Alumni Spotlight: Janika Berridge

Stories that Shaped Us: Janika’s Journey from ISA Costa Rica to Fulbright Indonesia

Janika Berridge studied abroad with ISA in San José, Costa Rica Winter 2012 and is an alumnus of The College of New Jersey. Janika talks about how her time abroad with ISA opened her eyes to the world of study abroad and international education. Since 2015, she has been a dedicated volunteer for AFS-USA, which inspired her to pursue the Fulbright Program in Indonesia. Sadly, Janika had to return home early as a result of COVID-19. We reached out to learn more about the stories that have shaped her!

How did your time abroad with ISA in Costa Rica impact you and your goals?

My experience in Costa Rica sparked my interests in travel and intercultural exchange, and started a domino effect of subsequent local and international experiences. Following that trip, I was excited to learn that international exchange existed as a field in which I could potentially work. Prior to that time, I was unsure of the real-world applications of my interests, so receiving that insight was a gift—my aha moment. 

Tell us about your work with AFS-USA.

AFS-USA has been a blessing. It’s a non-profit intercultural exchange organization that’s part of the greater AFS Intercultural Programs network of 50,000+ volunteers in 45+ countries. What began as the American Field Service, a volunteer ambulance corps in both world wars, evolved into exchange programs with the simple mission to promote peace and mutual understanding between cultures. 

I’m a volunteer for the New Jersey area team, where I’ve served as a student-family liaison for a high school student from Norway (’16-’17), another from Libya ’17-’18), and one from Indonesia (’18-’19). I’ve also supported orientation programming and interviewed local high school students for Department of State-sponsored scholarships. 

It’s exciting when the team of students and volunteers comes together, as we often walk away learning something new about the students or their reflections on the United States. One of the greatest orators I know is a student from Tanzania, and when I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, I stayed in the art-filled guest room at the home of one of our students. Two things that students usually note they won’t miss about the U.S. include the lack of public transportation and the gap in public bathrooms between the door and the next stall. However, they enjoy all the extra-curricular activities. Our volunteers are incredibly impressive and have many stories of their own, so events are always fun! 

What inspired you to pursue the Fulbright Program in Indonesia? Did your study abroad experience help prepare you for Fulbright?

Fifty-eight Indonesian exchange students inspired me to pursue a Fulbright grant to Indonesia. In 2018, through AFS-USA, I chaperoned this vibrant group of high school students on their return journey. Over the course of the three-day, pre-return orientation in Washington, D.C. and during our 36-hour journey to Jakarta, I got to hear their stories and bask in their energy, humor and talent. Before even landing in Indonesia, the students had inspired me to return. 

Indonesia was the farthest and most intriguing country that I’d visited, and I wanted to spend more time immersed in the culture. For that reason, I applied for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. It was the second time that I’d applied for a Fulbright grant. The first time was six years prior and to Spain, and I’m fortunate that this time was the charm.

What was your experience like having to return home to the U.S. early as a result of COVID-19?

Leaving Indonesia was a whirlwind. My guest house was a revolving door of visitors on the day before I left my Kalimantan town, and early the next morning, a few teachers, staff members, and my headmaster arrived in two SUVs to accompany me to the airport. Though I moved through the morning as if I were fine and waved goodbye with a smile, I cried as soon as the plane took off. Although I was fortunate to have had over a week to say my goodbyes and to have completed the majority of my program, leaving was still painful. Thankfully, I traveled from Jakarta to Tokyo to Dallas in the company of five other grantees from my cohort. Returning home was strange and isolating beyond the physical, but I’m grateful for the abundance of great memories from a time and place unlike any other. 

What have you been up to since you’ve returned home from Indonesia?

Since returning home in March 2020, I’ve reflected a lot on my professional interests and next steps. Question marks remain, but I’m working on it. I’ve formed several new connections in the virtual space and started working remotely for a non-profit, education-focused organization based in Washington, D.C. I’m also considering graduate school in the U.S. or abroad, so we’ll see what surprises the coming months bring. 

Inspired by Janika’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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