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Students Study Socio-Ecological Systems in Indonesia













During winter break, a contingent of University of Maryland School of Public Policy students with diverse interests embarked on a journey to Indonesia to study social-ecological systems, environmental policy and sustainable development. Under the direction of Associate Research Professor Thomas Hilde, students spent three weeks traveling across the country, exploring cities, rainforests and plantations while learning about the complex socio-economic and environmental issues critical to the future of Indonesia.

Starting their journey in Ubud, Bali, students learned about the communal and generational ‘subak’ agricultural system from professors at Dwijendra University and explored how Hindu religious traditions have influenced the Balinese culture. Students then embarked on a journey to Bunaken Island, near the coast of North Sulawesi, and spent time snorkeling through one of the most biodiverse reefs in the world. 

For their next stop on this whirlwind adventure, students were off the the Sumatran jungle to learn about wildlife trafficking, the illegal timber trade and the role oil palm plantations play in rainforest degradation. SPP student Jill Maloney recalled this as one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, which required trekking through the rainforest for eight hours, fording rivers and encountering orangutans, Thomas' Leaf Monkeys and gibbons. Once they reached their destination, students slept on yoga mats in tarp tents. For this experience and numerous others, Maloney considers herself extremely lucky she was able to take the course. Maloney remarked that this was one of the “most fun, interesting and unique trips of my life” and that she’s “only studied abroad once, but can't imagine this is what every study abroad is like.”

For Maloney, an international security and economic policy student, traveling to Indonesia gave her a new appreciation for the intersection of environmental policy and security as well as the obstacles governments can face when trying to make policy for a nation of 17,000 islands. Even though environmental policy is not her specialty, Maloney encourages all students to consider taking this course. She says, “interacting with people with different interests and backgrounds can only help your knowledge base and career.”

After Sumatra, the group traveled to Bogor where they met with researchers, policy experts and scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research to study illegal land acquisition. For Arjun Aswathi, one of the most impressive things about the trip was its immersiveness and scope as students were “able to experience an authentic side of the country and also meet some of the most powerful and influential people and organizations in Indonesia.” This was particularly evident during their last week in Indonesia, when they traveled to Jakarta to meet with the Director General of Climate Change Ibu Nur Masripatin, Dr. Rachmat Witoelar, the president’s special envoy on climate change and AMAN: The Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago.
Awasthi praised his fellow classmates, saying “the students who went on the trip are some of the most knowledgeable and engaging people I have met and I truly feel that I have been able to forge strong friendships with all my colleagues.” He also expressed admiration for Indonesian people and their way of life, praising their perseverance and “warm and welcoming culture that is determined to tackle the obstacles of this new and exciting digital age.”
Over the course of three weeks in Indonesia, SPP student Katie Murtough gained a new appreciation for the role the U.S. plays in the global discussion about climate change mitigation and adaptation. She remarked that “nearly every person we met - from a local durian fruit seller to Indonesian government officials - expressed concern over how the new U.S. administration's stance on climate change could impact Indonesia's ability to continue their path toward reducing carbon emissions and protecting and restoring their forests and coral reefs.” Though her career goals will likely take her to South America, Murtough’s time in Indonesia reminded her how it is “increasingly important for scientists and policymakers to consider the global impact of their work and to foster international collaborations accordingly.”

Murtough was excited to spend her winter abroad, saying, “I feel like study abroad programs are invaluable because they allow students to put theoretical knowledge into practice via real-world contexts.” She recommends studying abroad to everyone. “You'll learn so much - not only about your area of academic interest, but about yourself as well,” she says.

Awasthi echoes these sentiments and highly recommends the Indonesia course. He says, “if you are interested in understanding a different culture, and if you are looking to challenge yourself intellectually (and at times physically!) then this course is for you.” Awasthi encourages students “who feel a sense of passion and a yearning to explore one of the most diverse, colorful and culturally rich countries of the world” to apply.







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