Rice, motorbikes and laughs – The AIYEP experience

Rizky and I. Rizky is from Lampung, a province in Southern Sumatra. He’s now one of my best friends and responsible for teaching me quite a unique subset of Indonesian vocabulary you don’t learn in high school!

The Australian Indonesian Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) runs every year in December and January, giving 21-25-year-olds the chance to immerse in Indonesian culture. After 31 years of the program running something must be going right! Here’s my encounter for December/January 2013/ 2014.

The concept of the program is quite simple, 18 Australians join 18 Indonesians (who have just spent two months in Australia) and venture to Indonesia for two months. The purpose; to grow to love Indonesia, learn about Indonesian culture and share ours. The journey is broken into three components, briefings, a village stay and the city stay.

Here’s why I loved AIYEP 2013/2014. Briefings AIYEP all starts with pre-departure briefings in Australia. I recount a nervous morning waiting at Sydney Airport where I sat at a coffee shop with the other Melbournians (newly met) waiting for the participants of the other states to arrive.

AIYEP is quite a phenomenal program; you meet 17 other young Australians one morning in December who you will travel to remote parts of a developing country for two months. Audacious? Yes, but for us 18 unknowns, we quickly became an “AIYEP Family” and now lifelong friends. Our pre-departure was in Sydney for about a week. The first half we spent as a group of Australians, meeting each other and being given the run-down more about the program, our responsibilities and what to expect. It’s extensive, I recount a very humorous toilet training briefing!

The second half of the week we were joined with the group of our 18 Indonesian counterparts. We are given two days to get to know them well before we elect out direct counterpart, who we would be partnered with in our homestays and living for the next two months. Sounds daunting but for us, it worked out amazingly. After a domestic pre-departure, you leave Australia as a group of 36 to travel to Jakarta.

In Jakarta, we spent a day at the Australian Embassy for briefings on issues of safety, health and broadly about Indonesia. We had a reception at the Ambassador to Indonesia’s official residence before flying to our final destination the following day. Our host province was in West Sumatra (it changes yearly). We flew to the capital of the province, Padang, where we stayed for a further four nights for more briefings, this time by the local government. After almost two weeks of briefings, we were ready for the first phase of the program, the village stay.


The Village Stay

We were located about two hours from Padang in a village called Koto Sani. Before I go on, it was beautiful, check out the view from my bedroom window.


The purpose of the village phase of the program is community development projects. We split into six divisions (health, education, sport, culture, business and agriculture) to undertake projects. Our major successes were improving an irrigation channel in the middle of the Sumatran jungle, resurfacing a volleyball court in the remote hills of the village and refurbishing many local health clinics.

The self-led community development projects are only one component of the village stay. I would say equally as important is living in the village and connecting with your host family, neighbours and community. Whilst on AIYEP, in the village and in the city you live with a host family. This may sound daunting but it is a genuinely unique, rewarding experience and truly allows you to experience Indonesian culture.

Within 12 hours at my host family’s house, I felt at home. We played soccer with the local community, taught at local primary schools and hung out after dark at the village warungs (small coffee stands). It was an emotional departure from the village but after four weeks (including Christmas and New Year festivities) when we said our goodbyes.


Mid-Visit Break

Between the village and city stays is the mid-visit break. We stayed five nights in an amazing resort in a place called Lembah Harua. We didn’t have any responsibilities related to the program and we had some time to ourselves after a strenuous month of being an intriguing foreigner in a remote village. We relaxed, wet on a full-day hike through the jungle and swimming in waterfalls.

Lembah Harau, an epic valley where we spent the week in a small resort.


City Stay

Our city stay was in Bukittinggi. The core activity of the city stay is a work-experience program. AIYEP participants nominate and are placed in fields of interest. I’m a Bachelor of Commerce graduate so I worked in a regional office of Indonesia’s Department of Finance. Other examples of work placements were in schools, government offices (sport, law, infrastructure, environment), a radio station, a TV station and a retail bank. This aspect of the program isn’t overly strenuous and allows time to explore the city.

There were also quite a few organized activities whilst in Bukittinggi. We visited tourist sites, judged a music/dance competition and visited a local village. We also took advantage of days off to travel with our families to sites around Bukittinggi. Here’s me at my work placement and paragliding off a peak over a beautiful lake.



