World Exchange – Our Culture stories – Giulio from Italy

Giulio participated in a Study Visit in Indonesia organized by Associazione Kora and Initiative et Développement Citoyen and hosted by GREAT Indonesia from 17 August to 17 September 2017, as part of the World Exchange project funded by the Erasmus + programme. Among the objectives of the Study Visit, the exchange of methods for the organisation of projects with young people and the preparation and animation of the international exchange “Our Culture”, that took place in Indonesia in September 2017.

This is his story!

Premise: I wanted to go to Indonesia since the first year of my master degree. I even though of applying for a three months scholarship in Indonesia about local arts, music and culture – which are amazing.

Space-time jump: 2 years after my graduation, and different experiences, I participate in an EVS, European Voluntary Service, in France. This way I get to know people and NGOs that organise the COOLEST projects, including the one I’m going to talk about.

Briefly, World Exchange is a project that brings together 6 NGOs (3 European and 3 Asian) to exchange methods on how to organise projects for young people, a bit on the model of international Erasmus+ youth exchanges, or workcamps.

To exchange these methods, obviously we don’t make skype calls or send each other nice and kind letters: we meet, we plan projects to manage together and during these projects we train young people to work with young people. Like me, who had some experience in youth exchanges and Erasmus + projects and wanted to learn more.

We leave, me and my travel mate Julia, pronounced IULIA (don’t let me tell you about the mess every time we introduced ourselves: best case “Giulio and Julia” became “Julia and Iulio”.

We get picked up at the airport by Ben, project manager in GREAT, that is the Indonesian organisation that hosts us. From the car, in the traffic, we see a pretty scandalous amount of motorbikes, each of them with a number of persons varying from 1 to 4.

We get to the office/headquarter/house of GREAT, in Semarang, lovely city in the region of Central Java, on the island of? Java, exactly.

The room is a blast, the stair to get to it: an Indiana Jones film.

The view from our room

The stairs, seen from the room

The day after we leave straight away for the first workcamp, in another city, Blora, around two hours by car. The workcamp is about reading, so me and Julia prepare an ispirational powerpoint to spread awareness about the importance of reading among young Indonesian students.

I’ll try and make you understand what these first 3 days have been this way: take a ton of kaleidoscopes, throw them in a tornado and jump in it.

It’s been a straight dive in Indonesian culture, we were welcomed in a local family (awesome Gundala!), volunteered with kids led by a great youth leader, Dian, visited amazing places, listened to traditional music concerts, ate typical food, took part in Carnival and religious festivals, we were mistaken for experts of renewable engineering, and one morning we woke up at 5 am to go do gymnastics with the neighbours dancing to the Javanese trendiest pop hits.

Back in Semarang, we go visit the venue of the youth exchange, we participate in meetings to finalise details and share tasks, and of course in our free time we have a look around.

First of all. Indonesian food is delicious. And incredibly cheap. And it’s very common to eat in one of the street stalls, that serve typical dishes (fried rice with meat, fish, veggies, noodles, random fried stuff, tempeh, fruit) for, I swear, less than the cost of a coffee in Italy.

Places: breathtaking. From Semarang we went to Yogjakakarta, the cultural capital of Central Java, we feasted on a shadow puppet theatre with live gamelan orchestra, we rented a motorbike (7 € and an insolation a day) and we went to the beach and to the temples of Prambanan. These are our faces after driving 4 hours under the tropical sun:

This is the puppet shadow theatre:


But also in Semarang there were amazing places, first of which the Rainbow Village, a former poor neighbourhood that was entirely painted and decorated by many artists and became a tourist attraction.

But let’s talk about the youth exchange. One week, 24 participants from Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia. The topic was culture, meant as: what can we do to give value to our traditions and make sure they don’t get lost?

We prepared sessions to make the participants reflect on culture and traditions (simulation games, visits, discussions, debates), and every group prepared workshops about traditions from their country, such as Indonesian martial arts, creating art crafts in banana leaves, or how to use karma, a scarf that in Cambodia is used as:

  1. scarf
  2. fashion accessory
  3. cap to protect from the sun
  4. moistened headpiece to protect from the heat
  5. towel to dry sweat
  6. shopping bag
  7. cloth to collect vegetables and fruit
  8. pareo

and so on and so forth.

Participants’ reflections on their cultures of origin

As long as the project kept going, the topic… slightly changed. Because some traditions or values of the old generations, in Europe and in South East Asia, are now obsolete, and so the participants could express their critics thanks to the discussion and meeting with the others. My personal and positive cultural shock was to see the open-mindedness and the curiosity of South East Asian youth to treat delicate topics, such as equality between men and women, LGBT rights, the questioning of religious values, for example on marriage or parents’ authority.

Now it would be great to finish this article with an inspirational sentence, something that opens hearts and invites to action, that give values to Erasmus+ projects, that give the opportunity to learn and become more open minded to everybody (at the youth exchange there was a 20 years old guy that had never left his village before!).

But it’s impossible to share all the emotions that I felt in one month in Indonesia, and to include them all in a paragraph, so I’ll just leave you with the name of the youth exchange, “Our Culture”, to maybe make you think about the fact that we forge the culture that we inhabit, because our culture can interweave with others, adapt to times and people, open up and improve the life of a community… becoming a culture open to everybody.

Our culture.

Participant Stories, Senza categoria