J-term trip to Indonesia a life-changing experience for URI students

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Two-week course examined water, public health in growing country

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 5, 2014 – A dozen University of Rhode Island students traveled to Indonesia during J-Term last month to study problems related to water and public health and examine sustainable technologies that may enable people in developing countries to escape poverty.

Led by URI Geosciences Professors Thomas Boving and Anne Veeger, the students spent 14 days immersed in the daily life of rural and urban Indonesians, observing what Boving called “the dirty underbelly and the glitzy side” of the country. The three-credit course included collaborations with Indonesian university students on investigations into sustainable solutions and technologies for providing safe and reliable drinking water to all regions of the country.

The students visited wind farms, a rainwater harvesting project, a solar-powered water pumping facility, and a volcanic region where new agricultural practices are being tested. They also met with United States Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake.

For many of the URI students, it was a life-changing experience.

“The trip has changed my character as a human being forever,” said Stamati Tsatsaronis, a political science major from Ramsey, N.J. “It completely put everything in perspective for how I see the world, and I will always be in debt to the people of Indonesia for what they’ve taught me. This trip forced me to jump out of my comfort zone and learn about things I never knew were there.”

“I absolutely fell in love with Indonesia as a result of this trip,” said Duncan Stiller, a senior from Seattle studying global and environmental health. “The people are so kind, the food is unbelievably good, and the physical country itself is beautiful. Without question, I would go back.”

Between classroom exercises, language lessons, field trips, readings and report writing, the URI students seemed most taken by their interactions with local residents and their culture.

“Indonesian people as a whole are some of the friendliest I have ever been around,” said Victoria Caccamo, a sophomore geology and oceanography major from New Hyde Park, N.Y. “I can only imagine how strange it must have been for them to see a large group of funky dressed Americans walking around the more private areas of their inhabitance. They didn’t glare at us — just warm smiles from children, adults and especially elders.”

“From this trip I’ll carry with me the importance of cultural sensitivity,” Stiller added. “The culture of Indonesia, while very diverse, is very different from ours. I believe it is absolutely essential to recognize and respect any differences.”

One university the students visited requires that all students spend two months working on a community service project, and many choose to work on projects designed to improve access to drinking water in rural areas. As a result of a new partnership between the University of Rhode Island and Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, URI students will have the opportunity to work on select Indonesian community service projects beginning next summer.

“One of the most important things I took from this trip is that solutions to the biggest of world problems are possible,” said Caccamo. “And I now know that I want to travel more for school and work in order to help contribute to helping people in countries like Indonesia live better lives.”

The trip came about as a result of a visit to Indonesia last year by Boving and a delegation of URI administrators seeking to explore opportunities for student and faculty exchanges. Partnerships were established with three Indonesian universities, and an agreement was signed to enroll staff from the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries in graduate coursework at URI beginning next fall. The partnerships are another step toward achieving URI President David M. Dooley’s global vision for the University.

Boving said the J-term trip to Indonesia will likely be repeated in 2015. Interested URI alumni are welcome to enroll in the class.

Pictured above

Students from URI and Indonesian universities visit a solar-powered water pumping facility in rural Indonesia last month. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Boving).