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. It 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 volunteers 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, Latin America and Africa. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global citizenship through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.
Arrival and Orientation
Upon arrival in Indonesia, Bridge Year participants head to the village of Pakem located just north of Yogyakarta. Situated under Mount Merapi and surrounded by snake fruit plantations, participants learn about local cultural and safety norms and get to know each other as a group. Additional activities include hiking to nearby waterfalls, working with local rice farmers, and learning the basics of Javanese gamelan music. From Pakem, participants hop on bicycles – one of the most popular modes of transport in the area - for three days of biking through beautiful Javanese landscapes of verdant rice paddies and lush limestone cliffs. Students reside with families in rural villages along the way while learning about traditional agricultural practices, local cultural and religious traditions, and the mixture of rural and urban communities surrounding Yogyakarta.
Fall Cultural and Service Learning Experience
Following orientation, the Bridge Year group heads east on a multi-day journey via trains and planes to the island of Flores for a ten-day rural homestay experience. Settling in with families in the mountain village of Langa, participants begin introductory Indonesian language lessons, experience life in a Bajawan community, learn how to harvest and roast coffee, and take excursions to the surrounding hot springs, craters, and volcanoes that comprise the famed “Ring of Fire.” Langa is also the site of the first group service project. Partnering with the local trekking community, participants support community-based initiatives that promote eco-tourism in the area. From helping local guides improve their English language skills to setting up a community center for the Langa Trekking Community, Bridge Year volunteers work alongside community members to advance ongoing income-generation and sustainability initiatives. In the process, participants learn about traditional and modern Bajawan religious beliefs, the impacts of eco and cultural tourism, and the art of ikat weaving.
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 intensive 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 has more than 600,000 inhabitants, 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.
From October to December, Bridge Year participants receive eight to ten hours of intensive Indonesian language classes per week. Taught by experienced local instructors, classes are interactive and dynamic with frequent excursions into the city for hands-on practice. From December 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 by the end of the program. For those students who are interested, classes are available in Javanese, the language that is most widely spoken on the island of Java.
Community Service Placements
Participants spend four to seven hours per day, five days a week, at their service site placement. Travel to and from the service site depends on the assignment, but can range from a 15-minute walk or bike ride 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 potential host organizations and service assignments in and around Yogyakarta. This list is not comprehensive, but provides examples of the types of service placements in which participants may be placed.
- Project Child works to alleviate poverty in coastal and riverside communities in Indonesia. These communities are the most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, pollution, and climate change. The vision of Project Child is for every child in Indonesia to have a healthy start to life and to feel supported by a clean environment. Volunteer opportunities may include assisting with teaching, website development, business consulting, and volunteer coordination.
- Perkumpulan Keluarga Berencana Indonesia (PKBI) is an NGO founded in 1957 with support of then President Soekarno’s personal physician. Originally established to address the alarming rates of maternal and child mortality, the organization has since expanded its focus to a wide-range of health advocacy concerns such as nutrition and family planning. Volunteer opportunities may include assisting with health education programs, translations, tech support, and administrative work.
- United Cerebral Palsy Wheels for Humanity (UCP) was established in Indonesia in 2009 with the support of USAID and domestic human rights organizations. It is estimated that over 24 million Indonesians have a health concern that results in limited mobility – and that about 2.4 million require a wheelchair. UCP is the first organization of its kind in Indonesia to provide appropriately fitted wheelchairs for low-income children and adults and training for local wheelchair technicians. The organization also engages in political advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. Volunteer opportunities may include assisting with outreach and training programs, research into wheelchair design, tech support, and administrative tasks.
- Sentra Advokasi Perempuan, Difabel dan Anak (SAPDA) is an organization that advocates for the rights of women with disabilities, with an emphasis on improving their access to education, healthcare, and employment. Through research, media campaigns, and political lobbying, SAPDA works to ensure that the rights of women and girls with disabilities are respected. The organization also operates a crisis center in Yogyakarta. Volunteer opportunities may include supporting research projects, working at the crisis center, or assisting with administrative tasks.
- The Dreamhouse provides education, housing, and extracurricular activities for children living on the streets of Yogyakarta. They seek to bring greater awareness to the issue of homelessness while equipping children with skills needed to more successfully navigate society. Volunteer opportunities with the Dreamhouse might include assisting with teaching, community outreach, event planning, and administrative tasks.
- Rifka Annisa works toward a gender-just society that does not tolerate violence against women. The organization offers a variety of education programs aimed at preventing sexual violence, as well as legal and psychological counseling for survivors. Additionally, Rifka Annisa staff engage in research, training, and advocacy work. Volunteer opportunities may include assisting with translation, document editing, event planning, outreach programs, and administrative tasks.
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 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 or mentorships on topics such as wayang kulit shadow puppetry, Javanese dance, pencak silat martial arts, gamelan music, batik cloth painting, traditional medicine, 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.
Student-led Spring Excursion
In late spring, participants work as a group to plan, organize, and execute a final multi-day excursion, offering additional opportunities for rural homestays, service learning experiences, and trekking. This experience allows students to broaden their perspectives on service learning, development topics, and environmental issues, as well as further explore the cultural and spiritual dynamism of the island of Java. 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.
The final week of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Indonesia takes place in the ocean-side town of Parangtritis. 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.
- Program Location: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
- Country Name: Republik Indonesia (Indonesian)
- Population: 270,630,000 (Indonesia); 636,660 (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.