Unity in Diversity

My first week in Indonesia was tiring in the best way. While fighting through jet lag, I spent a week living in a Jakarta hotel with 60-odd other participants from 43 countries. “The Committee” (the body from Ministry of Foreign Affairs who has put this together) had us going nonstop from the beginning. To start, we were thrown together into a six hour Indonesian language orientation on our first day. I had arrived early that morning, so I was really on my game for speaking a foreign language. On the second day, the different arts centers presented the programs they offer for the scholarship in order for us to choose our location for the next three months (spoiler: I have ended up in Surabaya, East Java). Also, my apologies for the lack of pictures. Most of the time it wasn’t possible to use my camera. Official pictures are pending, by our wonderful press corps.

Yes, we have a press corps
 The scholarship’s official opening ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs happened on the third day (Friday, 7 June). The Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as Director General for Public Diplomacy presided, and we all wore our national costumes. Most other countries’ outfits were beautiful and colorful. The United States, however, doesn’t have anything traditional. Instead, our national dress is a business suit. I almost felt foolish among so many other people who were so proud of their national traditions and, as my brother pointed out when he saw the below picture, I looked like I’d shown up to sell insurance. People from other countries taunted me (lightheartedly) that of course the United States shows up in a business suit. It really is our national dress. It seems that our image abroad is one of political fanaticism and obsessive moneymaking. Thinking about it from outside the country, it really does seem that way. Despite a rich, well preserved history, we don’t seem to have a lot of folk heritage for Americans to participate in and take pride in.
One of these is unlike the rest
Also, the participating nations’ ambassadors had been invited to view the ceremony, which is a major point of pride within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. United States and United Kingdom didn’t show up. Regardless, the ceremony was beautiful, as the Vice Minister delivered remarks about building peaceful interactions among nations through citizens (us), using the national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” – “Unity in Diversity”. After the ceremony, we took an official photo in front of the Ministry, where it was about 35 degrees (Celsius). Black suits are not comfortable in such weather.

Waiting to receive the professional one (those are important people in the front)
Now that we had been oriented and officially opened as a program, the next day the group took a tour of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (Beautiful Indonesia Mini Park), an immense park showcasing the different regions of Indonesia. The focus of this is in the traditional architecture around the country and how it reflects the hundreds of cultures that exist inside this country. Because it is an archipelago, the various ethnicities on the thousands of islands are able maintain their unique identities and traditions. This is why the government adopted “Unity in Diversity” as their motto, because the country can only stay together if they celebrate the variety of traditions that the many tribes provide. A homogeneous society would lead to Indonesia’s downfall. 
For Sunday and Monday, we moved to a hotel in Bogor, a small town about 60km to the south of Jakarta. Despite being so close, it took two and a half hours to drive up there (and four hours to go back). Traffic has merited its own post, for later. The purpose of the Bogor trip was teambuilding, because that is where we found out what groups we would have and what arts centers we would stay in for the next three months. As it turned out, these exercises were very necessary for Surabaya, because most people in the group hadn’t interacted much with each other before, and this is turning out to be a strenuous program (also another post).
Bogor was a beautiful retreat from the noise and perils of Jakarta. The actual town is small, located on a long stretch of busy highway. Apart from beer runs, I didn’t leave the hotel grounds, which are expansive and tranquil; a great place to collect oneself after the whirlwind few days in the capital, and to prepare a group for a sizeable challenge looming for the next three months.
 After lunch on our first day at the hotel we discovered who our groups would be and where we’d go. Our first team exercise was for every group to develop a performance for the rest of the participants the following night.  We kept it short and sweet, and the other guy in the group, from Fiji, helped me with some basic dance steps to avoid completely embarrassing myself, in that specific context at least. The rest of the day was free for practicing routines, swimming or wandering.

Beautiful architecture everywhere

That is the size of my hand. It was terrifying

The second day in Bogor was dedicated almost entirely to teambuilding. It started with cheesy, yet entertaining warm up games, and then we spent a few hours on group challenges. These games really did help the Surabaya group bond and get more accustomed to the idea of spending almost all of our time with each other for the next three months.
In the evening, we had a bonfire in the parking lot, around which we presented our groups’ performances. Some were very impressive, and all were entertaining. There was some Scandinavian folk screaming, Turkish fire twirling Fijian fire eating, and a lot of dancing. We ended our stay in Bogor feeling great about the next phase of the program: our intensive arts studies in our different cities.
This past Tuesday (the day after the bonfire), we were tragically broken apart as a group, where the groups of 10-12 flew off to their respective host cities: Yogyakarta, Bandung, Solo, Bali, Makassar and, for me, Surabaya.

Splitting the 70ish participants was actually a fairly painful process. In this week we had become very tight-knit despite being so large and so diverse. “Unity in Diversity” is actually a very relevant motto to this scholarship group. We make up a ten year range in age, come from dozens of countries and pursue dozens of career fields. These differences helped us bond, because we are actually learning from each other and growing as people by exploring and celebrating what makes us unique as cultures and as people. Reflecting Indonesia’s own need to embrace its diversity to stay together, the group’s differences make it rich and cohesive instead of fragmented, making the scholarship’s goal to increase relations among the participating nations a wild success. 

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