An education in Spontaneity January 19, 2024

By (Brandeis University) - abroad from 09/02/2023 to 12/18/2023 with

SIT Study Abroad: Indonesia - Arts, Religion, and Social Change

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
It's hard to put into words what I gained. I could list practical skills, like experience in the field conducting research, language fluency, and cultural knowledge and familiarity, but the most important thing I gained was connections with people and places. This includes not just the Indonesians I met on the program, but my groupmates as well, who were consistently wonderful and supportive throughout the whole experience. From my interactions with people and the relationships I developed with the communities I lived in, I came away with an appreciation of what makes them special. It's a cliche, but these experiences actually broadened my perspective; they also shattered many of the assumptions I carried with me about Indonesia and Indonesians. I can think of nothing in my life that I've done that was more worthwhile.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I had an amazingly rewarding time with SIT. For someone looking for am alternative to the wearying grind of successive college semesters, SIT offers something totally different: an opportunity for experiential learning with an emphasis on organic interactions with locals and supplemented by formal seminars/lectures on culture, religion, history, and other topics. Studying bahasa Indonesia was so much fun because I felt so well-supported along the way. I'm still in frequent communication with many people I met in Indonesia, and I'm able to have real conversations with them in bahasa Indonesia thanks to SIT.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The program center was lovely and accommodating. This counts for a lot, because it represents a familiar place in an environment that for many students will seem very foreign upon their arrival.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Apart from the heat, which is par for the course in Indonesia, I was so impressed by how comfortable students' living arrangements were. Everything essential was provided for.

* Food:

If you don't like rice-based cuisine, prepare yourself: a lot of rice is headed your way! For what Indonesian food lacks in variety, it usually makes up for in taste. Be careful, though, street food has been known to cause some gastrointestinal issues for students.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

This was the highlight of the program. There is no experience like entering into a community for the first time and immediately feeling welcomed into it. People sought out conversations to me, invited me to events, and sincerely wanted to get to know me, and not just because I was a foreigner, either. I woke up every day eagerly anticipating my next conversation with a student friend, a homestay parent, or even some random person I met on the street. For anyone willing to seek out spontaneous experience and put themselves out there, I guarantee you will feel a genuine connection to your local community.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Students on the program encountered challenges with both mental and physical health. In terms of physical health, the most prevalent concern is the environment of unfamiliar bacteria; prepare by taking probiotic supplements, and be sure to pack some anti-diarrheals. For anyone dealing with long-term mental health concerns, the independent study project baked into the program might present a significant challenge. Be aware that for four weeks, you will have to operate by yourself, in a foreign country, with minimal support from program staff. These circumstances are not for everyone, and some of my groupmates did not thrive under them.

* Safety:

I almost never feared for my safety: the main thing to watch out for is the traffic: it's heavy on motorbikes, and crossing wide avenues often requires some gumption!

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No

I loved the program, but I would want to explore other parts of Indonesia. Bali is incredibly interesting (when you escape the tourist economy) but there's so much more to discover of Indonesia outside it's singular Hindu-majority island.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

One of the advantages of living in Southeast Asia is that most everything is far cheaper than it is in the U.S. I lived for a month in one of the most expensive cities in Indonesia (Yogyakarta) on less than $300. (I know it sounds crazy, but it's true.) Many of my Indonesian friends pay two thirds or even half that much for food and housing.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? On average, something like $10-$15. It depends on what and where you want to eat and whether you are interested in buying expensive clothing or jewelry items.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Eat at local restaurants. They are really tasty, and far cheaper than places that cater to foreign clientele.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Before I left, I participated in an eight-week intensive language course run by SEASSI (Southeast Asian Studies Institute) at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Get out there and talk to people. One of the barrier to that is feeling self-conscious; you will feel sometimes when you are practicing that you are wasting people's time by stumbling through the language. Ignore that feeling: constantly trying and constantly making mistakes is the best way to get better. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself: I've made many friends in part because of how funny I sounded trying to speak the language!

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Hotel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The people (groupmates, locals, program staff)
  • The culture
  • The freedom (opportunities to explore, make mistakes, and seek out experiences without feeling constrained or limited by the rules and regulations of the program
* What could be improved?
  • Fuller preparation for the challenges of the independent study project.
  • More time; it often felt like our schedule was too crowded for proper reflection
  • Clearer planning ahead; I sometimes felt like I was coming into each day without a strong sense of what was going to happen that day (which is both exciting and somewhat disorienting)
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? That I can do this. That I'm capable of overcoming the program's challenges and accessing a version of myself that I can be proud about. It's not too hard and it doesn't ask too much; adverse circumstances present opportunities to grow and change, not retreat to old habits.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Independent Study Project

Course Department: N/A
Instructor: Ni Wayan Ariati
Instruction Language: English/Bahasa Indonesia
Comments: The independent study project is the highlight of the SIT experience. Students have four weeks during which to conduct research on a huge array of topics more or less ANYWHERE in Indonesia. Each student receives a stipend from SIT, but will be in charge of his own housing arrangements, meal planning, etc. There is very little hand-holding from the program staff. They trust you to make use of your time, wherever you are, and to engage deeply with whatever topic you're researching. Traditionally, SIT students perform some sort of field work during this period, and many choose to conduct interviews with a mix of locals and experts on whatever topic they're interested in. After the resesarch period, students are expected to produce a piece of writing that draws on their experience, but this does not have to be a formal research paper! One of my classmates submitted a series of profiles on people he'd met in his travels, supplemented by photographs. Another explored yoga practice in Bali through both academic and spiritual lenses. This project has the potential to be incredibly fun, stimulating, and rewarding. In the thick of it, I was busier than I've ever been, but I also felt that I was filling every second of my day with something interesting and worthwhile. I don't think that's something the average U.S. college student can say, but it's absolutely possible with the right combination of attitude and circumstance on an SIT program. However, be forewarned: the ISP is not for everyone. You should be aware that it will involve being on your own in a foreign environment for a long period of time, which can be challenging from a mental health perspective. The program staff will advise you, but it's up to you to choose a project and a location that you feel prepared to tackle. Choose well, and I can think of no better way to get a taste of what conducting field work is really like for academics, anthropologists and other professionals who spend their lives engaged in this pursuit. It was rewarding, informative, and most of all, a ton of fun for me and for the friends I made along the way.
Credit Transfer Issues: