We speak to one young Australian about her experiences living and working in Jakarta.
Kirby Taylor interned with the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Jakarta for 3 months, learning about the importance of being open minded and fully immersed in another culture. Clarissa Tanurahardja talked to Kirby about her intercultural perspective and thoughts on living in Indonesia.
AIYA: You lived in Jakarta as an intern for the United Nations Information Centre, Jakarta. What was it like?
Kirby: It was something completely new, little things like living in one of the biggest, most populated cities was something that having grown up in small country town of around 2,500 people hadn’t really prepared me for. I was fortunate enough to live right in the centre of Jakarta, in Kebon Kacang, just metres from the Bundaran HI, and two of Indonesia’s largest department stores, Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia. I was surprised to find that despite wealth culminating in the city centre, there was a stark contrast just streets behind.
One thing that I will never forget about my time in Jakarta is the humidity, every night I would shower in cold water just to cool off and attempt to sleep. Despite the heat I also wore clothes I would normally wear on a cold day here in Australia, as I was observing the cultural norms of Indonesia. Another thing was the daily call to prayer, known as adzan — these started at 4.30am, with another at 6.00am, midday, late afternoon and then two more at around 6 and 7pm. At first it shocked me and whilst I knew what they were some mornings I was unable to return back to sleep, eventually I became more used to them and magically even slept through them a few times! Although I am not of Islamic faith and do not understand what was being said I was fond of the sound and even though it was an early morning wake-up call it was quite a calming one to wake up to. Overall my living experience in Jakarta was amazing and I would love to get back there someday, either to visit, study or work!
What helped you adjust to Indonesian culture? Do you have any advice for Australians or foreigners interested in living in Indonesia?
The things that really helped me for adjusting were:
1. Having prior knowledge of the language and culture. Even a slight understanding of the country you are travelling to is key to a foreign country. Having language skills was one of the most useful things for engaging with local people and feeling safe and confident in my ability to get around!
2. The staff of the UNIC Jakarta office, having the other interns and staff members at UNIC was a blessing, they taught me so much about the Indonesian way and language. On my first days they taught me new words especially “slang” so that I could understand people in the office and on the street, they corrected my grammar when I was doing work in Bahasa and they also introduced me to new foods, both from the street vendors and the building’s cafeteria. My friends from UNIC Jakarta were the main reason I gained so much from my time in Indonesia, both personally and professionally!
How did you find your feet when you first moved to Jakarta, Kirby?
I arrived in Jakarta a week prior to starting. When I first moved to Jakarta the network of fellow interns from all over the world who were working in the other UN departments were a godsend. We were all in the same boat, experiencing a new country and culture. We explored the city and its surroundings together and developed a fantastic family of young people where you knew someone would always have an answer to your question. I was put in touch with this fantastic group of people before I even left Australia and they answered so many of my burning questions, the most beneficial was helping me to find accommodation in a kost before I arrived which is very hard to do without actually being in the local area. I still talk to these people who hail from far and wide and who knows we might work together again one day!
What’s the best cultural Indonesian experience you had when you lived here?
One particular weekend that I loved in Indonesia was when I visited Pulau Pramuka, one of the many islands in Pulau Seribu just a few hours away by boat from Jakarta. Literally a breath of fresh air! We spent the weekend playing games and doing activities with young school children. A big group of young adult Indonesians and a few foreigners gave their time up to spend time with these kids. I loved speaking to these anak in Bahasa, learning new words and singing songs! We also got the chance to do some snorkelling and swimming in the crystal-clear water, we enjoyed a beautiful seafood barbeque and at night made lanterns that floated away into the night sky. Indonesians are some of the most humble, jovial and friendly people in the world and this weekend exemplified that for me.
How do you see the role of Australian youth in the bilateral relationship in the years ahead?
Australian youth have the power! Some of the Australian youth I have met through various events, organisations and study are the most invested in the bilateral relationship and are so keen to improve this through people to people links. They want to increase the knowledge of both country’s people of each other through increased travel, especially studying and working abroad and foreign language study. Australian youth need to keep engaging with Indonesia via exchange, study programs and internships! There is such an opportunity for both Indonesia and Australia capitalise on a special relationship with our neighbours and we would be silly to pass it up.
To read more about Kirby’s experience working at UNIC Jakarta and her perspective on Indonesia’s culture check out her blog, or follow her on Twitter. If you’re interested to learn more about UN and working with them, their website has more information.