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By the time the black SUV with diplomatic plates pulled up outside T.W. Browne Middle School on the South side of Dallas, the school’s sixth graders had finished listening to their morning announcements and had begun their classes. On the second floor, teacher Hannah D’Apice and her students had just completed their latest Skype call with a classroom halfway around the world in Aceh, Indonesia as part of Creative Learning’s School-2-School program. Now, stepping out from the car into the warm morning air, was someone who could bring that experience full-circle for them, the Consul General from the Indonesian embassy in Houston, Al Busyra Bansur.
“Please, call me Al,” he says to Principal Sylvia Fuentes with a warm smile as he enters and greets the teachers gathered near the main office.
Al is an official diplomat, one whose duties normally involve high-level topics like trade, foreign policy and immigration between the U.S. and Indonesia. But on this day, he came to meet some unofficial ambassadors, the 6th grade students in Hannah’s class who a few months before had never heard of Indonesia. He came to share with them some first-hand knowledge of the country he calls home. Since beginning their School-2-School partnership, Hannah and her students have conducted Skype calls around every other week and sent emails back-and-forth with students at the Sukma Bangsa School in Aceh.
The school in Aceh was built after the devastating tsunami of 2004 which killed thousands of people throughout the region . The school was founded for tsunami victims and for victims of Aceh’s political violence which fractured the lives of so many young people. The skype exchanges have introduced students on the other side of the world to each other in a way that would never have been possible. They’ve shared with each other about their homes, their families, and their hobbies. They’ve talked about world events and they’ve learned about the little things that make them more similar than different.
A few minutes after he arrived, Al stands in front of an assembly of students and teachers, cracking jokes and telling them about Indonesia.
“I feel Dallas, for me, is a second home,” he tells them, recounting how many people he has come to know in Texas during his diplomatic post. “Actually, I hope one day you’ll be able to go to Indonesia, to visit your friends and visit the country. So I need a volunteer. Who knows about Indonesia?”
Half a dozen hands shoot up in the audience.
“It’s in Asia and it has really good food,” she says.
“They have a lot of volcanoes there,” says another.
“They hear some of our music there, like Eminem,” says a boy in the front.
“That’s right,” Al says. “We do.”
When Hannah’s students began learning about Indonesia earlier this year, most didn’t know much about Indonesia aside from where it was on a map, but since engaging in the School-2-School partnership they’ve come to understand a bit more about its cultural diversity and heritage. Al takes them through some fast facts about the country, a nation of 240 million people, the world’s fourth most populous and the largest Muslim majority country in the world. He describes how Indonesia has more than 17,500 islands and 700 living languages and dialects, and is roughly 9, 984 miles from Dallas. He shows examples of batik artwork, shots of the Borobudur temple complex outside Yogyakarta and a video of the infamous laughing roosters of Indonesia, which gets a response of roaring laughter through the auditorium.
“I want to invite you all to come to Indonesia,” he says. “Who would like to go?”
“Yeah, me,” says a girl in the front.
“I do,” says another.
But Al had really saved the best for last. “Do you guys know Gangam style?” he asks. “It’s Korean but you know Indonesia really invented the Gangam style. Watch.”
Al hits play and a music video comes over the auditorium’s movie screen of Indonesian pop stars dancing to an infectious rhythm and singing in Bahasa. In the audience, the kids start bobbing their heads and laughing. So does Al. By the time the question and answer period comes, the students are still chatting about the music video and Hannah has to hush them. Another dozen hands shoot up and there are a lot more questions about Indonesian food Indonesian schools, Indonesian cities, and the clothes people wear. Then, a boy raises his hand in the crowd and Al points to him.
“Yes. Question?” he says.
“Can we see that music video again?”