Adventure in Ambon, Teacher and Student exchange program Darwin-Ambon 2016

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On the 26th of October 2016 Kormilda College students, James Perkins and Maisie Spain set off from Darwin with Indonesian language teacher, Mr. Holden and his wife Margaretha Susilowati Holden to the Moluccas island of Ambon in Eastern Indonesia.  The group travelled across the archipelago and a number of time zones before finally landing at Pattimura Airport in Ambon. There they were met by a large entourage of teachers and parents, including the Ambon School Principal, and old friends; Ambon teacher Ibu Jolanda and students Kevin Nitalessy and Ian Matatula,  who came to Kormilda earlier this year as the Ambon delegation of the exchange program.

The Darwin group were treated to many exciting local places of interest, great food and comfortable accommodation during their two week stay. On the first morning in Ambon the teachers and students arrived at SMAN 5 and were welcomed like royalty by a group of traditional Ambonese war dancers. That same day the Kormilda group went to lunch with the Principal, Ibu Sarah and other staff to a restaurant in the city and then went to a large market where James and Maisie were fitted out in the local school uniform.

On the weekend the Kormilda group visited a cake making school meeting the teachers and students there. After that, the group went to Desa Waii and experienced magnificent eels coaxed out from under their hiding places. The group were encouraged to grab the eels but they were too slippery. After the eel experience the group went to a sea side warung called Warung Rujak, there they tasted the famous dish called Rujak; a spicy fruity concoction made fresh in front of your eyes, it was a lovely spot with beautiful views of the bay.

On Sunday we went to church and met with many parishioners, it was a lovely service with lots of music and singing. After church we went to the Principal, Ibu Sarah’s house for lunch, it was a delicious spread and most welcoming. After our lunch we headed off to a tourist attraction called Pintu Kota; a magnificent rock formation taking the shape of a gate at the waters edge on a lovely beach. It was a very dramatic place for some great photo’s. However, many Indonesian tourists were more intent on having their photos taken with James and Maisie rather than the magnificent rock formation.

On the first Monday morning the guests from Darwin were off to school and spent every day attending classes and viewing the differences and similarities between our two very different cultures in an educational context. Our students were surprised that the school had no A/C in the classrooms and no electronic white boards for their lessons. The classrooms were hot and very noisy, largely due to the presence of James and Maisie; causing great excitement among the Ambonese students.

James and Maisie were very popular among the SMAN5, students with literally thousands of photos and selfies recording this very exciting visit. A close bond had already existed between the two groups from their time in Darwin together and this was further extended including hundreds of the students at SMAN 5, all becoming good friends quickly over coming language and cultural barriers.​​

The group from Darwin spent many afternoons sightseeing around Kota Ambon taking angkot rides to the beach and going into the city visiting such places as the Peace Gong and Pantai Natsepa followed by wonderful dinners at various seaside restaurants and roadside warungs.  The Kormilda group was also treated to a couple of nights at the cinema where Indonesian horror films were on offer, this was really enjoyed by the large group of students who attended.

On the second weekend we went to Desa Telehu and soaked up the atmosphere at the hot springs there. The Kormilda group were shaded under some huge sago palm trees which were growing in abundance around the springs, we even saw a house made entirely from the sago palm, a very attractive and brilliantly constructed building.

At the host house there was always a lot of excitement and many visitors coming to meet with the group from Darwin. On the Sunday a group of young students came for an organised English lesson from Bapak Robert. They stayed very late playing badminton with James and Maisie, possibly the real reason for their visit!

During the last week of our trip we were invited to the home of Ibu Jolanda, where we met with her lovely family. Her mother had prepared a beautiful meal for our group, it was really wonderful to meet with Ibu Jolanda on her home soil giving us a greater insight into family life for the Ambonese people, truly awesome.

Overall the school visit was a great experience for all concerned, the interaction between the students from Darwin and Ambon was lively, educational and very friendly. Over the two weeks, many classrooms were visited which delivered greater insight and understanding about the lives of our young people from two very different cultures, realising in the end; there were as many similarities as there were differences. Kormilda teacher Bapak Robert had the honour and pleasure of conducting a number of English classes for the students. This was an immensely enjoyable experience for Bapak Robert and I think for the students too! Our last day at the school was a solemn affair with a whole school assembly delivering a number of wonderful songs and speeches farewelling the Darwin gang.

The last night was spent having dinner with a large group of friends that had been made in the two weeks during our adventure in Ambon, representatives from the Department of Education and the government of Ambon were there to present us with parting gifts. At this time, we were introduced to an Ambonese delicacy called Papeda, which is a dish made from the sago plant consisting of a glutinous glob of wobbly stuff sucked off a plate in one motion. This is done to the delight and cheers of the assembled crowd. Papeda proved to be an unusual experience, strangely tasty and fun to have made everybody happy at our attempts to engage with this time honoured tradition.

After our dinner we returned to the house to find a large number of students there to have a farewell party which went on until about midnight, sadly they had to leave as our flight was very early in the morning. There was great sadness and a few tears as the students bid each other farewell. However, there was also a great sense of friendships made that had taken place over the period of our stay. We left the host house early in the morning arriving at the airport to again find a number of teachers and students there to say goodbye. It was lovely.

The 2016 exchange program has been an outstanding success from all viewpoints and the farewell at Pattimura Airport in Ambon was very emotional as the group realised the extent of their experience and how much had occurred during their two weeks’ adventure in Ambon. The Kormilda group arrived safely back in Darwin on the 13th of November grateful for the lasting friendships they made in the wonderful Moluccas.

Robert Holden (The writer is an Indonesian Teacher at Kormilda College and Exchange Teacher to Ambon in 2016)​