I first heard about Melati and Isabel Wijsen in 2019 from a New York Times article that a friend shared with me. That led me to interview the sisters for an illustrated book project about changemakers, and eventually culminated in my boarding a plane to Bali to join the YOUTHTOPIA team as their Campaign Organizer and Research Intern. When I told friends and family what I had planned, they were surprised. “You’re going where?” “You’re doing what?”, they exclaimed. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure. As a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, I’ve spent the last 9 months exploring the intersection between art and the environment by speaking with over 100 artists, scientists, activists, academics and politicians to better understand the role that art can play in changemaking. YOUTHTOPIA is neither an arts nor strictly environmentally focused organization, but it’s work to empower and educate youth around the world on SDG issues impressed me. I just felt that I should go, and I’m so glad that I did. 


My tasks varied week-to-week, and I was able to dip my toes into several different YOUTHTOPIA components. Melati and Emma went out of their way to cater the internship to my interests, so I ended up leading many creative projects. Some different tasks included: editing masterclass scripts, designing and leading the mural project, writing blogs and other assignments, creating costumes from trash for Melati and the HQ showroom, researching and onboarding new Circle of Youth members, and doing other administrative tasks. I often worked on the computer in the morning before heading to the changemaker space or the mural for art time in the afternoon. 


My favorite part of the internship was the team. I’ve worked for a lot of different organizations, but have never felt so welcomed as when I joined YOUTHTOPIA. Even though my internship was only a month, the whole team made an effort to get to know me and to share their knowledge of Bali and Indonesia. We even went out for lunch and post-work drinks a few times. They’re all hard workers, and I also really enjoyed collaborating with them on different projects in the office, but what I will remember most is their kindness and compassion. The team often finished their lunch break early to help me with the mural project, and when I got food poisoning on my third workday, they sent me Pedialyte. So thoughtful!


My biggest piece of advice is: stay longer than a month! Unfortunately, I was unable to extend my time, but I really wish that I had! Another tip that I wish I’d known sooner was to start applying for the B211A Business visa through an agency months in advance. I didn’t realize that I needed to go through an agency until it was too late, so my internship was delayed by a week. Yes, the agencies aren’t cheap, but it’s a very easy process and is likely faster than going through your home embassy (if that’s even possible).

Emma also provided a whole host of resources such as a list of housing options, scooter rentals and places to visit while in Bali. I didn’t end up renting a scooter, and given my location in Canggu, I’m really glad that I just used Gojek and Grab (scooter taxi services), because they ended up being cheaper than renting a scooter and saved me the stress of navigating the crazy traffic as a new scooter driver. 

I’m so grateful to have been able to spend the past month with YOUTHTOPIA. I was able to participate in so many different projects and am happy with how the mural turned out. YOUTHTOPIA provided a safe and supportive environment for me to learn and I enjoyed going to work each day. If you’re considering doing an internship for YOUTHTOPIA, what are you waiting for?


Amy Spencer Harff is a Youthtopia intern and Thomas J. Watson Fellow traveling the world to research the intersection of art and the environment. To find out more about her research follow @amyspencerart and visit www.amyspencerharff.com