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 ❤ 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!

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