Post-Program… Time to Reflect

After finishing USIPP 2014, I knew I had a lot of reflecting to do.  I did not want to rush into writing about my experience because I knew i needed some time to readjust to my normal life before I could genuinely reflect on my experience and see the impact it would have on my life on a more long-term scale. 

I think the most shocking part of this program was how much I learned about myself.  Before USIPP, i expected to learn about democracy and religion, and I figured I may make a few friends along the way.  I never expected that I would genuinely change as a person and I definitely did not realize how much i needed this change to occur.  USIPP has helped me realize how lucky I am in so many ways, but mostly in the fact that I am so lucky to have had this experience.  I realize now that maybe I was not as good of a person as I would have liked to believe before this trip. I took too many things for granted and I did not truly understand what it meant to coexist with people on real level.  Sure, I appreciated others and I respected their cultures, but I really did UNDERSTAND them.  I tolerated them, which is a very different thing.  

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it, but USIPP has changed my life.  I can confidently say that I am a better person after this program and I have you all to thank.  

Love and miss all of you 

Liz

Until We Meet Again, USIPP 2014 - July 17th, 2014…

Having the opportunity to participate in the United States Indonesia Partnership Program (USIPP) has honestly changed who I am today. Not too long ago, I was a different person. I was naïve, failing to understand the perspectives of many people around me. Through this program, I traveled all the way across the world, to a land where not only an individual’s lifestyle but also society’s social norms are guided by religious morals. Based on the extent of religion in my own life, I would theoretically not be accepted by such a society. However, the people in Indonesia welcomed me with more than a wave and a hello; they took me into their arms with smiles and genuine warmth. Through their openness and hospitality, I was able to learn just how much religion can impact one’s values, beliefs and lifestyle decisions. I had never met people who believed so strongly in their faith but also held great passion for areas, such as LGBTQ rights and interfaith marriage, which challenge their religious teachings. Such devotion to anything—whether or not it is religion—is courageous, and I hold nothing but admiration and respect for them. Although I have been back from USIPP for some time now and away from my eleven amazing friends whom I spent five weeks—both day and night—with, I do admit that my life is pretty much back to the way it was before. While my days are the same, however, I can honestly tell you that my perspective and way of viewing the world is different than it had been before. Now, whenever I see a girl wearing a hijab on a hot day, I know and understand the reason why she must cover her hair and chest. The sad part is, before USIPP, I never really noticed when a woman in a hijab would walk past me. I’m sure that there were many, but it was almost as if I did not know enough about Islam to understand, so I almost didn’t even see them. Since being home, I have actually seen several women wearing hijab, and I have noticed myself feeling excited and wanting to run up to them and tell them that I understand and accept them and their hijab! It is the strangest phenomenon, but this is how I know that I have really changed my perspective of not only different religions but also of those who value religion enough to allow it to influence their lifestyle—of those who are different than me. The USIPP experience is much more than educational. It is exploration, risk, love, hope, taking chances, opening your heart, sharing a bed with a stranger, flying 39+ hours, spicy foods, dancing, laughing, curiosity, enlightenment, and so much more. All I can say is that I am forever grateful for this amazing opportunity and for my eleven new friends. Through this experience, we have formed a bond so strong that I think of you as my brothers and sisters. Thank you so much for helping me become a better person.

- Carlie (aka Charlie)

Post-Program

The world is getting crazier each minute. That’s how i feel after getting back from USIPP. I was around people with understanding and peace since 31st May until the last day of the program, and know i’m back to harsh world of hatred and dis-integrity. Indonesia’s situation is not so eye/ear welcoming. Every turn you see conflict and every timeline you scroll you see hatred. I’m glad the US students could meet us and not the extremist people spreading hatred all the time. I would be ashamed as the citizen of Indonesia. The over growing use of social media and the misused media became one of the reason of how plurality and understanding are hard to implement. With a lot of random data/info available in internet people can claim they are right, and what they say is absolute. Difference and diversity was being viewed as bad. Even a slight misunderstanding could trigger massive hatred responses. That’s the situation in Indonesia right now. I hate it. 

I learned to respect opinion and differences and be understanding to different views in USIPP and i’m so glad i did, but a lot of Indonesian people didn’t. Unfortunately, as a USIPP participant, i can only do small things right now to spread understanding and peace. But i believe we can make change! As a people who are blessed with information, education, and understanding, i believe it is our task to spread love, respect, and understanding. As the program grows, i hope more people can feel the effect of this program. So, i think we should keep writing, learning, and act with what we had learned. 

I certainly believe each of us will play significant role in each of our nation and communities, if not the world, to promote peace and understanding. USIPP participants, let us treasure what we learned together and implement it in our everyday live as we grow old and share it to other people.

I have a big hope of a better world where understanding stands in its zenith, and not hatred.

PS. I miss you all! 

 Handi

It has been more than a week this program has ended,but the memory and the lesson it engraves keeps resonating in my mind. It is hard to face the evil reality after this program is over, but that’s the point this program is for, right?? to alter the evil reality to be lively reality. Tryin to extend what Eki has talked about in the previous blog, regardin the arising bloody attack done by Israel to Palestinian. Many people in Indonesia if i may say just like you also may predict, condemning all jew people in the entire world for what Israel does. Some of them seek for total annihilation of jew people and hoping that Hitler can be ressurected to continue the unfinished Holocaust. Some of them preaches that, it is mandatory for  moeslem population in the entire universe to unite and exterminate jews. well, this is so sad because their judgement is clouded by the wrong understanding of that dispute which they see as the new chapter of holy war and misunderstanding of what Holy koran writes about jew which they make a generalization of  particular group of jew that is condemned in Koran as a picture of each and every jew person. This program has told me that what is written in Koran is not jew per se but only particular group of jews at that moment and it is always wrong and IRRELEVANT to put overall association to streotype people. As my commitment for this program, i try to clarify this all by posting the article that shows the otherwise. Not really surprising when some of my friends accuse me as a part of zionist agent. I used to be an ignorant whenever these wrong perception occur, i choose to disregard them because i thought it would be in vain and a waste of time tryin to change their mind, and even i almost believed the same thing as they did. I understand not all people are having  enough fortune to have a meaningful interaction with fellow jews or getting chance to join this program which allows you to have a heartwarmin jewish mother like Jenn that will demistify and break down the wrong generalization and the prejudice it follows. As the one that is blessed with such fortune, this is an imperative to fight against those wrong thought and help them to understand the reality. Yea„, the least thing i can do is by posting those articles and trying to convince them in person by telling my experience. I concede that it is not an easy job to do.. i have to be ready for rejection and extreme reactions. However, this program  tells me about optimism…. that progress does exist.. what society right now is different with what society in the past… society continue changing in positive way. Yepp, i can tell because i  witness it with my own eyes how right now more and more religious institution accepting Homosexuality that was previously perceived as abomination, how Islam is bein more progressive, yet the islamic value remains strong.  The previous me that is ignorant, pragmatic, and pessimistic InshaAllah (God willing) has become more aware, idealistic, and optimistic and i am ready to contribute a better humanity.

With Optimism

Buddy (Badai)

I had thought of how it’d be after the program ends for many times. I’d miss them for sure, I’d probably work somewhere, I’d be back in my routine with my organization, and things I could do to spread out the spirit of the program. But when I got back to my life here, there’s this one little thing that I never thought I’d feel. It’s the feeling inside of myself when I look at someone’s eyes while they’re telling me not to vote for Jokowi because he’s a Christian and Chinese. What’s sad from that is that first, I’m a Christian, and second, she has known from the news that it’s a fish story. I still remember what she said, “But I don’t buy it you know. You know that news also side with the candidates. I’m okay if he’s not Muslim you know what I mean, but you know how the chinese are…uhhh” I would have nodded and smiled, but having been around the people who don’t make a deal out of such thing and learned with them that there’s no need to make a deal out of such thing make me so frustrated listening to what she said.

