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  Road Signs

Face to Face

By Danuta Bukatko, Joseph H. Maguire '58 Professor in Education
Danuta Bukatko

After over twenty hours of flying, we finally felt our plane touching down on the tarmac at the airport in Denpasar, Indonesia.  Despite our long hours of traveling, Amy Wolfson, Susan Rodgers, and I were decidedly excited about this trip. We were on our way to the Central Javanese city of Yogyakarta to participate in a week-long workshop at Indonesia’s sole Jesuit University—Sanata Dharma University (USD).

Amy and I were there to establish a connection with the members of the Psychology Faculty, a project that seemed to offer intriguing possibilities for collaboration between our two departments. As an anthropologist with specialty in Indonesia, Susan was our trustworthy guide, translator, and cultural laison. Much planning had gone into this trip—language, history, and culture lessons with Susan during the several months prior, emails back and forth to Sanata Dharma about the details of our week’s plans, and the creation of our PowerPoint presentations on how we “do” Psychology teaching and research at Holy Cross. We were finally there!

Our central objective was to get to the USD campus quickly, but we first made a brief stopover in Bali. Most people who think of Bali, I suspect, conjure up images of thatch-roofed accommodations with infinity-edge pools by the side of the ocean. But we were staying and touring well outside of the Conde Nast A-list of five-star resorts, and any preconceived notions I had about what Bali is like were quickly dispelled. Tourism was down after the bombings of 2002, and there was much evidence that the economy was feeling the impact, from empty restaurants to shopkeepers who were eager to see an American visitor enter their store. The streets were alive with roaring motorbikes, the preferred mode of transportation in an area where owning a car was beyond most families’ reach.

At the same time, I remembered hearing Shirish Korde say at last spring’s Balinese gamelon and dance performance that Bali was the most spiritual place on earth, and I quickly came to see what he meant. We seemed to encounter temples and religious ceremonies at every turn. The people we met seemed intimately connected with their ancestors; offerings to their spirits were found on stone walls, curbsides, and entryways to homes and shops. Land was very important and valued, especially each family’s rice field which supplied the staple ingredient for almost every meal. And the music and art—batik, silverwork, paintings—reflected people’s intimate connection with a creative self.

Our next stop was Yogyakarta, cultural capital of Indonesia and home to many excellent universities.  Our hosts at Sanata Dharma were so gracious, shuttling us each day from our hotel to the new campus where the large School of Psychology was housed, making sure we were well fed and comfortable, organizing the day’s workshop activities, and, at the end of some days, taking us on various tours of the region.

Our main activities at the university centered on exchanging information on how we teach and how we do research at our respective campuses. Amy and I were struck by just how enthusiastic the USD psychology faculty were about becoming active, contributing scientists and scholars. Most had completed Masters level work but were eager to complete their Ph.D.’s. We explored ways in which Holy Cross faculty could partner with faculty at Sanata Dharma in research, assist in preparing at least some of the young faculty for further graduate study, and perhaps even arrange for our students to collaborate on projects via web conferencing. (This last idea seems especially exciting!) But the exchange was certainly not one-sided—we learned so much from our USD colleagues. We were struck, for example, by how involved the USD faculty were in community and justice work. Several faculty members were involved in NGOs, one working on domestic violence issues, another on bettering facilities for psychiatric patients. Still other faculty had initiated a crisis intervention program for victims of last year’s earthquake, regularly sending students and faculty to the town of Bantul, which was particularly hard-hit by the 6.3 quake.

On our tour of Bantul, we could see that there was still considerable damage to homes, schools, and community buildings. Yet we could also see the results of the efforts of the USD faculty and students on behalf of the individuals who had suffered from post-traumatic stress. One village meeting house in which children gathered for after-school activities, for example, was full of smiling faces—healthy, resilient youngsters who seemed ready to move on from their suffering. The USD faculty provided us with inspiring models for how to link academics and community-based work.

We ended our excursion with a quick trip to Sumatra, where Susan was ordering the graduation stoles for Asian Studies concentrators, and where she was also picking up a stunning textile that was to become part of the Cantor Art Gallery study collection of Southeast Asian textiles. It felt very special to have direct contact with the makers of these fine works of art, to hear them talk about their work and to witness the pride they took in their craft.

And that was probably the most important part of this trip. There is something about having that face-to-face interaction—looking people in the eye and making that personal connection—which affected me very deeply.  Much of our business could probably have been conducted via email, FedEx, web conferencing, or Skype, but I don’t think it would have had the same consequences. I know that Amy and I feel a very strong  commitment to maintain a connection with the USD faculty, a connection in which we hope to involve some of our Holy Cross colleagues in the months to come. Would we have had such strong feelings otherwise? I am not so sure. In my field of developmental psychology, we know that there is indeed something special about looking someone in the eye. Even young infants somehow seem to know that they will get the most information about their world and what matters in it when they scan a human face and focus on that person’s eyes. In this world of technology-driven communication, where may of those subtle but essential cues that define human interaction are often stripped away, it probably does matter that we still take the time to look each other in the eye.



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