Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Never Go to the IMF"

In a typical college course, you skim some articles and have a 10 minute lecture regarding the IMF’s role during the Asian Financial Crisis. It is a run-of-the-mill topic. You probably jot down a note or two about how the IMF’s demands on Asian nations still remain sensitive issues in the region… And then you move on with life, and daydream about which latte you are going to buy from the Dav lounge. That factoid is logged away somewhere you can access it later.

Now imagine sitting across a boardroom table in the Indonesian Foreign Ministry Department with a senior official responsible for Indonesia’s relationship with the United States. Consider that he looks you in the eyes and says, “The lesson we learned from the Asian Financial Crisis was never go to the IMF again.”

No amount of academic study can replace the impact of hearing those words direct from the source. Trust me. I have lived both realities!

When I asked the Director of North and Central American Affairs at the Indonesian Foreign Ministry what the most critical lessons learned from the reforms following the Asian Financial Crisis were in his opinion, I had not anticipated the fervor in which he would condemn the IMF. In my studies I had absolutely encountered second-hand reports of such feelings, but readings just don’t compare to sitting four seats away hearing the perceptions straight from the source.

Just the opportunity to be briefed by this official was remarkable, let alone being allowed to have open dialogue and question him on any topic. And this official is only one in a host of countless others that we have met on the study abroad (16 in Malaysia and 10 in Indonesia). Take a glance at this laundry list: A senior TPP negotiator, the Ambassador for Indonesian-ASEAN relations, 4 MPs from ruling and opposition political parties, top think tank scholars, former military officials, trade directors, human rights leaders, U.S. embassy staff, business advocates…the list goes on of the speakers who took time to brief and be questioned by our small group of graduate students.

The Malaysia-Indonesia study abroad program gets you out of your scholarly articles and into the real world of foreign affairs. You can read a million articles on the negative perception of the IMF during the Asian Financial Crisis, but it will never mean as much as hearing a policy maker denounce the practices to your face. The academic topics you have been stuck studying behind a desk in the Bender Library become real-life, in the flesh, encounters with decision makers, government opposition parties, political elites, and proactive academic leaders.

This study abroad is a once in a lifetime experience to shake hands and swap business cards with people who are literally guiding foreign affairs and shaping global politics.

*Photo courtesy of Reuters

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