My neighborhood is very diverse in terms of religious and cultural background. I never thought there are people here who are like her, but the election has opened my eyes to the truth that there are still those who cannot accept diversity in democracy. I am grateful I learned not to be one of them from USIPP because it’s so hard to get away from such ignorance. It made me so sad to see how it grows from ignorance to a very strong sense of unreasonable hatred. Thinking so hard to respond to her, I ended up saying that I don’t  care at all what the candidates’ religions are or where they’re from. So what if someone’s a chinese or christian? It doesn’t mean she or he doesn’t have what it takes to be in government, right? There have been people from other religions and ethnicity in our government too…I’ve been more concern about their political experience and moreover their visions. Their visions are what they promise to all of us. That’s what we can dun them for in the future. She looked at me in a weird and confused way. I was so relieved I said what I thought. I know there will be more times when I meet people like her. But that doesn’t mean all people are like her. Most of my friends are those who try to go from understanding to accepting. And that’s why I am going to say what I think like I did to the lady because I know I’m not the only one trying to live and outspread the spirit that USIPP has taught us. 

-Sil

About 2 weeks out of USIPP I’m finally beginning to appreciate the joy of being busy. I’m back to work and without much else going on I have a lot of time to think about how much I miss all of the people I met both in Indonesia and the US. I don’t have any penetrating insights regarding religion or intolerance or whatever else that others haven’t already articulated, but I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in USIPP and make so many friends. I feel more comfortable with the world now in a way I couldn’t be if I’d stayed home. I’m irritated that there are no Indonesian restaurants here.
-Abe

Once I returned home from this program that taught me about religious pluralism, I was forced to face a harsh reality in my community. Just a few days after our return, the world was outraged by the news about Israel-Palestine attacks. Many responses emerged on the media, especially social media. As I scrolled down the facebook news feed, I remember being relieved to see the kind of posts that most of my facebook friends shared because mostly they were trying to educate themselves of what is happening in Gaza Strip. But the relief vanished as soon as I came accross my friend’s post about a poster of Hitler’s quotes that translates into, “I could’ve finished off all Jews, but I left out a few of them so you could understand why I want them killed in the first place.” I could not believe one of my friends shared that kind of thing. One hateful post leads to another. I then saw many absurd posts by some self-claimed-Muslim-groups with many following hateful comments. I was so angry. How can they protest about people stereotyping all Muslims as terrorist while they are doing the exact same thing toward Jews? 

Just now, I saw one of my friend shared a youtube video titled “Profane Message by Quraish Shihab”. Quraish Shihab is a well-known Indonesian preacher who often get accused of being liberal and/or Syiah. When I watched the video, I could not see anything profane about his message. Controversial maybe, but not necessarily profane or blasphemous. One of the comments clarified the Hadist that he quoted to support his message. There is only ONE different word of Hadist he mentioned and the one in the comment. I looked it up and the one delivered by Quraish Shihab showed up more in the search engine. But that’s not the point.

No matter which interpretation is more correct, how could this people condemn Quraish Shihab and wrote horrible things about him? One comment even said that it’s halal to kill him because of his profane message. What’s wrong with these people?

I am actually holding back tears now.

After several minutes, I stepped back and realized that this is the reality. Not everyone in this world has the opportunity to connect with people from different background, to widen their perspectives, and to learn deeply about their believes. Some people were brought up with hatred, knowing only about themselves, living always as the majority, and never becoming the victim of discrimination. They believe that they hold the only source of truth and everyone else different from them are wrong.

And we are definitely not one of them.

We are blessed with wonderful opportunities, condusive upbringing, and big hearts. We should be forever grateful for that. I am grateful for that, and I am grateful for this program.

One of the highlights of my 5 weeks experience with USIPP is represented in the picture above. The true and pure Islam (and any other religions) will never be reached by human. The Islam we’ve been practicing is the interpretation of Islam. (Un)fortunately, there are many interpretation of Islam that differ  from each other. We are doomed if we think that our interpretation is the most correct and the others are wrong. Our relationship with God should be between us and Him only. We cannot judge others in the name of God. We don’t have the rights to do so. Preach if you can, but don’t judge.

