People-to-People : Reflecting My AIYEP Experience

Posted on 26 November, 2020

Indonesian version, click here.

Written by Michiko Mokodompit – Indonesian participant for AIYEP 2019/2020
Edited by Fahry Slatter  – AIYA National’s Blog Editor

As celebrity cake brands have become increasingly viral in the last few years, it is very intriguing to find that Australia’s Lamington is being sold and marketed in Indonesia as a Pontianak-made (West Kalimantan)’s souvenir cake. Lamington is well-loved by many Indonesians and only recently did they realize that it’s actually an Australian delicacy. Nevertheless, shops selling Lamington are still standing to this day. Besides Lamington, we can’t leave out the breakfast spread, Vegemite. Indonesians are not familiar with Australia’s favorite food spread but some of them may have heard about it. Vegemite is loved by many Australians, and it is a staple in many households, to the point that even high-profile officials bring it on the plane with them. It is also used as a souvenir when visiting other countries.

Foreign relations are sometimes unique. Food is a form of cultural diplomacy ‘to win people’s hearts through their stomach’. Not only through food, but the diplomatic relationships can be built by its community-to-community relationship or people-to-people relationship. I remembered last year that I was lucky to be selected as an AIYEP participant. The Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) is an annual bilateral initiative sponsored by both countries through Kemenpora and DFAT. Since its establishment in 1982, 36 youths consisting of 18 Indonesians and 18 Australians aged 21 to 25 will go through intercultural activities such as community development, host family stays, cultural performances, internships (professional experiences). This program ran 2 phases for 4 months, emphasizing people-to-people ties between the two nations. Participants will also partake in internships during work placement for their professional development.

AIYEP pushed me out of the comfort zone. Dancing, performing in a large audience, singing, and public speaking was not my forte. My 17 year old me would sweat like a bullet. But I got out of my comfort zone and it felt great. That’s an AIYEP thing; to get out of your comfort zone. Saman dance was the hardest for me to practice. I got bruised knees for months from it, but seeing those smiles from little kids is not only rewarding but also fulfilling. I still distinctly remember asking my host mother to teach me how to catch a bus to work, where is the best shopping place in Brisbane, etc. One day in desa, my dearest counterpart Ally was struggling to eat supper with her hands. The other day, our bapak invited us to a traditional wedding party. We also got to sing I Am Australian and Manuk Dadali. This is what Australia-Indonesia people-to-people is all about. To genuinely learn about each other, to learn more about cultural understanding, to build a closer friendship with the community and friends, without stripping off your identity as an Indonesian. 

Source: AIYEP Delegates

Never in my wildest dreams, would I thought I would be going to Australia. Having taken two Australian political classes in college, I didn’t take it seriously. I did not bother to learn about it. I was lucky to have been placed at the Parliament House of Australia in Canberra for my internship program. One day, I was hearing the bell ringing and all of the MPs running toward the Chamber. Clearly, I did not pay enough attention to class back then because I was puzzled by it. From the office, I could hear people talking about IA-CEPA during their speeches. The Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement or IA-CEPA was then ratified in February, and the pact eliminates trade tariffs and boosts exports between the two countries. They had also agreed to increase the working holiday visa quotas from 1000 to 4100. The Indonesia-Australia close economic relationship will create more opportunities and reform policy in areas such as; tax and revenue, structural reforms, capital markets, non-tariff measures, trade and investment, and financial services through  IA-CEPA. In 2018, the total two-way trade in goods and services with Indonesia was worth A$17.6 billion, making Indonesia as Australia’s 14th largest trading partner. These agreements and high-level policy dialogue about economics will provide an opportunity for both countries to expand and diversify their economic partnership, and also stimulate two-way investments. I am ecstatic to see what IA-CEPA has in store for us next.

People-to-people initiatives have a long history in the relationship of Indonesia and Australia. It started in the 1950s, when Herb Feith who established the Australian Volunteers program encouraged youths to volunteer in Indonesia, as he himself had done so in Jakarta. In 1989, The Australia-Indonesia Institute (AII) was established to foster cultural understanding and relationship between Australia and Indonesia. AIYEP serves as the longest-running Indonesia-Australia youth exchange to this date. In 2002, The Australia-Indonesia Muslim Exchange Program was also established. These people-to-people programs could be ways to nurture and develop both nation’s relationships in other further sectors.

Source: AIYEP Delegates

Australia and Indonesia are so close yet so far apart. We often take that for granted. The relationship of Indonesia and Australia should be strengthened through interpersonal, governmental, and community relationships between both countries. As the elected Parliament Members in Indonesia are in the office for more than a year now, they should take more initiatives to deepen the Australia-Indonesia economic relationship and people-to-people relationship through the IA-CEPA framework or youth engagement. As a youth, I took my part to build a closer and genuine relationship for both countries through AIYEP. This program is one of many strings that tie the Indonesia-Australia relationship together. Safe to say, it is a life-changing experience for me and the best part is, I gained a family and best friends.