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A Fresh Perspective on Philadelphia

June 15, 2016

Satwika Rahapsari, a graduate student in the Dance/Movement Therapy Counseling Program, came to Drexel from Indonesia on a student grant from the Fulbright Foundation. Having never traveled to the United States before September, Rahapsari had some unique hurdles to jump in adapting to the culture here in the City of Brotherly Love. Though she spent a month at University of California Davis for a cultural and language class first, Philadelphia is the largest city she had ever experienced. “When I lived in Indonesia, I came from an area that was much more suburban,” she added.

The experience of familiarizing yourself with a new culture is a challenge in and of itself, but through Rahapsari’s lens, the intensely fast pace of the northeast only amplified the difficulties she faced in acclimating herself. “There are so many people here (in Philadelphia),” said Rahapsari, sharing her initial reactions to the City. “Everything is so quick! You have to run from one place to another.”

For Rahapsari, the speed most Philadelphians have become numb to made navigating a daunting task – not just in getting from point A to point B, but in navigating the language. “I learned English in Indonesia, but when I came to Philadelphia the most difficult thing was understanding the dialect and accents here. It was nothing I had heard from non-native speakers who taught me the language.” Rahapsari noted that she struggled to catch on to what her friends and teachers meant in classes, given that the local accents she heard in Philadelphia are especially unique. “They speak so fast and in dialect that was new to me.”

After about two or three months, Rahapsari grew more comfortable and confident in her understanding of the language by listening astutely, and learning from conversations and lectures. “The more I hear the language, the easier it is!”

She found another resource she credits with helping her get academically adjusted – the writing center. “They help a great deal of international students overcome difficulty with the language in writing. It’s been a big help for me!” she said.

Continuing to discuss her experience in Philadelphia as a first-timer, Rahapsari, like all who visit our fair city, had to note the food. “Before I learned the city, I had a hard time finding food that matched my taste. The more I explored, the more I found Asian communities with restaurants serving the meals I am used to,” she said. This multicultural aspect is in part what drew Rahapsari to Philadelphia and to Drexel.

With an undergraduate degree in psychology and a love of dance, the decision to pursue a master’s degree in dance/movement therapies was a natural one. “It’s interconnected with what I’ve studied and my passion as a dancer,” she said. Once the scholarship was confirmed, she set her sights on Drexel. “I liked it because of the location and the program it offered. The courses were geared toward the multicultural perspective, and the city itself is very diverse.”

Feeling better adjusted and embracing the exciting challenge that is her experience as an international student, Rahapsari is diving into her work. She recently presented her research on "Finding the Self in Bedhaya Dance: Jungian Depth Psychology Analysis of the Javanese Sacred Dance" at the 18th Annual Southeast Asia Graduate Student Conference at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. She investigates the process of meaning internalization in Bedhaya Dance, a classical Indonesian dance, and its contribution to the human psyche development.  The analysis uses Jungian psychology to explore the psychodynamic of the dance in forming human’s personality.

It is clear that Rahapsari is teaching others just as much as she is learning in this exciting new cultural experience.

By Margaret DeGennaro ‘12