Following a hiatus of nearly 20 years, the Indonesia Study Service Term is beginning again, with the first unit taking off in the spring of 2019. The group will be led by Brenda and Jodi Srof. This SST location will occur every third year, like Tanzania and China.The last time Goshen College sent a group of students to Indonesia was in the spring of 2001. The college left the country following a travel warning placed by the U.S. government in the wake of terrorist activity, which has long since been lifted. In its place the college established the Cambodia SST, which last ran in the spring of 2016.
Tom Meyers, director of international education, said “The Cambodia SST location was great. We are not closing the door indefinitely to having a program there.” However, due to political unrest surrounding the country’s upcoming presidential election, among other things, the college has decided to shift their focus in Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
With a population of about 261 million people, Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world. It is a mountainous and tropical nation comprised of over 17,000 islands stretched across an archipelago that covers more than 3,000 miles. The country plays a vital role in the South Pacific region, and has long been an important site for trade and commerce. Indonesia is home to 360 ethnic groups and over 700 languages, making it a unique cultural hub. It also boasts the largest Islamic population of any country in the world.
Despite being a large population center, Indonesia is still a developing nation. About 38% of the population works in agriculture, as the nation relies heavily on commodities, namely rice, as with many Asian countries.
Students embarking on the Indonesia SST will spend the study portion of the program in the city of Yogyakarta, a city of just under 400,000 on the island of Java. More specifically, the students will study on the campus of Duca Wacana Christian University. Meyers, who visited the country in October, states that he was very well received by the university. “They are eager to have us return to Indonesia,” said Meyers. Service assignments and locations will be worked out in the future.
Meyers points to the efforts of Duca Wacana Christian University to bring ethnic and religious groups together in one place as being something that will be of great value to students participating in this SST. “This is a wonderful site for interreligious dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Christians,” said Meyers, “Students will have opportunity to participate in this conversation.”
Katja Norton, a first year, spent a gap year abroad in Indonesia following high school. She is planning on returning to the country through the SST program. Norton says that the rich culture of Indonesia is one of a kind, and will be of great value to Goshen students. She points to the people, stating that they will both humble you and make you feel more than welcome.
“Always be prepared to chat with someone. Even if you tend to repeat the same things, people will love to talk to you,” Norton said. “All of the people there are so kind and ready to help.”
Norton also named food as being a highlight and staple of Indonesian culture. Traditional cuisine blends tropical influences with Asian classics. Food is central to Indonesian culture, and many social events are centered around meals. Norton explains that many foods, especially ones sold by street vendors, are fried. She states that even when you have no idea what it is or when it looks interesting, it’s always important to give it a try, because it is so integral to the culture and almost always good.
Sophomore Jace Longenecker is most excited about the opportunity to establish connections in another region of the world. “It’s going to be an awesome trip,” said Longenecker. “The Mennonite World Conference is going to be in Indonesia in 2021, so I think SST will be a great opportunity for me to establish connections there, and then possibly have the ability to return.”
“I encourage all people who are going to have an open mind about everything. It’s a place where most likely you will be the one being impacted, not you impacting them. They will love you no matter what, but you need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone,” said Norton.
“It’s a place that will never leave your heart.”