Southeast Asia Studies, established at Yale in the 1940s, was the University’s first area studies program of any kind. At one time offering instruction in several languages of the region, the University had developed a superb library collection on Southeast Asia, much of it acquired from as early as 1899 when Clive Day (1871-1951), the first American historian of Indonesia, joined the Yale faculty.

Between 1932 and 1947, the sociologist and anthropologist Raymond Kennedy (1906-50), the “founding father” of Southeast Asia Studies at Yale, was a “one-man center” of new scholarship and teaching on the region, particularly Indonesia. He was a popular lecturer, and because of his vivid descriptions of life in the forests of Malaya, the undergraduates gave him the nickname of ‘Jungle Jim.’ In 1950 Kennedy was murdered in western Java along with Robert Doyle, a Time-Life reporter, when their jeep was ambushed by an armed band. He is buried in Bandung, Indonesia. (See cseas.yale.edu/history-southeast-asia-studies-yale) to learn more about the history of Southeast Asia Studies at Yale).

Professor Isidore Dyen of Yale University pioneered the teaching of Malay/Indonesian language in 1948 as part of the newly established interdisciplinary Southeast Asia area studies program. The appointment of Rufus S. Hendon in 1961 as a second linguist for Indonesian allowed Dyen to limit himself to more advanced courses.

Most of the Southeast Asian language courses were discontinued in 1972, as outside funding became less available. However, during the 1980’s a grant from the Henry R. Luce Foundation, allowed the council to hire a new Indonesian language instructor. With continued support from the council and the University, Indonesian language studies have since flourished at Yale.


Indonesia is a maturing democracy in a predominantly Muslim nation, and the fourth most populous country on earth. A key member of ASEAN, Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia and is one of the emerging market economies of the world. In the year 2012, Indonesia edged out India to emerge as second fastest growing G-20 major economy just behind China.

Research suggests Bahasa Indonesia is one of the world’s most accessible languages.  It has an uncomplicated system of grammar and vocabulary, and unlike Chinese or Japanese, Indonesian has no tones and uses the Roman alphabet.

Learning Indonesian provides a means to access and understand a unique culture that is an eclectic mix of Eastern, Western and Islamic influences.

Given the country’s physical beauty, cultural diversity, low cost of living, and hospitable people, a background in Indonesian can open up an extraordinary travel destination.

“… in practice, language is participating in social relations in an extremely complex world of unequals. You cannot say you have mastered a new language if you have not discovered a brand new world, and your new self in it, through the experience of learning it.” — Ariel Heryanto, Associate Professor of Indonesian Studies, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.