Boys Brunch: Anggoro Seto – From Indonesia’s Golden Boy To European Graduate

As this world that used to be bigger is now getting narrower, the hunger of exploring and experiencing new cultures is becoming more exciting than ever. Many international organizations offer ways for us to walk in their shoes, especially for us in Indonesia, a country where the world is somehow paying attention to.

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Up north in Europe, there’s a scholarship program called Erasmus Mundus – an opportunity for people around the World who aims to enhance quality in higher education through scholarships and academic co-operation between the European Union and the rest of the world. The program has been popularly prestigious among Indonesians aspiring international students due to its amazing study programs and university destinations that is spread all across Europe.

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Credit: Anggoro Seto

Anggoro Seto who calls himself a life learner felt like the program suited his objectives of life – fruitful international experience by learning real way of living from our Blue-continent counterparts. This long-time friend of mine just graduated last year and shared his excitement of studying in multiple European cities and living European ways during our brunch in his hometown Bekasi, for our Boys Brunch April/May/June 2017.

Feby (F): Long time no see, Anggoro! It’s been a while, eh. Congrats on your graduation. How’s everything?

Anggoro (A): Yeahh, too long! Thanks, Feby. Everything’s great. Of course, they need to be great. Lol. Europe was fun, being back home is also amazing. You told me you wanted to visit when you were in the Middle East but you didn’t. I could have brought you to places you would love.

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(F): Shit obviously happened. Lol. But that’s alright, there are still plenty of timed ahead. But it’s all about you now, and first thing’s first – Tell me about your study and Erasmus Mundus Scholarship

(A): So yeah, as you know the past couple years, I’ve been busy with my study that I took with Erasmus Mundus Master Course. As most of us also know Erasmus Mundus is a pretty well-known program from that aims to promote Eurpoean universities’ education for International students outside Europe. Continuing my bachelor study and my professional experience, I was accepted in this program called AFEPA – Agricultural, Food and Environmental Policy Analysis – Well, the program’s name speaks for itself, and it is something I’ve been doing for quite some times.

As all Erasmus Mundus programs, AFEPA also aimed to promote European universities, as well as strengthening relationships among involving countries. AFEPA also allowed me to study in 2 universities, each in Bonn (Germany) and Barcelona (Spain) respectively, along with 2 summer schools in Barcelona and Belgium. This whole experience would definetely be one the highlights of my life – ever. Many good things came along with it, from the study to the idea of living in a total different cultures up in Western Europe.

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(F): That sounds too much fun and the best part was that you got to do it without paying any cash. Why did you think the committee grant you the scholarship?

(A): Yeah! To be honest, this program was always something that I anticipated the most eversince I knew it existed. I could say that I tried really hard to receive what I received. I actually applied this program back in 2013 for the first time but I only made it to reserve list. I was obviously not a quitter so I came back in 2014 and finally made it. I felt like they could see how consistent and persistent myself was as an applicant, reflected in the whole process of application. I did lots of research and practice which I think are the key of succeeding any scholarship programs. We gotta show that we’re being serious and are able to handle the responsibility of being an awardee.

(F): Couldn’t agree more. But why were you so obsessed with Erasmus Mundus? How did you think studying in Europe was better than in any other continent?

(A): In this era, I believe that being a student doesn’t only mean that we can only get the learning process inside the class. The world offers too many things we can learn about if we’re aware enough. I don’t know though, but I somehow felt connected to Europe to fulfill my curiousity and to experience myself of what life is about in the continent. This was probably affected by the fact that I’ve experienced living in North America so I kinda wanted somewhere new for me to explore.

Just like Asia, Europe offers endless diversity but somehow they’re also united. One country is different to another and that excited me a lot. As a person who value cultures and diversity, I felt lucky enough to finally experience a whole new point of view in multiple European cities and I don’t regret it.

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(F): It’s all about the travelling too, isn’t it! So when studying, do you choose the school first or the city first?

(A): Honestly, city first. LOL. As I mentioned that my objective was to learn from every aspect instead just what I would get from school. And of course selecting countries and cities will be one of the really important keys. I’ve got Belgium, Sweden, Hungary, Germany, and Spain on my list and I finally got two of them. Now that I have to share these things with you, the more I actually miss everything that happened back there. HAHAHA.

(F): HAHAHA. Congrats to you, bro. But from those two, how different are lives and study environments between Germany and Spain?

(A): Oh man, they’re completely different. People in Bonn were much more discpline as the germans are known as. And starting my program in Bonn first was the right decision. Not that I didn’t enjoy Germany, but as Indonesian, I was more sociable and Spain was the place for it. People in Barcelona are more loose, open, and outgoing. I enjoyed both places so much as I needed those “social rules” Bonn shaped for me to start the year, and ended the experience with more relaxing environment that Barcelona gave.

(F): From every knowledge and experience that you’ve gathered through Erasmus Mundus Master Course program, how do you think they will be useful for your life?

(A): I feel like I am more developed – as I should. And it is probably obvious when I say  that the past two years experience I had was really eye opening. I kept collecting puzzles to be an open minded, mature, and independent person. And the program truly exceeded my expectation. I have the knowledge from school, get to know lots of people, and I traveled to many places during my break too. It was like I was prepared to received 100% and they gave me 1000%. I think you obviously know how them-experiences will be useful for my life.

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(F): You sound really on fire. But as we had lived in Canada 5 years ago for an exchange program, what do you think is the most significant difference between living abroad for an exchange and for a master program?

(A): Obviously really different. Back then, our program was set and designed with really specific instructions of how, where, and with whom we should live. We were given schedule, activities, and we understood that the program would somehow end at the exact designated time that made us have to go back to real life. But master study was something I needed to figure out by myself. It was a big chunk of my life that I would continously carry – not that exchane program wouldn’t – but school is more like a “real thing” if that’s even the right word. I designed myself and took full responsibility of that. This thing will affect my life in a really big portion, such as my future job – simply. I am proud that I have experience both. You should get your master soon, Feb!

