Sydney Garvis '18 with Aceh Zero Plastic cleanup



Sunset over Lumpuuk beach

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Leila Goldstein '14 playing warmup games outside at the beginning of poetry class copy

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Barbecue, Aceh style

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Leila Goldstein '14 and Patrick Gilfether '15

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Tino Merino '12 at Tsunami memorial

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Karl Orozco '13 and mural Artists

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Julie Gaynes '13 ,Leila Goldstein '14, Ruby Saha '14, and Matt Wilmer'12

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Karl Orozco '13 writing on board

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Leila Goldstein '14 with her class and Executive Director Gavin Tritt

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Karl Orozco '13 helping students

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“I have felt incredibly lucky not only to have gained these new perspectives and many new friends, but also to have found such a welcoming new place to call my home.”

— Julia Nakad, Fellow to Syiah Kuala University, 2010-2012

The two-year Shansi Fellowships to live and work in Banda Aceh, Indonesia is a unique opportunity to live in a fascinating region of Indonesia, to become immersed in Indonesian language and Acehnese culture, and to develop teaching and cross-cultural skills. 


Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, is located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, one of the largest islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The region is well-known for its natural beauty, from the seaside landscape to highlands where coffee is grown. Because of the close proximity to the ocean, Acehnese cuisine is brimming with fresh seafood and spices. The ubiquitous coffee shops serve as meeting places for friends, family members, and business people. In these local cafes, it’s not unusual to see young people playing games on their computers or older men catching up with each other over snacks and iced sweet coffee.

About Syiah Kuala University

Syiah Kuala University, founded in 1960, is the premier public university in Aceh. It has an enrollment of approximately 25,000 students in 13 divisions, including law, economics, education, engineering, agriculture, medicine, and science. The International Center for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies is a think tank based at Syiah Kuala that studies local and regional development. Oberlin Shansi has hosted more than 25 Syiah Kuala faculty members as Visiting Scholars here at Oberlin since our partnership with the university was established in 2007. The Visiting Scholars who have returned from Oberlin are a great resource for cultural questions and support.

The Fellowship

The two Shansi Fellows divide their time teaching between two departments — the Language Center and the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training. Teaching responsibilities total 14 hours per week. Fellows teach English speaking, reading, and writing, and sometimes specialized courses like theater or poetry, to undergraduate and graduate students as well as young faculty. The energetic and inventive approach Fellows bring to teaching is a valuable and inspiring resource for students on the track to become teachers themselves.

The Aceh Fellowship also offers incredible opportunities for Fellows outside of teaching. Some have volunteered with local civil society organizations working on environmental sustainability, arts education, or child education. Others have worked in local museums, studied local music and dance, and made documentary films.

Aceh is a fascinating place to live and work, and its unique history and culture have a profound impact on Shansi Fellows’ experiences. Aceh has a complex past of colonization that stretches from the 16th century to the middle of the 20th century. The region has long claimed independence or an autonomous status; a 29-year-long civil war between the Indonesian government and Acehnese separatists did not formally end until 2005, after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. These natural disasters devastated Banda Aceh, killing more than 200,000 citizens and displacing more than 500,000. The province’s tumultuous recent history still profoundly informs Aceh’s identity and relationship to the rest of Indonesia.


Aceh is the only Indonesian province under Islamic Law; most Acehnese are religiously observant and socially conservative. As guests and colleagues in the community, Fellows are expected to respect local values. Both men and women dress modestly in this region of Indonesia, and though friendship between unmarried men and women is common, cultural norms around social interaction are much more conservative than in the US. Fellows are required to behave in a professional manner and observe local customs. At the same time, Acehnese society is warm and welcoming, and locals are generally outgoing and excited to befriend the Shansi Fellows.

What does a strong candidate for the Fellowship to Syiah Kuala look like?

Although we don’t have any set requirements when we look for a good candidate to Banda Aceh, an interest in teaching, passion for intercultural learning and sharing, and an open mind are necessary. Successful Fellows have come from a variety of majors including neuroscience, cinema studies, history, and geology. Some had never lived abroad before, while others had spent years in Asia.

Students of peace and conflict studies, environmental policy, Islamic studies, or NGOs will find many outlets for their interests. Past Fellows have also done stand up comedy, break-dancing, and pursued other artistic avenues during their Fellowships. The Fellowship in Aceh opens the door to extraordinary careers including one past Fellow who is now the Global Coordinator for the Forestry Initiative at the Clinton Foundation.

Language training

Fellows receive intensive Indonesian language training with Alam Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language School) during the summer before they start their work at Syiah Kuala University. Tuition, books, travel, and living expenses during the period of the language training are covered by Shansi. Once the Fellowship begins, Shansi provides an allowance for language study for the remainder of the Fellowship.


Shansi Fellows live in university housing that is predominantly for lecturers and their families. When both Fellows are the same gender, Fellows will live in the house on campus together, and there have usually been one or two university students living in the house too. However, if there is a male Fellow and a female Fellow, one of the Fellows will live in a separate apartment next door. 


Fellows at Syiah Kuala arrive in Indonesia in late June for language study and are on site in late August. There is usually a winter break and vacation during the summer months.


Summary of the Oberlin Shansi Fellowship to Syiah Kuala University


Shansi staff will visit you on site and provide continuing support and assistance from

the campus of Oberlin College. The Fellowship includes:

  • Pre-departure cultural and site-specific orientation and training

  • Summer intensive Indonesian language study in Yogyakarta

  • International airfare to and from Indonesia

  • A monthly stipend and furnished housing on campus

  • Major medical and medical evacuation insurance during the Fellowship

  • A $1,500 grant for travel in Asia

  • Reimbursement for continued language study during the Fellowship