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Foreign Service Spouses Graduate Together

Dressed in a traditional batik-style shirt, Jodi Mahardi’s Indonesian garment adds color and visual appeal to the background of T-shirts and business casual outfits worn by other students on the University of St. Thomas campus.

As the vice consul for economic and protocol affairs at the Indonesian Consulate in Houston, it’s a chance to share the culture of his home country with classmates as he works to complete a Master in Liberal Arts (MLA) degree with a concentration in international studies at UST. His wife, Chiara Sari, is also in the Indonesia Foreign Service, and she will complete her MLA degree this summer as well.

Mahardi and Sari are among the 328 undergraduates and 350 graduate students who will participate in the 61st Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14 at Reliant Arena, One Reliant Park.

In the third year of his assignment in Houston, Mahardi handles economic relations between Indonesia and the 10 states, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands that are part of his working area. Sari is not currently on assignment, but she participates in other diplomatic social duties as secretary of the Indonesian Women Association for the wives of Foreign Service officers, and treasurer for the Consular Ladies Club of Houston, which includes spouses of all the Houston consulate officials.

In addition to the challenging work of diplomacy, the two young professionals are about to graduate after studying for only a year and half, and they have been recognized as members of the Sigma Iota Rho international studies honor society.

“The Indonesian government encourages officials to keep learning so they are ready for globalization,” Mahardi said.

Mahardi and Sari have benefited from the open discussions and study of current events in their classes. “It’s good for a diplomat to take classes because they can learn from students and professors,” Mahardi said. “You learn a lot of insights that you cannot get in your official duties, and you get to meet other professionals who are also taking classes at St. Thomas, coming from different fields.”

Dr. Hans Stockton, Director of the Center for International Studies, said Mahardi and Sari excelled at UST, and their experiences also contributed to the enrichment of other students.

“The MLA Program and the Center for International Studies at UST provide a wonderful education for Houston’s consular corps, yet both programs also benefit from the contribution of consular officials’ experience and skills in the classroom,” said Dr. Hans Stockton, Director of the Center for International Studies.  “Jodi Mahardi and Chiara Sari were exemplary students who performed extremely well, added to the life of the University, and enriched the educational experience for both fellow students and professors.”

They chose UST because of its academic quality and intimate classroom setting, along with the reputation of the International Studies department.

“At St. Thomas, the International Studies program is very good,” Mahardi said. “The professors are willing to work closely with the students. You get that personal touch with the professors.”

Mahardi appreciated the American Foreign Policy Process class taught by Richard Sindelar, an adjunct professor for the Center for International Studies and retired U.S. Foreign Service officer. He also enjoyed the International Politics class taught by Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Betcy Jose-Thota. The class included a guest lecture by Dr. Bill Cunningham, also a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer and associate professor emeritus.

“Their teachings are relevant to the practice of diplomacy, because they’ve also practiced it,” Mahardi said.

Sari wanted to learn more about international studies to benefit her work and for personal enrichment. She especially enjoyed the Global Business Culture class and other classes taught by Dr. Hans Stockton, director of the Center for International Studies. “Dr. Stockton’s passion for teaching is infectious,” Sari said.

After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature in Indonesia in 2003, Sari thought she was done with school. “I never imagined I would earn my master’s in America in a million years,” she said. Now, she wishes she had more time to take classes at UST.

Although she describes herself as shy, Sari said UST classes helped her open up and think more critically. “Your fellow students, colleagues and professors encourage you to have an opinion and not be judged,” Sari said. “You really can feel the spirit of American Democracy in the classroom.”

Mahardi and Sari will return to Indonesia in mid-July, shortly after finishing their last classes, and they will await their new assignments. “We're glad to go back to Indonesia and reconnect with family and friends and continue our public service back home,” Mahardi said. “But we will certainly miss the many good friends we've built a strong friendship with during our official duties and during our study in St. Thomas.”

They hope to have a chance to return to the United States in the future to continue to further the partnership between Indonesia and the United States.