Most students from Indonesia are Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program scholarship winners. Click here to learn more about the YES Program.
Indonesia’s motto is “unity in diversity”—appropriate for a nation whose population includes some 300 ethnic groups speaking more than 500 languages and dialects, stretching across the world’s largest archipelago: 17,000 islands; 11,000 of which are uninhabited. There’s a wealth of culture to learn about, such as the dress (sarongs, kebayas, batik shirts, and songkoks) and the wonderful cuisine which combines techniques and ingredients from Indonesia, the Middle East, China, and Europe. Indonesia is the fourth most populated country in the world.
Because of the vast area that is covered by Indonesia and the fact that most islands and highlands have been isolated for such a long time, you can find an astonishing and unparalleled diversity of customs, textiles, languages and architecture.
For the most part, the Indonesian family is usually an extended family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and first and second cousins. Indonesians are also members of the greater community; in addition to family obligations, they feel indebted to their village, their mosque or their professional organization.
Indonesians are generally indirect in their approach, people tend not to talk or request something directly. They avoid embarrassing the other party by saying “no” at the beginning, and also avoid embarrassing themselves by getting their request turned down by the other party. Usually people will make a request if they know that they have a fairly good chance of getting a “yes” answer. This indirectness, however, cannot be generalized. Usually the closer the relationship is the more straightforward one can be.
Teens in Indonesia share many of the same interests as teens around the world. They enjoy surfing the Internet, going to cafes, movies and shopping malls, reading and spending time with friends.
Indonesia is well known for its cuisine which combines indigenous techniques and ingredients with influences from India (curries), the Middle East (kabobs known as sates), China (stir-frying) and Europe, including products brought by Spanish and Portuguese traders before the Dutch colonized the islands. Cooking varies by region. The Minangkabau region in West Sumatra, for instance, is represented by Padang-style food, which is particularly spicy. (Padang is the capital city of West Sumatra.) However, most Indonesian food shares the culinary trinity of fish, coconut and chilies served most often with rice.
The main meal in Indonesia is usually served at midday. Food that was cooked in the morning is set out all at once. Family members help themselves, serving with a spoon and always eating or passing dishes with their right hands. There is less family gathering or ceremony of communal eating than in other cultures, but there is communal cooking and a strict hierarchy that determines one’s role and conduct at the table. A meal may include a soup, salad and another main dish. Whatever the meal, it is accompanied by at least one and often several sambals—spice relishes that are mixed with the food.
About 300 languages and dialects are spoken in Indonesia, but Bahasa Indonesia is the official and most widely spoken tongue. It is based on Malay, long the market language of coastal towns, and it contains elements of Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Dutch and English. Other languages are also common, and many Indonesians speak two or more languages, most often Javanese, with more than 80 million speakers, and Sundanese, spoken by residents of the western end of Java.
About 86% of the population is Muslim, making Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation. Roughly 10% is Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic) and the rest are Hindu, Buddhist and KongHuChu.