Once in a Lifetime: International Exchange Programme

Once in a Lifetime: International Exchange Programme

The benefits of travelling and learning is not something many B40 youth can experience, so when four B40 Malaysian youth from the SOLS Solar Academy travelled to Indonesia, they came back rich in knowledge and confidence.

Written by: Sarvaiswarya Sivarajah (Teacher Aishu)

PS: For more pictures of their journey check out this photo album!

On 21st July 2022, an ordinary busy day at work, I was asked by my management team at SOLS 24/7 if I could chaperone our group of Solar Academy students for an intercultural exchange programme in Indonesia which was going to be a week later. 

Being someone who always plans ahead, and the news kicking in the midst of the busiest month I had in this entire year, I didn't know how to react. 

Regardless, I took the opportunity because - Who says no to traveling right? Until a day before departing to Indonesia, I had no idea about what to expect from the experience that the boys and I would have. 

My biggest fear was how would I take care of four boys during the trip to and fro when I, a 27 year old, still needed my mum.

The anticipated day arrived and we were up and about at the airport a lot earlier before the departure. I am actually proud to admit that my biggest fear disappeared as soon as I realized that not only were the boys really independent and focused but they were guiding me around the airport instead of the other way round.

Solar Academy students packed and ready to fly to Indonesia.


Beginning our Adventure!

Before we boarded our flight, I asked the boys what were their expectations and fears about the exchange and added that its important for us to mingle with everyone without holding back, to do things themselves, in their own way and to fully involve in every experience we are about to have in the next few days. 

After all, life is all about embracing experiences, isn't it? 

Although it was a few of our first time on a flight, the lack of sleep we had from the night before overtook our excitement as we mostly slept throughout our journey. But the sleepiness disappeared after we almost got lost and missed our flight at the interchange airport. For a while there, all the Bollywood films where the lead actor runs around the airport came to my mind, because we were literally doing the same. Despite this happening, we took a  picture to remember that we survived the moment (we’re so cool right? I know. I know). 

When we finally arrived at Semarang, Indonesia it was nearly 5pm (Malaysian time) and we just realized that we had not eaten for 12 hours. 

Luckily, our hosts from Great Indonesia were on time to pick us up at the airport where we met the other candidates from the Netherlands and Indonesia. Arriving at a beautiful cottage at Salatiga with a warm welcome from the hosting team and delicious Indonesian food was everything we could ask for.

All the exciting activities and games!

Throughout the exchange, we had countless icebreaker activities that kept us on our toes and bond really quickly with the other candidates. We were also asked to discuss in teams our fears of this exchange, our expectations as well as rules that we feel should be applied. 

Happy to say that none of the fears the team anticipated happened. As for our expectations, it exceeded anything we ever imagined it to be. 

This is because the exchange was not just all fun and play, but it had a more powerful message to instill in us, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Throughout our entire programme we were again and again diverted through impactful activities and discussions to understand the 17 SDGs fully. From group research and presentations to games and role-plays, we were completely blown away. The experience of role-play especially triggered so many emotional thoughts and discussions among ourselves as we realized there are so many inequality issues that each country is going through, that we are simply not aware of. 

It made me realize that it is extremely important for youths to be aware of the SDGs as it is essential to understand what kind of challenges and limitations exist and why it is important to be looked into, in order to implement long-lasting solutions that empower each other and bring a positive change to the world.

Jalan-jalan through Field Trips!

Although we had spent most of our time indoors for our activities, we had a couple of interesting field trips. 

One of them was a trip to the local factory “Singkong Keju D-9” which was to show the growth and success of a local person, Hardadi who got his idea of starting a business when he was in prison. Once he was out of the prison, the first thing he did was to start using “Cassava”, also known as ubi kentang for Malaysians as bites, and deserts for his family. He and his wife then invited their neighbors to try out the recipe and soon their business blossomed with the participation of the community around them and their families in this business. 

Learning about the revolution of this business taught us many lessons, including the importance of inclusion and that even at our lowest, we need to have some hope.

A visit to craft centers might seem ordinary, but this elderly couple have a really interesting technique. 

They would collect plastics from their entire neighborhood and pay their neighbors for it. This in turn makes the neighbors more keen to collect and sell the plastics to these craft makers as well as make an income of their own. 

During our trip- there, we were given the opportunity to not only watch the process of how the crafts were made but to also sit around and try them out ourselves. I would say that we were pretty clumsy at the beginning but the process taught us that when it comes to arts, patience and delicateness is the key to achieving wonderful results.

Cultural Nights and Food!

Aside from exploring the town, we also got to explore each others’ country and culture through cultural nights of each team from Malaysia, Indonesia, Netherlands and Germany. 

Aside from the interesting and fun presentations and games, we also managed to taste each others’ local food (Of course, we Malaysians made them all try Durian laa). We also found that in comparison to other countries, Malaysia seems so small in size (but the biggest when it comes to unity huh? ;)..)

Thriving in an unfamiliar environment

Throughout our one week exchange, I observed the skills and growth of our boys (the SOLS Academy students). While the rest of us easily get tired towards the end of the day and find it hard to wake up early, the boys were the most tireless. They were always up for anything at any time and never showed any hesitations towards giving it their all in every activity and discussion we had. 

While it is usually difficult to blend in with people of unfamiliar culture and language, the boys never gave up any opportunity to get to know others. From finding themselves looking for approval from the leaders, to eventually making decisions for their own and being confident showcasing their skills, the boys definitely won our hearts.

Leaving with only sweet memories and people

I am sure that most of us have been to camps and programmes where we have so much fun and by the end of it we are all in tears because it's over. But a few weeks later, it feels as if such an event never happened because somehow we drift apart and the entire experience that seems so profound, would then not be as memorable anymore. 

This programme felt a lot different. Not only was the entire exchange team respectful and empathetic towards each other (trust me we had zero conflicts or drama throughout our exchange), but showed so much kindness to make everyone feel involved and seen. It was incredible to discover that although we are worlds apart, despite our cultural differences, we had so many similar views that built great connections. 

To quote our friend Emilio from Germany, “It's amazing to know how people who are so different can also be the same in so many ways”. 

This experience made me realize that to change the world, you don't have to be famous or rich or a genius. All you need to do is provide an open, positive and supportive environment for people to be themselves, be at their fullest potential, and make changes in other lives.

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