Intermezzo – Back in Indonesia

Late last year my friend and I gave a presentation to a bank in Singapore regarding the general conditions in Indonesia. The title was “Indonesia: the Sleeping Giant of Southeast Asia”. The premise was simple, Indonesia has a lot to offer but there are many factors hindering its true potentials. Two factors that we highlighted was lack of infrastructure development and corruption.

In the Q&A session, one of the bankers asked, “Why is it that despite being the 4th largest population in the world, we don’t see many Indonesians abroad? Even if there are Indonesian scholars out there, they always go back to Indonesia”

I answered with a joke, “because Indonesians are like trained doves – no matter how far we go we always come back to Indonesia”.

Jokes aside, I tend to believe that usually Indonesian scholars abroad are divided into two: (1) those who are on scholarship and thus are bonded to return to Indonesia and contribute to the country; and (2) those who are fortunate to be able to finance themselves abroad and since their families have everything for them back home, they will return inevitably. Of course, this is a generalized statement and there are exceptions, i.e. what about those who are already rich but they altruistically want to contribute to Indonesia?

I don’t think brain drain on a massive scale is a problem (yet) in Indonesia. Yes, Jakarta is a hell hole of a city to live in, but people still work there and have other places in Indonesia as a retirement plan (i.e. Bali, Jogjakarta). If you read the newspapers, it’s rather depressing because it seems that this country doesn’t seem to run out of problems to report. Yet, there are glimpses of hope and achievement here and there – it’s just that we need to be reminded of the things that happen in Indonesia is not just in Jakarta.

My story? I’ve graduated early this May and I’m back in the country that I was born in and in love with. I managed to travel in Halmahera, North Maluku for a week (and also managed to be stranded on an island, losing contact with the boat), but now back in Jakarta. My scholarship is not bonded and initially I wanted to gain experience abroad before ultimately coming back to Indonesia, but an opportunity came up and I decided that I don’t want to miss a chance working inside the inner circle of the Republic.

Singapore will always be a chapter in my life and how the lessons that I learned while I was living there has shaped my way of thinking, especially regarding public policy. But for now, I’m back home in Indonesia.

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3 thoughts on “Intermezzo – Back in Indonesia”

  1. One good reason to return ( or to go ) to Indonesia is that it probably is in the top three most interesting societies.

    While China has been trending topic for over two decades know, I think the dynamics of Indonesia are even more complicated. A lot is changing, a lot can happen. It’s an exciting and adventurous place to be. Participating shaping the future where it matters, is a huge challenge I guess.

    By the way: an awesome video :). Heroic ladies in distress.And an utterly relaxed response to an extreme demonstration of rubber time by a skipper.

    (Morotai? That’s where my late father-in-law’s roots are)

  2. I grew up in New York City where one routinely meets people from all countries and nations. Nevertheless I can say that before visiting Indonesia, I had never come across an Indonesian in the United States. One reason for the relative absence of Indonesians abroad, I think, has to do with mentality and upbringing. Something that strikes the Western eye is the communal nature of Indonesians in that they invariably move and travel in groups. Doing things alone or on one’s own is foreign or unusual. Whatever they do and wherever they go, they like “ramai ramai”. From this perspective you can see that striking out to go abroad alone will prove difficult. The most terrifying thing will be to go somewhere new, alone. Another issue has to do with traditional upbringing. Whereas many people will want to go somewhere because they or others have not been there, Indonesians will tend to avoid such places precisely for the opposite reason: because they have not been there before. Finally, Indonesia (outside Jakarta, which comprises 99% of the country) remains staunchly traditional. Moving from one’s desa is difficult or discouraged due to family pressure, obligations and the crushing weight and inertia of tradition and culture. In Bali alone a taxi driver once told me that moving from the north of the island to the south in order to find work took three years of discussions and negotiations with his extended family! So, in summary, one big reason why Indonesians can scarcely be found abroad is that due to socialization and attitude, like to leave the comfort zone of their usual surroundings and culture. And when they do go abroad, you can usually find them moving and mixing in pockets of their countrymates.

  3. I used to always can’t wait to go out from Indonesia. My American dream was always there, but the nearest I could make so far is Singapore. But the more we live abroad, the more we realize how we love our country so much.
    I would travel and live all around the world, but when I’m old, I’ll buy a house in Lombok or Bandung and live there til I die. =)

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