An 80-degree winter break? University students travel to Indonesia for global seminar

July 31, 2018

By Emily Steinweg, M.S. graduate student and Bali program co-leader

bali and java map

As I held on to the roll bar of a jeep for dear life, with wind and water coming from all directions on an adrenaline pumping obstacle course, I wondered how in the world I ended up in this situation. Little did I know that a University of Minnesota course in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering was the reason I found myself in that situation.

This past winter break, I was a co-leader for a global seminar offered through the University of Minnesota's Learning Abroad Center and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences study abroad programs. The course, CFAN 3519 Bali: Water and Culture from Rainforests to Reefs, was led by Department Head Gary Sands. The university partnered with an in-country study abroad coordinator, School for International Training (SIT), to give students a personalized, unique study abroad experience.

Emily Steinweg, Sierra Schadegg, and department head Gary Sands in IndonesiaBBE representation! Myself, Spring 2018 graduate Sierra Schadegg, and Department Head Gary Sands.

Sixteen adventurous students, two affiliated with BBE and the remaining from various majors at the university, got on a plane for this inaugural global seminar to learn about the connections between culture and environment on two of Indonesia’s islands, Bali and Java.

In addition to Indonesia’s rich cultural history, it is at the forefront of many environmental issues and concerns, including water conservation, volcanic and other natural disasters, environmental change due to climate change, and decreasing biodiversity.

The three-week journey involved daily Indonesian language lessons taught by SIT staff, lectures from faculty from local universities on religion, culture, climate change, and environment, and site visits related to lecture topics.

The first week was spent in Java, with a few highlights being visits to the Hindu temple Prambanan, and a student favorite - a sunset tour of Borobudur, a Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hindu temple PrambananBorobudur reflections.



Borobudur Buddhist temple, JavaBorobudur Buddhist temple in Java.



Dressed in traditional pakaian adatDressed in traditional pakaian adat.

The students also heard local faculty speak on their research on environment and urbanization, environmental impacts of tourism, and disaster risk management and preparation.

After a week in Java and adjustment to the heat and time change, the group flew to Bali. The students, with their new Indonesian language skills, navigated a local market to buy pakaian adat, a traditional Balinese outfit worn in temples. With everyone dressed, the students entered the Tanah Lot temple for a traditional ceremony after learning about the various ceremonies and traditions from our expert SIT guide, Bu Ari.

Tanah Lot Temple near cliffs as waves crash on rocks.Tanah Lot Temple. Students were able to enter the temple in their pakaian adat and take part in temple ceremony.

Then, the real challenge came. This global seminar also included four nights of homestays in rural villages. The students were paired with local families and shared meals, attempted conversation, and learned what it is like to live as an Indonesian.

Students pose with their host families at our outdoor classroom in BaliStudents meeting their host families at our outdoor classroom in Bali.

While doing homestays, local rice farmers taught us about the subak irrigation system that is used for rice production and gave the students tools to try their hand at rice farming.

Not an easy task.

The stay with local families ended with the group participating in a community Hindu ceremony and traditional flirtation dance.

Rice fields in BaliRice fields in Bali.



Hard at work in the rice fieldHard at work in the rice field.

After the hard work of communicating in limited Bahasa Indonesia, manual labor in the rice fields, and exposure to more traditional facilities that came with the homestays, the students were rewarded with a relaxing end to the trip.

The last stop on this whirlwind program was the island of Lembongnon, off the coast of Bali, for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Students swam, snorkeled, and learned about mangroves and the protection they provide the coastlines.

beach at LembongnanRest and relaxation at Lembongnan.

Back to the jeep ride.

If you are thinking that sounds too fun and not academic, the jeep took us to the base of Mt. Merapi, an active volcano on the island of Java. We learned about the community's preparation efforts for landslide and volcano disasters and how their research is helping others around the world.

People smiling, posing inside of jeeps with their arms raisedWild ride to Mt. Merapi to learn about disaster preparation and resiliency.

The balance of students in both technical and non-technical majors made for interesting conversation and perspectives throughout the trip.

Bali: Water and Culture from Rainforests to Reefs was a hit with the students with comments like "An amazing journey that was life changing!!!" and "...this program accomplished so much in three short weeks...I wish I could do it all over again!"

Students enjoyed the mix of culture, environment, new food, and of course, the adventure and friendships made with students outside their major.

Apply for the 2018 seminar

Applications for the Winter 2018 Global Seminar Bali: Water and Culture from Rainforests to Reefs are being accepted!

A study abroad experience is a phenomenal way to broaden one's views, be introduced to new cultures, and learn more about yourself.

Indonesia is at the forefront of dealing with and adapting to environmental changes due to global warming and world growth and development. There are lessons to learn that are applicable to everyone all around the world.

If learning about our changing world and what we can do to adapt, preserve, and protect our environment and resources interest you, visit the Learning Abroad Center website and course website for the application and more information.

Application deadline is October 15.

Just think: it could be YOUR jeep ride to the foot of a volcano this winter, learning about disaster preparation and community resiliency!

people in water at a Purification ceremony at Tampak SiringPurification ceremony at Tampak Siring in Bali.



Students learning to play Gamelan, a traditional Indonesian ensemble of percussive instrumentsStudents learning to play gamelan, a traditional Indonesian ensemble of percussive instruments.



Students enjoying fresh coconut water on a hot, humid dayStudents enjoying fresh coconut water on a hot, humid day.



Black sand beach sunsetBlack sand beach sunset.