Reflections: Doing Joint Research in Indonesia

Guest post by Sarah Eggert, University of Hawaii at Manoa Master’s program in Urban and Regional Planning 

As I’m writing this, I’m 36,000 feet directly above the Philippines, flying away from Indonesia and the wonderful people I came across during the 2016 Practicum visit to Semarang. Although I have traveled to many places, I had never been to southeast Asia before arriving in Indonesia; besides the many history books and articles I had read, or Indonesian friends in Hawai’i I had talked with before leaving, there was nothing that could have prepared me for the beautiful mixture of traditional and modern that is Indonesia. The warm welcome we received and the incredible hospitality shown to our group from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UH) throughout our stay will be engraved in my memory for a long time.

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From the first day arriving at Diponegoro University (UNDIP) in Semarang, the group of students from UH- not only from the United States, but Nepal and Norway as well- were treated as we had already been there for a long time. There was certainly some shyness  at our opening session, but that soon dissolved as we began discussing our common research interest of Kemijen, and making discoveries about other shared interests such as music and food as well. The camaraderie and collaborative spirit deepened between the UH and UNDIP students as time passed and we spent almost every waking hour together. The UNDIP students sacrificed a lot to be present at all our planned activities, as a few students had children or significant others, and some of the students had to drive their mopeds home (sometimes in the rain!) after long days in the studio.

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Although hot coffee, tamarind candy, and other local treats certainly helped fuel students to make it through such long days in the studio and in the “field,” most of the motivation came from wanting to better understand Kemijen and the root of the flooding issues facing the community. We put in long hours listening, reading, and discussing in an attempt to look at Kemijen through a systems approach and avoid silo-thinking or quick judgments.

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Although our time in Semarang has come to a close and we will soon be landing in Tokyo and shortly after Honolulu, there is still a lot of work that remains to be done. The collaboration between UNDIP and UH will continue until at least the end of the semester, resulting in an action plan that will hopefully be informative to the community of Kemijen as well as the various actors working in the area. While the official end date of the partnership is this December, hopefully future students will continue to benefit from the wonderful relationship that was established this semester. Future joint studios (perhaps in Hawaii?) will only allow for better cross-cultural learning and increased capacity to analyze complex planning issues. This is a great learning model — multicultural settings to conduct action research on pressing issues.

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I personally have benefited both professionally and personally from this introductory trip to southeast Asia. Our two weeks in Indonesia opened up a new world. Working with the UNDIP students was humbling and tiring of course, but it was mostly rewarding and fun! We were extremely lucky to be part of this unforgettable and unparalleled learning experience.

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