This is not my first time in Boston. In 2007, I came here to participate in seminar on Women and Islam at the University of Massachusetts. That one week visit inspired me to apply for the sandwich program in Boston.
In terms of atmosphere, Boston is similar to Jogjakarta. I called it ‘kota pelajar’ or students’ city because many historic and well-known universities are located here, such as Harvard University, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Massachusetts (UMass), Northeastern University, Brandeis University and many more.
The numerous universities in Boston made the city full of students. Thus, the city is consistently listed in the top 10 states with the most international students enrolled. With the influx of temporary residents, so goes the price of rent and property, along with higher cost of living.
An advantage of Boston for my sandwich program is the opportunity to be part of discussions and lectures at campuses across Boston. Every department and program in a university will have regularly scheduled discussions, lectures, or seminars. For me, this is a great opportunity. I can ‘shop around’ for new knowledge and perspective about topics that are relevant and of interest to me, coming from my peers, faculty members, and scholars who are experts in their field.
Almost every two weeks, I attend a discussion organized by fellows at the ASH Harvard Kennedy School. A variety of topics are discussed here, from politics in Indonesia, Syariah Law, Women in Islam, and many more. Another interesting discussion that I have attended was “The Islamic School of Law in the Digital Age” organized by Harvard Law School.
Furthermore, I was an invited participant at an event organized by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program in Harvard University with the topic of “Perceptions of Muslims in the West: Discourses after the Boston Bombings and the Woolwich Murder.” The panelists for this event include authors, scholars, media pundits, and Special Representative to Muslim Communities, US Department of State, Farah Pandith. I learned about how the Muslim community in the United States responded to the Boston bombing and its implication to the community. From Farah Pandith, I learned about standard security measures for major public gathering like the Boston Marathon. I requested for recordings or handouts from the event but the organizers said that the whole event was off the record upon request from the US Federal government. I also tried to engage Farah Pandith about Indonesia’s position as a Muslim-majority country from the perspective of the US government. Her reply was “I cannot talk to you because I don’t know you and I have to get a permission from government. So send me an email, describe your self and the topic that you want to discuss. I will reply it as soon as I get permission from government.” And I can understand where she is coming from and her reasoning.
At a different occasion, I attended a discussion held by The Institute on Culture, religion, and World Affairs (CURA), Boston University. “Shaming the State: Subjectivity and Islamic Ethics in Indonesia’s Pornography Debate” was presented by James Hoesterey, Emory University, along with a few other interesting topics.
Another event I have attended was a two-day Colloquium on Islam and Muslim Societies in Southeast Asia, organized by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University. Interestingly, I learned a lot about Islam in Southeast Asia, and specifically in Indonesia. The topics covered ranges from history of Islam, Sufism, fiqh, Islamic perspective on the environment, and many more. For me, as a Ph.D. student in ICRS, this is a wonderful opportunity where not only I can expand my knowledge and perspective, but also network with scholars in the field, and at the same time representing and introducing ICRS to a global scholarly audience.
The sandwich program has opened plenty of opportunities for me to reach my research goal, while at the same time building a network. I feel that I have made the right choice in picking Boston University as my host university.