November 16, 2023

Foreign Affairs major and History & National Security Studies minor

from Glen Allen, Virginia

Hampden-Sydney student Jack Thomas ’25 spent this past summer abroad in Bali, Indonesia, through the ROTC initiative Project Global Officer (GO).

Jack Thomas '25 standing in the center of an Indonesian family for a photo in BaliHampden-Sydney College is renowned for its commitment to forming good men and good citizens. The institution actively fulfills this mission by providing students with opportunities for not only academic development but also experiential learning. One compelling avenue is the opportunity to study abroad, a platform through which students can explore and expand their horizons. This past summer, foreign affairs major, ROTC cadet, and third-generation Hampden-Sydney student Jack Thomas ’25 took advantage of this opportunity on a unique journey to Bali, Indonesia, through the nationwide program Project Global Officer (Project GO).

According to the program’s website, Project GO is “open to all qualified ROTC students offering fully-funded opportunities in critical language education, overseas study, and cross-cultural experience. Since 2007, Project GO has provided approximately 6,500 students with opportunities to study culture and 19 languages, both domestically and abroad in 33 countries around the world.”

“I have to give credit to the late Lieutenant Colonel Rucker Snead ’81,” Jack said. “During my freshman year, Colonel Snead encouraged me to get my feet wet and experience life beyond our borders to become a better citizen.”

Intrigued by the prospect of exploring a country vastly different from the U.S., Jack applied to multiple U.S. Army programs in Asia, a region of significant importance in U.S. national security. To his excitement, he was selected to travel to Bali, Indonesia, a destination aligning with his interests and offering the desired distance from home.

“I wanted to jump right into the deep end as this was my first time traveling abroad,” Jack said. “Everything was covered by the Department of Defense, so I didn’t have to worry about different costs or tuition, and I was able to contribute to Project GO’s mission of forming experienced worldly officers.”

Prior to heading overseas, Jack spent a month at Arizona State University, immersing himself in the study of the Indonesian language. This crucial step prepared him for his in-depth language studies at Universitas Ngurah Rai in Denpasar, Bali, when he arrived in mid-July.

an ancient ornate Indonesian temple in BaliLocated at the southeast corner of the island, Denpasar is the capital city of the province of Bali and home to more than a million people. The urban area is crowded with low, tight buildings connected by stone streets humming with vehicles and people. The city is also home to centuries old stone temples, ornate monuments, celebratory cultural centers, and idyllic beaches.  

Upon his arrival, Jack says he felt an immediate sense of reverence for the rich culture in Indonesia. From the Catholic Mass he attended—held in a church built using Southeast Asian architecture inspired by Balinese design—to the celebration of Galungan—an important Hindu holiday celebrating the victory of good over evil, which was made even more special as this was the first full moon Galungan in 500 years—Jack immersed himself in the Indonesian way of life.

“America has a diverse population in terms of geography, race, and religion,” Jack said. “But if there is any place that rivals us in terms of culture, it is definitely Indonesia.”

Despite their diverse beliefs, the people Jack met were united through their Indonesian identity. “Indonesia is 85% Muslim, but the island of Bali is 85% Hindu,” Jack said. “My host mother and two host siblings were Hindu, and my host father was Muslim, but they were adamant that before being Hindu and Muslim, they were Indonesian.”

ancient Indonesian stone temple covered in mossIn a country worlds apart from what he was used to, Jack discovered more similarities than differences in the people he met. Many homes may lack modern amenities such as indoor plumbing, but they are filled with warmth, hospitality, and delicious meals like the ones his host mother made featuring rice, sausage, crispy fried chicken, and duck. He may have been awoken by a rooster even while living in the middle of a city, but Jack and his host family spent their days going to the beach, taking bike rides, and going on outings with other cadets.

One of his favorite memories from the trip was celebrating his 21st birthday with his host family and new friends from Austria, East Africa, and Korea.

Jack did manage to find some time for studies amidst the revelry. “We spent four hours each day Monday through Friday learning Indonesian, and though it was exhausting, it was undoubtedly worthwhile as it kept me sharp and ready to learn,” Jack noted. “I really enjoyed working with the tutors, who were Indonesian students proficient in English. Establishing bonds with them added a personal touch to my experience.”

Alongside language learning and forging new friendships, Jack engaged in university activities. “Every Friday, we had excursions with the university,” Jack recalled. “Sometimes we explored beautiful temples in Bali, while other times we visited rice fields, a cultural staple of Indonesia. Not to mention the beautiful jungles nearby.” Jack emphasized that these diverse and exciting activities enriched his cultural understanding.

As Jack bid selamat tinggal (farewell) to his Indonesian adventure in mid-August, he took advantage of a 10-hour layover in Incheon, South Korea, exploring coastal areas and indulging in the delightful flavors of South Korean seafood, particularly octopus. This unique experience marked a fitting conclusion to his adventurous travels.

Reflecting on his time in Indonesia, Jack expressed gratitude for the kindness he encountered and acknowledged the profound importance of living among diverse communities. “I learned how little I know, and I feel grateful to have taken everything in,” he remarked.

“I would absolutely do it all over again,” Jack declared. “It was one of the best choices I have ever made, and this was an experience that I never would have had if I had not attended Hampden-Sydney. I’m going to tell every cadet I meet to participate in Project GO because, simply put, it could very much change their life for the better, like how attending Hampden-Sydney changed mine.”

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