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.