Indonesia Matters: How I Learned to Love My Country Again

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I love Indonesia

Love comes and goes. Feeling may grow stronger or, vice versa, fall weaker. To your lovers, your jobs, your friends, your pets, and even to your country; it is very possible to love so much today and love them less tomorrow. For five consecutive years, Chani had been living in Turkey, the Netherlands and Singapore, and she enjoyed every second of it. She felt Jakarta did not do her well last time and she had no plan to return for good any time soon. But, when a new job offer required her to come back home, to Indonesia, she faced a dilemma. Long story short, she decided to take that opportunity as it was her best shot at that time. She was full of doubt whether she would stay long in Indonesia. But here she is, four years later still in Indonesia, writing her story, her perspective, and her love to the mother nation. Echoing our anniversary theme this month, Indonesia Matters, let’s see what Chani has been doing to develop a better Indonesia.

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Indonesia matters. The theme of Indonesia Mengglobal’s anniversary this year really hits home to me. I was privileged to have done my studies abroad and I am very glad to be back home, contributing to my beloved country. But it was not always the case. Here I would like to share with you a reflection of my journey back home. How I learned to love my country again. This essay is personal, informal, honest, and it reflects my own personal emotions back in 2015 and now in 2019.

Singapore, 18 May 2015

Marina Bay skyline in Singapore
Marina Bay skyline in Singapore

“Are you open to working from our Jakarta office,” said my interviewer, “since you are Indonesian?”

“Umm… Sure.”

“Great, okay we will discuss your application internally and get back to you within a few days.”

“OK, fantastic,” I replied, “have a good day!”

Sigh. Do I really have to go back home? It has been two months since I started applying for jobs in Singapore and one month before the end of my master’s program at Nanyang Technological University. How am I supposed to convince Singaporean employers to hire me and sponsor my work permit? Moving back to Indonesia and working with this company is probably the best option I have. Maybe I can ask for relocation to Singapore after one or two years of working there.

I really like it here in Singapore. Life is just so easy. No traffic, less pollution, open green spaces. And I suppose I just really like living independently. In Singapore, it does not take much effort to be self-sufficient. Public transportation is just perfect and, truth be told, I just really like living alone.  

Moving back home to Jakarta is just… ugh. The traffic, the noise, the pollution, the gossips, the drama, the judgmental aunties who keep asking when I will get married, the lack of open green spaces. Just everything is… ugh.

I last lived in Indonesia five years ago. My studies have brought me to Turkey, the Netherlands, and now Singapore. All these experiences living abroad have made me extremely independent. I am used to doing whatever I want, however I want, and whenever I want. Being a foreigner in these three countries has also made me grow a thick skin. I just simply don’t care what other people say. I am an outsider, and I like it.

That is why Jakarta just feels so unattractive to me. The lack of efficient infrastructure just makes it very hard to get from one point to another point quickly and, for lack of a better word, hygienically. The overwhelming societal expectations that one should act a certain way and not the other. And I suppose, most of all is that I have baggage. Moving to Jakarta means that I have to confront my established identity. In Jakarta, I am the daughter of my parents, the ex-girlfriend of so-and-so, and a graduate from so-and-so high school. I can’t be just… myself.

Jakarta, 8 May 2019

Arnachani - Indonesia Matters 8 (2)
Jakarta central business district

I took that job and moved back to Jakarta. Navigating the concrete jungle took a while to get used to. For a while, I lived with my grandparents, whose house were closer to my office. It was suffocating. There is nothing worse than ending your eight-hour workday by sitting behind a motorbike, inhaling all the fumes, and still get stuck in traffic. When I got home, I was exhausted. And if I went out to meet my friends for dinner, I had to make sure that my grandparents were not waiting up for me. It was exactly what I imagined it would be.

But I did get used to it. Jakarta has taught me to be resilient and flexible. For example, I learned to bring my own face mask to (somewhat) protect my lungs from the pollution, I learned to wake up early and go to a gym near work every morning to avoid traffic, and I learned not to wear my good shoes when walking in Jakarta’s pavements. I also learned to re-establish my identity and embrace my past. I was 18 when I left the country, and my identity was tightly sewn to others around me. In my mid-20’s in Jakarta, I was able to find my own voice, my own pace.

Four years in, I now have my own established social circles. I learned that, as an adult, I have agency in choosing the kinds of people I want to surround myself in. I was so scared of the drama and bad mouthing that marred my memory of Jakarta. But actually, it is our choice whether we want to listen to them or not. It is our choice whether we want to be surrounded and dragged down by the negativity.

Couldn't resist running into the clear water of Lampuuk Beach in Aceh
Couldn’t resist running into the clear water of Lampuuk Beach in Aceh

I also learned to love and cherish Indonesia. In my early 20’s I was so proud to have traveled extensively in Turkey and Europe. But being back in Indonesia made me realize how little I know about my own country. Also, living in such a big city as Jakarta sometimes makes you forget how big and wonderful the country is. Indonesia is not just Jakarta. So, I made an effort to explore different parts of Indonesia. From the beaches of Aceh to the cliffs of South Sulawesi. From the forts of Bengkulu to the Hindu temples of Bali. From the villages of Lampung to the huge shopping malls of Surabaya. This country is vast and magnificent.

Most importantly, I learned how privileged I am. When I look back to my own mindset when I was living in Singapore, I cringed a little bit about how self-centered I was. Living in Jakarta and traveling around Indonesia opened my eyes to all the different walks of life of my fellow countrymen, and boy was I privileged! I learned to appreciate the fact that I was able to live abroad on my own account and how rare that opportunity is for countless others. I was also humbled to meet many fellow Indonesians who are foreign-educated but came back to make Indonesia a better place. I learned that, at the end of the day, I cannot expect my country to improve if I don’t want to roll up my sleeve and join in the effort. It’s like that famous line from John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Having been back home for four years now has brought me to think a lot about what I can do for Indonesia. How I can use my skills and knowledge to make life better for all Indonesians. Until recently, I was working in a public policy consultancy firm which has enriched me with the understanding of the policy-making process in Indonesia and the skills of advocacy and negotiation. Now I am embarking on a new journey with a tech startup that has the vision to improve banking experience in Indonesia, which would eventually support financial inclusion in the country.

From the outskirt, it does not look like I was particularly contributing to my country the way that military officers or civil servants do. But I am contributing to the betterment of this country by bridging the interests of private and public sectors, ensuring that good governance practices are upheld by both sides. I have found my own way to contribute to this country that I love. And… who knows what the future will bring?

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Photos provided by the author