Applications for the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) are set to open up on July 15.
Asia Options recommends that young Australians interested in exploring the Australia-Indonesia space consider applying for the program.
To offer readers a sharper view of all that AIYEP has to offer, Asia Options spoke at length with AIYEP 2020 alumnus Jake Black to glean his insights from the experience.
From interning with the Indonesian House of Representatives to organising movie nights with his fellow delegates, Jake’s experience with the program suggests that it’s one not to be missed.
What inspired you to move into the Australia-Indonesia space?
I’d always been really closely associated with Korea. I did exchange there twice, once in 2017 and once in 2019. But in my study, I was sort of broadly interested in the Indo-Pacific. And it was actually in 2018, I was at the University of Melbourne and I was looking at these overseas subjects, and they had this one in Yogyakarta (Jogja) called Social Policy and Development. I thought, ‘this seems like a really cool opportunity’. You know, I don’t know anything about Indonesia, but I’ll give this subject a go. So I applied for it and got in. I spent a week in Jogja doing this subject in November 2018. And I really just loved the country and the culture. And I think it helped that my first experience was in Jogja, because it’s such a beautiful place.
I did another overseas subject in Indonesia, in November 2019. That one was at Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta. And then, you know, 2020 came along. I’ve written a couple of articles for publications like The Diplomat, just about issues going on in Southeast Asia. So I’m trying to sort of broaden my knowledge and understanding of Southeast Asia, and then I saw that there was something called AIYEP, which was taking applications and I just decided to give it a go.
Tell us about the application process. How long was it, and what did it involve?
It was a fairly simple application process. So the first stage was to just submit the initial application, which was done on a Google form. That just had your basic information, like your study history, a bit of work history, and things like that. It also had some questions that you would provide a longer answer to. You also had to submit two reference letters. So this was right at the initial stage.
And then probably a week or two after that I got an email to say that I was invited to an interview, which was done via Zoom, as most interviews were in 2020. So that was just a quick Zoom interview. It was quite casual. It definitely wasn’t as intense as one for a government department, for instance. So it was quite short. It was about 15 minutes, I think mine was, and they just asked a few questions. Just wanted to get to know you better. I was interviewed by someone from the Australia-Indonesia Institute, which is managed by DFAT, then also the other interviewer was from the Southeast Asia division of DFAT.
And then some time after that I received an email notifying me that I had been accepted. And that was it.
The program ran for seven weeks. What did it involve?
So there were a number of different components.
We essentially had meetings Monday through Saturday, each week, and each day would be anywhere from an hour to maybe three hours of actual scheduled events.
A lot of these were webinars on different topics, like the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or gender equality, or global health. There were also some workshops on topics like cultural diversity or the Indonesian language. And so those made up the bulk of the sessions.
There was also an internship component, which ran from Week Two through to the end of Week Four. Each delegate was assigned to an internship host organisation. And they did their internships virtually. There was a social project, which was Weeks Five through Seven, where delegates would be arranged into groups, and they’d work on a project aligned with one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a mentorship program.
Explain the mentorship program a little more for us…
So going back, each Australian delegate had an assigned Indonesian counterpart from the beginning of the program. And so each of these counterpart pairings was assigned a mentor, who is just someone who’s quite advanced along in their career and who has some deep knowledge of the Australia-Indonesia relationship and can provide advice on furthering your career.
Who Was Your Mentor?
So my counterpart and I had Jewel Topsfield. She is the Social Affairs editor at The Age. And she was previously the Indonesia correspondent for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
How was she as a mentor and what did you learn from her?
She was great. She was really good at giving us advice on, you know, the day-to-day problems we were facing in the program, such as with our internships. I think for me, personally, she gave a lot of advice about dealing with Indonesian working culture.
My internship was with the Indonesian House of Representatives and I think in that kind of workplace in Indonesia, things are moving at a very slow pace. And you may not necessarily hear from your supervisors often and you may not necessarily have the most clear directions on what you’re doing. So she just sort of gave me some advice on dealing with that. And also, I was working on a research report for that internship. And she gave me some advice about just making sure that in the research report, I’m really suggesting that both Australia and Indonesia can learn something from each other. It’s not that I’m just saying, you know, this is what we do in Australia and this is what you can learn from us, but also having it the other way around as well.
Tell us about your Indonesian counterpart…
His name is River and he is from Central Sulawesi province.
We found out who our counterparts were on the first day of the program at the introduction session, which was just after the opening ceremony. And so we initiated contact by WhatsApp chat pretty quickly.
