Nationalism in Indonesian Youth


I admit that I don’t understand certain Indonesian words, such as temereweng. Additionally, I no longer automatically roll the letter R at the tip of my tongue and therefore may sound something like Cinta Laura or foreigners who are clearly struggling to speak Indonesian. My friends have dubbed me as bule for those attributes. Yes, perhaps, I may seem less Indonesian because of those flaws, but I strongly disagreed when they labeled my decision to study in the U.S. as evidence of a Western-centric, and therefore nonIndonesian, identity. Why can’t I be both nationalistic and a U.S. graduate? Why does society (my friends, in this case) mistake the decision to study outside of Indonesia as a form of being less Indonesian and lack of nationalism?

A few weeks ago, I met up with some friends from high school. Though most of us are fluent in English, only half of the group studied domestically. What began as an exciting opportunity to catch up ended on a sour note, for me, as my friends egged me on to sing the national anthem to prove the degree of my national pride. “Come on, I bet you can’t sing Indonesia Raya,” one friend said in Indonesian, while another shouts, “If you’re Indonesian, like you say you are, you should be fluent and able to sing the national anthem.” Having mastered the song years ago, I was confident in my ability to sing but felt the walls caving in as soon as a friend remarked, “Maybe she’s forgotten all the words because she went to school in the U.S.”

From that point, my mind grew heavy as I tried to figure out how my prior decision to enroll in an American college backfired. I wanted to lift the screen and step out of my so-called glamorous New York life. I felt the urge to approach the audience members, which mainly consist of family and friends, and shake them. To be honest, the New York life is not what most make it out to be. Smelly subway stations plague my day as I barge through the numerous people who line the streets of the Big Apple. As surprising as it may seem, I prefer to return and live in Jakarta, rather than New York.

However, I am studying at Sarah Lawrence because it is one of the few schools that teaches me critical thinking in the subjects that I love, encourages me to explore different subjects, as well as accommodates my learning style. There is, perhaps, no other school like Sarah Lawrence. Therefore, to gain the experiences that I crave to learn and to study an array of courses, I have to sacrifice my comfortable life in Jakarta. Most importantly, I force myself to bid my family goodbye and endure homesickness to fulfill my ultimate dream, which is to return home and improve the Indonesian society, primarily in theatre, health, and equality.

As I sat there, trying to get through the anthem, I wanted to kick myself for falling into such a nasty trick. First, I gave my friends the right to determine the existence or lack of nationalism. Second, I was still unable to explain the true reason behind my decision to study in New York. When I look back on it, I wonder if it has anything to do with the negative perception of wanting to return and abandon the “American dream”. I ponder on society’s tendency to place the West on a higher pedestal than the East, to trash our nation and government, and finally choose another life in a so-called better civilization. To have the desire to build Indonesia as a country or Jakarta as a city is often deemed as foolish. Therefore, often students and young adults hide those ambitions to avoid unwanted judgment.

National pride and being Indonesian are not popular topics in society, especially young adults. I have never heard any of my Indonesian peers say how proud they are to be Indonesian. Whilst, I have heard such nationalistic remarks from my Singaporean, American and Australian friends with regards to their own nations. In Indonesia, instead, I often hear my friends complain about the traffic and curse the government. Every country comes with its own issues, however some have a band of youths who envision a brighter tomorrow. What happened to Sumpah Pemuda, young men who banded together to conceive Indonesia as a country?

Lack of nationalistic pride, as well as visibility of nationalistic pride, are issues that require gentle handling. Small steps can be taken to revive the national pride. For instance, small group discussions can be held between friends to talk about each individual’s perception of the national pride in Indonesia. Attending organized events, such as Diaspora, where such discussions are held can also help. Being involved in endeavors such as Indonesia Mengglobal and Indonesia Mengajar are also examples of resuscitating our national pride.

The equipment that we gather from most post-secondary educations prepares us to observe Indonesia, analyze the dilemmas, and, perhaps, improve the country in the near future. Furthermore, it allows us to relate and speak to a variety of Indonesians, from the underprivileged to members of the 1%, which, in turn, could help us discover our place in this society. Personally, my growing ability to think critically, analyze and write, have provided me with the tools to realize my nationalistic pride, as well as develop it to be more visible, such as through blogs, photographs, and talks.

On a different level, the government should promote youths social engagement, with regards to national pride. Other policies, of course, should follow suit. Ideally, the government would involve the younger Indonesian generation in these discussions. Even so, ironically, history has shown that pressing times, fueled by lack of government stability, could, in turn, lead to youth driven activism.

Indonesia clearly needs its sons and daughters to, one day, take over the country. I hope that it would be a generation that can freely wave their national flag, regardless of each member’s ability to pronounce Indonesian words correctly or roll their Rs and sing Indonesian Raya.