(F): HAHAHA, thanks for encouraging! It does sound interesting. On the other notes, how do you think your experience will affect other people in your community, though?

(A): Just what I did to you, I always try to deliver the message. Everyone can and should experience the other part of the world the best way possible. As human being that was born and raised in the same country, I want every Indonesians who read your blog to understand that we have the same basic – we received same education system and similar social conditions. I know ‘everything’ is better most of the time in bigger cities but we do create our own opportunities. I encourage people to bring the best in them; we all should be thirsty of experiencing diversity and apply the good things in our community!

 

(F): Excellent enough. So now that you graduated, what is your next move?

(A): I just got married with the love of my life last month, and that was such a major move yet another milestone of my life. But also now that I have better knowledge especially in agriculture and environmental policy, I am really excited to apply that in real life. I would love to contribute and work in an environment where I can support, but at the same time still give me learning process. Learning is really that fun that I know I will never stop doing.

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Credit: Anggoro Seto

Anggi – as how I always called him was still pretty much the same person, but with a whole completely new spirit. He still had the same gesture, same goof, and same hilarious laughter but when I dug into his European experience, I could see how excited he was and the importance of that experience was clearly reflected by the way he told me the story.

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We had a nice mixture sundanese-western selection of brunch. Cireng, grilled meat ball, rice, lasagna, marshmallow brownies, coffee, and milkshake was served in the new restaurant called 3 Cooks in Bekasi. As we enjoyed our brunch, I remembered how I spend many meals with him back in 2011-2012, from a Subway outlet in downtown Charlottetown to a meat-ball and fruit soup stall in Cikajang traditional market. We maintained our friendship the last 5 years and I am proud of having a friend who could literally go miles to achieve what he’s always been dreaming of. Definitely looking forward to see more!

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Trivia

  • Who’s your favourite cartoon character?

Nobita

  • If you can, in what colour do you want to dye your hair?

Light brown

  • Where do you wish you can go for a honeymoon?

Maldives. Why the heck does it need to be so expensive!

  • If you’re asked to watch one movie for 3 times in a day, what would that be?

What’s that Bollywood movie called!? Ohh, 3 Idiots

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This or That

  • Bungee Jumping or Sky Diving?

Sky Diving!

  • Ballerina or Cheerleader?

Cheerleader

  • Ramen or Pad Thai?

Pad Thai

  • Edgy or Geeky

Edgy

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Credit: Anggoro Seto

About Anggoro

  • Anggoro Seto was born on 25 July 1989. He went to University of Padjadjaran (UNPAD) in 2007, one of the top University in West Java to earn himself a bachelor of Agriculture
  • Back in 2011 right after graduation, he was chosen to represent West Java in Indonesia-Canada Youth Exchange Program that spent 6 months of living in both Canadian city called Charlottetown and an Indonesian Village called Cikandang, in southern part of Garut, West Java
  • He was also active campaigning about positivity through pageantry. After winning Abang (Mister) Bekasi in 2012, he was dubbed as Jajaka (Mister) West Java in the same year.
  • Representing Indonesia wasn’t a new thing for Anggoro. Before Canada exchange program, he already represented UNPAD for Harvard Model United Nations back in 2011.
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CWY Series 3 – Cross Cultural Understanding: Begins!

Previous Series: CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

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I hung out around fancy airports lately. It was really exhausting, but the excitement beat every negative feeling. And I really did not appreciate the complicated-ness of this travel. It looked organized but somehow I did not feel comfortable. And if you ask me why, I would not say anymore statement. I also could not decide which was more annoying: the jet lag or the cold – I was born and raised in equator city, what do you expect?

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I walked slowly behind my friends on purpose because I wanted to see around as half of my mind was still inside the plane. This airport right here, was not as fancy as the previous two these past two days. My Canada Air flight from Montreal to Halifax had only two stewardesses. One stewardess dressed like a real one; wearing that dress you saw from TV and all smiley.  While the other one, who was really unfriendly, wore glasses and dressed like she was about to do morning run with the body type that you would never find in any Indonesian flights. I did not know whether this country was too tolerance or my country was just appreciating beauty more for the sake of passenger’s comfort. And what I meant by beauty was of course a friendly personality. I wasn’t talking about beauty through body type at all, because just two seconds ago, I walked pass a body-sized mirror and saw beauty in a freezing 98kg flesh, blood, and fat (n) Homo sapiens.

The exit door was already behind me, bunch of kids were smiling while holding “Welcome to Canada” signages. People shook each other’s hands and introduced themselves. I did not usually approach people first which gave me no reason why I should start that time. I saw a blond girl with glasses whom I also saw on the plane. She smiled and “Hi” me.

“Were you also on the plane with us?” I replied. Frederique was indeed on the plane but was just too shy to introduce herself as part of our group. I met and introduced myself to several people after.

Someone yelled “Timbits, anyone?” and walked around while holding a box of Tim Horton’s timbit, something that looked like a sugary donut hole. I didn’t feel like I wanted a bite of timbit nor embarrassed myself when another person yelled about the last thing I wanted to hear at that very moment – an important moment when a perfect impression was what matter the most.

“So guys, we have this very special dance that we always do to keep our spirits high!” That was Amelia who initiated an interesting dance called G-O-O-D-J-O-B for public to either enjoy or laugh at. I enjoyed crazy things in some occasions but randomly performed that particular dance in front of people we were about to live with for the next 6 months was a bit immature, I could say. Who didn’t love Amelia!

“Hi, I am Louis, nice to meet you” someone talked to me right when a big bus driver told us to pay attention as he had an announcement. Most Canadians looked really fancy with long sleeved shirt

“Hello, I am Feby, nice to meet you too!” I could not decide in which accent I should speak. I was really good with accent but I would not want people think I was weird to speak in British accent in North America.

