Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Inside the Indonesia pilot program

Students from Lehigh, the University of Michigan and Indonesia learned from each other during their travels.

Jack Lule, director of the Globalization and Social Change Initiative and the Joseph B. McFadden Distinguished Professor of Journalism, and Lehigh students Anne Marie Kerchberger ’13 and Fulvia Vargas ’13 reflect on their groundbreaking trip to Indonesia.

Jack Lule: Non-stop learning

On a dusty lot, in an Islamic boarding school, in the heart of Indonesia, close to 100 Muslim boys and girls gathered to watch the spectacle: A 5’10” American college student, in T-shirt, shorts, and head scarf, raced up and down the lot, playing soccer—futbol—with the Indonesian boys.

Those moments, and so many others, are etched in my memory and my Macbook. I was privileged to be the Lehigh faculty member who accompanied two Lehigh students and two University of Michigan students on a small pilot program designed to increase student exchange between the United States and Indonesia. The four American students were paired, one on one, with four Indonesian students. I lived with them. The learning, for all of us, was non-stop.

We knew the program would be important politically and pedagogically. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. And, unlike many Islamic countries, Indonesia is a healthy democracy that seeks better relations with the United States.

Professors Rick Matthews, Lloyd Steffen and I helped construct a curricular theme that cut right to the heart of the matter: democracy and religious pluralism. In both countries, we visited mosques, temples, churches, and seminaries. We visited an ancient Buddhist temple in Indonesia and the Holocaust Museum in the United States.

We accomplished everything we could imagine academically. What I was unprepared for were the personal relationships I established with the Indonesian students, faculty, administrators and the peoples of the cities, towns and boarding schools. To this program, I must say terima kasih – thank you.

Anne Marie Kerchberger ’13: Leaving my comfort zone

Over my past two years at Lehigh, international relations, global studies, and interfaith dialogue have become three defining topics of my Lehigh education. 

I am from the Midwest and attended a fairly large, homogeneous high school.  I have realized the importance of challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone into a place, situation, or discussion that will drive me to re-evaluate how I view the world and offer me a different perspective on the world. 

Through Lehigh I had already attended programs in Italy and Israel.  The United States Indonesia Partnership Program (USIPP) was the most challenging and rewarding program I could have imagined.  I had the pleasure and honor of living with, traveling among, studying with, and learning from severn other students, four of whom were Indonesian.  During the time the group spent together in Indonesia and in the United States, we were able to foster relationships that allowed us break past our preconceived notions and incorrect stereotypes to reach mutual understanding and respect for new viewpoints.

It was invaluable to experience and understand Indonesian culture, political thought, and interfaith dialogue through the eyes of our Indonesian friends.  Being able to share my American culture, political ideologies, and religious beliefs with the Indonesian students helped me examine not only what I believe in, but why I believe in it. 

Finally, this program showed me that the best path to the future is through open and honest dialogue that is more than just speaking and discussing differences, but experiencing and understanding them through active participation and engagement.  I will be forever grateful for to the USIPP for providing this life-changing experience. 

Fulvia Vargas ’13: Learning more about my beliefs and myself

Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” As I made my way to Indonesia I was fully prepared for the culture shock that comes with visiting a new country, but nothing could have prepared me for the knowledge I walked away with and the friends I made along the way.

Being a part of the United States Indonesia Partnership Program (USIPP) with seven other intelligent and driven individuals made me learn more about my beliefs and myself.

One of the first group discussions started with one of the students saying, “What do Americans think of Muslims?” It was a straightforward and intimidating question to answer, but that is exactly what we were there to do, to break barriers, to break down stereotypes and truly be able to appreciate the richness and value of another cultures and religions.

It was these along with many other questions between both the American and Indonesian students that allowed us to further explore the topic of religion, democracy and multiculturalism. Although these were subjects that could easily be taught in a classroom setting, it was the ability to have these conversations with eight different individuals that made the experience educational and worthwhile. 

I can never express my gratitude enough for the value of this trip and how much it changed my perspective about the world. If a one-month trip was able to change the lives of eight individuals, I can only imagine the success of this program in the future. To those who made this possible and gave me the opportunity to be a part of such an extraordinary program, terima kasih—thank you.

For more on the United States Indonesia Pilot Program, visit Lehigh on Location.


Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2011

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