For nearly ten months I kept to myself at UNG, sequestering myself in my little office with the AC where I tried to keep up with the rest of the world with my slow internet connection. I showed up for my classes on time, taught in the sweltering hot classrooms, then went home to shower off the dirt and grime from the day and, if I had any energy left, treated myself to a DVD. On weekends I met my American friends to go diving or travel around Indonesia. Occasionally, I would have dinner with one of the other lecturers. Never once in all that time did I consider my students to be potential friends. Although this outlook started to change with our class trip to Saronde Island, I was still caught off guard by the outpouring of emotion and heartfelt goodbyes from my students at my UNG farewell party and in the days that followed.
The fact that the English department even threw me a party at all was touching. I don’t think anyone has thrown a party for me since I was kid and my mom planned birthday parties for me at roller skating rinks, Burger King, and Gymnastics World. Even when I left my job in Switzerland after five years, I had to throw myself a party and buy all the food for my colleagues. This event was in a league of its own. I walked into the multi-purpose room to find a HUGE sign that said “Farewell Party Julianne Reynolds, M.A.” The head of the department, the dean of the faculty of letters and culture, and even the rector of the university himself gave speeches – and surprisingly personal ones at that. Then two of my students, Amad and Ucha, got up on stage to say a few words. I could feel the tears forming as they spoke and a slide show of pictures of me with the students from throughout the year played in the background. Somehow, through all the barriers I created around myself this past year, I had made a difference to my students and they were genuinely sad to see me leave Gorontalo.
As I sat there feeling all emotional, I was summoned to the stage to say a few words. It was horribly embarrassing because I was crying in front of a room full of colleagues and former students, but I managed to say a few words to thank everyone for the kindness they have shown me this year. Then it was time for the souvenirs. I stood in the front of the room as gift-wrapped presents from the department, the staff, the students and individual lecturers were ceremoniously given to me. I accepted each gift, kissed the giver on the checks or shook hands, and then placed the still wrapped gift on a silver tray so it could then be whisked off to a parked car outside.
Then it was time for songs and dances. Several students and lecturers sang to me, six of my guys performed a choreographed dance routine and then Class B came up to the stage and started singing ‘Assalamualaikum’ – the song we sang together on our trip to Saronde. Not only did they sing it, but they also beckoned for me to come up to the stage and sing it with them. Vana had even printed out the lyrics for me! So up to the stage I went and we all swayed and sang together, with me stumbling over the lyrics into the mic. But it was all good fun and I loved it.
Goodbye Class B! I will really miss you.
After a lovely lunch, I went back home to start packing up my house. But I wasn’t alone. A couple members of Class A came over to give me a beautiful photo album of us throughout the year that hilariously also included several ‘hidden camera’ shots that one of the students had taken of me during class! The students had also filled the album with personal messages. Near the end there is even one page called ‘Attendance List’ where they all signed their names in fancy ink – a stylized version of what I ask them to do every day in class! As the delegates of Class A were on their way out the door, delegates of Class B arrived and presented me with ANOTHER beautiful, thoughtful album of photos and memories. Then they stayed to help me open the rest of the gifts that I had received earlier – beautiful kerawang fabric of Gorontalo, traditional fans, and keychains made from recycled newspaper, among other things. Then Ibu Elsje came to pick up my furniture. When I sold her my sofa set and mattress, I had asked her to arrange for someone to pick them up. I was expecting her to show up with a van or a truck but instead she came with a roda – a traditional horse-drawn cart! My students helped the driver load the furniture and waited with me while the driver made a couple trips between my house and Ibu Elsje’s.
So many presents to unwrap!
The goodbye sendoff continued into that evening and the next couple of days. After we loaded up the furniture, we went back to campus where other members of Class B had been preparing a bbq for me! My students grilled up fresh corn and fish outside the language lab and we sat around talking and joking for a few more hours. But the day had been a long one, so I eventually bid them goodnight and went home. The next day I arrived at work bright and early to finish calculating my final grades and pack up my office. While I was scrambling to get all my work done, members of Class C appeared to invite me to dinner at one of the girls’ houses. Very reluctantly I told them that I couldn’t go because I HAD TO finish up my grades and, besides, my neighbors were already planning on taking me out for a farewell dinner. Time was short and there was still so much to do. Unfazed, Class C showed up at my house the next morning to accompany me to the airport. They had rented a car to follow me!
At the airport with Class C
All along I have been saying that I will definitely come back to Gorontalo to dive. But now I feel have another reason, too. I will really and truly miss these students of mine - these students who have now added me on Facebook and tell me how much they love and miss me. Instead of feeling like this is the end of an era, I feel like this is just the beginning of some new lifelong friendships. I will be back.