Lehigh Students Help with Community Development in Indonesia

By Matthew Cossel '17

After 40 hours of travel, three Lehigh students arrive in Indonesia for their International Internship. They are only the second set of students to embark on this particular summer trip, which places students community development projects in rural Indonesia. 

The program is run by Stacy Burger of the International Affairs office and Alex Wiseman from the College of Education and is of no cost to the students. This past summer, two graduate students and one undergraduate were able to go on the trip.

In Indonesia, all universities have a community service requirement in their undergraduate curriculum and this program revolves around it. The partnership is with Univérsitas Gadja Mada in Yogyakarta and the Lehigh students live in a homestay in the remote village of Gulurejo with Indonesian university students working on such projects as wastewater management.

Wastewater management is an issue as the village of Gulurejo has a Batik, a type of dye used for clothing, industry that dumps a lot waste into their rivers and streams.

The students live in houses without running water and this year, they arrived right at the start of Ramadan. This caused an issue because the students could not start working on their projects until after Ramadan was finished as the area is 87 percent Muslim, Burger said. “It’s definitely an educational experience but also a social experience,” she said. 

Burger accompanied the students for the first two weeks of their trip to help them acclimate to their new environment. 

Netta Admoni, a graduate student in the College of Education, said that she and her host mother couldn’t communicate but that wasn’t an issue.

“She was really gracious to me,” she said. “We couldn’t talk to each other directly but we found other ways to communicate. We made it work in other ways.”

The students also had their own personal projects to work on. For instance, Gaby Vinson ’18 hoped to help children and adults learn more about hand washing and dental hygiene.

“The people working with me were able to find good instructional videos in their own language and they showed them to the kids,” Vinson said. “I also brought donations from home so we were able to supply the kids with toothbrushes, tooth paste and a lot of soap.”

She said that even some of the college students didn’t know how to use floss. “They were very excited and responded very well,” she said.

Angel Oi Yee Cheng, another graduate student in the College of Education, taught English as a second language.

“We taught them thematic English,” said Cheng. This included things like family and sports in order to be able to use the English they were learning in their daily lives, she said.

“I learned more than I contributed,” Cheng said. “I wish I could have contributed more.”

Both Vinson and Cheng said that the Indonesian students were very eager for cultural exchange while they were there. For Vinson, the cultural exchange was one of the most important parts of the experience.

“[The program] unveiled the mystery of Islam for me,” Angel said. “I bombarded them with questions,” but they were always happy to answer, she added.

In addition to all the work they did in Indonesia, the students were still able to take trips outside of the village where they were living.

“Lehigh was really awesome in setting up weekends for us,” Admoni said, “Every weekend, we took a trip to one of the tourist spots on Java.”

“It was cool because we were tourists but also lived there,” she said.

All three participants from this last summer highly recommend this program to anyone interested.

“It is the most beautiful experience to be able to travel all the way around the world and still make relationships with people,” Admoni said, “Despite the differences that we have, we have so many similarities and we can all connect with each other in such amazing ways.”

“Forming those relationships across the world was pretty amazing,” she said, “We were really immersed in the culture. It really was our home for two months.”

The program ran from June 20 until Aug. 21 this past summer. The International Internship application will open on Oct. 1 and has a deadline of Dec. 19.