Obama's Visit to Indonesia a 'Homecoming'

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- President Barack Obama travels to Indonesia on Tuesday as a part of his 10-day tour of several Asian countries. Many Indonesians view the president's trip as a homecoming of sorts.

Students at Jakarta's Besuki International School can hardly contain themselves. Others just hope that the president can visit as often as possible.

"He is my senior who is very smart and he used to study here," said Diego, a student at the school.

A third grade class photo of a young "Barry," as Barack Obama was then known, shows him wearing shorts and a scout cap -- sitting back in the third row of the class.

"He was a very intelligent student and the proof is that he became the President of the United States," said one student.

Five-year-old Arimibi has been practicing and practicing for months, hoping she will get to sing for the president.

"I really hope he likes my song," she said.

Obama moved to Indonesia with his American mother and Indonesian stepfather in 1967. They lived in a house not too far from the school.

"We have historical and emotional ties with Obama," said Sahi Buwara Wati, Besuki teacher. "And even though I've never taught him, there's a connection."

There's even a statue on school grounds of Obama as a 10-year-old, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, with a butterfly on his hand and an inscription.

The president spent less than a year at the mostly Muslim school. The other four years were spent studying at a Roman Catholic school in another part of town.

Sidney Jones is an American political analyst living in Jakarta. She said many Indonesians view the president's visit as a "pulang kampong," which in Indonesia means homecoming.

"He's coming back to a place where he still speaks some of the local language," Jones said. "There's never been a world leader, let alone an American president, who has had such a bond with this country and that's known and appreciated."

"There is a lot of love and admiration for him, a sense of pride," Wati said.

When the president arrives in Jakarta, he will find a country far different from the one he lived in as a young boy.

In the early 70s, Indonesia was ruled by a dictator. The economy was in shambles and the country hardly made an impact in the region. That is no longer the case.

Today, it's the fourth largest country in the world in terms of population and enjoys an economy that towers head and shoulders above its neighbors in Southeast Asia.

"This is a place with weaknesses and flaws and so on, has managed to work," Jones said.

Indonesians said they hope President Obama's visit raises their country's global profile as one of the most stable democracies in the region.

"Indonesia is actually a good country. We are a safe country and have a lot of talented people," one girl said.

The country's size also plays a factor.

"To go from one end of Indonesia to the other is like going from California to New York," Jones said.

It is a gigantic country with over 13,000 islands. It is also boasts the world's largest Muslim population with some 230 million inhabitants.

"Indonesia is a peaceful country and the people are friendly," one man said.

Obama will use the visit to highlight his goal to reach out to Muslim communities with the hoping of persuading this key nation to act as a bridge to other countries in South Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

"The United States, for the first time, is actually really interested in the international role that Indonesia can play as a kind of mediator or bridge to other societies," Jones said.

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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