Program Overview

The Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Indonesia is based in the city of Yogyakarta (Jogja, for short) on the tropical island of Java. Home to some of the best universities in Indonesia and the premiere art institute of Southeast Asia, Yogyakarta has long attracted progressive thinkers, artists, and social justice advocacy groups. The city is a prime vantage point from which to explore the socio-political dynamics of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Additionally, with mountains, active volcanoes, tropical rain forests, centuries-old rice terraces, white sand beaches, ancient temples, and coffee plantations, Java offers virtually endless opportunities for environmental discovery and outdoor adventure. Through service, the homestay experience, language instruction, excursions, and a variety of activities designed to immerse students in local society, Bridge Year participants in Indonesia come to better understand what drives this incredibly diverse and rapidly changing nation.

In Indonesia, Princeton University partners with Where There Be Dragons, an organization specializing in overseas experiential education. Since their founding in 1993, Dragons has managed hundreds of unique small-group service learning programs in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global engagement through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.

Program Details

Program itineraries are subject to change based on conditions that impact local travel logistics, public health, and participant safety.

Arrival and Orientation

Upon arrival in Indonesia, Bridge Year participants head to a serene countryside location in Sumatra for orientation. Situated among rice fields and in the shadow of volcanic mountains, participants learn about local cultural and safety norms and get to know each other as a group. Additional activities include hiking to nearby waterfalls, learning from local craftsmen and farmers, and getting our first glimpses of cultural and religious traditions from across Indonesia.

Fall Enrichment Program

Following orientation, the Bridge Year group heads out for 3-4 weeks of travel around the island of Sumatra. This is a chance to experience the true diversity of this country both in terms of landscapes and cultures. Participants will have the opportunity to stay with local families and learn firsthand about the cultural practices and religious traditions of the various ethnic groups that live in southern Sumatra.  Some time will be spent exploring beautiful valleys and coastal fishing regions, inland agricultural areas of fertile volcanic soil, and protected tropical forest areas teeming with wildlife; throughout, the group will have the opportunity to speak with local farmers, villagers, and park rangers to learn more about daily life on this complex island.

Throughout the Fall Enrichment Program, students begin introductory Bahasa Indonesian language lessons and engage in critical reflection about community engagement and local issues. Following our time in Sumatra, we wrap up our fall travel and head to Yogyakarta (Jogja) to begin the next phase of our journey.

Arrival in Yogyakarta

In late September, Bridge Year participants arrive in the city of Yogyakarta, the historical and cultural heart of the Special Region of Yogyakarta. During the struggle to end Dutch colonial rule in the late 1940s, the capital of Indonesia’s budding republic was briefly moved to Yogyakarta under the protection of the revered Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX. Yogyakarta was later awarded a semi-autonomous “special region” status that continues under the Sultanate to this day. The city’s reputation as a thriving center of art and learning has evolved out of the monarchy’s long-standing sponsorship of shadow puppetry, batik making, gamelan orchestra, and other distinctly Javanese cultural traditions, as well as a strong embrace of a uniquely Javanese form of Islam that has contributed to Yogyakarta’s reputation as the “City of Tolerance.” During the first week in Yogyakarta, students are oriented to the city’s colorful streets and markets, continue language classes, and build the practical skills needed to confidently navigate local society.


Bridge Year participants live with families in the neighborhood of Kotegede, near the Sultan’s keraton. While Yoyakarta is a large urban area, the city evolved as a network of interconnected villages with no high-rise buildings or centralized downtown, and, as such, many of Yogyakarta’s neighborhoods, like Kotegede, have maintained the close-knit familiarity of village life. Each participant lives with their own host family and can expect a comfortable, but modest private room with a twin bed, desk, and wardrobe. In the homestay, students experience home-cooked Javanese cuisine, known for its broad pallet of sweet, savory, and spicy foods, almost always accompanied by rice. Students can also expect to develop an understanding of their family’s religious beliefs and practices, as religion is central to community life. The bonds developed between students and families often prove to be among the most memorable and meaningful aspects of the Bridge Year experience.

Language Instruction

From October to December, Bridge Year participants receive eight to ten hours of intensive Indonesian language classes per week. Taught at the Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta, a large public university based in the city, Bridge Year participants are enrolled as students in the language faculty and get to participate in student life, as well as having expert language instruction from the university professors and tutors. From January through March, language classes continue but with fewer required class hours. While language study might be initially challenging for participants, Indonesian is known as one of the most accessible languages in Asia. It is common for participants to develop a basic conversational competence of the language within a few weeks and students who are committed to language learning can anticipate an advanced degree of proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening by the end of the program. For those students who are interested, classes are also available in Javanese, the language that is most widely spoken on the island of Java.

Placements with Community Organizations

Participants spend 20-30 hours per week collaborating with local community organizations. Travel time to and from placements depends on the assignment, but can range from a 15-minute walk to an hour-long bus ride. Staff orient students to their respective assignments and provide continuous support throughout the program. Below is a list of community partner organizations in and around Yogyakarta. This list is not comprehensive, but provides examples of the types of assignments in which participants may be placed.

  • Combine Research Institute (CRI) is a non-governmental organization focused on encouraging the creation of economically, socially, culturally and politically empowered citizens, through community-based information management. They encourage the strengthening of institutions, citizen networks and the capacity of citizens in the field of resource management information, among others by utilizing information and communication technology. Established in 2001, CRI started with a program called Community-Based Monitoring Program which develops community forums, facilitates the formation of civil society organizations at the city level, and facilitates a community-based information system focused on solving problems at the community level. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include researching and writing about aspects of digital literacy and designing social media campaigns.
  • Indonesian Visual Art Archive (IVAA) documents visual art events around Yogyakarta and facilitates research (both online and in-person) by providing information about artists/art communities. They have online and physical archives of visual art (photos, film, DVDs, etc.), a public library, and a space to hold art-related activities. Community-engaged learning opportunities at this placement may include documenting and digitally archiving the work of local and international artists, conducting interviews with artists and event organizers or mural mapping in Jogja.
  • Perkumpulan IDEA works to fulfill economic and social rights by advocating for the inclusion of vulnerable and minority groups, encouraging transparent budgeting, and providing political education for civil rights. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include supporting archival projects, facilitating workshops, and helping with documentation of the organization’s events.
  • SIGAB is a disabilities inclusion and advocacy center that focuses on fulfilling the rights of people with disabilities in Indonesia, especially the right to realize an equal and inclusive life. Their activities include disability sensitivity training (for the government, private sector, and other organizations interested in working on disability issues), advocacy, research, and legal aid. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include documenting events, translation work, and social media campaigns.
  • Yayasan LKIS is a non-profit organization that focuses on justice and pluralism. The organization focuses on spreading transformative and tolerant ideas related to Indonesian Islamic ideas, deepening the study of Islamic discourse, advocating for those who are marginalized, and developing Islamic learning that is more respectful of pluralism and critical of injustice. They have four primary programs that focus on knowledge and information, media and culture, Islam and gender, and an online democracy school. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include teaching English to grassroots workers and supporting local trainings.
  • SPEAK Indonesia works to support sustainable community empowerment campaigns about issues related to safe drinking water, healthy sanitary practices, reproductive health and menstrual hygiene, climate action, stunted growth, and school nutrition. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include supporting the various campaigns by helping to create campaign materials, including creating posters and social media posts.
  • RISE Foundation works to promote and support meaningful youth development and youth movements in Indonesia. They spearhead research projects and public education campaigns with the goals of promoting healthier living habits, youth political engagement, sexual education, and environmental awareness. Community-engaged learning opportunities may include assisting research efforts, creating content for social media, and helping support program campaigns.

Cultural Enrichment Activities

Over the course of the program, local experts and other guest lecturers are invited to discuss diverse topics including Indonesian history, religious and spiritual traditions, politics, the environment, gender dynamics, urban development, and the arts.

Bridge Year participants also take part in at least two program-sponsored excursions outside of the Yogyakarta region. Excursion destinations depend on many factors including weather, time constraints, student interest, and relevance to the overall program, but several options are available. These may include a multi-day trek through the jungles of Sumatra, a community stay with the Bajau people of Sulawesi, an excursion to the “spice islands” of Maluku, a trip to the picturesque volcanoes of Bromo, and an expedition to the highlands of Tana Toraja. To the greatest extent possible, ownership of the excursions is given to participants, empowering them to work with on-site staff to research, plan, and manage the logistics for these group expeditions.

Finally, Bridge Year participants have the opportunity to engage in independent projects and mentorships on topics such as wayang kulit shadow puppetry, Javanese dance, pencak silat martial arts, gamelan music, batik cloth painting, traditional medicine, silver-smithing, woodblock printing, or street art. The activity may directly enrich the participant’s service assignment or serve to enhance an understanding and appreciation of Indonesia and Indonesian culture.

Spring Enrichment Program

In late spring, participants work as a group to plan, organize, and execute a two to three-week excursion, offering additional opportunities for rural homestays, community-engaged learning experiences, and cultural immersion. This experience allows students to broaden their perspectives on civic participation, development topics, and environmental issues, as well as further explore the cultural and spiritual dynamism of the Indonesian archipelago. With the support of on-site staff, students work together to plan and manage the excursion, further developing group communication skills and honing leadership abilities.

Program Wrap-up

The final week of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Indonesia takes place in a remote beachside location near the island of Java. Here, participants engage in a re-entry workshop to examine lessons learned from their Bridge Year experience and reflect on their return home, their goals for the future, and the ways in which they can best integrate their experience into daily life at Princeton.

Fast Facts

  • Program Location: Yogyakarta, Indonesia 
  • Country Name:  Republik Indonesia (Indonesian)
  • Population: 276,400,000 (Indonesia); 373,600 (Yogyakarta) 
  • National Symbol: the Garuda, a mythical bird
  • Languages: Bahasa Indonesia (official). More than 700 languages are used in Indonesia. Javanese is the most widely spoken local dialect.
  • Religions: Islam 87.2%, Protestantism 7%, Roman Catholicism 2.9%, Hinduism 1.7%, other 1.3% (includes Buddhism, Confucianism, indigenous practices, and other religions)  
  • Currency:  Indonesian rupiah
  • Fast Fact: The Indonesia archipelago consists of more than 17,500 islands, of which about 6,000 are inhabited.  The majority of the islands are yet to be named.