Growing up in a globalized world

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I wonder sometimes: what makes me unique as a person – what sets me apart from my Indonesian compatriots, what distinguishes me from other Computer Science majors?

Looking back at my life, there is probably one thing that has truly shaped me as an individual: my varied experiences in living in different countries for a reasonably long period of time: Indonesia, England, Singapore, and the United States.

Each of these four countries have shaped me into the individual that I am today, through its distinct difficulties it presented me. In England, having known zero English when I moved in, I learned how to learn new things quickly and to adapt swiftly to new, unknown environments. When I moved back to Indonesia, I felt like a complete alien once more. I learned, sometimes the hard way, to remember my roots and my culture wherever I go. When I moved to Singapore at the age of fourteen, I flunked all my exams on the first half of my first quarter. I had already missed about a third of the whole ‘O’ Level material at the time. As a consequence, I had to spend the most of my one and a half years in Singapore trying to catch up with my peers. I ended up scoring really well in my GCE ‘O’ Levels, but most importantly, I learned to adapt quickly into changing demands that my environments, academic or non-academic, presented me. Finally, going through college life in the US in the age of sixteen was very daunting at first, but I soon made friends and got involved in different activities around campus.

The different experiences I had in each of the four countries shaped me as a person greatly, through the adaptations that I had to do, and the interesting comparisons that I observed in my daily life.

For example, like other Indonesians, I felt uncomfortable calling older people just by their first names. This came as a complete shock to me when I came to England and America, as people there are accustomed to calling others just by their first name.

I used to be very quiet in class and would only ask questions in situations where I felt it was really necessary to do so, and even then, I would ask the question afterwards so that I didn’t have to talk in front of the entire class. On the other hand, in American classrooms, students are expected to actively contribute to classroom discussions, and oftentimes, participation is a big part of the grade. In fact, some of my college friends are in classes of a hundred students, and still, 40% of their grade is determined by class participation! I honestly don’t even know how that grading system would work, but I have definitely learned that active participation is crucial. As one of my professors said, “If you have a question, don’t be afraid to ask, because I can bet that there’s at least five other people here who have the same question.”

As a girl coming from a developing country, living in England, America and Singapore has been really beneficial for me. The change of scenery was really refreshing—no more traffic jams 24/ 7, no more having heart attacks from trying to cross the busy streets, no more (or at least way lesser) corruption, and more structure and order in general. In England, I learned to follow the rules and queue up. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, people jaywalk everywhere, and we don’t really queue up—when we do, it’s usually not in such an orderly fashion.

I think compared to a lot of cultures; Indonesian and English people are generally quite conservative. I didn’t really notice this until I came here to America. Where Americans are very open and expressive, Indonesians and British people are generally more reserved about their feelings. For instance, in America, when I come into, let’s say, a clothing store, the store attendants are always ready to greet people at the door, and they always go back and forth between each aisle to make sure all the customers are doing well. It’s not uncommon to hear sore attendants and customers chatting away. This is the exact opposite of store attendants in Indonesia. Their job description is probably the same, but they execute it in a different fashion. They would just stand at the end of the aisle and stare at you from afar. I don’t know about you, but I feel that this is slightly creepy!

Now, Singapore is a very, very, very disciplined country. They have tons of rules, and literally everyone follows every single rule. I was indeed very surprised to see how people can be so disciplined about everything. It was also amazing to see how the three (or four, if you include the Ang Mohs a.k.a. bules!) can integrate so efficiently and life so harmoniously with each other.

To sum it all, I believe that I have learned a lot from all four cultures. Each culture is different in their own way—they have their own pros and cons. At the end of the day, I think the most important lesson I learnt was to be open minded. We live in a very diverse world where globalization is apparent in every aspect of our lives. I might be a student at an American University, but the people I go to school with aren’t merely Americans. I have friends from China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Somalia, and so many other places from around the world. All these different people come from different walks of life, and they also bring a piece of their own culture with them. It is important to just be open to everyone and all the different cultures, and hopefully, we will be able to learn more about the world and also improve ourselves.

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Indira graduated from Brown University in 2015 with a Bachelors degree in Computer Science, and has been working as a software engineer at an e-commerce company in Boston ever since. Prior to Brown, she studied at Green River College in Washington, and attended secondary school in Singapore. She is passionate about using technology to make education and knowledge more accessible, as well as learning about the intersection between Machine Learning and Behavioral Economics. In her spare time, Indira loves to take photos, travel, and scuba dive. She can be reached at indirapranabudi@gmail.com.