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With applications opening up mid-year for the 2016-17 Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP), this articles discusses some of my experiences of last year’s program and how it fosters greater cultural understanding between the two countries and how it also helps local communities in Indonesia through sustainable development projects and internships.

About the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP)

Anyone who has an active interest in Indonesia knows that such an interest often leads us on an unknown path full of surprises. The Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) – or known in Indonesia as Petukaran Pemuda Indonesia-Australia (PPIA) – proved to be yet another of these surprising, exciting and extremely rewarding experiences for me. AIYEP was founded in 1981 and is a youth exchange program that runs annually, involving eighteen young Australians and Indonesians, aged between 21 and 25. Making up one of the longest running programs between the two countries, it is an excellent initiative giving young Australians and Indonesians the opportunity to gain a richer understanding of each other’s cultures and way of life.

A particularly interesting aspect of AIYEP is its counterpart system. That is, each Australian AIYEP participant is buddied up with one Indonesian AIYEP counterpart. Each counterpart then embarks on the Indonesian phase of AIYEP together, living with the same host families during both the village and city phase, and engaging in various activities together. Your counterpart becomes just like your sister or brother from another country. During the Indonesia home-stay component, participants engage in a community-based sustainable development project. Past projects have involved education, social-work, public health, agriculture, governance or other forms of assistance. The program also involves an internship with a local organisation in Indonesia.

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The 2015-16 AIYEP

In the 2015-16 AIYEP program, Indonesian participants spent one month living and working in Canberra city and one month living and working in the coastal town, Ulludulla. Afterwards, the Australian AIYEP participants also joined the program with the Indonesian participants and travelled together with them back to Indonesia. In the 2015-15 round, we travelled to the far-flung province of West Kalimantan.

The first challenge the group tackled together was creating and collaborating on a joint cultural performance. For many, especially for those with no particular performing background (like myself), the idea of performing Australian culture is somewhat overwhelming. However, the cultural performance turned out to be a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed our re-enactment of a Steve Irwin skit and the Wiggles making a comeback, both performed in Indonesian.

Upon arriving in Indonesia we found ourselves travelling north towards the Indonesian-Malaysian border of Borneo. We were about to embark on a journey to an area of Indonesia that none of the thirty-six AIYEP participants had explored before, and an area of Indonesian society that was relatively unheard of amongst people from other provinces of Indonesia. Travelling off the beaten track we were able to experience total cultural immersion, living with local families and working within the community.

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2015-16 AIYEP internships

After the village stay, a very emotional goodbye and a four-day holiday break in Singkawang, we moved to the capital of West Kalimantan, Pontianak city, to stay with new host families and undertake some internships. Our three-week internships took place in a whole range of fields based on each participant’s backgrounds and interests. Some internships included teaching English in schools and at language institutes; working at a rehabilitation prison centre for youth; working at a school for students with special needs; and also working with government departments, in which AIYEP participants assisted with devising a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between governments of Pontianak and the Danish government.

Review of AIYEP

AIYEP has given me so many invaluable life experiences. I now have two new families in Indonesia; a sister and best friend; countless moments of crying with laughter; a deeper understanding of Indonesia’s diversity (especially cultures in West Kalimantan); and a greater insight into the complexities of working in Indonesia as well as working cross-culturally. It also gave me the opportunity to learn countless Indonesian dances and songs, the opportunity to use and improve my Indonesian language skills, and a true appreciation for the intensity of receiving celebrity-like attention. AIYEP truly is a unique experience.

Having already had many experiences independently travelling, studying and working in Indonesia, I can honestly say that I underestimated how a 2 month program could be such a uniquely challenging and rewarding immersive experience.

2016-2017 AIYEP

This year is AIYEP’s 35th year, and applications open mid-2016. If you are interested in the Australia-Indonesia relationship I strongly encourage you to apply. If you do, my one piece of advice would be to bring enthusiasm and an open mind to the AIYEP experience – it truly is a unique opportunity!

For further information about the program, see the following Asia Options articles:

  1. AIYEP eligibility and application overview
  2. AIYEP 2013-2014 with Heath Jamieson
  3. AIYEP 2014-2015 with Jennifer Fang

You can also check out the AIYEP blog at http://www.aiyep.com.au/blog and their Facebook page where you can find stories, photos and videos of our experiences.

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Meisha Grant

Meisha Grant graduated from the University of Queensland and completed one year Indonesian in-country study as a participant of the Darmasiswa Program. She continued her adventure to learn more about Indonesia’s incredible diversity through participating in the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program 2015/2016 in the province of West Kalimantan.

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