“What do you know about Indonesia? You’ve been overseas for many years.” Many of us who are currently studying abroad or working outside of Indonesia often receive this question from our friends and family members, especially during discussions about local issues such as education, health care, culture, economics, politics, etc. I was personally asked this question by many when I tried to collect signatures and copies of identity cards (KTP) from the residents of Jakarta as a requirement for my bid for a senate seat next year. While I understand the concern of several voters knowing I have spent the last couple of years studying in the United States, it really bothers me when some people question my friends’ nationalism and their level of knowledge on Indonesia just because they are currently studying or working outside of the country.
This article is also relevant to those of you who plan to pursue higher education abroad, especially in developed countries. Believe me, there is a likelihood that your level of nationalism will increase dramatically after you spend some time living outside of Indonesia, and that is what happened to me and many of my good friends. The opportunity to observe Indonesia from outside will make you realize how great your country is and make you think that there are so many new things that can implemented in the country where you were born and raised. This article will explain three things that me and many of my Indonesian friends do to stay engaged with our motherland while we are studying in the United States:
Being a good ambassador by promoting Indonesian culture
I had never performed an Indonesian dance in front of many people until I came to the United States. It never came to my mind to learn Saman and Tari Panen during my time in middle school and high school. Being born and raised in Jakarta, I did not see learning how to perform these dances as an opportunity to show off to other people. Yes, this sounds really horrible, but it is the truth. For those of you who live in Indonesia, how many times have you had an opportunity to perform a traditional dance in the past five years (if you are a male and not affiliated to any dance groups, this question might not even be relevant)? However, this is not the case when you study overseas. People are curious to see something unique and different from where you are from, therefore in some way you are forced to learn your own culture, and dancing is just one of many ways to show them. In the United States, many Indonesian students are involved with Permias (Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia di Amerika Serikat) in their local chapters. The organization annually hosts Indonesian Night where the students introduce the natives with Wayang (a classical Javanese puppet drama), Gamelan, and Saman. By promoting the Indonesian heritage, we start to realize how valuable some of the things that we used to take for granted when we lived in Indonesia.
Choosing topics related to Indonesia for class discussion and research paper
Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” This quote really applies to my knowledge on Indonesia. When I am asked about my opinion on certain topics, I often relate my answer to the situation in my home country. For example, during my international marketing class last semester, the professor asked me what I think of protectionism. In my answer, I mentioned some forms of protectionism that are currently being implemented in Indonesia and how they actually benefit the country. Yet, there were a couple of students who disagreed with me and thought that a country would be much better off if there is less restriction on its trade policy (Kansas is considered as one of the most conservative states in the U.S.). After class, I spent at least two hours searching the current trade policies implemented by the Indonesian government and how these policies have evolved in the past decade. This experience brought me to articles (The government’s plan to ban the export of raw materials starting in 2014 and the negotiation that is currently taking place between the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and Total regarding Cepu Block) that I would have never read unless I included Indonesia as an example in my answer during the class discussion. I guess the old saying “Tak kenal maka tak sayang” implies to my experience, and definitely many others, who are currently studying outside of Indonesia.
Keeping myself up-to-date with current issues in Indonesia while at the same figuring out the solution for these issues
I have always been a big fan of newspaper, but unfortunately I was fed up with news about corruption cases, criminal stories, and highlights from the European soccer games by most newspaper in Indonesia. I would have to say that these stories do not make you think critically. During my time in the United States, I always got excited when there was an article about Indonesia on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, or other internationally recognized news channel and newspaper. The reason is because these media often cover stories that present an opportunity for the readers and the viewers to analyze the issue and identify the opportunity behind it. As an Indonesian, these articles also give me the chance to think what needs to be done to make Indonesia better off in the future, instead of just focusing on the current situation. For instance, in early October this year, The New York Times published an article about environmental issues in Sumatra that are caused by deforestation. The name of the article is “In Indonesia, Environmentalist See a Disaster in the Making” written by Sara Schonhardt. The article explained the tremendous increase on the number of permits given for mining and palm oil plantations since the regional autonomy law being implemented.
Reading news about Indonesia through foreign media does not only give you an opportunity to think more critically but also the chance to see what the world think of your country. When the news is not completely true, you would be eager to explain the truth to your friends to make sure that they do not have a bad image about Indonesia, and this process (sometimes I do not even realize it) will make you love your country more. It is just like when someone spreads a rumor about the person you love, you will defend him or her and ensure that other people do not believe the rumor. The most recent example is when my American friends question Indonesia’s position on the beauty pageant competition. As I had expected, their concern came in after they read an article about Islamic hardliners who were protesting this year’s Miss World contest that was held in Indonesia. One of them even asked, “Is Indonesia a Muslim country?” I explained to them that even though Indonesia is a the world’s most populous Muslim nation, we are not a Muslim country. In fact, the majority of Indonesians are very tolerant and those who were protesting only represent a small percentage of the Indonesian people.
I hope that this article will give you a better idea about how and why the Indonesian students who are currently studying overseas care so much about their home country. This is also another reason why there are so many people who went to school in Australia, UK, and the United States later decide to dedicate their career in public service, despite a more promising salary in the private sector. For those of you who plan to pursue a higher education in developed countries, do not be afraid that your nationalism will be faded, because believe me, it will be the other way around. You will realize that there are things that you often take for granted when you live in Indonesia, and there are also many areas that need to be improved to make the country better off. Sometimes, in order to renovate a house, you need to see the whole house from the outside and start planning the renovation. It is impossible to find out that the fence of your house is broken if you always stay inside of the house. Salam Indonesia!