Q&A with Nadi Guna Khairi, Former Secretary General of PERMIAS Nasional

A group picture in front of the famous Indonesian Embassy building in Washington, D.C. Posed here are the full delegations, speakers, diplomats, and honorable guests at the the 4th Symposium of PPI Amerika-Eropa 2017. Photo by author.

Many people frown upon Indonesians who have chosen to pursue opportunities abroad, as they feel that it’s a selfish move that doesn’t help the advancement of the country. However, this interview with Nadi, former Secretary General of PERMIAS Nasional, aims to dispute that. Nadi talks briefly about his background, the accomplishments made during his term, as well as his journey in discovering his own love for Indonesia.

Q: You’ve been in the US for over 10 years now, but you’ve displayed such a strong will to return to Indonesia and contribute. Why? What motivates you?

Frankly, sometimes I would find myself asking the same question; why would I go back and jeopardize everything I have built and worked tirelessly on (including my career, relationships, and network among many others), just to return to Indonesia and start everything back from zero? Totally absurd, right? However, I would also find the answer by seeing that almost all of my Indonesian, American-educated colleagues found success in everything they pursued after they returned to Indonesia.

Perhaps it is not only success that motivates me, but also the opportunity to contribute to the society that I owe so much to. I can’t deny the fact that the US has helped shape me into the person that I am today, but I can never forget about my roots. Without Indonesia, honestly, I wouldn’t be here right now and have the education and experiences that I’ve been blessed to have.

A meeting between PERMIAS Los Angeles Chapter with the Staff of Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Los Angeles. Photo by author.

Q: A lot of people would be happy to settle in the US, a much more developed country than Indonesia. Do you ever think of the possibility that your life would be so much easier if you stayed?

I remember my senior year in high school, I went to a school in Reseda, California. When kids around my age were busy searching for part-time jobs, one of my best friends told me that her father, who was a successful lawyer, became successful in searching for jobs by always having the mentality of “wanting more and never settling with enough”. First, I was puzzled; I assumed it would seem rakus (greedy) for me to have that kind of mentality in life.

However, after thinking deeper, I came to the realization that what she meant by “wanting more” was to tell me to become more than what I think I am.

It would seem that the ideal future for me is to stay in the US with my American education and career and live happily ever after, but is that really someone that I could only possibly become? Would I find happiness in that ideal future? I felt like, all of my life and professional experiences would be much more impactful and useful if I return to Indonesia and pursue my career over there.

PERMIAS Nasional Congress 2017 in Wisma, San Francisco (House of the Consul General of the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in San Francisco). Photo by author.

Q: How do you think we can prevent ‘brain drain’? We are losing so many smart and talented Indonesians because many are leaving to study abroad, and the longer they stay there, the less they want to return.

Well, based on my experience networking with many members of the Indonesian diaspora (Indonesians living abroad) that could not and would not see themselves returning back to Indonesia, I came to the conclusion that the solution to ‘brain drain’ starts with ourselves.

Let me explain. First of all, we need to understand that many members of the Indonesian diaspora decided to leave Indonesia for many different reasons. For some, it was because of their financial situations, lack of opportunity, or lack of suitable career options that match their level of expertise. I understand that it is important to be able to guarantee the best quality of life for your family. However, I am a firm believer that the fact that Indonesia does not have many job vacancies for highly educated Indonesians is because we haven’t forced the Indonesian society hard enough to pursue the industry that they are experts on. The 35th President of USA, John F. Kennedy, in one of his famous speeches, stated that “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” It stuck with me every day. Indonesia can be well developed, but to get there, Indonesia needs our help.

Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that some Indonesians left because of Indonesia’s lack of social freedom for those who are gay or atheists. These reasons of departure would be irritating for some Indonesians, as they are still sensitive subjects in Indonesia. I’m not for it nor against it, however, if you desire changes in Indonesia, you cannot sit around and wait for things to get better for you. If it’s not by you, who else can start the movement? It will be difficult to fight for the freedom, but it is not impossible.

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Secretary General’s opening remarks at the 4th Symposium of PPI Amerika-Eropa 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo by author.
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A group photo of the 4th Symposium of PPI Amerika-Eropa delegations along with the Educational and Cultural Attaché of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Indonesia, Mr. Ismunandar. Photo by author.

Q: How and why did you first get involved with PERMIAS Nasional?

It was a mixture of the identity crisis that I’ve had growing up and pure personal curiosity. For context, I moved to the States when I was barely 12 years old. I grew up knowing only that I was born in Indonesia and able to speak the language fluently. My first year in college was when I started to question myself about my real identity. I know that I am Indonesian by the way I look, but honestly, I felt like I knew nothing about being a real Indonesian. Don’t get me wrong, I often seek friendships with other Indonesians, but I could only find American-Indonesian friends, who were exactly like me, or perhaps more American than they are Indonesian.

