Author Archives: ellenm2011

Trip update!

My apologies for the delay in updates during this fantastic study abroad experience I’m having.  I have a few excuses, mainly a bad case of a stomach virus/fatigue post-Indonesia.  So now I have put myself in the challenging position of sharing all of the amazing adventures I had during my last week in Yogyakarta into one long blog post.  So on Saturday June 11 we went to visit a Pesantren over night and for those who don’t know what a Pesantren is (like me prior to being on this trip), it is an Indonesian Islamic boarding school.  We stayed at the Pesantren Pabelan, a lovely place located about an hours’ drive from Jogja.  As we drove through the outskirts of Jogja the beauty of the Indonesian countryside struck me.  All of the lush vegetation and green rice fields that blanketed the landscape were truly breathtaking.  I loved all of the tropical trees as they reminded me of images that I had only seen in books or in movies.  I must admit that as we approached the Pesantren, I was nervous about what staying overnight at a boarding school would be like.

When I first arrived I inhaled deeply, letting the country air fill my lungs as my eyes scanned the Pesantren with anticipation.  We were led into a building that was set up in a rather formal manner complete with a large banner welcoming us to the school.  We first met with the principle and other important faculty and staff to have our first q/a and discussion about the Indonesian education system (in this context) and of the school itself.  One of the most interesting aspects of schooling in the Pesantren is that students attend classes seven days a week!  This certainly made me feel like a pansy for whining every Monday, year after year about having to go to school a whopping five days a week.  Another aspect of the Pesantren that struck me was how little many of the students will get to see their families throughout the year.  Though I suppose this wouldn’t be uncommon for all boarding schools.  To my knowledge, the testing system in Indonesia for primary education differs from the American system in that they have large nationwide test as opposed to the smaller, regional testing we have in the U.S (MEAP, IOWA test, etc…) Oh but now, I can’t wait to talk about my favorite part of our visit to the Pesantren…meeting with the STUDENTS!

So we met with approximately 20-30 students from the upper level grades so that they could practice their English and we could ask questions them questions about their school and anything else we could think of (that was easily to understand and/or translate) and vice versa.  So we asked them questions about what they like to for fun and those brave enough to respond told us that they enjoyed sports, music (Justin Beiber) and participating in girl/boy scouts.  As many high schoolers are at that age, quite a few students were shy but some asked us questions that were along similar lines to the types of questions we asked them.  Oh yes and I almost forgot to mention one of the ways that they punish students that misbehave.  If a student does something bad like skip classes or go off campus, they have to get their heads shaved.  The principal explained to us that this form of discipline acts as a way to bring down that oh so frustrating teenage sass/cockiness by way of touching on one of adolescence’s biggest fears…standing out.

Anyway, so after we talked with the students they were given time to hang out with us more informally.  And as soon as I got up from my chair, several giggling girls greeted me.  Sandra was especially eager to talk to me and one of the first things she said to me was that I was her “idol”.  Now if that doesn’t make your day then I don’t know what else would!  She and her friends were sooo sweet and she immediately took me by the arm and took me straight to her room.  Their smiles and laughter made me feel so giddy that I found myself just as happy to be with them as they were to be with me.  Sandra told me about her aspirations to be a singer, go to America, meet more Bule (foreigners), and oh yeah…how awesome she thought I was :P She even gave me this adorable bracelet with her name on it.  I will definitely keep it forevah!

Funny story about my lovely ladies at the Pesantren, they were all significantly older than I thought they were.  Okay so the entire time I’m in her pink Barbie, girly girl room I had this notion in my mind that I was chatting with kids’…twelve, thirteen year olds. NOT.  When I asked Sandra how old she was she told me that she was seventeen and one of her other friends was eighteen.  I couldn’t believe it at first, especially when I think of what my friends and I were like at those ages.  It really made me realize how differently culture and religion can shape one’s development.  And I can certainly say that I was nowhere near as giggly or smiley as those girls.  Nor would I have been all that enthusiastic about meeting college students from some foreign country.  I must admit that in seeing how they acted at seventeen and eighteen years old, it made me feel kind of like a rebel during my adolescence.  Anyway, after hanging out with them and watching Carrie play football with some of the boys we had dinner and then another discussion and q/a with some of the teachers from the school.  In the morning we got to witness part of their boy/girl scout ceremony, which was suuper cool, and I had wished that we could have stayed for all of it.  But we had to go so that we could visit Gereja Ganjuran (Church of Ganjuran).

