The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, September 14, 2015


Knowledge – your other passport       

  From left:  Kenny Watono, Fachrul Sugiyanto, Klara Dalay, Komang Anita Andriani, Amaliah Fitriah and Angela Roswita Hartono.

They are among Indonesia’s most incandescently bright. Their English is accented but close to perfect for non-native speakers.

The tertiary education teaching system they’ve encountered is radically different from past experience.  They’ve had to adjust and make sacrifices.

On the plus side these student members of the Republic’s diaspora in the South Pacific have learned to be independent and disciplined, even to cook.  None reported discrimination.  They’ve overcome communication hassles, alien values and worrying lifestyles.

“New Zealand has legalized same-sex marriage,” said language studies student Kenny Watono, 21, from Malang and who lives in a hostel.  “Seeing couples of the same sex is an eerie thing for me because I come from a country where it’s prohibited.

“Kiwis’ drinking and partying habits are not nice for people who don’t do such things. Now I think: ‘So what?  I don’t care. They’ll move on.’”

There are upsides for people like Amaliah Fitriah, 40, (left) who is working towards a doctorate in development studies.  She brought her husband Rudi Kurniawan and two daughters on her NZ scholarship.

“Overseas studying has changed the way we live,” she said. “Now we have time for quality family life. In Jakarta Rudi and I saw our children briefly as we rushed to work early and came back home late and tired.

“In NZ we are much closer.  We employed a maid in Indonesia; here my husband shares the housekeeping and child rearing.  He’s an engineer but in NZ his qualifications aren’t recognized so works part-time in a supermarket.  I’m so lucky to have such a supportive man.”

Kenny and his colleagues hanker for Indonesian food. For international relations student Fachrul Sugiyanto, 21, from Garut in West Java, the need is halal ingredients.  He plans to work for the United Nations or a non-government organization.

Most miss their friends and families and shiver more than they sweat in the cool climate.  Not all are in a rush to return home after graduation.

Klara Dalay, 20, will eventually be a nurse; her qualifications should help her don a white uniform in most Commonwealth countries and the Middle East.

“I want to work in NZ for the next couple of years and see where it goes,” she said.  “I’m not intending to go back to Indonesia for now.”

Angela Roswita Hartono, 22, also from Jakarta, hopes to get into a NZ –based food manufacturing company.  She’s bought a car, useful in a country where public transport is limited.  Her parents were against her studying in the US because of that nation’s gun culture.

“If your ultimate goal is to get a job here then the NZ government’s skills shortage list [published on the Internet] is a good place to start,” she said. 

Most Indonesians are studying at Massey University; it was founded in 1927 and has a purpose built mosque.  Its main campus is in Palmerston North.

This is a city of 80,000 two hours drive north of Wellington, the NZ capital; it’s the center of rich farmland served by the Manawatu River and an education hub with students from around the world.

At least 80 are Indonesians.  They’ve formed an association to maintain their culture and help new arrivals. 

Of the six who spoke to The Jakarta Post, five have part-time jobs even though NZ has a 5.8 per cent unemployment rate, higher in rural areas.

The work they’ve found has seldom been in the professional fields they’re destined to enter.  They serve in restaurants or do menial retail jobs. Shops close around 5 pm – an annoyance for Asians used to unregulated trading hours, but a boon for staff keen to have an outside life beyond labor. 

The minimum wage is NZ$ 14 [Rp 125,000] an hour, less tax of 10.5 per cent.  “With that amount of salary students can cover their needs,” said Kenny. He wants to teach English, though doesn’t know where.

“We can trust the police because they are usually honest and cannot be bribed. We can sue our employers if they pay below the minimum rate.”

The students said the Indonesian system of school leavers going direct from classroom to campus is flawed because many were immature and uncertain about career possibilities. 

NZ high school graduates often take a gap year, locally known as OE [overseas experience] before returning to learning with a wider knowledge of the world and a sense of direction.

However Bali-born Komang [Anita] Andriani, 21, knows where she’s going once she graduates in international business studies.

“I want to move to the big cities like Wellington or Auckland and find a job in a bank or insurance company,” she said.  “Later I can set up an on-line clothing shop in NZ.”

Amaliah will be heading for Jakarta when she graduates in 2017 to pick up her career with the Ministry of Education and Culture. 

Like other professionals she knows that’s not always easy. Jealous stay-at-homes can block prospects for the glamorous returnees with their higher skills and smart ideas.  Indonesian wages will be much lower and commuting stressful.

Scientists who rely on high-tech equipment may find the gear they used in NZ isn’t always available back in their old labs.

A particular concern is fitting back into Indonesia’s hierarchical status system after experiencing NZ egalitarianism.

“I experienced some culture shock, such as how straightforward Kiwis are to each other,” Amaliah said. 

“Indonesians tend to be more subtle.  Students here call senior lecturers by their first names, while in Indonesia we use honorifics like Sir and Madam.”

All urged others to travel to learn.  Because Massey is multicultural the Indonesians say they’ve formed bonds with people from countries apart from Kiwis.

“Studying overseas has forced me to be more independent and responsible,” said Klara. “I know I’ve grown so much as a person.”  Added Anita:  “Knowledge is your other passport to the world.”


(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 September 2015)

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