Indonesian teens share culture through exchange program with Friendship Force

CLEARWATER

Bagus Widyowaskito is dripping in beautiful purple and gold garb.

The music that fills the Octagon Arts Center is quick and elaborate, rich in the culture he has known all his life. He dances a traditional dance from Indonesia.

Widyowaskito has been looking forward to this for weeks — the moment when he would perform for Americans, in the United States, a 22-hour plane ride from home. He looks out into the crowd and sees. Those clapping Americans are loving it.

But honestly?

The 15-year-old would trade it all for a sandwich.

The coolest thing about America?

"SUBWAY! Footlong! $5!" he says, laughing.

• • •

Widyowaskito is one of 20 high school students who embarked on a trip to the United States from Jakarta, Indonesia, to learn about U.S. culture and connect with American people.

Friendship Force, an international organization dedicated to overcoming barriers that separate cultures, brought the kids over for a two-week exchange.

"We can get together even though we're from different cultures and religions. We're making friends," said Inas Wafiya, a 14-year-old Muslim student.

The students lived with members of the Florida Suncoast Friendship Force.

Bob Muir hosted Widyowaskito and his friend, Irfan Budisatria, 15, in his home.

"I'm a terrible joke-teller, but they laugh at all my jokes," said Muir, 63. "They have a great sense of humor and they like to have fun."

The students from Sman 8, an elite high school, are also well-mannered, able, intelligent. "But they're not self-possessed, or the least bit arrogant," Muir added.

"When you share meals with someone and you sit at a table, eat dinner and talk, you realize that you have more in common than you have different," said Sandy Gourdine, president of FSFF. "This creates lasting impressions."

On their trip, the students visited some of Florida's greatest novelties: Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Clearwater Marine Center, MOSI, John's Pass Boardwalk, Walt Disney World. They also visited Calvary Christian High School and St. Petersburg College.

• • •

On their first day in Florida, the students had a picnic at Sand Key Park. The park wasn't much different from what they're used to in Jakarta. They knew palm trees, they knew beaches and ocean — but American football? Totally foreign and totally cool.

While munching on turkey and cheese sandwiches (an uncommon food back home), the boys watched in awe at a group of tall, buff men zipping a football through the air.

Jane Lee, a FSFF member, took a risk and approached them: "These kids come from Indonesia. They've never played football. Can they play with you?"

The men, unsure at first, walked up to them, shook their hands and welcomed them to their game.

"It's amazing how the two groups just meshed," said Lee, 70.

Then, they played. Black and white. Muslim and Christian. Asian and American.

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8862.

On the Web

Visit friendshipforcefloridasuncoast.org for information on the Florida Suncoast Friendship Force.

Indonesian teens share culture through exchange program with Friendship Force 04/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:30pm]

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