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  • “I’ve learned more about myself and have grown as a person more than I could have just staying in the States.”

  • Lindsey Schmidt ’21 (right) poses with her supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

A student athlete is inspired by life and work in Indonesia

Imagine training for a heptathlon. Now imagine training 10,000 miles away from home in Jakarta, Indonesia, and being the only woman at the gym lifting weights. While this might sound daunting to some, for Lindsey Schmidt ’21, a varsity athlete from Eagle, Idaho, it was a thrilling opportunity to immerse herself in another culture. Schmidt, who is majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, received a Streicker Fellowship to spend 10 weeks interning at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia in the Bureau of East Asian and Public Affairs. Her job at the embassy kept her busy, but she also found time to maintain a regular training schedule in preparation for the 2019-20 women’s track and field season.

During the school year, Schmidt spends four to five hours a day at the track training for the heptathlon, and in the process, she has become excellent at time management and balancing her professional and athletic goals. These skills served her well in Jakarta, where she needed to train alone and communicate virtually with her coach at Princeton to adapt exercises to a city environment that wasn’t ideal for running. “I lifted in gyms and did elliptical and such. I was okay sacrificing that for the great opportunity of the internship,” she explains, noting that her training was less rigorous in Indonesia than it would have been in the United States. Despite the challenges of training, Schmidt was excited to immerse herself in her internship work, the local language, current events and culture.

“I tried to pick up as much bahasa Indonesia as I could,” she says of her efforts to learn the language, even though her work at the embassy was conducted in English. She was thrilled to be participating in international affairs and learning from locals in Jakarta, an experience that brought so much of what she had learned in the classroom to life. “I 100% recommend going abroad whether it is studying, interning or just traveling,” says Schmidt, adding, “I’ve learned more about myself and have grown as a person more than I could have just staying in the States.”

This was not Schmidt’s first cultural immersion experience. During her first year at Princeton, Schmidt participated in Coach for College in rural Vietnam, a global initiative to promote higher education through sports. The experience was a formative one, and she was keen to return to Southeast Asia to explore the region and its culture. When Schmidt learned about the Streicker Fellowship — established in 2015 by John H. Streicker ’64 — which gives students the opportunity to pair cultural immersion with an internship of their own design, she jumped at the chance to return to the region and learn more about a career at the State Department.

While interning in the public affairs sector at the embassy, Schmidt organized activities related to education and cultural exchange programs. Her work involved interacting with senior-level U.S. government and foreign officials, Indonesian business professionals, State Department program alumni and local students. One of her main projects included helping organize a reception for Indonesian students who had spent their junior year of high school in the United States. At the reception, she met two girls who had studied in Boise, Idaho. “It was incredible that I was talking to these two girls from the other side of the world who did the same things that I did in high school,” says Schmidt. “I had a ton of small interactions like that where I found out things I had in common with locals.”

Now that she is back on campus, Schmidt finds herself saying selemat siang sometimes instead of “good afternoon” or terima kashih instead of “thank you,” and she misses sambal, the spicy Indonesian sauce she ate with her nasi goring, a quintessential Indonesian fried rice dish. She keeps in touch with the local interns who became her friends, and she says that what she learned while working with them was how to work as a team to keep things — particularly cultural events and presentations — running smoothly even when they did not go as planned. In terms of advice she would give to other interns, Schmidt would encourage them to ask questions and say “yes” to new cultural opportunities.

Arriving at Princeton, like many students, Schmidt wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. “I came in [totally] undecided,” she says. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.” She credits the Streicker Fellowship for supporting her internship experience, which helped define her career goals: “I know now that I am particularly interested in joining the Foreign Service [after graduation].”

Schmidt says that her time in Indonesia taught her that balancing her goals as an athlete and a student meant working smarter rather than harder, and that the creative challenge of living, working and training in a new country was one she would encourage other students to pursue with creativity and joy. “Lindsey learned to manage her priorities at work and her commitment to training as a varsity student athlete and she demonstrated a high level of perseverance,” says Shahreen Rahman, director of Princeton’s International Internship Program and program manager for the Streicker Fellowship. “I would certainly consider her a true global ambassador.”