A Female In A Male-Dominated Career And Her Take On TU Hamburg, Germany
Indonesia Mengglobal’s Editor for Europe, Yunetta Anggiamurni, spoke with Indriana about her experience working and living abroad, both for study and work. We will also get a glimpse on how her past experience has helped her perform in her current career and that these aspects, combined with her personal interests, will actually serve her dreams in the future.
Yunetta Anggiamurni (YA): So, first and foremost, the commonly-used opening question: could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Indriana (IA): Haha! Well, my background is in engineering, chemical engineering. I did my undergraduate on that subject at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) back in 2003, then I went to continue my study at a Master’s degree program in Process Engineering at Technische Universität Hamburg (TU Hamburg) or the Hamburg University of Technology in Hamburg, Germany. While in Germany, I also had the opportunities to intern at BASF company in Ludwigshafen.
After I obtained my Master’s degree, I returned back to Indonesia to work for an oilfield service company as a Field Engineer. I was first assigned in Brazil for 2.5 years, then in 2010 I got transferred to Balikpapan, Indonesia. I’ve been working in Jakarta since last year, as Technical Engineer specializing in Well Cementing.
YA: Did you have to speak fluent German before you got accepted to TU Hamburg?
IA: My program at TU Hamburg was taught in English, so German language skill was not a requirement for the courses. However, for sure you need to know some German language to survive living in Germany. Most importantly, the language ability would also help you tremendously on your study. For example, some good technical books were only available in German and when you wanted to apply for internships, most companies will require the applicants to have the necessary language skills. Certainly, when you decide to study, live and work in Germany, it is of course important to be able to speak the language so as to help you socialize and survive the daily lives, right?
YA: So… why bother learning another language other than English, then? Also, why did you choose Germany in the first place?
IA: For several reasons. I graduated as an engineer and I have always wanted to be an engineer and back in 2003, Germany was a well-known destination for good schools to study engineering. Moreover, I found out that not only that the quality of my program at TU Hamburg has been internationally-acknowledged, the courses were also offered free of charge, a.k.a. no tuition fee. Basically, all I had to budget were only the living expenses (for about two years in Germany) and some semester-long bus and train tickets (with special pricing system for students!). It was a pretty good deal!
YA: So the program was conducted in English. What level of English fluency did you need to achieve?
IA: At minimum, you should try to get a TOEFL score of 550, which is a standard requirement pretty much everywhere. Basic German language skill was highly recommended, so I spent several months taking an intensive German-language course in Jakarta (while waiting for my application to be accepted) and finally got my certificates in German language. It started off as a basic-level skill, but I got better at the language while living in Germany.
YA: What did you remember most about your study years in Hamburg? How was life as a student there and was it also expensive? Did you get to travel around Europe? Can you maintain the study-and-life balance?
IA: What I remember most was … being thankful for the opportunity to get to know different cultures. I also learned, firsthand, how German people work. They tend to be very structured and organized, process-oriented, which was impressive. I learned to adapt to this kind of work environment during my study years, when doing projects and during internships.
Life as a student there was interesting. I got busy but also have had some good chances to visit the neighboring cities and countries. My study program was quite intensive but I’d always liked to use the time during semester breaks to travel around the continent.
YA: How long did you live in Hamburg?
IA: I lived in Hamburg for almost three years and eight months out of those were spent on an internship program at BASF. The time required to finish a Master’s degree in my field was more or less two years. First year was solely dedicated for sitting in classrooms for some taught courses. The second years were mostly spent on projects after projects, to practice and implement what you’ve learned in classrooms. The following year was dedicated for an internship period and the time needed to finish the Master’s thesis.
While I spent most of my daily life in campus, in the classrooms, I did get a great chance to be assistant to some post-graduate students (the PhD’s). That’s a good way to earn some extra income, too! Announcements were posted on boards and students could opt to supplement their income — and practice their classroom knowledge — by becoming assistants to the more senior students.
YA: Was internship a requirement to graduate? Was it competitive to get an internship spot in a company? Did your campus help you find an internship opportunity?
IR: The answers were pretty much yes, yes and yes.
Yes, internship was a requirement to graduate and the competition to get placed was somehow competitive. It was like applying for jobs, basically. You would need to send off your resumes, you might be requested to follow a company’s online recruitment system (specific for an internship program). To some extent, the universities could help out by providing you with some info, recommendations (by your professors) but still, you would still need to face the competition on your own.
Based on my experience, not only that I had to send in my application completed with resume and professors’ recommendations, I also needed to sit in an interview — in German — and had to wait for some time. Really, just like when you are applying for a job! Haha…. I was thrilled to know that I got accepted to intern at BASF. It was a great opportunity.
YA: What did you remember most from your internship experience at BASF as it is a really big company. Did you feel that you only get involved in some “easy, for-student” assignments? What did you learn from that experience?
IA: Oh no, I didn’t think that any of us interns were treated as only the “young learners” — in fact, we had our fair share of involvements in some big, real, serious projects, working together with other team members. This is why, as I mentioned before, the ability to converse in German, came handy… also to be able to understand some technical terminologies in German would be important in this regard. This might sound challenging and difficult at first, but really, when you were actually at it and doing it, learning new language and technical terms were actually quite doable!