And we were just sort of introducing ourselves and things. We had our first call the following day. He showed me around his area and I showed him around mine as well. And I think the counterpart system was really good to sort of give you a kickstart with just having at least one contact from the other side. But as the program progressed, you get to know more people and the counterpart relationship is still important, but it feels like you’re part of like a broader social group, rather than just having that sole counterpart relationship.
And at the core of everything was something called the Global Competence Certificate, which was an online program consisting of a number of modules. These were essentially to increase your ability to act as a responsible global citizen. They had modules on things like, different conflict styles across different cultures, different ways of communicating. And so that was running throughout the entire seven weeks of the program. So each week, you would have a number of different modules, and you’d be expected to discuss them with your counterpart as well.
Are you still in contact with River?
Yeah, I’m still in contact with quite a few of my fellow AIYEPers on a regular basis.
Tell us about your internship with the House of Representatives. That’s a major institution, were you nervous at all?
I suppose I did feel a bit nervous before my first meeting, but after getting to my supervisor, I felt at ease pretty quickly. I had a lot of freedom to decide what I wanted to work on. I was in the office of the MPP Hetifah Sjaifudian, from East Kalimantan province. And she’s on Commission 10 in the House of Representatives, which deals with things like Youth and Sports, Tourism and Education. It’s quite a broad commission, so the advice I got from my supervisor, who was one of Ibu Hetifah’s staffers was basically, that it would be beneficial for me to do a research project on the potential for collaboration between Australia and Indonesia in any of those sort of areas.
I decided on vocational education because I think, particularly with the ratification of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement last year, there’s a lot of scope for greater collaboration in that area, so that’s what I focused my research on and they were happy for me to proceed with that. And I also was in contact with Ibu Hetifah’s social media manager, because I had done a social media internship last year with the Australian Institute of International Affairs. So based on that experience, they also suggested to me that I could help with Ibu Hetifah’s Social Media Manager. So I had a couple of meetings with him and just gave some of my insights and advice. I still follow her Instagram account and I can see that some of that has been put into practice, which is really cool to see.
Have you felt a shift in your thinking or a shift in your perception of the world after this program?
One thing, in particular with the program, is that because it was virtual, I was really sceptical in the beginning about whether I’d really be able to form deep bonds with these people. And I was really surprised at how quickly I was able to become really close with my fellow delegates. And so I think in terms of my worldview, I have a much stronger belief after this program in the power of virtual connection. And I think that’s something that a lot of people will have after Covid. If I’m ever in a position to work on a program like AIYEP, I would definitely look at combining virtual elements with in-person elements. Because, obviously, AIYEP has always been in-person before, and I would have loved for it to have been in-person this year, as well. But I think in future years, there’s a lot to really take out of the virtual experience. I think that elements could be combined into a sort of hybrid program in the future. And so if I’m ever in a position to work on these sorts of things in the future I would definitely advocate for the power of virtual connection.
What did you find most memorable about those seven weeks?
Really, the people that I’ve connected with. Probably even just the casual calls that I had with other Indonesian and Australian delegates outside of the formal program, just being able to form these really great friendships. And there are a few delegates in particular, who I already now consider of some of my closest friends.
In terms of the formal program itself, things that I will really remember, in Week Three, there was a webinar on global health which I actually co hosted with one of the Indonesian delegates. Co-hosting that was a really interesting experience, because I’d never done anything like that before.
I worked with her on that in terms of developing a script and working out how we’re going to let the webinar flow and how we’re going to handle questions and answers. It was an interesting experience, so I’ll definitely remember that.
I was one of the group leaders for the Australian delegation and with one of my Indonesian counterparts in particular, we organised a lot of bonding sessions, like movie nights, playing Among Us mobile games, things like that. And I think that really helped bring the group a lot closer together. So I think that’s something very memorable for me to think that, you know, I played a significant role in bringing everyone together. That was something really special for me.
Finally, what advice do you have for other young Australians who are thinking about an AIYEP application? Would you recommend the program?
I would absolutely 100 percent recommend the program.
The advice that I would give is, if you’re interested in international affairs, just try to build up that repertoire of internship experience and study experience and overseas experience as much as you possibly can. There are so many wonderful opportunities.
Even apart from AIYEP, just to study overseas, if you’re doing an undergraduate degree, you can get a New Colombo Plan grant if you’re going somewhere in the Indo-Pacific. And if you go to somewhere like Indonesia, you might even come back with more money than you went with. There are really so many opportunities to build up that experience. And building up the experience will also help you greatly if you’re applying for AIYEP.
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