Over the past twenty years, the number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than tripled as higher education institutions, students, and parents have recognized the unique and critical knowledge and perspectives that are gained through living and learning in international contexts. In addition, the types of individuals studying abroad today have a greater diversity of interests and are taking advantage of opportunities to pursue their academic interests and expand their knowledge and skills in nontraditional study abroad destinations. Of the 260,000 U.S. students receiving academic credit for study abroad in the 2008/09 academic year, 11 percent were studying in Asia, and nearly a quarter of those students studied abroad in China or Japan. While study abroad enrollments to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore have grown steadily over the past years, the overall number of students studying in Southeast Asia has remained relatively low, in spite of the region’s tremendous political and economic growth. The number of students studying in Indonesia is less than 200 annually. In this context, and with U.S. interests in Indonesia expanding economically and strategically, this white paper focuses on Indonesia as a study abroad destination.
As the world’s third largest democracy behind the U.S. and India, Indonesia has become one of the United States’ most important partners. Located at the geographic nexus between Southeast Asia and Australia, Indonesia is also a key player in global commerce, and harbors a rich cultural heritage and a fascinating postcolonial history. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, with a tradition of religious freedom that is embedded in its constitution. In addition, the last U.S. Department of State travel warning for Indonesia was lifted in 2008. In spite of its significance on the world stage, however, Indonesia is not widely understood or even studied by U.S. students. During his visit to Jakarta in 2010, President Barack Obama commented on the “incomplete project” of broadening relations between the U.S. and Muslim countries like Indonesia, expressing the need to expand active communication and exchange programs, not only to share ideas and innovations, but also to build trust and understanding.