Now What


You know what’s as difficult as getting a scholarship abroad? Having to sell your new knowledge upon returning. Yes, selling it is as hard as earning it.

Let’s talk reality here: From your side, you would want a higher paycheck than others, since majority of Indonesians do not have the opportunity to study or receive a scholarship to study overseas. As you move from a superpower country back to the developing country, you think you deserve way more than what others make. From the company’s perspective, they have their own budget, there’s always a limit earning for each particular position. And, the bad news is, in Indonesia, the limit is considerably small. It is not in dollar and it is not counted hourly.

“In 2013, workers in Jakarta rallied for an increase in the provincial minimum wage. (Now former) Governor Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, caught between the workers and business owners, sought to compromise solution and set the 2014 minimum wage for Jakarta at Rp. 2.4 million (US$209) –monthly, a 10 percent increase from the 2013 minimum wage. But neither side was quite satisfied.” – Jakarta Globe “A Higher Minimum Wage Is Crucial for Indonesia.”, May 07, 2014  By Kristia Davina Sianipar.

I remember trying to find a job in 2010, the year I returned from the United States. I sat in the HR room in Jakarta, waiting to discuss my salary. The HR manager mentioned the offer, and, I spontaneously replied, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” He looked insulted and I realized I probably shouldn’t have said that. However, it was a spontaneous response – can’t help it. With a total 4 years of education in Indonesia and United States, plus 5 years of experience in the same field, the offer was $250.00/ month (IDR 2,500,000 / month). That’s where the “you’ve gotta be kidding me” came from.

There were two things I realized on the way home that day: 1. The system is not going to change anytime soon; 2. I am not going to leave Indonesia anytime soon either. Now what?

Some former scholarship students I know even started questioning whether their foreign certificates or degrees mattered at all. Putting my ungratefulness aside, I could see why they’d think that way. But let me share with you a little secret: where in Rome, do it like the Romans do.

My biggest problem when I initially returned to Indonesia was the immense sense of entitlement. Since I studied overseas, I thought I was entitled to a bigger paycheck than other Indonesians. Since I received a scholarship and finished it with distinction, I thought I was entitled to be treated better than the others. Since I thought I was “this good”, I thought I was entitled to the world served me things on a silver platter. The pride I carried was hurting me.

So I swallowed my pride and started over. Once I figured out what was wrong with me, once I got over myself many doors started to open. I started to change my mindset, from “I’m entitled to this” to “It’s a privilege to be given the chance”. It made a huge different. I finally accepted a job offer and started to make the right connections that led me to a lot of opportunities. I started a business called Madison English Club that led to an offer to lecture on Public Speaking and Interpretation at a local university, which added some professional values to my independent job as an interpreter. I ended up letting go of my business and working independently as a Simultaneous and Consecutive Interpreter with clients like Muhammadiyah Islamic Organization, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK – Indonesia and TIRI (NGO, England)), Oriental Containers Ltd. (India), Dainichi Seiki Co.,Ltd (Japan and Korea). I lectured two times a week at Pakuan University and in the weekends I hosted a talk show. Amazing how it all began with one word: humility.

Nothing’s wrong with accepting a company’s offer: it may sound small, but get your feet in the water first. Start somewhere and let it lead you to a lot more opportunities.

I hope this article benefits anyone who just came home to Indonesia and try to launch a career, or anyone with a sense of self-entitlement.

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay the first foundation of humility. – St. Augustine

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Kitty Sitompul-Nieman is an award winning intercultural professional with a blend of experiences in teaching, writing, interpreting, and public speaking in international and diverse platforms. A Fulbright (now administered by AMINEF) scholarship grantee for the Community College International Development program, Kitty has eight years of experience in English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching and management, as well as three years experience in Indonesian-English consecutive and simultaneous interpretation. She currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, USA with her husband, Clay Nieman. They both enjoy hanging out at Buffalo Wild Wings. More of her writings can be found at her personal blog


  1. I’d say we have to be aware of company’s capability to pay their employees. We can’t expect a small company to pay us with such a big salary. If we want a big pay, surely we gotta go after big companies. Cmiiw

    • The company that I talked to, the 250/month one, has offices in 28 countries all over the world. It’s “kinda” big 🙂


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