Contributor Dian Aditya Ning Lestari (Diku) reminisces about her exchange experience in Helmond, Netherlands, and all the good things that have come out of it ever since.
Twelve years ago, when I was 17, I did a one-year exchange program to the Netherlands with AFS/YPscNH. AFS is a year-long study abroad program, mostly in American and European countries. I am an alumnus of the Europe program; I went there to promote Indonesian, particularly Makassarian, culture.
I met my host family for the first time under the winter snow of Helmond. Little did I know that I was about to embark on one of the most adventurous times of my life. I was fortunate enough to be given the greatest host family anyone could ask for – a family for life. I had two host brothers and one host sister. From them, I learned about how our lives could take distinct paths. My sister was a teacher at a special need school; one of my brothers was a pilot, the other a camera specialist. They went on to live their own adventures.
As for me, I lived my life no differently than I would have in Indonesia. Staying competitive and friendly, I made a lot of friends. I miss them, for they are friends for life. I still remember the time we traveled to Paris. Our bonds strengthened as we shared and reminisced our journey together.
After I finished the program, my host family and I kept contact. We visited each other a few times, including when I participated in a Model United Nations (MUN) competition in Den Haag in 2011, where I won Best Delegate. To this day I still show them what being an Indonesian mean; to have a restless passion to change your country to be better.
Living abroad means you are taking distance from Indonesia; and from afar, your home country could look very different. Suddenly, you become aware of various social issues and ways to solve it. You learn about the common issues that your host and home country share, such as inter-religious issues, feminism, and mental health. You engage in meaningful discussions with your friends and family, who all come from different cultures.
You learn about sensitive issues like discrimination and come to appreciate the compassion that your host family had for you and their long-term support for your dreams and goals.
Learning how to live abroad in your teenage years gives you the opportunity to look at the other side of the world when your brain is still fresh and mendable. You would come home with new idealism and optimism of a youth, instead of an adult who have had their taste in reality, ready to make change for your community back home.
By the time I started college, I had grown into an open-minded person. I could share my views freely with my peers at the University of Indonesia’s International Relations program, where I pursued my bachelor’s and met like-minded, globally-oriented individuals.
Upon returning home, I also developed a firm belief in female leadership. I became the co-founder of an organization called Indonesian Future Leaders, together with six other young Indonesians. We now have seven chapters all over Indonesia: Makassar, Jakarta, Bali, Lampung, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Semarang. I am now working to establish chapter Papua.
Having interest in eastern Indonesia’s development, I also worked with students from Universitas Hasanuddin to develop MUN in the region. In 2013, IndonesiaMUN became another channel for me to nurture my leadership skills as I assumed the role of Secretary-General. I also became a MUN coach from 2013 to 2015.
Following my passion, I then went on to fight for child right in ECPAT Indonesia (2015-2016) and Twitter (2017-2018). Every now and then I also spoke and wrote on issues ranging from politics to mental health, domestic violence, and women and children.
Some might say that you should try and venture abroad when you’re older and wiser; when you’ve already known your true calling and have figured out your next plan. Travel when you want to pursue an advance degree, your master’s or PhD, so you can learn the rope to become an expert in your field.
But also, travel when you’re young, when you’re still naïve and when people can still inspire you and tell you what good the world is. Travel when you’re 17, when you’re barely an adult but no more a teenager. Let new experience move you with a simple drive to change the world, before you worry about your career or anything else.
Travel when you’re vulnerable and let people see the true you. Travel when you can still be in awe of snow, of new culture, of new experiences; when new ideas can still have a home in your mind. Your focus would be to learn, to make friends, and to connect with your family.
Living abroad at a young age could help shape your personality. Learning about other culture early can help you become a more compassionate and understanding individual when you get older. You will enter adulthood with an enriched set of values, ready to become a better version of yourself.
Have the courage to apply to those exchange programs as they can be an eye-opening experience. When you come home, you will be prepared to become an agent of change.