I am home now and still getting adjusted to the time change and adding new foods to my diet. As I talk to my friends and family about my experience, I realize that I did and saw so many things that most people will never have the opportunity to see. I learned about Islam outside of the classroom setting from walking around, speaking to people, visiting pesantrans, and just being in an environment where Islam is prevalent everywhere you go. I have a new perspective on Islam from seeing how diverse it is in Indonesia because of the local culture, socio economic factors, and age differences. There are so many variables that affect how Islam is practiced and I was able to experience firsthand the diversity. Everything that I did was exciting and new and challenged me to ask questions, seek answers and learn more about myself and my beliefs in the process. Dr. Nelly was a fantastic professor. Her knowledge of Islam and Indonesian culture was so valuable to me because if I was confused about anything I could easily turn to her for answers, rather than looking for them in a text book. The way the course was set up with daily excursions and times for discussion really helped me to process things at my own pace, but still have the opportunity to discuss with my peers to gain a new perspective. Keeping an online blog has been one of the most rewarding projects I have ever done in a class. We could have easily written a paper or had a final, but the blog allowed me to constantly express how I was feeling and process everything that I saw in writing. It has also been a way for me to document my research if I ever want to continue to learn about this topic and produce a research project on it, which I am definitely considering. The blog has also allowed me to have a permanent collection of my experiences in writing and pictures, which I can easily share with my family and friends and look at years from now. Everything in this class forced me to leave my comfort zone to become immersed in a new culture and religion and learn to approach things objectively, with an open mind. At home I have even become more aware of Islamic practices in everyday life. For example, I went to a hair salon with stylists from Guinea, a predominately Muslim country in Africa. In the middle of doing my hair, the stylist stopped and covered herself and pulled out a mat to do her prayers. This was daily Islam in America, right in front of me. Before going to Indonesia I probably would have been very confused by seeing this, but after my experience abroad I’ve been able to recognize and appreciate religious practices such as this.
I do wish that I could have had the opportunity to speak to more students my age, but I do realize that it was difficult for this to happen because most students were home preparing for Ramadan, the religious holiday that is approaching. Other than that, I feel that I got everything out of this program that I could have hoped for and I really hope it continues in the future because so many students could benefit from this experience.