Sharing a piece of Papua New Guinea to the World through Youth Exchange Program

While Papua New Guinea is not a big country in landmass, a fact that does not help with the international stage when many foreigners usually mistake for a country in the African continent as Guinea, Guinea Bissau, or the Equatorial Guinea, there are some people who are fortunate enough to travel abroad to bring PNG to the world, and not just an outrageous headline breaking international news on something that usually stirs up negative reaction.

Stephanie Joseph was one of those people who had a chance of representing PNG at an age of 17 in Brazil as a Youth Exchange Ambassador for PNG, and also representing Australia and Rotary.

Stephanie Joseph among other young fellow ambassadors.

“In late 2015, during the presidency term of my mother, Roselyn Joseph under the Madang Rotary Club, she introduced to me the idea of participating in the Youth Exchange Program with Rotary. I had to sign a few papers, answer some questions and go through some documents to see if I can pass to be a good ambassador for Papua New Guinea and Rotary.” Stephanie states.

The initial plan was for Stephanie to travel to Texas, US; but then she received a last minute email that changed the path for the young las requesting to select one country: Denmark, Brazil or Thailand.
“Without second thoughts, I chose Brazil.” Stephanie stated.

It was the animated film “Rio” that captivated Miss Joseph’s mind. For those familiar with the movie, the backdrop was based in one of Brazil’s largest city, Rio de Janeiro that featured one of the world’s greatest annual event, ‘Rio Carnival,’ where the festival is held before Lent dating its early celebrations back to 1723 in honour of the gods and to respect the great waters.

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a festival held every year before Lent; it is one of the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day on the streets.

“I chose Brazil because I wanted to experience ‘Carnival’ myself from watching the animated film, ‘Rio’. Also I thought learning a new language like Portuguese would be wonderful. I was fascinated by Brazil itself from watching Rio.”

“I was super excited and anxious to start a new adventure. I had to leave school one week early to prepare everything before leaving around late November, 2016 while attending grade 9 at Tusbab Secondary School in Madang Province,” Stephanie states.

Leaving all her comfort and family behind and travelling for the first time alone abroad, Stephanie travelled with other youths from all over Australia that were also going to various parts of Brazil.
“We went through 3 flights together until São Paulo where we all had to separate and take different flights to our host cities. I was very lucky as I had 2 Australians travelling with me to my host city Belo Horizonte.”

Belo Horizonte is the sixth largest city in Brazil, located on the South American Continent.

A fact for you to take a mental note of for future reference – Belo Horizonte is the sixth largest city in Brazil, the thirteenth largest city in South America and the eighteenth largest city in the Americas.

Moving on with the story, arriving at 9pm from their last flight, the worn out and tired trio received a very warm surprise welcome at the airport from over 50 people.

“That gave us back our energy. We then had to hug everyone and give them a kiss on the cheek (which I found strange at first), we took lots of pictures (all Brazilians are photogenic), and I also got to meet my first host Brazilian Family.”

The cultural and educational exchange program lasted for a year during which Stephanie was hosted by 3 different host families that she grew to love dearly.

“I attended a Private Catholic High School, doing my year 10. We took up to 15 subjects each week but I wasn’t required to do all of them since I wasn’t speaking Portuguese (Brazil’s official language). All my classmates were very helpful in translating things for me, showing me around the school and introducing me to new people.”
After 3 to 4 months Stephanie was able to understand and communicate most things.

Speaking of her experience, she states:
“I was open to trying all types of typical Brazilian dishes. They were very different and most I did like while some I didn’t like. I gained up to 7kg for eating too much.”

“I loved the music, I learnt some dances, I learnt to cook, sleep, eat and live like a Brazilian. I also had the opportunity to teach many people about my country PNG, where it is located, what languages we speak, our customs and traditions. It was funny because 80% of people I met thought PNG was a province in Africa and that we speak either French or Spanish.

I visited a few schools, telling them about PNG and after, took group photos with them holding up my PNG flag which I always take with me everywhere I go.”

Returning back to PNG after being a young ambassador for PNG, Miss Joseph says,
“Anyone could have this experience. Only requirements are that they have to be from ages 15-18 and in high school. There are fees involved and they also have to apply through their local Rotary Clubs in their provinces.”
“I got to experience Carnaval. It was amazing. I visited a few historical cities and two bigger cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. They were very beautiful and big. I met really amazing people, made really good friends, and learnt so much about myself as a person and so much about life, how to think and act globally, to respect every race and culture and the most important is to be a good ambassador for my country Papua New Guinea in Brazil and to the world. An experience I will never forget, even though it was only for a year.”

Now back in Madang, Miss Joseph is aiming to finish High School, college, and work to earn money to visit all her friends from all over the world and in Brazil one day.

For interested youths who might want to learn more about the program and how you can get involved, you can directly send your enquiries to stephydjoseph420@gmail.com.

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Joanita Nonwo

Joanita Nonwo

is a contributor with EMTV Online, specialising in international stories relating to development, environment and gender equality, all within a Papua New Guinean context.

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