From this program I also realized that people use religions as the scapegoat of their unlawful actions. Unfortunately, most of us were deceived into believing that it is indeed all about religion. Some of these unlawful actions developed into a tragedy. Then one tragedy triggered another tragedy . Even though no past events should justify recent conflicts, we could see that there is a relation between Nazi persecution toward Jews and Israeli persecution toward Palestinian today. This kind of relationship only urges us to break the chain of hatred in order to make sure no humanity tragedy happen again in the future. Thankfully, this program has equipped us to make that change.

Thank you USIPP

PS: I am so sorry for being emotional

~eki

And then reality strikes…

These past 40 hours of travelling together made me feel like I was still ‘in the program’. The 6 of us and Miss Yasmine still talked about our experiences. No few minutes of being together was spent in silence. Just now in Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Septian and I said goodbye to the rest of Indonesian participants because we have a connecting flight to catch. The odd, hollow feeling is starting to sink in.

Our first meeting as USIPP 2014 in Soekarno-Hatta airport in May 31st seems like ages ago, but when I think about it, it’s only been 5 weeks.
Frankly speaking, I barely had any expectation about this program. Before I came, I totally didn’t expect this program to be so insightful, powerful, touching, emotional, and life-changing.

I’ve learned a lot about many issues faced by both countries, I’ve challenged my perspective and way of thinking, I’ve asked and answered many thought-provoking questions, and most importantly, I’ve made friends with many amazing people.
For the American side, you guys totally proved wrong my stereotype of American youngsters (which I gained after spending 1 year in an American high school) that Americans are friendly but hard to be friends with. Maybe you guys are totally cool and accepting, maybe I’m more open and accepting than before, thus we can be friends. Either way, I’m glad that I can call you friends, not just acquintances.
For the Indonesian side, I can not hope for a more fun group of people to be with. I feel like we bonded so easily since day one. I cannot count how many times you guys made me laugh till my stomach hurts. I’d rather see us as ‘the sisterhood of Indonesian USIPP 2014’ since we gossip a lot, bicker, make fun of each other, and yet so affectionate to each other.

Travelling on our own for just 1 more flight makes me miss our travel leaders, Stacy, Miss Yasmine, and Jen who have been so awesome in herding 12 little monsters for 5 whole weeks. I admire your patience, sense of navigation, caring, and thoughtfulness. We truly cannot hope for a better travel leader. During the program, I’d rather see Stacy as our mom, Miss Yasmin as our older sister, and Jen as our auntie. I miss you guys already :(

~eki

we’ve been in Soekarno-Hatta airport, Jakarta. We will be in the real life. I don’t know. I feel so so so empty. Five weeks were very constructive. Five weeks were very amazing. Then, we should face the real world. Good bye all. good bye. I love each of you so much. We’ll meet again. absolutely. Thanks for everything you do. What you do matters! Remember me this way..

I’m glad that we could finish our tour in the holocaust memorial. All the exhibits were so powerful. The 4th floor exhibit was very informative, the 3rd floor was very disturbing, and the 2nd floor was hopeful.

Before I came to the museum, I didn’t understand why some people in Germany and Europe could agree with Hitler’s horrible and absurd idea about cleansing Germany from undesirable races. It didn’t make sense at all! This museum then helped me understand how the holocaust happened with such complexity. Nevertheless, the threadline of it was a well-kept hatred toward each other.
One of the most powerful stories in the museum is when a group of people helped hiding the Jews into their homes and communities. When the war ended, other people and media started to praise this group for their bravery and kindness. Then, a spokesman of this group replied, “How can you call us ‘good’? We only did what had to be done.”

There was also a story about how many Germans opposed Hitler’s idea. Nevertheless, only a few of then spoke up and did something. The majority of the civilians are bystanders. Had the bystanders chose to do something, many more souls might have been saved. But that’s what’s smart about Hitler and his propaganda, he created fear not only for his victims but also the civilians.
This story reminded me about a quote that goes like this: our world becomes like this is not because there are many bad people, but because good people keep silent.

" Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children."

(Deuteronomy 4:9 | Hall of Remembrance, Holocaust Memorial Museum)

~eki