After 9/11, the backlash was swift. Faced with tense security measures, visa denials and perceived xenophobia, many travelers and students from the Muslim world no longer felt welcome in the United States.
Yet for most countries, the wound healed relatively quickly. Iran, not exactly an ally of the U.S., continued to send scholars to institutions like Georgia Tech. Saudi Arabia, the country of citizenship for most of the 9/11 hijackers, eventually became one of the top five sending nations for international students to the U.S., emboldened by the oil-rich government’s generous outbound scholarship program.
Indonesia, meanwhile, has seen educational exchanges with the U.S. continue to underperform, even nearly two decades after this initial drop, according to diplomats from the country. This is despite the outsized impact of American philosophy on Indonesia’s constitution and political system.
Last year, Indonesia, which has about three times the population of Vietnam, only sent a third as many students to the U.S.: about 8,650 in all — and that was down 1.4 percent from the previous year. Only about 150 Indonesian students are in Georgia. Australia is picking up the slack as their leading recruiter worldwide.
That has to change if Indonesia is to capitalize on a potential demographic dividend over the next decade, when much of its young population will enter the workforce, Indonesian Consul General Nana Yuliana said during an interview in Atlanta.
“It is a big bonus, but in the meantime it is also a challenge, because when we look at the level of education, most of the young people are still graduating just from secondary school,” she said, noting the country’s aim to instill entrepreneurship into its digitally connected youth.
From her office in Houston, Ms. Yuliana is the top diplomat tasked with covering 12 Southern states including Georgia. A linguist, English instructor and former professor in diplomacy, Ms. Yuliana got her start in international relations with a study-abroad program in Canada. She emphasized the need for greater educational exchange during a Global Atlanta Consular Conversation interview at Miller & Martin PLLC.
Consular Conversations is a standalone monthly series, but this edition was held as part of a broader Indonesian trade and investment forum that brought the country’s ambassador and a delegation of chamber officials to Atlanta.
One message: Indonesia can help offset the China trade war as a friendly sourcing base for raw materials and goods that go into the American manufacturing supply chain.
But the investment ties the delegation touted should be accompanied by research links, and the timing is right as the two sides celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations this December, Ms. Yuliana said.
The government of newly re-elected President Joko Widodo is keenly focused on building the country’s human capital as he grows its trade ties. Some 20 percent of the national budget is set aside for education.
But governing a country of 270 million people spread across across an archipelago of thousands of islands leaves the potential for gaps in access, from power to Internet infrastructure to schooling, said Ms. Yuliana, who spent four years discussing such problems across ASEAN while posted four years in Bangkok with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
“Access to education is one thing; the quality of education is another thing. We need to empower the teachers and have a curriculum also that fits with the demands of the industrial environment and the economy,” she said.
That’s where partnerships come in. At last check, Georgia Tech had an exchange with Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University was training professionals from the Ministry of Finance in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Emory University’s Goizueta Business School hosted a reception for the delegation the night before the Atlanta forum.
For starters, the consulate needs better visibility into the ongoing programs and their success.
“We need the data, we need the record of our partnerships,” she said, encouraging Georgia institutions to contact the consulate to kickstart potential collaborations. Indonesia has a large scholarship endowment aimed at encouraging foreign study, with the goal of attracting specialists back home after their time abroad.
Each December, the country welcomes students and professors to the Bali Democracy Forum, a conclave looking at the state of governance in Asia. And funds are available to encourage faculty exchanges from international business schools to study trade, in addition to the Darmasiswa program that entices foreign scholars to study Indonesian language, arts and culture.
The power of exchange was evident at the event where Ms. Yuliana spoke, which was attended by three Indonesian participants visiting Atlanta as part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders program managed by the U.S. State Department. Kennesaw State University is a host institution.
A Woman in Diplomacy
One of the visiting scholars asked Ms. Yuliana for pointers on becoming an Indonesian diplomat. The consul general was an early pioneer as a female entering what was then a largely male-dominated foreign service. Now, things have flipped, with females now accounting for more than half the diplomats (including most diplomatic staff at the consulate in Houston). The gradual change meant going against cultural norms. When current Ambassador Mahendra Siregar went into the foreign service, only 10 percent of his colleagues were women, he said at the event.
“When you are posted abroad, your spouse, your husband cannot work, cannot do anything. That is a challenge because in Indonesian culture, the man is the leader, the head of the family,” Ms. Yuliana said, praising her husband for his flexibility throughout her career.
She said it’s important for aspiring diplomats to have some proficiency in languages other than English, as well as be able to represent their country well. Americans’ knowledge can be limited, she said.
“Sometimes people only know Bali, they don’t know where Indonesia is. They might think Bali is the country,” she said, referring to the tropical island that serves as the epicenter of Indonesian convention tourism. “But I think our task as the consulate general is to make people know where Indonesia is, the beauty of Indonesia, the opportunity that Indonesia also offers, so we are more proactive.”
Ms. Yuliana emphasized the pluralism of a country that features religious identity as one of the five tenets of its founding philosophy, Pancasila. While the majority of its population practices Islam, Indonesia also recognizes Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.
“If you go to Jakarta, the largest mosque and the largest cathedral are just across the street from each other,” she said, noting that the national government celebrates holidays of all faiths.
While the country has seen pockets of extremism and itself has been a victim of terrorism, it has focused on de-radicalization programs that focus on poverty reduction and interfaith dialogue.
“These programs are not easy to change the minds of those who already believe everything (they believe) is right,” she said.
As the country with the most Muslims worldwide, Indonesia aims to show “how Islam can go hand-in-hand with democracy,” which has been rooted firmly in the country since its transition away from authoritarianism in the late 1990s.
During the Oct. 2 event, she invited the audience to attend the Oct. 16-20 Trade Expo Indonesia, noting that she would provide notice earlier in 2020. The consulate plans to return to Atlanta next year and is seeking help from economic development groups here to lead a delegation of small and mid-size companies to the Southeast Asian country.
Billy Anugrah, who runs Indonesia’s trade office in Chicago and spoke earlier at the forum, said the sparks will fly when the two sides come together. Indonesia is already well represented in the U.S. by a strong diaspora community, and well-known commodity products like coffee, palm oil and various mined metals vouch for the business opportunities there.
“It’s actually easy to find similarities between both countries. Indonesia and the U.S. are both driven by domestic consumption,” Mr. Anugrah said. “We are two of the largest populations in the world, and also our economic posture and the scale of industry are relatively the same. There are lots of small and medium companies in the U.S., lots of small and medium companies in Indonesia. They just haven’t met yet.”
Learn more about the Atlanta trade and investment forum by reading this story: