Every morning of the semester that Kelly Landers, ’11, spent in the village of Bedulu on the Indonesian island of Bali began the same way.

She’d wake up in her host family’s compound, head outside and fill up a pail for her bath and, after bathing, eat a breakfast composed mainly of rice in silence.

“Rice is so incredibly important in Bali. They have dozens of words for it, referencing different varieties and stages of life,” Landers said. “It’s so important that they think if you’re talking while you’re eating, and you say something offensive, that it’s offensive to the gods.”

Landers arrived in Bali speaking very little Balinese and, with only one member of her host family able to speak any English, she relied heavily on hand signals to communicate. She says the first few weeks were exhausting, and learning the community’s social practices were extremely difficult.

But this fish-out-of water experience is precisely what Landers was looking for. After looking at several more academic-based study abroad curriculums, she found out about the School for International Training (SIT) study abroad program and signed up. SIT programs emphasize field-based, experiential learning and allow students to live in villages off the beaten path with host families.

“There’s more of a focus on cultural immersion in SIT. I realized this is one of the few times in my life where I’ll have the opportunity not to be a tourist,” she said.

Landers became interested in Bali after being introduced to the country’s music during her freshman year in Professor Andrew McGraw’s Music and Theater of Indonesia class.  She was interested in both music and anthropology, and decided to study a discipline that draws from both programs: ethnomusicology. Since Richmond does not offer an ethnomusicology major, she decided to design her own through the interdisciplinary studies program.
 
“Ethnomusicology focuses in on music and performance as a specific lens for looking at culture,” Landers said. “It’s a window that shows a different perspective than just studying social structure or kinship, as you would in a typical anthropology class.”

She can trace her interest in the relationship between music and culture back to her childhood. Landers, who has Irish citizenship, says Irish music and performance played a major role in her upbringing.

“A lot of my family still lives in Ireland or has only moved here recently, so the Irish music scene was a really big part of growing up. All of my cousins and I step dance,” Landers said. “Understanding the role music has in Irish society made me want to look at other cultures in the same way.”

And Landers got her chance when she struck out for Bali last fall.

For the first two and a half months of her trip she spent her mornings attending language classes in a neighboring compound with ten other SIT students, and her afternoons attending art and music classes in the village.

Landers says that art and music are an integral component of Balinese education and socialization. Nearly everyone knows how to play an instrument and is a part of a community ensemble, called a banjar.

She learned how to play the Balinese style of music, called Gamelan, at Richmond, but had a hard time keeping up with the other women in her group. She says this actually helped improve her standing with the women.

“Every semester they have a new group of predominantly white kids brought into their community. We buy stuff in their stores and sleep in their homes and then we leave. So to be intentionally putting myself into a position where I look like an idiot was a really good leveler, socially,” Landers said. “I learned a few verses at Richmond, but I wasn’t brought up sitting in someone’s lap while they played.”

For the last month of her stay, the students split up to work on independent projects. She focused on Indonesian intellectual property laws.

“I was researching how intellectual property laws are affecting the art and music scenes,” Landers said. “The laws that the government is passing are forcing people to change the way they think about their traditional arts. They have the potential to take a lot of the control away from the people that actually practice music. It could also shut the doors to cross cultural and the international exchange of knowledge.”

Ideally, Landers would like to enter a combined law and master’s degree program after graduating next year, and work in intellectual property law or international justice at a nonprofit.

In the meantime, Landers says she’s just trying to get back in the swing of things at Richmond. After spending more than three months learning in the field, returning to the University’s academic pace is an adjustment.

“There’s so much less pressure to get it done and push through over there, but the work gets done,” she said. “I don’t think a lot is sacrificed in terms of quality, but people’s emotional state is so much healthier. Because of that, I think people put their best work forth. That’s something I want to remember and bring into my Richmond world.”