The driver had finished explaining as we were lining to get inside the bus. I sat next to Felix, a tall boy from Quebec City who was really quite. He told me the committee of CWY told them to dress up a bit because the Indonesian might wear that famous attire of theirs, which was why Felix wore a formal shirt with a tie. That Canadian road was really neat; there was no hole on the street and the 1-2 hours long ride was decorated by trees on every side of the road. Felix said that it was technically still summer, so all leaves were still on their branches.

I still could remember clearly how things smelled. I was in a room with 3 floral-pattern-sheeted beds, with 2 chocolate balls below our each name that was written on an orange paper. Someone mistakenly thought that Laksmi was a boy because I saw her name on the bed that was nearest to the door. While on the other side of the room, Felix was unpacking his stuffs from a very large luggage. They put us in the same convenient room on the upper floor of the house. The bathroom was also big, and I could see pretty much everything around the area of the camp.

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This whole area of Tatamagouche Learning Centre was so huge. They had the main building where every activity basically happened: dining hall, recreation room, library, chapel, and offices, that was surrounded by smaller houses for bedrooms with also living rooms inside them. Beside buildings, the area had a massive field of beautiful grass that you could roll your body onto for days, a really large lake where you could go canoeing, and small forest where we usually had our bonfire. That whole scenery was the view that I usually just saw on movies, but it was real at that time.

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The boys of Charlottetown and Truro were placed in this old big house called the Campbell House. Louis, Thomas, and Anggoro were all in a smaller room right beside ours. We walked down the stairs together and headed to the main building for our very first meeting. The six Project Supervisors were all there to greet us as we needed to stand in a giant circle so that everyone could see everyone.

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“We need you to mention 2 things about the place where you’re from” Said Suzanna, Truro-Sei Gohong project supervisor explained the activity as the introduction of our diversity of origins and backgrounds. Gillian and Dini high-fived each other when they just realized that they both wore Harvard University sweater as the first person started mentioning things about their city. Renata said “12 million populations” to describe Jakarta, Aryo said “City of hundred rivers” about Banjarmasin, and I said “Equator” to inform about Pontianak.

The introduction game was fun but I was having a jet lag. I fell asleep several time when the Director of the learning centre explained about the house rules. We continued to have supper which took place at the big dining hall at 5 PM. Yes, freaking 5 PM. The room had several circle tables for people to sit around. I didn’t know where to sit as friends whom I liked to gossip with like Renata, Mayfree, Reyska, and Meilia were busy with their group. I guess every time from that moment, was supposed to be the time that we had to know our own group better. We didn’t know our counterparts yet and I needed to know which person should I share bedroom with for the next 6 months.

“Do you Canadians always have supper this early?” I asked, with an inside battle of which accent should I use. I was in this table with mix of Canadians and Indonesians from my group, including Kim our Canadian project supervisor.

“Well, closer to winter, the daytime is also getting shorter. Some people consider 5 PM as also early time for supper. 6 or 7 PM are usually the more normal time.” Said a Canadian I could not remember.

That made more sense, it was not even really dark outside. There were these huge windows sized as big as the dining hall’s wall where you could see everything outside, the hilly grass field and the lake. They also had this wooden benches right outside the doors where we usually used for breakfast as the weather were really nice.

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We had this fried rice with sunny side egg for supper. I didn’t really like the taste, they put beans with the rice and that made the taste a bit interesting. I finished eating and had several conversations with some people before I decided that I was tired enough and needed some sleep. The next 3 days would be full of trainings during the daytime before we left for our each community.

The first meeting that morning was with Francois Tardiff, the CWY Program Director of Maritime Area. The Indonesian were showing that famous Saman Dance as an opening where Sudiani had a bit of an incident of losing one buttons of her pants, things that made me and Amelia laughed for days when we heard the story. Sorry, Sud but that was funny!

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Francois was explaining about the general rules of the program, things that we basically were already informed during our 2 weeks of Pre-Departure Training. But he explained it in more casual-not intimidating way. After the session, he divided us into several group to make a skit about each points of the CWY rules during the program – in which I later was infamously well-known as the boy who funnily pronounced the word “Answer”. The sessions were really needed for us so that we understood certain important things to stay away from trouble, and not get kicked out of the program especially in the first few weeks.

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Later in the afternoon, we were finally divided into meetings with our group only. The Charlottetown-Cikandang group was in the ‘common room’ of the building where 20 of us, including the supervisors would have more focused training sessions of program’s objectives and characteristics with one facilitator. Kristin, our group’s facilitator was a friendly, smart looking middle-age woman that apparently knew lots of thing about Indonesia. She’s been to Indonesia, became a facilitator of CWY-Indonesian program for several times before, and her Batik perfectly suited her easy-going personality.

She wanted an Indonesian interpreter from the group, thing I thought really unnecessary as all the Indonesians spoke English, but she insisted as she wanted to make sure that everyone could clearly understand of what was actually happening in the conversation. And of course, again, everyone asked me to be that interpreter.

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“Tell us something that we all didn’t know about you before” Kristin asked everyone

“I am used to speak in British accent, as many of my Indonesian fellows might have known. But I am afraid that everyone will think that I am weird, as a non-native speaker to speak in British accent in North America.” I answered.

Many people looked interested. “Can you please show us!” Someone asked.

“I can’t, that feels weird if someone asks me so.” I replied.

“Man, you just said ‘I can’t’ in a non-North American accent.” Someone told

Everything felt mixed-up. It was hard to omit my obsession of Spice Girls, Harry Potter, and Keira Knightley for an instant first week of adjustment eventough I regularly watched Gossip Girl and Mean Girls was still one of my most favourite movies.