The Church of Ganjuran is this amazing Catholic Church that was built by the Dutch in 1924.  The church was so beautiful and there was intricately carved Javanese style ceilings and a lovely open-air design.  I loved seeing how Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary were adapted to look like Javanese figures rather than the typical Western artistic interpretations of such important biblical figures.  We saw a few other religious institutions and I may be a bit out of order in talking about them so bare with me.

In Jogja we went to the Masjid Perak Kotagede, a mosque located in an area of Jogja where a lot of silver and silver jewelry is sold (fun fact).    We got a chance to talk with important people from the mosque to ask them questions about Islam and the mosque itself.  We got to observe the men’s’ afternoon prayer and I also got a chance to walk around the inside of the mosque.

We also got to visit  Seminari St. Paulus for a few hours.  The kind men at the seminary gave us a tour of the grounds and shared with us some very compelling stories about the tremendous ways that they helped those devastated by the 2010 eruption of Mount Merrapi.  They showed us a video that really gave me an idea of the shear destruction that the eruption caused.  The video also proved to me the goodness of human nature that shows in times of crisis.  They explained to us that after the eruption, they welcomed anyone and everyone with open arms to provide them with food, clothing, shelter and hope after such devastating events.

Selamat Pagi!

Good morning or for those few who are reading this blog from Michigan Selamat Malam! (Good evening) The expression “time flies when you’re having fun” is incredibly accurate.  I can’t believe that it’s Friday here in Yogyakarta already.

The past couple of days have been quite educational and I have really learned a lot.  On Wednesday  prof. Muhammad Najib Azca  gave a very interesting lecture about Islamic radicalism followed by a lecture on peace building and Islam given by prof. Titik Firawati .  The day’s lectures concluded with prof. Siti Mushah Mulia speaking with us about women’s role in promoting democracy and interfaith dialogue.  Yesterday we attended a seminar on democracy in the Middle East at the State Islamic University of Yogyakarta.  *A fact about this university I found interesting was that women are only required to wear hijab inside of the university but once outside, they can take them off.  Anyway, I’ll get back to the hijab later because I think that that’s a real point of interest for many Americans.

So yeah, after that we had a discussion with Nunuk P. Murniati and several other important people (including an ambassador from the U.S embassy in Jakarta Don Washington!)  The discussion was primarily about promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue in Indonesia/U.S as well as increasing U.S understanding and involvement with Indonesia.  One thing that I  have really taken from all of this is the importance of engaging in dialogue and getting to know people from different walks of life on a personal/human level.  I think that in the past decade there have been a lot of stigmas attached to Islam and negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.  I believe that all of things have led many Americans to assume A LOT about this DIVERSE religion and the people who practice it.  I will admit that prior to this trip I did not know any Muslims on a personal level and I too had stereotypes in my mind about Islam.  I must first say that it is a shame how much attention terrorism gets from the world media considering (when you really think about it) how infrequently it happens compared to other incidences that have caused mass deaths, especially by certain powerful nations out there *eh hem.  Also, people (including myself) often fail to realize how many different sects of Islam people practice, most having nothing to do with jihads or fatwas.

In some ways I think that the discussions we had after the lectures were just as if not more informational than the lectures themselves in some ways because I got to go directly to the source to ask questions about religion and culture.  It is great to talk openly and honestly with young Muslim men and women about issues where the media has typically done the talking for us.  Out of the 3 girls in the group 2 of them are hijabes (wear hijab).  All of them told us that they were given the choice whether to wear the hijab or not.  Binar doesn’t wear the hijab because she used to play basketball and found it uncomfortable.  Generally the girls told us that women who wear hijab are respected a bit more by men, in that men won’t sit as close to them or asked them out the way that they would with women who don’t wear them.  They were telling us that many women in cities and in more educated areas do recognize their full rights however, it is at the grassroots level that women are having more difficulty acknowledging and embracing these rights.  We also talked about the ways in which the U.S does not understand Islam and the stereotypes and stigmas now attached to Muslims (especially after 9/11).  We all agreed that engaging in dialogue is the best solution for us human beings to gain a better understanding of each other and our place in this crazy world.

