We asked students to reflect on their experience in Timor-Leste over the September holidays.
On our second last night in Timor-Leste, we were asked to describe our experiences in a few words. Unforgettable, life changing, once in a lifetime, amazing, the best. These words sum up the 2023 Timor-Leste Immersion for not just myself, but for all of us who went a long for the journey.
Experiencing the Carmelite lifestyle was a fantastic experience for the group. Waking up at 5am for morning prayer, having siesta in the afternoon and playing big games of soccer were just some of the many memories made. What was most significant for me was the sense of community that was present. Whether it be the conversations at different meals, or the different celebrations, it was a warm and friendly environment when everyone was made welcome.
Another great memory was spending a few nights down at Zumalai. One thing that I know myself and a lot of the boys took away from this experience is how happy we can be when we don’t have a lot. Watching the all the boys and girls everyday loving school, playing soccer with their friends, and overall enjoying life, it is something that we can reflect on and take back into our own lives.
The 2023 Timor-Leste Immersion was nothing short of incredible and is a memory I will forever hold, the people, the experiences, and all the fun times. I would like to thank Mr Vujcich for all the effort he put in to make this trip possible.
The Timor-Leste immersion has been a reflective and positively altering experience.
Prior to beginning the journey, I had heard very little about what Timor was actually like. Throughout our time at Whitefriars College, we have been shared glimpses of the ‘Timor-experience’ so to speak, what life is like in such a different environment, be it through the stories of the Timorese students we have supported or Whitefriars students from years past that have decided to take up the opportunity. Once the offer was sent out, I was immediately interested, for this would be an opportunity that may not come again and an opportunity to finally see and learn about this rather unknown-to-me way of life and place in the world.
I signed up my name with great haste and once interviews had gone ahead – I was in.
Before we left, I was almost wary to start with – told we would be heading to what was considered a ‘developing nation’, coming out of a horrible conflict and tragedy just over two decades prior. We were informed that there would be a fairly hefty culture shock and perhaps a few adjustments to make to our sanitary standards – but we all knew it would be worth it.
Late Term 3, we left for Dili, the nation’s capital city. Once we arrived, we were swiftly sent off to stay with the Carmelite community of Hera, a town a short while away from the nation’s capital city, Dili, nestled by mountains. The Carmelite Brothers and Fathers took us in for our stay, taking good care of us, feeding us, inviting us to their masses and showing us their country. Over our time in this part of the country, we travelled around, visiting places of great cultural, national and religious significance – taking away some interesting insights into their way of life, and in a way, ours. Due to the country’s rather scarred and tattered history, I will say a lot of the sights and experiences discussed were quite harrowing, putting a lot into perspective, especially just how well off we have had it back home.
Not all was doom and gloom; the mornings and evenings full of prayer, dinner and celebration with the Carmelites – who I must say, do know how to party. All throughout the Carmelite community, there are repeated motifs of what we are familiar with i.e., the Whitefriars crest, which was almost uncanny at first.
Towards the second half of our 11-day stay, we left for Zumalai, a town in the south of Timor-Leste, in a region recently affected by flooding and landslides. We stayed with a Carmelite school – and this was honestly the single most rewarding and splendid experience of my life. The students were shy at first, but with the help of football and some degree of communication, we quickly made friends. All were eager to get involved, and us Australians tried our best at teaching – quickly learning that perhaps it is a little harder than first thought! After the school day, we would play football (soccer, to those uninitiated) with the boarding students at the school and connections were formed, especially with local legends, Rivaldo and Zoppe.
It was sad to leave but three days later we returned to Hera and spent out our remaining time all together with the Carmelites, having a blast and saying our goodbyes. After a very swift, functional and efficient passing through at the airport with no mishaps or delays, we said our goodbyes to Timor-Leste and headed back home.
Already I feel I am back into the swing of things at Whitefriars and Australian life – now that experience sits in the back of my head, something I am constantly reminded of and can think back to, putting into a fresh perspective and a new light everything I deemed ‘normal’ or took for granted here. Even though their nation has been through horrors unimaginable, they remained optimistic in a way, so full of faith that they are able to, together and in unity, look towards the future, learning to ‘forgive and forget’ elements of the past, and find peace. Cannot recommend enough (although the toilet situation was a minor adjustment)!
The immersion to Timor-Leste was very surreal for me. Coming back to Australia the experience made me really appreciate how fortunate I was. The optimism and positivity the Timorese people displayed, brothers and children alike, despite the significant hardships they faced in their life made me realise how much I take for granted in my own life. Their openness and willingness to welcome, learn and teach helped me understand the importance of community and connections. Ultimately the lessons I have learnt, new perspectives I have found and connections I have made will be lifelong.
For me, Timor was a life changing trip. It showed me the world through a different len and made me realise how hard some people have it, (also that you do not need all the new luxury new things to be happy in life). I took a lot away from talking to all the people, they were all so happy and so excited to meet me although I had never met them in my life.
The best part of the trip for me was going to the school in Zumalai. It was inspirational to see all of the kids wanting to learn… less teachers, silent and all eager to do their work… unlike some of the kids I know who have access to lots of resources and teachers in Australia.
I personally loved the trip and would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to go.