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A Changemaker's Journey

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By Denisa Amelia Kawuryan (YES 2013-14, Indonesia, hosted with AYUSA in Las Vegas, Nevada)


Las Vegas, with its shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and nightlife, could not have been more different from my hometown in Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, Indonesia, with its forests, coal mining and orangutans.

I felt like I was stepping into a completely different world, almost as a dream, yet it was an experience that triggered my curiosity and shaped who I am today. Five years ago, I had the opportunity to meet so many talented students from around the world, experienced life with strangers who would become family and heard John Kerry speak. This still amazes me, even five years after my YES exchange, and makes me believe that every cloud has a silver lining. I’ll always be thankful for the unbelievable efforts my family put into helping me apply for the YES program and become a finalist, including driving me 45 minutes on a motorbike to attend English courses.

As an exchange student, I was exposed to international and intercultural knowledge from my host community and other exchange students from countries such as the Netherlands and Pakistan. My host family took me to the Grand Canyon, one of the most remarkable natural wonders of the world, and we drove through Route 66, a historic highway in the United States. During my visit to Mississippi, my host grandmother told me about the American Civil War between the north and the south. I found it astonishing, even while struggling with understanding English spoken in a US southern accent!

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In my US school, I felt so privileged to have the option to select my own classes, an experience so unlike my home school. I took anatomy class since I always wanted to become a doctor. Interestingly, I found the anatomy class to be less interesting compared to my US Government class. I diligently studied for my anatomy course, however, I found watching CNN Student News and the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” more thrilling. I learned about filibusters, gerrymandering, the Senate, House of Representatives etc. I was surprised that several students in my government class knew their Congressional Representatives, while I knew nothing about the local representatives of my electoral district in Indonesia. I was also intrigued by how so many people in the US bravely value and pursue his/her passions without apparently feeling constrained by social expectations.

I also found Americans to be very expressive and positive in showing their love to one another. “I love you”, ‘Have a great day”, “Sweetie” are very nice words. I still clearly remember when my host dad gave me hot chocolate while taking me to school, my host mother who listened to me talk about my school activities, and my host brother and sister who were so supportive. Even though it was their first time hosting an exchange student (and my first time being an exchange student!), the sincere support that they gave me was beyond anything I could ask for.

This experience helped me learn so much about myself and my interests and helped me talk about my passions with my family in Indonesia. My father and I had conversations about why I chose to take International Relations instead of becoming a doctor. I knew becoming a student of International Relations does not guarantee anything, but it has become a passion for me and inspires me to study hard. I’ve just finished an internship at the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development where I worked on issues of inequality and sustainable development in Indonesia. The YES alumni changemakers workshop will provide me with tools for monitoring and evaluation, as well as skills for raising awareness of issues and engaging stakeholders.

My journey didn’t stop the day I returned to Indonesia, and I’m now the new president of the Indonesia YES Alumni Association! Ten months living in the United States gave me skills, knowledge and connections that opened so many opportunities for me and helped me discover who I am. Thank you YES!

Denisa attended the recent YES alumni Social Entrepreneur Changemakers Workshop in Arlington, VA, and is developing an initiative to bring global citizenship curriculum to Indonesian classrooms.


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