I recently traveled to Yogyakarta with the HSP team in support of the Indonesia Stewards Fellowship. On my last day in-country, I ventured over to the royal palace, more officially known as Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat. Awe-struck by its grandiosity, I was oddly unaware of how touristy I looked…until I was approached by a group of young Indonesians who wanted to interview me.
Each was donned in a white medical coat with an official-looking badge, and I soon learned that they were nursing students at a local university. What could they possibly want to speak with me about? These early-career nurses surely knew more about medicine than I did, yet they sought me out specifically. They explained that as part of their nursing degree, they were required to practice their English-speaking skills and were encouraged to conduct interviews with tourists. Their questions had nothing to do with science or medicine, but rather about my experiences in Yogyakarta, what I liked and disliked about their country and what foods I had tried while there.
They hung on my every word, seemingly fascinated and appreciative to be talking with a native English-speaker. It was in this moment that I truly realized the power of cross-cultural interactions, and the disappointing truth that this does not happen nearly enough. Learning about scientific communities around the world is great, but not sufficient. Actually traveling to the far corners of the globe, however, and meeting people face-to-face is a breathtaking experience in which differences of race, religion and economic status fade into the background, and commonalities are brought into the spotlight. Aside from our shared passion for improving human health, we also shared the experience of attending a university (I just recently graduated) as well as our mutual love of sate (a traditional Indonesian dish).
In our increasingly globalized world, where infectious diseases and environmental catastrophes know no borders, it is crucial that we improve cross-border collaboration. This can be done through science diplomacy rooted in a common language – something my new Indonesian friends were already aware of.
By Aimee Tandoi