November 2013. Megan Gibbes is a 22 year old student of Indonesian and Graphic Design Studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast. On 2 December she is off to Sydney for one week orientation in the Australia Indonesian Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP). She and the other team members will meet a group of 18 young Indonesians who have spent two months in Australia. On the 9th December they all fly to West Sumatra for two months of cultural exchange. As the official website states:

The students and host families receive an insight into the culture, customs and attitudes of their nearest neighbour while helping to promote the bilateral relationship on a personal level. http://aiyep.tcn.com.au/About.htm

Megan made it through a long selection process including speaking in Indonesian with one interviewer. Probably Megan's last three years of involvement with Indonesia helped. She first went in 2010 with an aid organisation called World Hope Australia to a technical school in Nias, an island off the northwest coast of Sumatra. Five days of meeting people and planning how to support the school's future development planted an interest. She also began a correspondence with a young church leader from Java, Krido, who accompanied the team to Nias.

Two years later, doing a Design degree, Megan decided to study Indonesian language in her elective courses. At the beginning of 2013, she gained a Short Term Mobility Program (STMP) scholarship to study in the Intensive Indonesian program at University of Mataram in Lombok. This program is operated by University of the Sunshine Coast and three other regional Australian universities.

"In just six weeks, it definitely lifted my Indonesian language ability and understanding of culture. I stayed with a family that spoke no English whatsoever. At times it was awkward and I didn't know what to do, like when rain flooded the lounge room and I was told to just sit and watch. I could not just watch. I learned so much with them."

Megan and those vibrant teachers - both Australian and Indonesian - on the boat to Gili Meno, January 2013
 kdghkjfwebgfjkeThe most fun activity was going by motorbike up to beautiful Senaru waterfall in the north. The company of other Australian students - actually all vibrant school teachers retraining in Indonesian - was a bonus.

Megan highly recommends study of Indonesian or other languages. "It opens up your mind and creates sociability between different cultures," she says. "We as Australians are unsure about foreigners but only because we don't know them. We often have outdated and sometimes ridiculous notions, thinking all Indonesians are uneducated rice farmers bound by old myths."

Megan was stunned to see almost 100% of Indonesians have mobile phones. And yet they maintain traditional cultural values like strong, supportive family bonds.

"We need to meet them. We need to blow away our own old myths with real experience. We can also contribute by helping Indonesians avoid our 'development errors' through sustainable practices. That's why I want to learn more through involvement in the Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP)."

Update June 2014. AIYEP participants in West Sumatra Jan - Feb 2014.

Megan and chums in West Sumatran regional costume Feb 2014.
Have a look at their AIYEP 2014 blog
and stunning images at sukomotography eddi moenir 4 February entry

written with
Dr Phillip Mahnken
Indonesian Language Lecturer
pictured below with colleagues at the Language Centre, UNRAM