On another note.  Went to a Gamelan rehearsal last night and LOVED IT.  I want to learn how to play Gamelan and I also wouldn’t mind doing more Javanese dance again.  I think I’ve basically decided that I WILL find a way to live in Indonesia after I graduate.  Plus everyone is telling me that Indonesian is a really easy language to learn (they only have present tense!).  I may actually finally live my dream of becoming fluent in another language.  Shout out to the University of Michigan for providing me with the opportunity to learn Indonesian next year!

And so it begins…

Hello friends,

Our program officially started yesterday with a rather formal meeting session with faculty from Gadjah Mada.  It was really cool to realize that we are some of the first students to participate in a program like this and to have such an awesome cultural exchange between the United States and Indonesia.  I never would have thought a year ago that I’d be in Indonesia learning about religious plurality, democracy, and multiculturalism with 4 absolutely wonderful Indonesian students.  After the opening ceremony, the students were asked to meet separately to discuss some cultural do’s and don’ts to share with one another.  Some of the funny things us Amuuricans thought of were: Don’t talk to strangers i.e stranger danger, If someone asked you how you’re doing assume that they don’t really  want to know, best go to subject for small talk=the weather, and if some one is particularly fat or ugly or etc…keep it to yourself.

Because our director had lived in Indonesia for 3 years, she was able to give us a pretty comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts already.  Therefore, the Indonesian students decided to give us a list of the top 10 things to do in Yogyakarta.  And I’m happy to say that we are planning on doing quite a few of the things on their list.  I really want to check out the beaches here, I’ve heard some of the beaches have black sand because of the volcanos.  I’ve always wanted to see a black sand beach…sounds luxurious :)

Then we had an absolutely delicious lunch.  Wait. That reminds me that I need to go off on a brief tangent about Indonesian food.  First of all, Indonesian food is in one word…FANTASTIC.  I seriously love it.  The food kind of reminds me of Thai food the most and I truly haven’t had a meal that I didn’t like.  It’s funny because Heru was telling me that he was really worried that the American students wouldn’t like Indonesian food and I was like “are you joking!? What’s not to like?”  I’m going to have to learn how to cook some of this food myself because there isn’t an Indonesian restaraunt in Ann Arbor :(  I <3 Nasi Goreng, Nasi Goreng Abon, ox-tail stew, Gado Gado, and a bunch of other things that I can’t recall the names of. I’m going to have to buy 2 seats for the plane ride back because I am smaAashing like everyday.

Anyway, back to the day’s events.  So after lunch we heard a lecture given by prof. Zainal Abidin Bagir on religious plurality and democracy in Indonesia.  It is really fascinating how important religion is in this country.  You are actually required to be apart of one of the 6 recognized world religions (at least on paper that is).  And I was really interested in how the country has changed as a result of their government and the increased freedom of speech that this democracy has granted people.  The lecture taught me that freedom isn’t always perfect and can have mixed consequences i.e the rise in problems with Islamic extremist groups like FPI, HTI, and MMI after the fall of Soeharto (post 1998).

I’m really learning a lot and the learning only continued when we went to visit the organization Interfidei. Interfidei explores inter-faith issues and works to provide a deeper understanding and acceptance of other religions.  One of the women working there, named Anggi had all of us mesmerized when she shared with us her own religious struggles being the child of an inter-faith marriage.  In the end she inspired us when she told us that she feels that all religions deep down are about love and should be about love.  I wish I could remember what she said word for word but I took her email so I hope I can talk to her some more.  Well, I need to get dressed and get ready to eat breakfast!  Another fierce day waits me in Indonesia. G2G Good Bye Everybody,  Sampai Jumpa Semuamya!

