As we rounded the corner on our motorbikes, kicking up a large cloud of dust in the narrow passageway, we caught a glimpse of our first study community in eastern Solo.
Nestled between a berm to the north and a large river to the south, the neighborhood appeared physically and socially isolated from the rest of the city. Unsure of how to begin our visit, I turned to Dina and Bima, two of Solo Kota Kita’s student volunteers, for direction. Without hesitating, they took the lead.
Upon navigating through the kampong, stopping often to chat with residents about the condition of their keluharan, I became increasingly impressed by the students’ keen understanding of the city fabric and their strong ability to connect with residents. Their approach and broad knowledge-base provided me with invaluable insights that aided in future site visits and analysis.
Over the next six weeks, I spent a significant amount of time with the students. We shared analytical and graphic tools, discussed the similarities and differences between Indonesian and American landscapes and embarked on numerous bike tours and midnight food stand runs.
This cultural exchange has made a large impact on my academic experience primarily because of its emphasis on community participation. With the help of student volunteers and local neighborhood facilitators, we gained insight on the future of the communities directly from residents themselves.