Refleksi Awal 2016, dari Kaca Mata Imigran


Bulan ini adalah bulan terakhir saya sebagai kolumnis tetap di Indonesia Mengglobal. Saya sangat berterimakasih untuk kesempatan yang telah diberikan oleh Tim IM bagi saya untuk berkontribusi selama satu tahun terakhir.

Sebagai artikel penutup, saya ingin mempersembahkan salah satu tulisan dari blog pribadi mengenai refleksi kehidupan saya sebagai seorang imigran di Amerika Serikat bila dibandingkan dengan Indonesia. Karena hasil pengamatan yang begitu dalam, personal, dan raw, tulisan ini mendapat tanggapan dari Gedung Putih, dari Bapak Presiden Amerika Serikat Barrack Obama tepatnya.

Semoga tulisan ini dapat menginspirasi dan saya juga akan terus berharap semoga semakin banyak orang-orang Indonesia yang memiliki kesempatan untuk melihat sisi lain dunia baik lewat pendidikan, pekerjaan, maupun lewat perjalanan (traveling).


Carried Away

I held up my right hand and for the third time, pointed my finger forming the number “one”. Giving three seconds in between for the student to absorb the information, then, I added a second finger and said, “Two”. One more finger and I said with a smile, “Three.” Stopping at the number three, I gave her a chance to review the three numbers she had just learned. Immediately, I held up my right hand again. Full of hope, I pointed up my finger again to form number ‘1’ and let her say it to me. I asked her, “What is this called, remember?” She smiled. She smiled and said, “I don’t know.

I was told by the classroom teacher that this girl was malnourished, just like a few other kids in that room.

Three times. The process for learning to count to three had been repeated three times. Still she hadn’t learned.

I have been a teacher at various locations before, most of these locations have been international institutions – meaning the students attending are from upper-middle economic class. Many of these institutions demand a large monthly fee to attend and only wealthy Indonesians can afford. The students I taught at those institutions were very easy to teach. They understand things quickly, nutrition could have a lot to do with it.

I volunteered to teach at an early childhood education program (Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini – PAUD) in a village (in Indonesian we call it ‘Kampung’) near my home, once a week. It is a very poor community. Most don’t have enough money to buy nutritious food for their children. Most days residents are happy just being able to eat something, anything that day is good. Nutritious food is the last thing to worry about. Each day, the program ran for 2.5 hours, with a 30 minutes of break. At break, children would open up their lunch box. If their parents didn’t pack their lunch, they would give them Rp. 1,500 to 2,000 rupiah spare change to buy snacks from a street vendor. 1,500 – 2,000 Rupiah is equal to about 10 to 20 Cents in U.S. Dollar. With that amount of money they could buy a cheap chocolate bar, fake cheese balls, or similar snacks, heavy on artificial colors and flavors. If a child was able to bring their lunch box, usually it was instant noodles, crackers, wafers or a couple of fried spring rolls (‘gorengan’).

One day, a girl in the program hesitantly pulled out her lunch. Her family couldn’t afford a lunch box so her mother wrapped her spring rolls in an old newspaper. The spring rolls were so greasy; the grease came through the paper, left a stain inside her little backpack. She was the only one in the group who didn’t have a lunch box. I stood by her side assuring her it was ok. Looking up at me she asked, “Well, would you have this spring roll with me?” I responded yes, I didn’t want to embarrass her. She had two spring rolls. Two inches long, packed with a few thin slices of carrots, oil, and that’s it. She said happily, “Miss Kitty is having lunch with me.” I took a bite of the spring roll while hiding my teary eyes.


It was around two years ago today, I moved to America. America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. The country listed among first world countries. The country many media keep referring to as “Super Power”.

There was an ASEAN Conference for Paper Industry back in 2014 in Jakarta where I was the interpreter. During our visit to one of the paper mills, the engineer who took us around explained that there are 4 qualities of paper, with the first quality being the best and so forth. He said that countries such as United States and Japan would only accept the first and second quality of the mill’s paper production, Arab countries were willing to extend their purchase up to the third quality, and my country Indonesia gets the bottom quality. That day I learned that even the worst quality products in the first world countries would be considered ‘premium’ when sold in Indonesia.

America as a country has “The American Dream” idealism: that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. Here, ‘to have it’ alone is not enough, we have ‘to have it abundantly’, which to my amateur-self, that’s the definition of the American Dreams. To have way more than we need and to make it normal. Poverty may or may not exist here, but even if it does, the level cannot compare to the level of poverty in Indonesia. I even joked to a friend one time that poverty here means ‘not having a desert to eat after the entrée’.

From my lens as an outsider, Americans are spoiled by their government (still somehow they would find an excuse to blame the governments for everything and anything #ThanksObama). Seriously, the American government is like rich parents who raise a bunch of brats. Here, if you don’t have enough money for food, as long as you have a Social Security Number (SSN) and don’t mess up, meaning you aren’t involved in drugs or otherwise break the law, you’re good. You can go to the Food Bank I volunteer at, and pick up your monthly supply of food, including steak, bacon, lasagna, chocolate pudding, whole chicken, eggs, a selection of grape, orange, and apple juice, and much, much, more. Remember, here you cannot just ‘have it’, you have to ‘have it abundantly’. Many customers who go there don’t even treat it as a privilege anymore, they treat it as their right: they’d want us to check if we have a certain brand of bacon or ask why there were only steak and chicken but no lasagna today. A lot of people’s last name here is ‘entitled’ with ‘is’ being the middle name. Americans, as long as you don’t mess up, I don’t think your ‘parents’ will let you hit the rock bottom.

While the rest of the world suffers from real problems such as poverty, malnutrition, poor education, and even availability of clean water, Americans suffer from discontentment: How can we have more things than we need yet we’re still not content? Is it because we actually…. need more?

Here in America, we get it so easy we don’t appreciate it anymore. Small things to be grateful about may go by unnoticed. And only here I meet people who say “That’s funny” without a single smile on their face. Small joys go by unnoticed.

It is so easy to get carried away living in this kind of society, all day, every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love America. God bless America. We are blessed to be in this land full of milk and honey, the land of freedom. We get it so easy here, the very comfortable life we have. As for me, there are times when all these comforts consume me. After a year and a half of living here, I’ve found myself bothered by what the online community call ‘first world problems’: I can be annoyed when the hot water isn’t as hot as it supposed to be, thought to myself ‘I really didn’t have anything to wear’ with a closet full of dresses, 4 of them are still brand new – I just haven’t had the chance to wear them, and complained about my quality of life, live from our downtown condo, a block away from Mary Todd Lincoln’s house. Guys, there are times when I’m consumed.

Living here in America, I need to keep reminding myself that what we call small things can become significant things when we don’t have them anymore: the laughter, the roof over my head, the running water, the clean air, the feeling of being secure. Maybe we’re feeling discontent not because we need more, but because we have too much: too much of a good thing we can’t handle unless we share.

Refleksi Awal 2016, dari Kaca Mata Imigran
With the girl I taught “1,2,3”
Refleksi Awal 2016, dari Kaca Mata Imigran
Teaching in the classroom, in early childhood education program (Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini – PAUD) at a village (‘Kampung’) near my house.

 Content edited by Artricia Rasyid

Photo Credit: and Personal Collection

Berita sebelumyaMahasiswa Indonesia Bersaing di Panggung Global
Berita berikutnyaMenjalani Jalan Yang Tidak Biasa di Georgetown University, Qatar
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 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


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