My First full day in Yogyakarta

Yesterday we got to meet the Indonesian students who will also be participating in the program with us.  We went outside to play a little “get to know you” icebreaker game.   The game entailed that we share some basic info about ourselves (name, year in school, hobbies, favorite bands, etc…) and later we were presented with a picture of another person and had to recall what each other said when presented.  I knew immediately that this would prove to be a bit of challenge for me since I don’t have an impeccable memory but thankfully I didn’t embarrass myself too terribly and overall the game was a good way to learn a bit more about the people I will be spending the next month with.

After the icebreaker we were given envelopes containing a picture of a specific animal while the Indonesian students were given envelopes with the names of the animals.  Our job was, based on the picture we were given, to make the sound of the animal in our envelope which then matched us and determined our roommates for the next two weeks.  My animal was a cat and I was paired with Binar! Binar is in her senior year of college at Gadjah Mada and is studying international relations.

Once we got paired with our new roommates we were given yet another envelope but this time it contained a picture of a place in Yogyakarta.  We  were given 30,000 rupiah and with our Indonesian partners, we had to go the location in our pictures and then report to the rest of the group later on.  The goal was, based on our presentation, to make the other groups envy us.  Indra (one of the program coordinators) told us that the group that had the best presentation as well as the first group to arrive would win some kind of reward.   Well…I’ll have you know that me and Binar had an amazing location, we got to go to Gambira Loka Zoo!  At first  when she told me that we were going to a zoo I was a bit worried that the standards to which the animals were kept would not be up to par the zoos with the United States.  And I was worried that the animal lover in me would be disturbed and uncomfortable with the way the animals were being cared for, however, Gambira Loka was quite lovely!

First we went into the Laboratorium Pendidkan Alam which was basically like a little museum that had information about Indonesian plants, insects, crustaceans, and other little critters.  After that we walked around the park and I couldnt believe how beautiful it was.  There were gorgeous tropical plants everywhere and lovely streams and canals to gawk at.  Then we came to the zoo area with all of these amazing animals.  One of the first animals we saw were elephants and it was suuper cool because they were trumpeting and running around and splashing in the water…I love elephants. We also got to see tigers, orangatans, monkeys, crops, tapirs, hippos, kangaroos, ahh the list goes on.  We took tons of pictures and videos from Gambira Loka so I am making good use of my camera already!

It was a bit unfortunate because due to lack of a USB cord, I was unable to upload the pics and videos for our presentation.  However, when it came time for us to present our powerpoint, our enthusiasm as well as the good quality of my little camera allowed everyone to get a pretty good idea of the magic that was Gambira Loka and in the end…we won!  Now what we won was the chance to take everyone else in our group to Gambira Loka on Thursday.  I’m excited because I want to ride an elephant and a camel since I couldn’t do it yesterday because I was wearing a skirt.  So basically me and Binar rocked the scavenger hunt yesterday!

After that the Indonesian students took us to dinner at this fantastic restaurant The House of Raminten.  I had the nasi goreng abon which is Indonesian style fried rice topped with sweet seasoned beef….DELICIOUS.  I seriously love Indonesian food and I wish that someone would open an Indonesian restaurant in Ann Arbor!  Today we are going to have the opening ceremony of our program and will also be going to a lecture of some sort.  I will update later.  So in conclusion Indonesia is pretty darn cool and so is Binar! I’m looking forward to what’s in store for us over the next 2 weeks :)

Hellooo Yogyakarta!

A bit about me first,

My name is Ellen and I am going into my senior year at the University of Michigan.  I am currently embarking on a great adventure as part of a study abroad trip in Yogykarta Indonesia this summer. I will be keeping this blog in order to fill those interested in on all of my adventures in this amazing city!

Well, after about 24 hours of traveling and darting through airports, passing through numerous security checks, and devouring meal after meal of airplane food I am now in Yogyakarta.  When we first arrived I was instantly taken by the humid heat and the buzz of countless  motorbikes crowding the streets.  As I watched them darting in and out of lanes of traffic (which are now on opposite sides of the road) I realized that I was not in Kansas, rather, Ann Arbor anymore.  Arriving at my new home for the next 2 weeks was exciting and I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely and open the house is. My room is a nice size and though the mattress is much firmer than I’m used to it has actually been quite comfortable.