We were back to more discussions and fun-task. Kristin explained that we were in this honeymoon phase where everything still felt exciting. But soon later in the program, especially when we would be in the community, that phase would just change in several cases when we interacted more with a lot of components in the program: Counterparts, host families, people from the group, work placement, and the community itself.

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“We all come from different places with different cultures and common practice, and adjusting ourselves into certain group of people in a short time can be really challenging, and of course it’s really normal to have those challenges.” Kristin explained.

“The way we interact, the way we think, even the way we eat can be different. And this program is designed to achieve cross cultural understanding. We all come here to learn and share and combine those differences into one unified message: to be the youth leaders of the world.” She added.

“Let’s have a little activity to show how 1 thing can be reflected differently in all of you.” She asked us to stand up in one area and asked a case: “One evening, you are in the passenger seat while your friend is driving. All of a sudden, your friend hit someone on the road but your friend just continued driving without helping the victim. As a friend, will you report him/her to the police of hitting someone on the road, or you’ll just protect your friend? Those who’ll go to the police please make a group on my right, and those who won’t, make a group on my left.”

I suddenly remembered my friends back in Pontianak. I have this clique consisted of 8 persons and were really closed during our 4 years in University together. We just graduated together literally a month before my departure to Canada. We indeed had been in a similar situation when we hit our lecturer’s car in the campus parking area, but this case that included police was a whole new level of friendship-test. I loved them and a 21-year-old me chose to move to Kristin’s left area.

The group was divided equally, each group also consisted of fair mix of Canadian and Indonesian – which indicated this case obviously had nothing to do with nationality and culture.

“Now I am going to add a new fact to the case. What if later on you find out that the victim had a terrible injury that was caused by the accident, and unfortunately the victim can’t do any activities for a long time meanwhile he/she is the only working person in the family?” Kristin added.

That scared me. I felt confused and I thought that the accident would have been my fault as well. The only way my friend would drive irresponsibly was just because I would have let them to do so. Several people moved to the right but no one from the right group moved to the left. I was in doubt until I decided to stay in my place. There were very few people stayed in that group, including the blonde short-haired Gillian with the nose ring.

I told her that time: “You and I should be best friend!”

CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

Previous Series: CWY Series 1 – The Day It All Started

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Pontianak was just a regular city in a regular country. Our city was not really well known for many of ignorant Indonesians as we live in western part of Borneo. People were actually thinking that we still lived in a jungle and dealt with cannibalism in our regular days just because we lived in an island that used to have the one biggest area of forests to contribute oxygen.

As most of the forests had disappeared, what could we do other than finally moved on and lived in an actual solid house? We lived in an actual neighborhood that made us feel bad to eat each other so we did not have much choice but to eat an actual ‘normal’ food as everyone else usually had. We also went to school to catch up with other cities, kept us civilized enough to run technology for our necessity, such as going around to places with modern vehicles. Like what I usually had every other day.

I usually drove scooter in Pontianak always-sunny-day, sunny because the equator line was just literally above our heads. The heat usually sneaked up underneath our clothes right into the skin, daytime could be annoying, but night time was supposed to be comfortably warm. Unlike that night when I almost froze to death!

I still remember that night when we had a big group discussion, a month before our departure during the medical check-up, about stuffs we should or should not bring all the way from home. Some people have had experienced the North American life and they were more than happy to share thing like “just bring your own shampoo, it’s gonna be expensive if you buy it there”, or “you might want to bring some instant Indonesian spices and noodles, just in case you miss them”, and even “don’t buy any winter coat from home, we will be able to just buy them right when we arrive at the thrift store.” And as a kind-loving-sincere person who trusted his friends no matter what, of course I followed what they said.

But then I wanted to choke them all to death if only I could even move my hand. We just got off the bus that charged us CAD 8 from the airport area to downtown Montreal and I just wore a hoodie that obviously was not enough. That was around 9PM and I missed Pontianak’s weather already. “Where’s that freaking thrift store you said I could buy my winter coat!” I yelled at my friends as the frozen breath came out from my mouth. They were laughing as I was shaking. Fairuz, the girl from Aceh was kind enough to give me her scarf as like it would help. I took her scarf and put it around my neck, nothing really changed but at least I know I could rely on her.

I was not the only one who struggled, though. Azis’ face was red and he just kept silent following everyone everywhere. We walked towards the we-just-followed-our-heart direction until we found a cool church which might look like a regular pretty building for the locals but we have never seen any glorious, strong, and magical landmark like that with our own eyes at our home town. And of course, fancy things like that would always be a picture time.

We actually had fun in the downtown as I always loved classical things and the city was beyond beautiful. We had a little jog to keep ourselves warm and kept walking like we were so thirsty of great visuals. The jet lag helped, though. It was day time back in Indonesia and we were such a group of mature young people who would never sleep during our biological-day-time.

We arrived at such a huge park in the middle of the city. I could not remember, actually did not care, but all of a sudden someone was yelling “Maple leaf!”. And like a group of sheep, people were following that bitch to run for a maple leaf picking. That was the end of summer (I know, it was weirdly freezing already) and people said that it was one of the best times to collect some leaves as some of them would have had turned beautifully red, just like the one at the center of Canadian flag.

The park was full of dropped maple leaves and I did not understand why they would be crazy to fight over the best leaf instead of enjoying the moment first. I remembered that day when I was at the second grade. I just went home from school and saw a music video on TV by Spice Girls called 2 Become 1 that took place in New York City but my Mama mistakenly told me that it was in London because she knew that The Spice Girls were from England. I did not know that the song was about sex but I always wanted to visit London right after that. And that Montreal downtown kinda looked like that. I saw big beautiful classical building around, stood right at a giant neat city park, and white people were everywhere crossing the street in the cold night. I still regretted that I did not have the coat and the boots just like what Ginger Spice had in the music video, but that was still a beautiful moment to enjoy.