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With one foot in Jakarta, Indonesia and another in London, U.K., Robyn spends her time maintaining, her own blog and other publications. In May 2014, Robyn received a Bachelors of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College, NY, where she studied Global Health and Theatre. During the summer of 2012 and 2013, Robyn studied in Boston University and New York University, respectively. Currently, she is pursuing a postgraduate degree in International Health Management at Imperial College Business School, London. A traveler at heart, she enjoys going on new adventures, tasting unique cuisines, and sharing conversations with various people.


  1. im proud of you. we have to do something for a better indonesia. thre are so many things that has gone in this country. but we can change it.we can make something and getting involve in building this nation. God bless you. success to you.

  2. Thank you for this article, Tiffany. It is very much necessary and needed. I, like many others, also feel trapped between the two worlds of an Indonesian heritage and an American experience. Know that you are not alone in this experience.

  3. First of all, allow me to state that I agree with most of your points. I understand where you are coming from being part of the diaspora myself. I just want to point out my disagreement on a small fact of your writing: the memorization of Indonesia Raya.

    I believe that Indonesia Raya, being the so called official national identity of Indonesia, should continue to live inside any Indonesians regardless of their domicile and status. I have to say that I agree with your friends’ concept, that every Indonesia national (who claim to be nationalist) should be able to sing Indonesia Raya fluently (though I dont care about one being pitchy or unable to roll the tongue for the Rs). Being nationalist personally for myself means laying a claim that your belong to a certain nation. Obviously it just doesnt make sense for me should one forget about his/her nation’s anthem (or even remember other nation’s despite the latter being more frequently played).

    Having said that, I would not judge you (or anyone claimed to be nationalist) as being less nationalistic than myself. My statement above was just (again) to point out little difference in my viewpoint. Indeed there are many ways to approach nationalism. As I said earlier, I agree with most of your points.

    While we do not want over zealous facists in the country, I believe that the government should play an active role in budding the nationalism in the youths not just through the education (aka PMP/PPKn/Civics). The Diaspora movement which is conceived recently has somewhat pioneered the resuscitation of nationalism on the youths, especially those who are born outside Indonesia. So, being nationalistic and foreign-educated… Why not?

    PS: Singaporeans? Nationalist? Those two dont usually go together yo…

  4. Dear Ilin Simanjuntak, JK, and Richardson Kilis,

    Thank you for all of your comments. I really appreciate your thoughts and perspectives on the issues laid out in this article.

    JK, with regards to your view of Indonesia Raya. I agree with you that every Indonesian, or at least those who claim that they are nationalistic, should be able to sing Indonesia Raya. Believe me I know all the words to it, but I am not very good at regurgitating memorized lyrics or speeches when under large amounts of pressure. For instance, I was never good at oral exams at school, where I had to recite prayers that I recite every single night in front of three teachers in a large classroom.

    Having said that, not all schools the emphasize on the importance of learning the national anthem, Pancasila, or even Sumpah Pemuda due to a variety of concerns. Perhaps, this is due to the inability to balance out the curriculum, lack of time, different priorities, who knows. When I my parents were in high school, they had to memorize the entire UUD, Pancasila, Sumpah Pemuda, and last but least, Indonesia Raya. Whereas, I memorized all those things, except for UUD and Sumpah Pemuda. I am not sure what kids these days learn. But, don’t get me wrong, the government, who does have a reign over the curricullum in national and national-plus schools, should, perhaps make the requirements clearer. On the other hand, it is always a debate as to whether or not include all these information into the National Exams (UAN), to push students to really memorize these documents.

    From a larger scale, knowing Indonesia Raya may seem very relevant to the idea of the Indonesian nationalistic youth. But, to dictate that it is the basic requirement may not be the wisest avenue. Former students, even those who sang the song every single week in school, often forget the words or are unable to begin singing but could catch along once they graduate from school and are left without the routine of reviewing the words to the national anthem. Perhaps, some parts of these former students identify themselves as nationalistic or strive towards a nationalistic identity. Some of them might have given back to their country in different ways. Basically, nationalism and national pride should not be solely based on knowing the national anthem as it does not allow room for those who don’t know the words but are socially active or have fought for the country some room.

    Finally, with regards to Singaporeans, most of the ones that I know since primary school are much more in tuned with their country’s history and future plans. Many are working actively in the government to not only get paid, but to develop the country. And many have plainly admitted those motivations. Of course, my observation is based only a small portion of the population and I did not conduct extensive research as this is an observational/opinion piece. But, just from my experience, my Singaporean friends are much more enthusiastic to be proactive or are already active in their country’s development than most of my Indonesian friends.

    Hopefully, these points helped clear some things up. If not, feel free to contact me directly. Although, I may sounds quite defensive, I enjoy a hated back-and-forth every so often. I believe that these discussions should occur more frequently as it may encourage young adults to think more critically, as you have showed in your comment, JK.

    Thank you again for your comments!

    Best wishes,
    T. Robyn Soetikno


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