Nationalism Among Indonesian Students: The Surprising Effect of Studying Overseas

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Does choosing to study overseas mean that a person is not patriotic? Would studying overseas make a person less of a nationalist? In this article, Indonesia Mengglobal partners with EasyUni, which shares stories from three Indonesian students who have studied overseas and proved that studying abroad has not weakened their love to their country.

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“No one who has lived through the second half of the 20th century could possibly be blind to the enormous impact of exchange programs on the future of countries…” (Bill Clinton, Former US President).

For many Indonesians, studying abroad is still considered as a privilege, while for some it is a de rigeur. The number of Indonesian students flocking to different countries has started rising since 2000. However, in the 4th most populous country in the world, only roughly 69,000 Indonesian students were enrolled at foreign universities (based on US Commercial Service’s 2018 data), which accounts to not even close to 1% of the total workforce.

There are many reasons hindering the motivation to study overseas. Understandably, the top 4 include safety and security, financial difficulty, fear of homesickness and cultural challenge(s). Out of various other reasons, the least reasonable one would be finding it as ‘a threat to students’ patriotism’.

It is not at our best favor to hear the misconception that outlines one’s lack of nationalism as they opt to study overseas. As unpleasant as it sounds, that has become the underlying remark that many Indonesian students abroad receive.

Contrary to that belief, these 3 Indonesian students deem their overseas studies experience to have heightened their pride of the country. Get a scoop of their narrative as they share their journey and the unchanged attitudes toward Indonesia.

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EasyUni Baya

Baya Indrayana Inggas (Baya) was one of the finalists for Harvard Model United Nations and a former delegate of Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program to Kansas, USA. His  aspiration to study overseas was stricken by his active involvement in English debate and public speaking.

Tell us about your experience studying overseas. Did you face any challenges there?

As a high school student from Kalimantan, moving to yet another untapped countryside that was Kansas was quite a big transition that elicited a lot of adjustments and challenges for me. Language barrier, homesickness, different understandings did not necessarily diminish my positive standpoint on this exposure of studying overseas. If anything, I feel enriched to have experienced ‘the merging of two worlds’.

Over the course of 1 year spent in Lakeside High School, I perceive my profound affinity towards people was fostered there. As I struggled to cope with the daily use of English, translating word for word and missing authentic Indonesian food, the warm support and understanding coming from the host family and friends outweighed the shortcomings.

Have you ever shared any of your views on Indonesia, be it positive or negative, to your international friends?

Despite living in a quiet village that is far off from the definition of an ‘urban city’, it still equates to socially mixed circles who yearn to learn about one another, especially foreigners.

As welcoming as the locals could be, I would continually try to impart my knowledge on Indonesia given the opportunity to do so. When it comes to sharing of culture, I find that it’s more effective through the ‘informal way’. It typically started off with daily conversation on lifestyle and discussions over politics and global issues, which would ignite more of the locals’ interest, curiosity and excitement in the topic.

Do you think your overseas studies experience curbs your patriotism? Do you ever wish to never return home for a longer period?

I definitely never thought of leaving Indonesia despite loving my 1-year stopover in the US. I did go back to the US a couple more times since I graduated high school. The familiarity was there but somehow it didn’t compare to the comfort of living in my own country. I certainly feel that my love towards Indonesia was augmented as I tried to blend in to the American lifestyle. In my opinion, how you act is based on where you come from. So, in that sense, I never felt more glad that I come from Indonesia.

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EasyUni Rey

Muhammad Rey Dwi Pangestu was one of the scholars of Nuffic Neso as he was rewarded with a StuNed scholarship from the Dutch Government that helped him to land a Master’s degree in Children and Youth Studies at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in 2018.

Tell us about your experience studying overseas. Did you face any challenges there?

Rotterdam was the total opposite to where I’m from, Lampung. Although I lived in Jakarta during my undergraduate studies, I never really knew how it felt to live in an urban and diverse environment. Socially, I didn’t really have any difficulties in adjusting. We all got along very well as though none of us are of different nationalities. Most of my university mates have similar backgrounds as they, too, are from third-world countries. Academic work, however, took quite a while to tackle for me.

Once for a long time, I did experience getting homesick. Fortunately, Indonesian Students’ Association (PPI) was ‘one call away’ for me. Sometimes, I would invite my international friends along to our gatherings, too. We would celebrate Indonesia’s important dates and occasionally cook Indonesian food together.

I honestly feel that being surrounded by like-minded Indonesians and other nationalities was important as we were able to discuss issues lingering around human rights or disaster resilience in our country.

Have you ever shared any of your views on Indonesia, be it positive or negative, to your international friends?

At the end of 2018, a tsunami occurred in my hometown that brought over 100 casualties. I shared the news over my social media as it happened and it provoked a lot of sympathy among my international friends. Together with my fellows in PPI, we initiated a fundraising activity involving the selling of our home-cooked Indonesian food to all of our friends. The response was positive and the experience was absolutely more memorable as compared to the other fundraising activities that I had previously done in Indonesia.  

Do you think your overseas studies experience curbs your patriotism? Do you ever wish to never return home for a longer period?

I have given it a few thoughts to work while gaining more professional experience in another country. But, ultimately, I always plan on settling down in Indonesia. I am even more proud of being an Indonesian through my experience in studying and becoming a part of a new community in the Netherlands. Indonesia has a lot of problems and being away from home for a little while ushered my ambition to improve my country even more, especially in education.

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EasyUni Dewi

Dewi Nurhayati is an Indonesian pursuing her undergraduate studies in Malaysia. She fills up her extra-curricular activities by becoming the organizing chairperson of PPI at INTI International University. Her active involvement in the organisation led her to become one of the committees in the recent 2019 Indonesian Presidential Election held in Malaysia.

What made you decide to study in Malaysia?

I was inspired by my big brother who studied in a Malaysian public university before me. I could see how much studying overseas impacted him and I would like to have the same growth in me.

Tell us more about your involvement in administering PPI. Do you think that your experience helps in boosting your patriotism?

It all started with a voluntary work to distribute food in one of our annual events. It surprised me that there were students coming from a wide range of nationalities took part in the organisation. So, I continued in taking up more roles and thrive to grow the association.

Previously, PPI in my campus was not even active and we were mostly absent in cultural performances. Last year, however, after garnering more members, we managed to get on the stage with a whole new traditional dance routine.

Long story short, after spending more time in PPI, we were personally proposed by Indonesia’s General Consulate in Malaysia to become one of the committees in conducting the local community outreach during the 2019 Presidential election in Negeri Sembilan state.

I got the chance to be more exposed with amazing, humble Indonesians residing in Malaysia for their own reasons. Even those who hold doctoral degrees! They have their own ambitions as to why they choose to live overseas and I don’t believe that it’s because they dislike living in Indonesia. Otherwise, why would they spend their leisure time helping the election process? Through that experience, I was affirmed again that every Indonesian has their own way to help the country that others can’t understand simply through the outside.

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We believe that there are many other reasons Indonesian students are proud of their home country and living or studying overseas does not eradicate their love to their country. Guiding youthful students to establish and maintain correct views of the nation, history and culture is one way not to tarnish their nationalism. This will eventually enhance their sense of belonging to the nation.

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Photos provided by EasyUni