Applications for the 2013 AIYEP intake close on the 28th of August. For more information, visit the Australia-Indonesia Institute’s website.

I just had the experience of a lifetime with AIYEP.

My journey began in Melbourne, where I met 18 fellow participants, who joined us from around Australia. Of course, the real journey began when a bus of young Indonesians arrived at St Mary’s College at the University of Melbourne, serenaded by “Di Sini Senang”, surrounded by laughter, clapping, and hugs with our new friends.

After an exhausting week of cultural performance practice, choreography workshops, and a few excursions to explore the city’s nightlife, we were on a plane bound for Jakarta. The journey saw us in transit for approximately 12 hours, but we made it to our hotel through the macet and soon enough were ready for the Indonesia phase.

We spent more time developing our ideas for our cultural performances and community development program, then received a warm welcome from the local organising committee. After exploring the city some more, we were ready to head to Jogjakarta to begin our next orientation and say goodbye to city life.

Our first taste of the village came when we travelled to Kulon Progo to meet with the Kepala Desa (village head), and other local officials. After a long (and sweaty) meeting, we got to know all about the products of Sermo, and our minds were buzzing with ideas to further develop their industries and provide new ideas for them to consider.

Just two days into our stay in Sermo, ’twas the night before Christmas. All the chickens and goats were still—and the Australian participants were in for a lovely surprise! On Christmas morning, we were met by our tired but ever-spritely counterparts, who had been cooking from the wee hours to make us Christmas lunch boxes, complete with mashed potatoes, JCo donuts, and Cadbury chocolate.

It was a very warmly-received taste of home, and a gesture that we returned on New Years Eve  with a bang – literally! The Australians bought fireworks for everyone to enjoy after our pesta with one of the host families.

After the festivities died down, it was time to make real progress implementing our community development projects. With three meetings a week, the waduk became our second home – the perfect setting to think clearly and creatively in a tranquil setting, conveniently close to a refuel station for kopi hitam and tango wafers as required. Each group had a different focus – namely, tourism, life skills, education, health and sport – and were responsible for developing a series of programs to facilitate over the remaining weeks.

Despite some problems, we worked effectively as a team to resolve the issues, while at the same time improving our communication skills and gaining a deeper understanding of how things are done in both countries.

By the end of the program, we had:

  • Created a website and a beautiful tourist video for tourism in Sermo;
  • Designed and printed a stunning photo book encapsulating the natural landscapes of the area;
  • Facilitated a weekly English club at a local high school (SMP 2 Kokap);
  • Ran an ‘Adik AIYEP’ workshop to engage local children with Australia-Indonesia dialogue;
  • Gave cultural performances;
  • Organised three business development workshops focusing on marketing, branding, and internet and computer skills;
  • Coordinated a screen-printing workshop for the Karung Taruna Youth Organisation;
  • Outlined the health benefits of local Jamu varieties;
  • Rallied local people to fix the soccer field, erect netting and build new goal posts;
  • Facilitated a soccer tournament with mixed Australian and Indonesian teams;
  • Ran a netball workshop to engage young girls in sports; and
  • Organized the Sermo Festival which attracted national media – which attracted wide cross-section of people from the Kulon Progo area.

After teary goodbyes with the host families that we had so warmly accepted us, we were ready for a hot shower and some down time. A few hours later, we arrived in Solo, where we split up to go to a water park or visit the local antiques market. That night, we explored the main street, had roti bakar and susu segar and bought some local fruit at the market. The next day, we headed to Umbul Sidomukti for some outdoor adventures atop a mountain to the south-east of Semarang.

Following some rest and relaxation (and a few evening trips to Semarang) we were all excited to begin the city phase and meet our new host families.

This next phase involved a few more days of orientation, activities and work placement discussions. The local committee and local members of government held another event to welcome us, and introduced us to our new host families, who were ecstatic to meet us. In Yogya, we were kept busy commuting to work, interacting with our new colleagues and learning new things with our host organisations.

Our time during this phase seemed to fly by, as we all spent a lot of time trying to explore Yogya’s wonderful events and attractions that Yogya has to offer: Jalan Malioboro, warungs, restaraunts, Ramayana, cabaret, wayang kulit shows were all big hits with the AIYEP group.

We were also very busy preparing for our final performance – learning Jatilan movements, ensuring we knew every rhythm for the Rampoe (Saman) and Rapai, and perfecting movements for the Nandak. Although there was nervousness in the air on the 6th February, everyone maintained their composure and excitement took its place.

Having finished our final rehearsal, donned our elaborate costumes, and prepared our hair and makeup, we finally felt that the final elements of preparation had come together. A blessing and traditional Nasi Tumpeng was cut to wish us good luck – then came our cue to get on stage. Hearts were beating, the lights came on, and it was our time to shine.

The performances flowed smoothly, and were very well received by our audience of friends, family and work placement supervisors. After a short interlude for the AIYEP video, the performances came to an end, and the lights in the room came on. To our great surprise, along the top balcony, familiar faces appeared-our host families from Sermo had come to watch us perform! After a teary reunion, the exhausted AIYEP group was ready to go home and get a good night’s sleep, ready to depart the next day.

The group awoke with lively spirits. Although we were sad to leave our host families, we were excited to be heading back to Jakarta – and our Indonesian counterparts were keen to return to their families across Indonesia.

Our program’s last official event was the first Australia Indonesia Youth Dialogue, which brought together members of AIYA, the Muslim Exchange Program, and ACICIS students. We discussed issues, created reccomendations, and suggested new ideas to enhance the Australia-Indonesia relationship. The event were interesting and productive – and the next thing we knew, we were on our way to the Ambassador’s residence.

Dressed in our formal batik, we were warmly welcomed by Greg Moriarty, the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, and staff from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. They were kind enough to congratulate us on our efforts, and gave us the opportunity to share a few words about what each participant had learned.

The event was also our very last cultural performance, including the Rapai, the Rampoe, and our own rendition of “We are Australian”.

The performance was really well received, so we were all in good spirits when we tucked into an amazing Australian barbeque, with beautiful wine and sticky date pudding for dessert – something that the Indonesian participants were very excited to enjoy again! We sat together, cross-legged in the courtyard outside, singing our songs, performing moves from the Rampoe, and reciting jokes from our time together over the past two months. It was a beautiful moment and a lovely way to end the program, eating, laughing and singing together.

In our final days, we had a party, karaoke, pizza night and did some final shopping before our final goodbyes. Some left before others, so it was a teary 24 hours for the AIYEP group. But there was one thing we knew – it wasn’t goodbye forever, it was definitely sampai nanti kita ketemu lagi.

I’d like to give huge thank you to all involved in the organisation and facilitation of the program, especially the Australia-Indonesia Institute, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, KEMENPORA (The Indonesian Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport) and The Communications Network (TCN).

If you have any questions about the program or Natrisha’s experiences, just leave a comment below. In the next few days, we’ll have a wrap up of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Dialogue from our Jakarta chapter. There are heaps more photos and stories on the AIYEP 2012-13 Twitter account and blog.