Anyway, internship period is anyway, a real job. It is part of a job. So, at that time I was put in a team that did some research projects so it was pretty serious. I had to make reports to be presented to some other co-workers. My co-workers provided me — and the other interns — with a lot of supports. I could consult to more senior engineers and literatures for references were always available at the company’s library. Basically as an intern, you are provided with all facilities and the support system that you need, so it was more a question on how you yourself would be able to use those facilities made available to you.
One thing I learned and remembered the most was German companies, in general, put a great effort in making a strong link between their Departments of Research and Development (R&D) and Production. To no surprise that this country is famous in the production of not only excellent products and longstanding quality control, but also in their ability to continuously come up with improvements and new technologies. That’s just part of the culture in most companies in Germany.
It is interesting that this might not be the case in some companies outside of Germany, where there might be a strong tendency to put priority only in production but then trying to continuously reduce the production costs as oppose to improve the products.
YA: You are now working at an oilfield service company. What is “an oilfield service company” all about? And how does your study background fit in with your current job? I mean, did you ACTUALLY learn about oil and gas in Indonesia, for example?
IR: Well, my current job is not directly related to my previous studies but interestingly, both subjects in my study and work years related to one theme, actually: energy. Oil and gas, are the main sources of energy at the moment, so I think that at the end of the day, they all came together perfectly inter-connected anyway. An oilfield service company is a speficic company that provides services to various oil companies. Oil companies are my company’s clients. Services provided are various: consultation, drilling assignments in deep water, forests, etc.
YA: So, what you are doing at work is completely something new. It’s another learning-by-doing. How did the study and internship years help you with your current job then?
IA: Yes, it has become something new as I learned more things on the job. But then again, whichever study field you choose and whether or not that would have direct correlation with your jobs or not, you would always need to learn something new, regardless. At work and in your career, you will learn something that will be more specific and focused that you would have learned in your study years (unless you’re involved in a specific training program).
Let me put an example here. When you choose to study “Sales and Marketing” in universities, there wouldn’t be such a specific program as “Sales 101 to sell leather car-set specific for only Mercedes-Benz cars manufactured within the period of 1970s” … But when you get a job as a sales person for such specific cars, then you would still use your sales and marketing skills obtained in school, but would adapt the skills and usage to that particular car, at your work.
I did the same thing. I studied Chemical Engineering and then Process Engineering. I then got “trained” and did follow some trainings in Well Cementing in my current work. All of these subjects pretty much complement each other.
My study and internship years had tremendously helped me with my current career. I learned how to effectively implement a problem-solving skill and to adapt to different situations from time to time, and most importantly, to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. When I was being posted in Brazil, it was a very competitive situation that I was in….. after all, I was working in a still male-dominated work environment. I should say that my internship experience in a large company such as BASF helped me be prepared for that kind environment, to be able to have an easier time to adapt and perform my job.
YA: Why do you think that it’s even necessary to study abroad? What will one take from the experience that will stay forever? And after that, do you think that person should go back to Indonesia to contribute his/her skills in Indonesia or should one just stay abroad if there are better opportunities outside of Indonesia?
IR: Perhaps contrary to what most people would think, I don’t think studying abroad is actually a must. I believe Indonesian universities also have some of the professors in the world — their knowledge, skills and expertise can be compared or even better than those professors from any higher education insitutions abroad.
What’s important though — when one chooses to study abroad, it is the fact that one then would have a better chance to broaden his/her horizon and points of views and they way one would see the world differently. For one thing, you would have a good chance to live by yourself, far away from your friends and family, in a place where the culture, language and daily lives are different from the ones you grew up with. That in itself, is one of the most important life experience one can ever have.
Now on the decision whether it would be better to contribute your skills and knowledge obtained abroad, by going back to Indonesia, well, I can’t speak for everyone. Each one of us has different goals and priorities…. and dreams. What is important to consider, I think is, where do you think you would be able to contribute the most. If you think your chance to create something better is better at home, then go home to Indonesia if you feel like it. If you think you could actually represent Indonesia well by being abroad the stay abroad and be a “good” Indonesian abroad.
Think of what makes you happy and find your passions in life.
YA: Thanks a lot for the great talk. It’s been interesting and on behalf of Indonesia Mengglobal, I certainly wish you all the best in your career.
IA: The pleasure is definitely mine. I’m still continuously learning as I move on in my career and I think that Indonesia Mengglobal is a wonderful platform for everyone to share knowledge and learn from one another. Thank you for having me here.
Indriana studied Chemical Engineering for her undergraduate degree at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and continued to study a Master's program in Process Engineering at Technische Universität Hamburg (TU Hamburg) or the Hamburg University of Technology in Hamburg, Germany. Indriana interned at BASF in Germany before starting her career in an oilfield service company as a Field Engineer. She was first assigned in Brazil then got transferred back to Indonesia and have since been working in Jakarta as Technical Engineer specializing in Well Cementing.