Monday, August 11, 2014

A close look at US soft power in Indonesia

One of my highlights during the study program was a trip to what is quite possibly the US' largest effort in public diplomacy in the region.

@america is located in one of the glitziest shopping malls at the heart of downtown Jakarta. The facade was as American as one would expect, complete with large monitors, glossy & modern displays, and a red, white, and blue color scheme. It was first launched in 2010 in an effort to engage with the youths living in the largest Muslim population of the world.

One of the many concerts taking place @america

The name "@america" invokes one of the US' major assets that the State Department highlights to make its hard sell--technology. Visitors who enter the facility are able play with such American-engineered technologies such as Microsoft's Xbox console and Google Earth. The small facility also hosts free events such as concerts by local and foreign bands and movie screenings, some of which can garner as many as 200 attendees.

Aside from the gadgets, @america offers free academic counseling and a study corner (complete with SAT/ACT and GRE prep books) for students who are interested in continuing their education in the US.And this, ultimately, is one of the US' big PD goals--to foster a longterm relationship with Indonesia through building a strong connection with its future generation of leaders.

A mural by @america's study corner highlighting campus life

As an international communication student, I've read and researched much about soft power and diplomacy as way to improve relations (and, let us not forget, to pursue state interests). So it was pretty cool to see US' public diplomacy in action and to meet the products of such efforts--the students who have studied in the US and now work at the center. After days of meeting with political leaders, it was refreshing to chat with our young tour guides, both of whom have studied in the US. Our conversation ranged from their experiences in the States to romantic relationships, popular Indonesian dramas/movies to cool indie bands. It was from them that I learned about the jazzy trio, Maliq & D'Essentials:

It's these type of people-to-people connections that I value whenever I travel, and are what ultimately frame my persepctives of the country. It definitely made it easier for me to see young Indonesians for what they really are--ordinary people with similar passions and goals for life and the future. @america may be a small space filled with images of typical American stereotypes (football, anyone?), but inside can be found big dreams and a budding relationship.

Ruth and I with the young @america employees

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