I still could not remember who but someone handed me a single maple leaf to take a picture with. I took and posed with it with my super red cheeks. We ended up taking a group picture where we put a single leaf in front of our each foot in a perfect circle shape, just like my face. It was a cool pic to post on social media before it became cheesy when you look at it now.

“Kak Asni, I really need something warm, or else I will start to breathe ice!” I said with a constant shake all over my body.

“Yeah, let’s find something to drink.” She said. She looked cold too. The last time she came to Canada was 5 years ago in British Colombia where the area wasn’t as cold as Quebec.

“Where?” I replied

“You probably can ask those people over there” She pointed at a bench where some people were sitting and laughing.

I knew she thought I had the best English in the group so it would be easy for me to speak with the locals. And that’s true, everyone’s English might be great but mine was always greater. I walked toward the bench and I saw a lady with 5-6 men having a funny conversation as they laughed a lot. All of them were really attractive.

“Excuse me, can I ask something? Do you know where I can get a hot chocolate?” I asked them with my best accent possible. I was always proud of my perfect accent.

Some of them were grinning right after I said that. Some started laughing and looked at each other until someone started replying me

“Oh jeez, are you a hooker?”

Oh no you dirty bitch, you did not just say that to my face! And my face got even redder.

“Kid, don’t be a hooker, go back home and sleep.” And they were all laughing.

These people were completely drunk, I mean, why wouldn’t I realized that since the beginning? And they don’t speak in French accent which made me assuming that they weren’t locals. They kept going on with their hooker jokes and for some reasons I did not move. It happened for about a minute until the only lady there felt pity about this big Asian kid and stood up.

“Stop it, guys. That’s not funny!” She told her friends as she walked towards me.

She looked nice and totally sober. She apologized on behalf of her friends, took me to the side, and asked me where I was from. I explained to her that I was from Indonesia with a group of freezing friends while we could totally still hear the drunken men cheering in the background.

Her name was Kim and I took her to the group. Kim told us that they were also visiting Montreal from Ontario and she insisted to take us to nearby Tim Horton’s by herself, maybe because she felt bad that her friends were being total assholes. Thanks for helping us, Kim!

Kim in the middle

I knew Starbucks pretty well eventough they didn’t have an outlet in Pontianak but I didn’t know that the Canadians have their own original coffee shop chain called Tim Horton’s which could easily be found pretty much everywhere around the city. The place was definitely warmer than outside. I got myself a hot chocolate and a donut while looking outside through the window, it pissed me of how tricky the city was: It didn’t look freezing from the inside at all! The city was still pretty much busy. Some people were still walking outside and there were more than a dozen persons in Tim Horton’s excluding us, like this one big long-yellow-haired guy with a lot of piercings who just came in. He was smirking as we had eye contact which later on I regret. I was just called as a hooker by some random strangers. I didn’t think staring at an eccentric guy on the exact same night was a good idea.

The hot chocolate was satisfying as I definitely didn’t have any other choices. I did not want to take any coffee because it was midnight and I needed to be as tired and sleepy as possible to adjust the new time zone.

“Your cheeks are really red” Anggoro told as he sat beside me with a cup of something. I looked at my reflection through the window, hard to see but I actually could feel how red it was.

“Those stupid rude men called me a hooker, thank God it did not change to blue instead!” I replied. “I’m tired, let’s just go back to the hotel after this. We will have a morning flight tomorrow and tonight’s drama is more than enough.” I told Kak Asni who happened to sit in front of me.

She laughed. “You just had one, more real drama is waiting for you in the next 6 months, Feb!”

As soon as she finished her sentence, someone screamed really loudly as we shockingly looked towards where the voice came from. A petite girl just literally ran to the door and went outside the place as fast as she could. We instantly followed her outside with lots of confusion as everyone was staring to a bunch of annoying Asian kids who did not know how to chill in a coffee shop.

“HE CARRIED A FUCKING SNAKE IN HIS PANTS!” It was Amelia, who screamed hysterically. According to her, the eccentric man whom I saw apparently carried a snake inside his pants. He took pulled the snake out of the pants to show Amelia, as like he knew what exactly her phobia was.

“I saw it too. It was tiny but still scary, though. It was a real living snake!” Added Noval, who just wanted to make sure that the word snake referred to a real gross long living animal that should not become a pet instead of a different way of telling us that the man was pulling his penis from his pants. Because you know, sometimes people said penis as a snake too. Weird, right.

Amelia was too shocked to cry, but I could totally how devastated she was. She look like she could not breath and could just pass out anytime soon.

“Have some water.” It was Fairuz again who offered help in the form of bottled water. Amelia finished that in 10 seconds as people were helping her to sit at the bench across the street.

This happened too fast until I did not realize that my fragile body started to feel cold again as we were outside. Everyone’s face looked really tired, obviously, and I personally started to feel scared of being in a whole new place.

“Kak Asni, let’s just please go back to the hotel.” I half begged.

She agreed and waited for a few moments until Amelia had enough strength to walk to the bus shelter. It was not a really long walk until we arrived in front of a big building with the sign BUS STOP written in both English and French. There was a route-map that told us the bus from this shelter would take us to where we were from, and it said the bus was operating for 24 hours.

It was 2 AM in the morning and we waited for around 10 minutes without any bus, or anyone around. We started to feel really cold again but this time I felt so awake. I could not remember nor care but someone said “Let’s do saman dance to warm each other up”.

Bad idea. I did not know how to do that. Saman dance (or usually translated as Thousand hands dance in English) is a traditional dance originally from Aceh which always became a dance that all Indonesian volunteers of CWY had to learn in our Pre-Departure-Training every single year. It’s a beautiful dance with a really good philosophy where everyone should sit extremely close next to each other tightly with a lot of hands and heads movement in a harmony. The more dancers, the longer the line would be, the more beautiful it would look. While as for a non-Acehnese and not really a dancer kinda person unless you played Beyonce’s Single Ladies so that my inner-stripper could be release, I found it a bit hard for me to learn such dances.

