What Does It Mean to Be an Indonesian?

Written by Megan Sulistyo

May 23, 2020

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in May 2017 majoring in Kinesiology. I was so happy to finally obtain my BSc. degree. So, what is next? Many of my classmates decided to go directly to graduate school or start a full-time job with a reputable company. I had these goals in mind as well, but my plan was to travel to Indonesia first to work for a semester, visit my family there, and reconnect with the culture after being away for almost 5 years.

My dad is an Indonesian from the island of Java. When I was a few years old, our family lived in Sungai Lilin, Palembang, South Sumatra because my dad was working for a Cargill palm oil plantation. I wanted to have the experience of living in Indonesia as an adult. My nenek (grandma) and kakek (grandpa) live in a rural area in Klaten, Central Java. My dad’s brothers, sisters and their children all live in Indonesia as well.

My dream came true when I had the opportunity to live and teach for five months in Yogyakarta. From January to May 2018, I worked at Olifant International School assisting with teaching and program development for the international classes and programs for both the students and staff. I have great memories about this experience. I enjoyed interacting with those happy children and working closely with other teachers. I took Indonesian language classes with some of the same teachers my mom had when she first came to teach in Indonesia after college and met my dad at Wisma Bahasa. One of my co-workers was the lady who ran the boarding house that my mom lived in while she taught in Indonesia. This was an opportunity that I will remember for a long time and I hope I will have another chance to visit.

My nenek and my kakek.

Although I didn’t follow the same path as most of my classmates, I am so thankful for my semester abroad in Indonesia. I spent quality time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, relearned the national language, and gained relevant experience to put towards my career.

It was not easy living independently in a developing country. I faced many cultural challenges, homesickness, and uncertainty I would make it through the entire 5 months successfully. However, this experience taught me a lot about myself as a person and taught me how capable I am of overcoming challenges and growing in ways I didn’t know was possible.

I will always be happy with my decision to travel abroad before jumpstarting my professional career because I learned valuable life lessons I never would have learned otherwise.

Aku cinta Indonesia.

With Om Sutris in Wangon.

With Om Petrus and Dik Moses

5 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be an Indonesian?

  1. Such a significant life experience, thank you for sharing it, Megan. We take so much for granted as cultural norms until we live outside of our home base for a period of time and learn that without knowing it our actions or dress can have a different meaning and interpretation to others. Such an important awareness to gain.


  2. Pingback: What Does It Mean to Be an Indonesian? | Story Lighthouse

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