It was not until when my older brother introduced me to PERMIAS Los Angeles. At first, I hesitated to join PERMIAS. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend my free time nongkrong (hanging out) and wasting time because honestly, that’s what I felt about PERMIAS back then. It seems like it was formed simply to be a reason for Indonesian students to hang out with other Indonesian students and not with people of other ethnicities. However, as I joined the weekly meetings, it grew on me, and it became more than just a place to nongkrong. Instead, it has become a platform for Indonesian students to project their voice and aspiration, and on a grander scale, to change the world.

Then in 2012, I decided to join the managing team of PERMIAS Los Angeles. In May 2015, I was chosen to be the next Secretary-General of PERMIAS Nasional, the highest position in PERMIAS.

Q: What were the objectives you tried to accomplish during your term?

PERMIAS is an abbreviation for ‘Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia di America Serikat’ which loosely translates  to ‘Indonesian Student Association in the United States of America’. It was formed back in 1960 in Washington, D.C. with the idea to become a funnel for accommodating ideas of all Indonesian brilliant minds that were pursuing their education in the States, with the end goal of helping improve Indonesia as a developing country. As the number of PERMIAS Chapters grew across the States, PERMIAS Nasional was formed to be the governing body and representative of PERMIAS Chapters for PPI Dunia (Perhimpunan Pelajar Indonesia, which translates to Overseas Indonesian Student Association Alliance). Today, PERMIAS Nasional has more than 40 chapters in cities across the United States within its unions, such as PERMIAS San Francisco, PERMIAS Los Angeles, PERMIAS New York, PERMIAS Philadelphia, PERMIAS Chicago, PERMIAS Houston, PERMIAS Boston, PERMIAS Seattle, and many more.

When I served my 2 years term as the Secretary-General, I had only one thing in my mind, which was to introduce PERMIAS to everyone.

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Sharing insights about scholarship and general information regarding going to school in the United States of America at the “Festival Luar Negri”, an Overseas Indonesian Student Association Alliance’s program or known as PPI Dunia, in the Universitas Negeri Jakarta (State University of Jakarta), 2016. Photo by author.

Q: What were the hardest challenges you faced during your time as Secretary General of PERMIAS Nasional, considering it was on hiatus until 2013?

PERMIAS was formed back in 1960. In the span of 58 years, PERMIAS has obtained reputable achievements and it has become one of the most respectable Indonesian Student Associations outside of Indonesia. Unfortunately, PERMIAS Nasional went on hiatus in the wake of the Indonesian financial crisis back in 1999. The 10 years hiatus has resulted in the new generation of Indonesians not knowing what PERMIAS is or was.

Many Indonesians did not know that PERMIAS played a big role in the development of Indonesia then and today. They did not know that many PERMIAS alumni had become very important people in the governmental or private sector back home. Many of the new generations of Indonesians in the States simply did not know the reason why they should be proud for being a PERMIAS member.

My hardest challenge was to spark the light of excitement within every PERMIAS Nasional member towards contributing to PERMIAS Nasional’s mission and vision.

Q: What have been the biggest accomplishments during your term?

Within my 2 years’ term, my amazing administration, which is called ‘Berkarya’, and I were able to accomplish many great things. The biggest achievements for us were:

  1. Legalization of PERMIAS Nasional in the eye of the United States of America, under Non-Profit tax exemption law 501©3; 
  2. The initiation of the PERMIAS Nasional digital media division, which successfully published 4 editions of PERMIAS Nasional first-ever student magazine and Student Guidebook that was written in collaboration with Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan (LPDP) scholarship recipients; 
  3. Hosting the 4th symposium of PPI Amerika-Eropa (The Overseas Indonesian Student Association Alliance of North America and European Region) in Washington D.C.

Everything that I am, every single thing that I have accomplished, I owe them all to Indonesia. Therefore, everything that I will do, I will do it for the benefit of Indonesia and her interests.

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In addition to his bachelor of science degree on business management from the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, He also holds a Front End Web Developer certificate from the Beachcoders Academy, a computer programming school located in El Segundo, California. He started his career as an E-Commerce Specialist Intern for the Harry Potter, DC Comics, The Hobbits, Warner Bros, and Cartoon Network E-commerce (Online) shop. In June 2016, He began his first full-time position as an E-Commerce Developer & Internet Marketing Specialist for Drone World. Then, since June 2017, He is been working as an E-Commerce Merchandiser Manager for a shoe retail company called Eurostar WSS in Los Angeles, California. In terms of student organizations, He was the Vice President of PERMIAS (Indonesian Student Association in United State of America) Los Angeles Chapter 2014 - 2015, Chairman of PERMIAS Nasional (National Level) Communications Commitee 2013 - 2015, President of PERMIAS Los Angeles Chapter 2015 - 2016, Financial Vice Coordinator of PPI Dunia (Overseas Indonesian Student Association Alliance) 2016-2017, and lastly, he was a Secretary General of PERMIAS Nasional 2015-2017.


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