Kellner Discovers Indonesia Through Luce Fellowship

UW–Madison alum Paul Kellner (M.S. ‘07, Life Sciences Communication) recently completed a year working in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a 2010-11 Luce Scholar.

The Henry Luce Foundation created the year-long Luce Scholars Program to increase awareness about Asia among potential leaders in American society who have had limited experience in the region and who might not otherwise have an opportunity to come to know Asia. The program is nationally competitive, with only 15 to 18 recipients chosen each year. Luce Scholars receive a stipend, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia.

At the time of his selection, Kellner was manager of the Care and Protection of Children in Crisis-Affected Countries Learning Network at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He also has worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services’ International Health and Respiratory Disease Units, Scholastic, Inc.’s Community Affairs and Government Relations Department, and Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries. He has also consulted as a speechwriter and videographer/ producer for various mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns.

Kellner spent his Luce year in Jakarta as a researcher for the Indonesian Center for the Study of Law and Policy (PSHK), where, he says, “I have supported the drafting, implementation, and mapping of national laws and policies, including: a public health law concerning breast-feeding and milk formula advertising; an immigration bill that will redefine the concept of permanent residency; and the mapping of the national legal framework for child protection services.”

Recently, he talked about his experiences for Wisconsin in the World:

Q: What was the nature of your research?

“Although many of the scholars engage in research, the Luce Scholarship is first, designed to be a cultural experience, and second, a work placement.  I chose to work for a public policy think tank called the Center for Indonesian Law and Policy Studies (Pusat Studi Hukum dan Kebijakan, PSHK).  I supported research on child protection, breast-feeding, and immigration policies, but I did not author any large-scale research.”

Q: What did you learn in Indonesia that might have relevance in the United States?

“PSHK is adept at energizing people to participate in government.  They held legal drafting trainings for a wide range of people—from members of parliament to staff from local NGOs.  Invariably, the groups were energized to engage in ‘socially responsible law-making.  Some of their techniques for empowering advocates may be helpful in the future.

“Also, I think that the opportunity to be immersed in another country required me to attempt to avoid snap judgments about other people’s ideas and behaviors.  I hope that I can carry that orientation with me no matter where I live in the future. “

Paul Kellner (M.S. ‘07, Life Sciences Communication)
Paul Kellner (M.S. ‘07, Life Sciences Communication)

Q: Outside of your actual work, in what ways did you interact with the culture?

“One of my favorite ways was through music.  I played music with classmates and coworkers, both Western and Indonesian.  I also played with a gamelan sometimes, which taught me a great deal about the aesthetics of traditional Indonesian music.  For instance, at first listen to many gamelan, they sound slightly out of tune.  One can hear the ‘beats’ produced by two notes that are not perfectly in tune.  This, I learned, is a deliberate way of creating a ‘shimmery’ aesthetic for many performances.

“I really enjoyed getting to know the food.  I love spicy food, and there is no shortage of it in Indonesia.  Eating on the streets almost anywhere in Southeast Asia is an exciting experience, and a great way to get to know many of the local people. “

Q: What surprised you most about living and working in Indonesia?

“I was surprised at Indonesia’s relationship with the rest of the world.  Many of my friends are quite ‘outward-looking’—they are really interested in learning in cultures outside of their own.  That said, they love their own country very much.  Many of them had studied abroad, and they consistently would say that whenever they are not in Indonesia, they miss it greatly.

“Also, Indonesia is a very diverse place – 17,000 islands, over 200 languages, over 200 million people.  To be honest, I was unaware and unprepared for the internal complexities of Indonesia.”

Q: What was your most challenging adjustment?

“One of the most challenging parts of my adjustment to living in Asia was learning etiquette.  There are many more rules about how to show your respect for your coworkers and friends.  Learning, and eventually remembering, all those rules has been a long process.”

Q: What were your most memorable experiences?

“The landscape is also quite diverse, and two of my favorite experiences were visits to Samosir Island and Mount Bromo.  Both are unique and striking results of volcanic activity.

“Bromo is a small active volcano that has emerged from the middle of a now-dead super volcano.  Between the walls of the dead super volcano and Mount Bromo is a sand sea that looks particularly lunar, strewn with boulders from eruptions.  Seeing the sunrise burn away the fog over this sand sea was a once in a lifetime experience.

“Additionally, Samosir Island is about the size of Singapore and is situated in a lake that is the cone of another dead super volcano. It is a seat of Batak culture, which recently as 200 years ago still included some practicing cannibals. Though a tourist destination now, it was another strange and beautiful place as well.”

Q: How has this experience affected you and your perspective on the world?

“I’m not sure that I can say at this point.  I think that reflecting on my own culture by being fully removed from it will help me to be more discerning about how I choose to live my life.

“It has affected me in that I feel that I have more to learn in Indonesia and have thus decided to live here for another year. “

— By Kerry G. Hill