I didn’t think I was the only one who could not dance that time, so I just squeezed myself between 2 people, mainly to make myself warm and planned to just follow the rhythm. Fairuz was playing role as the singer –There is no music in saman other than the voice of the live singer– and everyone was ready in the line.

She started to sing as we followed her rhythm excitedly. I knew the first several movements and changed my mind that it was probably a good idea to just release everything that happened that night. I slowly looked at my surrounding, thought of how scared I was before this crazy idea to dance an Indonesian traditional dance right in the heart of Montreal happened.

Before we left, the alumni told us that this program would offer a lot of new things in our life: New place, new people, new friendship, new culture, new lifestyle, even new drama. What we needed to do was that just enjoying the journey with all of its process and just hold on to our main objectives of why we would want to be there.

That early morning dance in the side of a big street we did would never happen anywhere else in any occasions if we did not just pass something like what happened to force us unite as one ultimate team as we should be. That new big experiences ahead should not be passed individually, especially with the amazing people you shared a lot of things in common with. I kept dancing with few mistakes in the movement but I did not stop doing it. Looking back at it in 2016, I could actually see it much deeper of how that night in particular just represented my next 6 months was like: We got excited, we got drama, but we could always rely on each other.

I was happy that I shared the night with the group that I love. The bus came and we got in with full of laughter. Kak Asni, Feby, Amelia, Fairuz, Anggoro, Noval, Laksmi, Nadia, Dwi, and Azis went back to a hotel with whole of new excitement of the next day. Kim, Kevin, Fred, Louis, Gillian, Max, Felix, Kayla, and Julia better brought their asses at the Halifax airport to pick us up, tomorrow!

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Next Series: CWY Series 3 – Cross Cultural Understanding: Begins

CWY Series 1 – The Day It All Started

People like Anggoro, Fairuz, Dini, or some other who have experienced North American fall/winter might have already understood that weird combination of bright sunshine and freezing-air-that-made-you-numb. But I still could not accept that the wind slapped me so hard that afternoon, just outside of Pierre-Truedeau International Airport while we were waiting for the bus. We were fully suited and tired of 16 hours long flight. Some people were just well prepared, they wore sweater underneath the coat, put on a scarf or had a big fluffy ear puffs in the middle of their red faces.

“I need to lay down for a while” as I obviously didn’t have a proper sleep, and those extra layer of clothing preparation besides a pair of leopard mitten that I borrowed from Reyska. As like it would help.

One bus with the first group just left before us. Another bus arrived and our group put our belongings in the trunk. The bus was too small for 11 people including the driver, but maybe it was just fine enough to be really close to each other and kept ourselves warm. And in just 15 minutes, the bus stopped at Best Western Hotel.

Those pile of luggage doesn’t look like that attractive now

I was in the middle of most diva-ish situation when I had to stay overnight with 2 of the most brilliant musicians in the group. Noval and Azis better shared the bed as we only had 2 beds in the room, and diva didn’t share bed. But diva did get thirsty. We saw nothing but empty glasses on the table. This hotel didn’t provide water for the visitor.

I went to the reception and stupidly shocked of what the friendly lady said.

“You can get water from the tap. We all drink tap water here.” She said in a French accent

Not sure, I called Kak Asni and she said don’t worry because tap water was indeed drinkable there. I went back to the room and found Noval had a glass of tap water already.

“Anggoro told me.” He said.

Alright, so who cared? I drank and it tasted like I-won’t-get-diarrhea. Something that nobody would ever do anywhere in Indonesia, at least not before you boil it.

3 of us laid down had a very little sleep and get ready as we needed to be in the hall for an arrival briefing.

“Hi everyone, my name is Giselle from Canada World Youth” the curly-haired lady announced herself. I could tell that her first language was neither English nor French. She announced few basic things about tomorrow’s departure. Another flight, of course.

Later I figured, Giselle was originally from Brazil. It was interesting enough remembering the fact that she was representing Canada World Youth, the organization that gave a third-world-country youth like me opportunity to join such an amazing program.

I was sitting on a couch at one corner in the city of Montreal, listening to Gisele’s explanation of our next travel arrangement. My other Indonesian friends who had just traveled all the way from South East Asia with me were sitting around me as well.

Those names I previously mentioned at the beginning were some of few weirdos I had to deal with almost every day, around 4 years ago. We started our journey in our each 27 different places all over Indonesia, wanting to get an International experience and were finally recruited by Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sport to represent the Indonesian Youth in a program that they partnered with Canada World Youth.

It was September 2011 and this exchange program was at its 38th year. We had 2 weeks full of pre-departure training with the alumni in Jakarta as they expected we would be ‘ready’ to face the bittersweet of the 6 months program. 27 of us were divided in 3 groups who would live in 3 different communities, with each person would be paired with another Canadian youth as our counterpart, and each group would also be facilitated by a pair of Indonesian-Canadian project supervisors.

I was in the same group with Laksmi, Azis, Nadia, Fairuz, Anggoro, Amelia, Noval, and Dwi. Kak Asni was our project supervisor, she joined this program earlier in 2006 and Indonesian supervisor always had to be an alumnus of the program, just like her. We were supposed to live in Charlottetown, the capital of Canada’s littlest and eastern most province Prince Edward Island with environmental-focused project and volunteering.

The whole crew with the Chief of DPD RI – Irman Gusman

Other two groups were placed in Halifax and Truro, both in the province of Nova’s Scotia. The members of those groups might not really be that important to be mentioned, now. They will just naturally appear in the next posts through some incidents, if I feel like to.

Like Salam the member of Halifax group, right now. He just ran back from his room with a big bottle of chili sauce in his hand. “Can’t live without it!” he said.

