanked the podium. The principal was ecstatic to have us and immediately offered to pose for pictures with us. Also greeted by two young adults who came up to me to greet us, smiling, and exchanging pleasantries, were the masters of ceremony for the event. The people were Taking a seat in plush seats, I had a front row view of the welcoming celebration. The two MCs started off the welcoming party. We were treated with such respect as they provided us quite a show. There were traditional singing and dancing, as well as a speech by the principal. Following this we had a question and answer with the students asking us questions. I answered a question regarding how students study for tests, which thankfully Kate interrupted me to tell me to slow down as I forgot that English wasn’t their first language. During the presentation, Mike and I made a couple of funny quiet interactions with the two MCs sitting stoically in front of us, hoping to get them to smile, which we did. Finishing up the presentation, we were given time to chat with the many eager students and have some delicious soup, which was similar to Italian wedding soup. It was always funny with the young students who were often timid to ask for a picture from me, where I’d eventually offer to take one with them. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favorite interaction came from further talking with the two MCs. Sharing with them my social media handle and telling them how great they were on the microphone, they were blown away by me (as strange as that seems). I was simply acting as myself, but apparently it seemed that most teachers don’t make much of an effort to relate and interact with them. I couldn’t help but laugh when the young man said multiple times, “I like you, you are so chill. You are the chill teacher”. If only I could have filmed that and played it back every day haha. As we left after taking another group photo, it was much more refreshing than I expected to visit a school. With such a grand welcome, it felt rejuvenating to be greeted with such reverence. Finishing the night back at the hotel, we had plenty of time to relax and get settled in. With no group official dinner slated for us, a couple of us had dinner at the bar at night. Serenaded by a wonderfully talented singer as she belted out requests from the audience, the small group had a small meal at the bar before heading out on our own way. I looked forward to tomorrow’s visit to another school.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.