The program concluded in Jakarta where we spent four nights (in a hotel with hot showers). We engaged in a youth dialogue at the Australian Embassy, had meetings with Australia’s diplomatic staff and also said our last, emotional goodbyes to one another. About half of the Australian participants stayed on in Indonesia after the program (Bali was a popular choice). Whether we stayed or not, I dare say most Australians are planning ways to return to reunite with their counterparts and host families.




What are living conditions like in the host family in the village and the city?

Short answer: absolutely fine. We are all placed with a different host family (with our Indonesian counterpart) so obviously, house to house there was a bit of variance. The village had electricity, plenty of shops and 3G Internet. My counterpart and I were given our own room with a comfy bed (most people share a bed but some don’t). We eat with the family almost every meal. In Indonesia, though dinner time is like a buffet and you just take what you want to eat. Makes it easy to avoid things you’re a little unsure of. There’s lots of rice but if you want to avoid rice you can. The host family will make it as comfortable as possible for you. They’re so happy to accommodate you’ll be treated very well. In the village, it was very competitive to host the participants so they’ll be very proud to have you stay with them. The host families also are provided with an allowance to have you stay with them so they generally provided a range of food and quantity was never a problem.

Do you have to be fluent in Indonesian?

Absolutely not. Two Australian AIYEPers in 2013/2014 had never had any formal Indonesian tuition. Even by the end, there was still about five participants that couldn’t converse beyond a basic conversation level. It is fine to not be able to speak the language; you’ll have your counterpart around to help you when needed. I will say if you can brush up on basic language before you head over I think you will have a richer experience.

Is the program funded?

Absolutely fully funded, the only expense delegates have are travel insurance (compulsory) and individual spending money. Whilst in Indonesia you receive a small stipend for spending money but most delegates spent above allowance. I would approximate personal spending would have ranged between $300-$700 for delegates but that really depends on how much shopping you do in the city phase and whilst in Jakarta! I was amazed by how well resource the program was. We flew Qantas, stayed at good quality hotels and were treated to fantastic meals.

Is being accepted into an AIYEP a competitive process?

I don’t represent the organisers of AIYEP so I don’t know intake statistics. I believe a large number of applications are submitted. The process is an online written application (allow about four hours) followed by a phone interview (20-30 minutes). If you stated you could speak Indonesian in your application, there’ll be a component of the interview in Indonesian but I felt it wasn’t a test, just to verify you align to your stated level. Whilst apparently intake is quite low versus applicants, I will say that by no means were we 18 future Rhode Scholars. I think the organisers take a diverse subset of Australians from many fields with varying previous Indonesian experience (ranging from none to high involvement). I would definitely encourage all to apply as this isn’t a scholarship where you need to be a cookie cutter university student that checks all the boxes to be admitted, absolutely everyone has a chance.

What were you most surprised about the program?

I hope everyone reads down this far! Going into it I wasn’t aware of the emphasis on cultural performance nor were most participants. Cultural performance is where the Indonesian and Australian group comes together to prepare a performance that you present at schools and at events (government dinners, farewell ceremonies). You perform it a lot! We did a medley of Australian songs, the heel and toe bush dance and a bit of an acting/dancing skit where we represented beach/bush and city culture in Australia. This is by no means anything to deter an application to AIYEP. Our music/dancing ability and willingness was very varied in the group. You will have to participate but I think most of us quite enjoyed it towards the end. I may regret this but the Youtube link to our cultural performance is here.


Further reading about AIYEP

We wrote heaps of blog postings whilst on AIYEP 2013/2014. These can be found via this link. There are some interesting accounts! We also prepared an awesome AIYEP newsletter which can be found on the blog website. They are all articles written by participants that will give you an overview of what it’s all about. Link: If you have any questions about AIYEP, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Heath Jamieson

Heath Jamieson is the Founding Director of The Language Barrier, a youth led organisation that motivates youth to pursue second language studies. Heath is a fluent Indonesian speaker, an Australian Indonesian Youth Exchange Program alumni, highly involved with Australian Indonesian Youth Association and on the leadership team for the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth.

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