Gisele had finished explaining about things I couldn’t even remember now. The short meeting was ended with an early dinner, at like 5 PM. Canadians had an interesting dinner time, I thought. Back in Pontianak, a city where I lived, I could just eat a bowl of noodle and would not call it as dinner and would eat a plate of rice and chicken 2 hours later, the meal that I would call as dinner. No wonder I weighted around 98kg.

Gisele distributed the dinner boxes. 2 big chicken breasts and french fries were in it. Without rice, of course, as this was unusual for the Indonesians to eat anything without rice and chili sauce. Some people were approaching Salam to get a bit of his chili sauce, I assumed that big bottle was his 3 months’ supply and decided not to ask for it. I did have my own in my luggage, but it was day 1 and that bitch Feby really loved challenge.

We finished eating and came back to our rooms as we had quite early flight the next day. But again, it was day 1. No matter how tired you were, you would not miss your very first North American night by sleeping. 10 of us were gathered in a room to discuss on what we called ‘group rules’, basically some bullshits of Do’s and Don’ts that we might not commit several weeks after.

Group Rules situation. It shows that we were not interested

I saw Wan Vina from Truro group changed her BBM profile picture at the downtown of Montreal, which was obviously the place where we should be at that very moment. We convinced Kak Asni that we should go around Montreal that night, as the very first group activity that we had never done before.

She agreed as we were all set and waited for the hotel’s shuttle to the bus station. And that’s how my group and I started to have our Canadian experience for the very first time.

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Next Series: CWY Series 2 – Montreal Drama

Small Boy, Big Dream – You Won’t Understand

My blog posts haven’t been that useful in 2015. Excuses are better be left unsaid because to be honest, what am I defending for? I don’t have that much of blog followers on the first place.

Several weeks before it happened, I allocated some spaces in my brain to think of how I would spend the Christmas long weekend. This may sound exaggerating –you know, my life as usual– but I put a lot of thought in it. I was thinking of several options as, thank God, I live in a country where literally anywhere is beautiful. And for the sake of the memory, at the end I put the dot on my map to this place where several parts of my character was shaped. And then it became the travelling of a reminder. A reminder of what kind of person I was, a reminder what kind of person I wished I would become.

I hopped in to the bus around 12 PM that 24 December. I read from social media that the traffic was literally crazy, but yeah bitch, what would my life be without craziness? I was lucky that I could sit as the bus was literally full of people who were probably tired of the city, excited to see other places, or just simply missed home. Another man sat next to me, an ear phone was plugged in to his ears as he was sleeping unbotheredly, great skill.

I committed myself to do a digital detox; I would turn off any internet connection and be in the ‘real life’ during the trip. It was such a perfect timing as I did not really have to reply emails or did some other work related things, I just wanted to be a hippie –And I am not using this in a sarcastic term–, I would not care about anything else other than what I would actually be experiencing in those 4 days, and I expected that to be lovely.

But then life was always a bitch. Traffic was, to be exact. It took 11 hours to arrive in the town where it usually took only 5 hours to visit. It was an hour after midnight and the early morning was really cold at the bus station. Everything was basically the same at that station: several buses were lining up to drop the passangers, the corner stores were open with limited lighting, and many motorcycle and pedicab drivers offered everyone their transportation service, it did feel really nostalgic. But it was really different as I was just literally alone.

I asked one random driver to bring me to the nearest hotel for me to stay overnight. It took 2 places before there was an inn that actually had an available room for a lonely visitor to stay. The lady was extremely friendly to me and to another couple that I thought only wanted to stay there to have sex. You know I’m really judgmental.

The couple was disgusted by the shitty room as they went with a motorcycle in that cold morning but I guess I did not have any choice. Dirty might be a strong word but the room was so far to be said as proper, it was really ‘different’.

“I will change the sheet” Said the lady as like it would help the room to be more proper.

“This should be fun and nothing wrong with having a different experience” I convinced myself, and it was really sincere. That was supposed to be the travelling of a reminder and I reminded not to complain. Besides, I was tired anyways and I would not do anything but sleep and I would just leave in the morning.

I woke up around 10 PM the next day and as planned, immediately leave the inn to explore the city a little bit before continuing to the final destination. I took another pedicab and went to the downtown, looking around to re-feel the “city warmth”, tasted good local foods, and did a Friday prayer in the City’s Great Mosque – all by my own.

The digital detox was working perfectly fine as well. I talked to real people when I wanted to know the direction, or when I was waiting for the angkot , sort of a van that became a public transportation in most Indonesian cities. I knew more about the people and their background I was actually facing rather than spending my time looking at the phone screen and putting love on people-whom-I-don’t-actually-know on instagram pictures,  it just felt damn nice! I wish the people of Jakarta would be more friendly so everytime I talked to random people on the street, they would be more welcoming and would not think that I am capable of doing bad things to them.

After a full-hour of eye indulgence when I saw anywhere was nothing but prettiness, I arrived in my destination around 4 PM in the afternoon. I ran to my house, where I spent several time of my life with people I really cared about, and surprised everyone as I did not tell everyone that I would go ‘home’.

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“You look more handsome!” Ibu –The Indonesian nick for mother and as how I called my host mom– said. “Of course!” I replied. Typical me.

I had a great conversation with the members of the house, updating each other’s life and laughing the fool things we did that we could remember. I left the house for an afternoon walk before the sun set. That was the second Christmas day I spent in that place I called home.

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The sun almost set behind the green mountains. Everything still existed, the mural, the library (they even have a new one!), the village hall, the ram statue, the football court, and of course the ram fighting arena with its famous huts. I broke my heart that Christmas afternoon, right in the heart of Cikandang Village.

