Coming into Focus in Indonesia

What have I done??

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ve gotten myself into…


That’s a direct quote from the first two lines of a word document I started the first week of my internship at the Jakarta Globe. Reading those words reminds me of how far I’ve come and all the adventures, learning experiences, and surprises that were to come in Indonesia.

Before Jakarta, I was an intern at KING 5 and I started a kettle corn business with four strangers for six months as part of the UW’s entrepreneurship minor. I had a never-ending to-do list; there was a calendar on my desk that I’m pretty sure scared my roommate with all of its color-coded reminders.

Some people warn students about “senioritis.” I wish I had had senioritis; I bet my friends, family, professors and classmates wish I had it too (at least to some extent). From January to June of my senior year, I worked harder than I ever had and was exhausted by graduation. I was proud of the work I had done, but it was getting hard to keep up towards the end.

Then it was time to leave for Jakarta. I didn’t feel like I was leaving a Washington summer for 2.5 months in a city across the world, even while I was checking my bag at the airport.

Suddenly (22 hours later), I was buying an Indonesian SIM card at Soekarno-Hatta International.

My goal for the internship seemed simple: learn how to do video. It was something I didn’t know how to do, and what better place to learn than a whole new country? I wasn’t sure if that’s what the Jakarta Globe wanted from me, but I thought I might as well try.

The first two days in Jakarta were tough. Although I had prepared by finding a place to live, downloading a taxi app, and buying a Lonely Planet guidebook of the city, I was unprepared for the shock of day-to-day life. I had gone from being a fairly independent person to someone who was afraid to even cross the street!

I learned to find the little “wins” as I adjusted to life in a new hemisphere: I successfully managed to get to work on time the first day (in spite of Jakarta’s legendary traffic jams); I published a story about a cool digital art exhibit during my first week; I went grocery shopping, bought a (beloved) rice cooker, and had coffee that was better and cheaper than any I could find in Seattle.

During my third week, I was sent with eight photographers to the Thousand Islands off the coast of Jakarta for five days to make a series of multimedia projects.

It’s something I’ll never forget.

The Mayor of the Thousand Islands fed everyone, including a pack of journalists, from this big platter at his birthday party.

We climbed a rusty observation tower at a nature preserve, swam in the Java sea, ran around taking pictures at the islands’ only high school, shared a sweltering guesthouse with some lizards, visited the ruins of Dutch fort, paddled through mangroves and even danced with the mayor at his birthday party (or, at least, I did that last one).

It was interesting to watch each person do their job with such a lean set up (which would prove helpful to me later). They showed me that video journalism doesn’t have to be complicated, which is what had been holding me back.

Watching sunsets with photojournalists is a tech-heavy experience.

After that trip, they asked me to do some more camera work and gave me more responsibility. I was the main camera person for two “Vogue’s 73 Questions”-style interviews that I was told about the night before. It was intimidating, but I learned a lot very quickly.

Then I went on a solo reporting trip to Yogyakarta to interview a man I found on the internet (reading that back sounds a little strange, but true). I pitched a story about a “DIY ethnomusicologist” from California. I reached out on a whim and eventually found myself flying to Jogja, working the camera, voicing the script, and then handing over my footage to the video editors and watching the story on YouTube. The reporting experience felt like when you’re learning to ride a bike – you’re nervous at first and you don’t know how to do everything, but then all of a sudden, you’re doing it.

The same example could be used to describe my experience in Jakarta as a whole.

Taken from the plane home from Yogyakarta.

My mother gave me some advice that I would give it to anyone considering the Foreign Intrigue program (or any project, really): come from a place of yes.

“Can you bring your camera to the interview tomorrow?”…“Yeah, can you go up that tower and get some pictures?”…“You’re the main camera”…”I need you to take some photos for me”…“Just go and take videos of beautiful things”…” Bring your mic”…“Let’s go” – Yeah, sure, okay, will do, yes.

Sometimes you don’t know what you want until someone shows you something you’ve never even thought of before – and that’s exciting; make informed decisions and prepare as much as you can, but accept that the unexpected things can be the best things. At least, that’s been true for me.

Of course, I couldn’t have done any of this on my own. None of what I did would have been possible without the people around me: from the very existence of the Foreign Intrigue scholarship, to my talented coworkers at the Jakarta Globe, to the taxi drivers who got me around this crazy city, and many others that I do not have the space to write down.

I was correct when I wrote that I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into: I could not have imagined it.

By Emily Gilbert