Editor’s note: For a first-hand account of the U.S.-Indonesian student exchange written by Angela Farren ’13, click here.
Four undergraduate students recently took part in an educational and cultural exchange program with students from Indonesia that was sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States State Department. The U.S.–Indonesia Partnership Program (USIPP) aims to promote greater understanding between the American and Indonesian higher education systems.
This is the second straight year Lehigh has participated in the program. Also taking part were the University of Michigan and students and faculty members from the University of Indonesia (UI) and Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta.
Indonesia, an archipelago island nation located in Southeast Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans, is the world’s fourth most-populous nation and has the world’s largest Muslim population. It is also home to smaller numbers of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and members of other religions.
The exchange program was facilitated by Lehigh’s office of international affairs. Three faculty members—Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religion studies; Jack Lule, professor of journal and communications; and Rick Matthews, professor of political science—developed a curriculum whose theme was religious pluralism and democracy.
No longer strangers
The Lehigh students traveled to UGM, where they met their Indonesian counterparts. For two weeks, the group traveled in Indonesia attending several seminars on Indonesian religious policies, politics and culture.
“The trip to Indonesia was great fun but it did come with its own challenges,” said Theresa Mejia ’14. “The weather was very hot, and they used wet bathrooms, which was an adjustment. We learned a lot about religious pluralism and democracy and their emphasis on family and the collective, which is very different from the focus on the individual in America.”
After touring Indonesia, the group flew to the U.S., where for two weeks the Americans hosted the Indonesian students and helping them acclimate to American culture.
The group traveled to Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., and visited national monuments such as Independence Hall, the World Trade Center Memorial and the Smithsonian Institute, as well as the Indonesian Embassy.
In the Lehigh Valley the group attended seminars on American politics, culture and religion. Topics included Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism and American political history. The group also visited the Amish country of Lancaster, Pa.
The students and faculty said some of the most interesting lessons were learned first-hand through everyday interactions.
“When we first came we thought it would be hard to mingle with everybody,” said Cindhi Cintokowati of the University of Indonesia. “But over time we realized that most people are very nice and they greet us even though we are strangers. From my perspective Americans don’t seem that individualistic.”
“Sometimes we all felt like we had to tiptoe around each other so we didn’t offend or intrude, but that’s what this is all about, learning about each other,” said Mejia.
Photos by Jennifer Topp