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Indonesia 2012

Group of IPS students walking on a street in Indonesia
Photo Credit: Lukas Friedemann

2012 Global Study Trip Report, Indonesia

How much time do you consider adequate to get to know a place you have never traveled to before, a culture you are not familiar with, people you have never seen before in your life?  I presumed it was going to be extremely difficult to experience and understand Indonesia.  The ten-day deep dive into Indonesian culture, politics, and economy proved me wrong.  Never would I have imagined being able to, as our faculty leader FSI Senior Fellow Don Emmerson put it, “let go of that bubble around you and just let yourself get sucked into a full cultural immersion.”  – Lukas Friedemann

Our first-year IPS class formed small groups to travel to and study specific policy issues in regions throughout Indonesia.  Subsequently we converged in Jakarta for three days of intense meetings with high-level Indonesian officials, including the Ministers of Trade, Economy, and Foreign Affairs.  Thus, our study trip provided a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of policy making as well as perspective into the day-to-day challenges faced by citizens, provincial leaders, and central decision-makers alike.  By connecting us with Indonesians across a geographic and societal spectrum, we were exposed to a myriad of opinions on governance, public order, and development.  In the end, contact with grassroots actors combined with top-level ministerial meetings to present us with a comprehensive introduction to contemporary issues in the world’s fourth most populous country.  – Robert Byla

Our group trips throughout Indonesia

Pati, Central Java

Driving in rural Indonesia reinforced just how far the country has come in the last decade and how far it has to go.  Pollution control is lacking, motor scooters outnumber cars by at least thirty-to-one, construction is everywhere, and traffic is horrendous.  The “rules of the road” wash away as you are confronted with a helter-skelter rush of humanity. Vehicles race along squalid concrete highways while scooters weave in and out perilously.  Ordered chaos best describes the environment.  Despite all this, Indonesia is moving; the populace is mobile.  There is the unmistakable sense of a nation catching up with itself as it hurtles headlong into the 21st Century.  – Nicholas Pataki

Pati was extremely rural and off the beaten path.  We spent two nights in a Muslim boarding school.  I was sometimes separated from classmates Nick Pataki and Ryan Triolo for gender purposes, which was an eye-opening experience!  I take for granted that I’m treated as an equal (though foreign policy and security studies in particular can be quite a boys’ club), and I’ve had only a few experiences of being segregated from men.  It was frustrating to be excluded from a couple of meetings, though our hosts were generous and welcoming and wanted me to feel comfortable.  I learned a huge amount about Muslim culture, to which I have had very little personal exposure.  The cultural exchange that was provided by our group trip was truly amazing.  – Devorah West

Makassar, South Sulawesi

During our visit to the boys’ school, I met with one English class.  Students asked us about everything, including American culture, our views on Islam and nuclear warfare, and our favorite Indonesian foods.  When I asked the boys what their hobbies were, one student said he liked to sing.  He quickly agreed to sing a traditional Indonesian song for me.  To my confusion, however, a third of the students then got up and ran out of the classroom.  Five minutes later, they all returned with a guitar and twenty-five more boys.  At least sixty of us were crammed into this small hot classroom, with more students craning their necks in the doorway.  The boy started playing his guitar and sang a really beautiful folk song.  Within a minute, the rest of the boys were singing along and clapping and dancing.  They were so excited to translate what they were singing because they wanted me to understand a part of their culture.  – Priscilla Choi


Our mission in Borneo was to study the work of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnership (KFCP), a project conceived and funded by the governments of Indonesia and Australia to tackle climate change through reduced emissions from forest degradation.  In order to provide us with a comprehensive view of the KFCP, our hosts took us deep into the Borneo wetlands for a three-day tour of the project’s operations. There we met with village leaders who played a key role in closing the small channels called tatas that were key to the disruption of illegal logging activity.  – Robert Byla


Subang is a really undeveloped rural area.  Even electricity is not fully supplied to the local people.  And most of the locals are dependent on rice farming with monthly incomes below $400.  In our three days here, we learned how the NGO IBEKA established a sustainable business model for rural electrification under budget constraints and poor infrastructure.  Even more impressive, the project encourages the participation of local people and directs profits to the community in the form of micro-loans or scholarships.  – Spencer Kim

Batam, Northern Indonesia

In the 1970s, Pulau Batam underwent a major transformation from a largely forested area into a major harbor and industrial zone.  In June 2006, Batam became part of a Special Economic Zone with Singapore.  Given my concentration in International Political Economy and my particular interest in international trade, I looked forward to learning about the impacts of the free economic zone on the region and on the rights, labor conditions, economic opportunities, and culture of the local people.  – Pinar Karakaya

We were greeted with great joy and excitement at the teaching center, located right in the middle of one of Batam’s largest industrial parks, Batamindo.  At the dormitories we spoke with factory workers (with the help of some unexpectedly advanced English students), and were able to get a pretty good picture of what it meant to work in Batamindo.  Most of the factory workers, predominantly women aged sixteen to twenty, seemed to appreciate the opportunity to work in a factory that paid enough to cover living expenses but allowed most of them to send home remittances or save money for their future education.  Within hours of our arrival, we had already overcome some cultural barriers and eagerly exchanged information about our own and our new friends’ lives.  – Lukas Friedemann

Our high-level meetings in Jakarta

Accompanied by Professor Don Emmerson, the second part of the trip complemented our initial grassroots experience with meetings with high-level government officials, political leaders, and members of the business community, offering us a macro-level perspective on issues affecting Indonesia’s current development.  Former president B.J. Habibie, a decisive figure in the country’s democratization process, kindly received us in his residence.  We learned about efforts to fight rampant corruption, initiatives to develop the country’s creative economy, as well as Indonesia’s international role and its desire to be part of the BRICS leading emerging democracies.  – Nuria Moya Guzman

The meeting that had the most lasting impact on me was that with the Indonesian foreign minister, Dr. Marty Natalegawa.  After Professor Emmerson and I asked questions about his involvement in international human rights issues, he clearly and logically explained why, in order to promote human rights, he has had to vote against many of the resolutions that have come before the UN Human Rights Council.  It was helpful for me to hear someone explain his taking actions so contrary to the ones I would recommend.  If I am going to work in policy one day, it will be important for me to understand the logic that governs those who ascribe to different belief systems about how the international community should work.  – Micaela Hellman-Tincher

For me, the highlight of this trip was meeting potential president candidates Gita Wirjawan, the trade minister, and Anies Baswedan, a social entrepreneur and the founder of Paramadina University.  Though they approach the same goal in different ways, they attract and lead young talent toward realizing Indonesia’s promising future.  – Spencer Kim

I appreciated learning about some of Indonesia’s creative approaches to development.  Particularly memorable were meetings with social entrepreneurs, such as Anies Baswedan, who founded Teach for Indonesia, and Tri Mumpuni, founder of IBEKA, which uses a unique financing model for micro-hydro plants.  – Puja Deverakonda

In conclusion…
As the fourth most populous country in the world and the largest Muslim majority country, Indonesia is a very important part of the international system, and as students of international policy, it is important for us to be familiar with Indonesia.  Gaining this familiarity was one of the most valuable benefits of this trip.  – Ryan Triolo