Climax of the Semester: A Field Study and the Benefit of Breaks

My primary reason for applying to a SIT program was the promise that I would have the opportunity to conduct a field study for my Independent Study Project (ISP). While the SIT Indonesia program also offered opportunity to pursue other major projects, I stuck fast to my original want. I had never conducted a field study before and likely never will at Whitman because my major and my own interests simply do not support doing a field study.

I and the other students were allotted a month to conduct our projects, and during that month I learned more than I could have ever prepared for. In all honesty I entered this project fairly confident in my abilities. With my skills in English writing and reading, as well as my lack of nerves, I felt endowed to tackle the research and the writing periods. For the most part, in hindsight, my skills did not fail me. What I did not expect were the difficulties with time management.

My Apartment in Jakarta

A month is not very long. On paper, us students are allotted perhaps three to four weeks to conduct research, then the last week is spent writing the paper draft. I have always known myself to take a long time to both write and research, so I planned to begin writing half a week in advance and to have finished all of my external source research beforehand. Yet, the amount of evidence that I amassed and the time that it took to both outline and draft far overshot a month’s limit. Perhaps what truly trapped me was the endless number of external sources to examine. Technically I could have started that research before I even embarked upon my ISP and perhaps still wouldn’t have exhausted my research.

And I should have begun research much earlier. It would have saved me much time, energy, and sanity. Due to my lack of proactivity, for the last two weeks I spent hunkered down in an apartment in Jakarta working nonstop on my ISP. Needless to say, I went quite stir-crazy. Out of necessity I took two days off to counteract the numerous hours that I spent on the project.

Night Bus to Bali

Ferry to Bali








One of the benefits of conducting this ISP alone were the opportunities to take true breaks. During them, I could self-reflect and take advantage of these private moments to recollect myself. There was great value in simply spending time alone, especially during the few times I went out and ate at restaurants. I am not one to whip out my phone to find entertainment while at a restaurant. Thus, I spent my time reflecting upon myself, my experiences, the ISP project, and on my future. Even better, sometimes I thought nothing at all. It was great quiet time away from the apartment. Afterwards, I was better prepared to reenter the fray of research and drafting. Considering my short schedule, it might have been unwise of me to take that time off, but it did wonders for my peace of mind.

My ISP Presentation

I would love to say that I finished my ISP paper on time. However, even a full week and a half of work was not enough time for me to finish it. I was lucky that I rode a night bus to return to Bali and had a long stretch of time to work on the paper. That trip totaled around twenty-one hours, and I probably spent eleven of those hours dutifully typing away at my poor computer. When I arrived in Bali at the program center, I still wasn’t done; and I turned it in two days late.

The fact that none of the students—as far as I know—turned theirs in on time, too, was quite comforting. Now that I’m older and wiser with the power of hindsight on my side, if I were to write my ISP all over again, I would still probably suffer greatly. I am floored by how long it takes to write that project, but holding the finished product in my hands makes up for the experience in spades.

Thank you, and until next time!

On Identity Abroad: A Woman of Color in Indonesia

So, my Independent Study Project (ISP) situation was a bit different than the majority of the students’ this semester. I was one of the few who ventured outside of the program’s main island (Bali) onto other islands. In my case, I travelled to the Lake Toba area in North Sumatra first, then to Jakarta in Java, before returning to Bali.

Locations of ISP Study (Sumatra and Java)

While theoretically, each of us conducts our ISP alone in an academic sense, I considered myself also physically alone and independent from the program and other students. Although the program ensures to check in with each and every one of its students through phone and I could rely upon contact persons stationed in both my locations, I felt the weight of my independence quite severely. For a good portion of my ISP month, I was literally alone, with my contacts and the SIT Program staff only available for emergencies.

I must say that my isolation from the SIT group was mostly a personal advantage to me and my study, because it offered me great opportunity to examine myself and how others in Indonesia navigate my presence in ways that I could not have while sequestered within a group of people. In addition, I had opportunity to observe other aspects of Indonesian life and culture across multiple islands, which more concretely impressed upon me how greatly diverse Indonesia is.

ISP Weaving Project

One subject addressed during Whitman’s pre-semester off-campus study orientation was the experience of being a woman and a person of color abroad. I would consider myself to be both, and these two aspects of my identity became very relevant to my experiences during the study, but in surprising ways. From that orientation and from my own musings on the subject, my general conclusion seemed to be that whatever ethnicity you appear as will be in contrast to the general look of the people living in your chosen country of study. In some sense, my time in Bali and Java confirmed this thought. While the majority of my homestay parents remarked upon my similar coloring to Indonesians (or of Asian ethnicities), most Indonesians do not wear their hair curly such as I, which makes me quite easy to identify as a foreigner. However, in North Sumatra, many people wore curly hair.


Imagine my surprise. It was pretty awesome to see the many varieties of dark, curly hair there. While I hadn’t came across someone with ringlets as tight as mine, some came pretty close. One of my former homestay families has a little girl with a mountain of curly hair. Whenever we ventured out together as a group, I seemed to go completely unnoticed among them. My newfound capability to ‘slip under the public radar’ was in stark contrast to my experiences in Bali. Not only was my curly hair an anomaly there, but the majority of my SIT group was made up of white women. Needless to say, we often drew quite a crowd—especially in areas non-frequented by tourists. In contrast, it was quite disorienting to walk unnoticed in public spaces while living in North Sumatra.

North Sumatra Homestay Family

If I had planned to do more participant observation for my study, then I would have been in a very good position to do so. That was the only instance in my life where I blended into the majority population, and while that did not necessarily change my attitude towards Indonesia or even towards myself, I finally experienced the power of going unnoticed after nearly three months of nothing but attention.

Thank you, and until next time!