When I was starting the Seminar application process, I ask around to see exactly what I was getting myself into; however, something strange happened. Every person I asked told me the same thing: “Go into it with no expectations.” While the adventurous me loved that advice, the analytical me freaked out. I asked myself; “What kind of program prompts the same response from everyone?” and “Does ‘no expectations’ mean to lower them, or to actually have none to begin with?” I finally got my answers after flying for 32 hours to Indonesia.
A Seminar program begins with a homestay, and mine was stellar. As one can imagine, the 12-hour time difference had me quite jetlagged. After a 6-hour drive from Jakarta, I met my host, Jessica, in Bandung, where my camp would be held. Jessica took me to her favorite restaurant, followed by her favorite dessert restaurant, and finally the mansion she calls home during the dry season. I felt like I was dreaming! After researching and witnessing the typical Indonesian standard of living, I had braced myself for the worst; instead, I experienced the best. The whiplash of the situation only made it that much more phenomenal and special. My host parents were so kind, and Jessica and I still text and send goofy pictures daily.
I never thought I would say this, but I am so thankful for social media. Upon arriving at camp, the other delegates and I realized that we already knew each other, or at least the Facebook versions of ourselves. We had practically no need for name games; it felt like we were starting the program as close friends instead of strangers. The dynamic among delegates was unlike anything that I had encountered; there were no cliques, and everyone was friends with everyone. We did not need placemats to mix up meal conversations, because we did that organically. Although there was a four-year age difference between the youngest and oldest participants, no one noticed…or cared.
For lack of a better word, our camp was a utopia. I know utopias do not exist, but it was certainly nice to be in a place where you needed to assign people to play the devil’s advocate, because we agreed on so much. And where we were dissimilar, the group got along very well, and listened to other people’s perspectives.
The first few days I was excited, but also confused. My camp did not observe any CISV traditions. We did kiitos a grand total of three times, and we rarely had flag time. Lullabies occurred for the first few days, and then were optional. The staff generally participated in “free time games” but not actual activities. This was definitely a different kind of CISV camp!
Also, in a Seminar, delegates have much more responsibility than in other programs: planning and cooking all meals, cleaning, planning activities (including Gala Night, Open Day, and excursions), coming up with and enforcing rules, and of course, participating in activities. Although it seems daunting, it was certainly manageable, and the process of figuring it out was invaluable. I was very surprised by how much thought went into grocery shopping for 20 people!
My favorite part of camp was the Local Impact/Like Minded Organization (LMO) day. We went to a school for mute, deaf, and blind children, and played games, swapped stories, and took tons of pictures. The day before, we had a camp-wide simulation where we were given different handicaps, so we could have a better understanding of how difficult it is to function with these disabilities. We thought our preparation day was just about impossible, but the kids at the school blew us away with how easy they made it look! They had a contagious optimism, almost enough to convince you that they lived in a rich country and were fully abled. Although we had planned a whole day of games, we spent most of the time just getting to know the kids. They told us about their accomplishments, day-to-day schedules, and their dreams. My perspective flipped, and I am eternally grateful for that.
I have learned so much from this experience that I do not think I am the same person. Being 17 is an interesting time, because you are simultaneously leaning about the world and yourself. Before going to the camp, I was in a bit of a rut. But then I spent six weeks in Indonesia, and I feel like I became the best possible version of me. I became a person who would run camp meetings, stand up for what I believe in; I would laugh, cry, sing, and most importantly, really feel it. And of course I also got the typical CISV experience of learning about different cultures and gaining a more in-depth understanding of the world, and I have friends that I will cherish for a lifetime.
To answer my initial question about what I was getting myself into: If you do a Seminar, your experience will not be my experience. You probably will not have to wear a hijab or fight off monkeys. Your host will probably not take you to volcanic lakes, pirated movie stores, and tofu malls. She also probably will not assign a butler to you, take you to karaoke, or treat you to cupcakes garnished with gold foil, as mine did. Your LMO probably will not involve using Sudanese sign language, eating on the floor, or trying to teach deaf school children how to do the Macarena. On Open Day, chopsticks and banana leaves might not replace your utensils and plates. But then again…who knows?
I have come to realize that “no expectations” was the best advice I could have been given. It was a way of saying that every camp is unique, but all have this in common – they are all spectacular, life changing, and CISV!
If you have any questions, I would love to talk with you more about Seminar!