Learning Indonesian and Discovering a Love of International Affairs

Emmaline Merrill in Indonesia (far left)

With eyes set on a career in politics, Emmaline Merrill (‘24) spent the last summer taking an immersive language course in Indonesia as one of only 20 college and university students in the nation accepted for the Critical Language Scholarship.

The scholarship—which Merrill learned about from a fellow political science major—is offered by the U.S. Department of State to encourage American students to learn in-demand languages critical to international relations.

“My entire job was learning Indonesian, so they sent me to Universitas Negeri Malang in Indonesia seven hours a day, five days a week, and we just learned Indonesian,” Merrill explained, who is also fluent in English and French. “We weren’t allowed to speak English two weeks in to force us to learn the language. It was great.”

A member of Southern Virginia University’s Honors Program, Merrill is using her experience in Indonesia as inspiration for her honors thesis on nationalism in Indonesia. Receiving help from Dr. Gatut Susanto, a friend and the director of the CLS program in Indonesia, Merrill enjoyed interviewing several Indonesian students on how religion ties to their nationalism.

Emmaline Merrill (’24)

“I got in contact with them and we had an interview in Indonesian and then I translated it into English. And their responses were just so cool. That’s probably my favorite part,” Merrill said. “I still keep in contact with the friends I made there, both Americans and Indonesian.”

Lending frequent help with her thesis, Professor of Politics Jeremiah John has been instrumental in Merrill’s journey into political science. Her first class in foreign affairs was his Introduction to International Affairs course, where the students did a simulation of the political climate during the Rwanda Genocide.

“I’ve had [Professor John] for almost every class, and he has been amazing,” Merrill explained. “He’s also been overseeing my thesis. I meet with him once a week, every Friday just for him to help me with my thesis, and I am so grateful to him. I could not do this without him and his guidance.”

Initially coming to Southern Virginia to study psychology, Merrill decided to switch to political science after discovering the international affairs concentration in the university’s program catalog.

Emmaline Merrill Feature
Merrill (back row, center) with students from Universitas Negeri Malang

“I didn’t even know that was a thing,” Merrill said. “To have an international affairs concentration, you had to be a political science major. I did a lot of introspection and realized that I am actually very passionate about politics, both foreign politics and domestic.”

Currently a policy intern for the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, Merrill enjoys working with coalitions and national working groups—people who come together to impact their communities by influencing legislation—to draft summaries of bills. She also writes op-eds, letters to the editor, and research articles.

From Chesterville, Virginia, Merrill learned about Southern Virginia University from her mother, who had visited campus as a historic site and thought the size would be a good fit for her daughter. Merrill later toured campus with her mother and fell in love with its beauty.

“It’s like it has a soul here,” Merrill said. “I just stepped on campus—I’m not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I don’t think that you have to be or even be Christian to believe that there’s a higher power—and I felt that high power touch me and tell me this is where I was supposed to be.”

An active member of campus life, Merrill’s participation in orchestra, theatre, karate, and student government has enhanced her student experience and provided her with the opportunity to cultivate a welcoming environment for students of all faiths.

“It’s given me the opportunity to bring my personal experience and feel like I have a voice,” Merrill explained. “This is probably the reason why, when I first stepped on campus, I felt that I needed to come here. I think it’s because of the things I’ve been able to take on while here that I feel have benefited me and other students.”