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Back in 2011, I had an international youth exchange where they put together 9 Canadian Youth and 9 Indonesian Youth in one group to live together in both Canadian and Indonesian community for several months and aimed for International relations, mutual understanding, cultural exchange, sustainable changemaking, youth leadership and other endless positivity.  We were placed in the city of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for the Canadian Phase and the village of Cikandang, a mountainous village in Southern Garut, West Java. We left the village at the end of the program around end of March 2012 with many beautiful memories.

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I have actually been back visiting the village after the program for three times with some other people, but the last time was in 2013, just right before I departed to Bahrain. So this visit was actually my first visit in 2 years, and the very first time when I came back literally alone in Cikandang.

My heart broke not because I haven’t moved on with my life. In fact, I did not even know what broke me inside to be exact. Maybe the fact that I was visiting with no friends or the reminder of how I envisioned the future-Feby in the past.

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I am really grateful of how my life turned after the program. I moved out from my hometown and I befriended great helpful people that gave me descent jobs in the capital city, Jakarta. I was blessed to have another opportunity to live in another foreign country, learning new stuffs and living in a total different culture, and especially at this time of my life when I was having my best job yet with lovely people around me, no reason to complain about life.

But something was missing….

And it was not my body fat, obviously. I did not know, It was maybe my attention to humanity, my sensitivity or my motivation to spread positivity.

Saying that I am not as a positive person as I was is too strong of an argument, especially it also indicates of how exaggerated I judged myself in the past. I mean, who claimed themselves of creating positive vibes by themselves? Maybe some people but I don’t think that’s my call.

Instead, I have the right to say something has definitely has changed. And honestly, until this particular word, I have no idea where this article will lead to and how it will end. Thoughts in my head are just like strings that can be straighten from earth to moon and back, but now it’s tangled. It became really messy that made it just as big as a tennis ball.

I was lucky to be born in a supportive family where my opinions and willingness are always heard and appreciated. The situation probably shaped my character to be a decisive individual and I always see the goal in any actions that I did. Every single one of them.

But I just felt that being adult is not that easy….

Life has always been a total player for every human in any ways possible. We undeniably have bigger burdens, big enough to think that the great master plans we always had suddenly became unconvincing. And as it probably got you, it might get me even harder.

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I spent 2 days in Cikandang and re-saw what myself particularly have contributed to that beautiful small area. It was probably intangible, I mean, the sidewalk marks that we hand-painted were not even there anymore. But seeing the exact same mural on the wall about not littering your garbage on the street or realizing that the blue colour or library wall haven’t changed since we dramatically decorated them made me smile a lot.

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My friends and I might not save the world or became a bunch of fairy godmothers and turned a poor girl to be a princess. But we clearly shared the same spirit. We were bunch of young people from major cities in both country and were placed in a village that was totally different with how we used to live, was a total slap in the face. Moreover, this opportunity did not just arrive in my lap in a silver platter. I fought for my spot to be there, to be the part of the team and I did not just start that because I was following the trend. I made some names for myself until those judges could decide that I deserved the spot.

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We sincerely loved the place and had the motivation that we could contribute positively to the village. At that time, the motivation was even bigger because we are entitled as “Youth of The World” which in overreacting version of me years ago, it meant really important as it led to do really important things to the world as well.

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And how I applied that in the life I had? I realized that volunteering and social movement was not a new thing. As I said, I was probably chosen to join the program because I was actively involved in those kinds of activity. And I used those learning process to be really pay attention of any actions I would contribute. I took every single opportunity to help things get better in the village seriously like I would live there forever. All with a very supporting environment from magnificent team member and locals. I sincerely had super strong willing to keep doing what I did until forever, somehow, somewhere.

But now it has been 4 years since that flame positivity burned me inside and outside. When you see myself right now and compare with what kind of person I told you before, your reaction might be really subjective because in reality, those plans haven’t worked, yet. Why? I wish I can say I don’t know but I clearly know the reason. Because it’s what life is about. Remember at that time you ordered a customized menu at the restaurant? You wanted double scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream and specifically wanted the vanilla scoop to be on top but the waiter came with the chocolate on top instead? You can plan, decide, or even manipulate how you wish your life be, but it’s not always up to you, it has never been, it will never be. The world and any single thing inside it work together like a pair of gear that makes certain action affects the others and that is not new information for anyone, I know.

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But we just sometimes forget about it, I often forget about it. And the reflection of it shows in our action. We can complain to the waiter who brought the wrong order of ice cream scoop or just accept and eat as it would taste the same, anyway. And that’s how I probably choose to respond the life world is offering me to.  I am not capable of fulfilling my dream 100% but I should be able to be patient and use any learning in my journey to be the ‘weapon’ of my future. I was probably part of the bigger gear who affected smaller gear in the program and I never wanted such habit to stop happening in any circumstances.

Nevertheless, the beauty of that mountainous village was just everything I needed last end of the year. This reminder, reflection, whatever you call it to make me realize of how grateful I am to be the person that I am now, and the person that  I will be. I was visiting the former head of village’s house and the family greeted me warmly. I had a nice conversation with them and heard them talking sincerely of how happy they were when we were there, joking around about funny things that happened in 2012. Rury, the eldest daughter was still in middle school back then and now she is a year away from University. She told me of how she planned to take International Relation in either University of Padjadjaran or University of Gadjah Mada, two major universities in Indonesia because of how she was inspired by the program that she was being involved with as the local. For the 5 years activities with around 90 youth in the period, irregardless the debatable sustainability and controversy it created. And that seriously made me smile a lot.

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I visited many places in the village where I liked to spend time with my friends and had great conversation with not just my host family but some other host families. You never realize of what impressions you could leave to certain community until you come back in quite some time and feel, really feel inside yourself of how joyful and peaceful your little heart to stand on the place where you usually stood. And I don’t want Cikandang to be the only place where I can feel that way.

Small boy, big dream. That I know.

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