I didn’t spend a long time overseas. I was only in Sydney for 2 years doing my master’s degree and grabbing some work experience before heading back to Indonesia. But those 2 years, combined with what I have seen here in Scotland makes me wonder.
When I was in Sydney, it was not unusual to see our assignment groups consist of only Indonesians. I remember clearly that I was one of the few – if not the only one – who was in a group which had no other Indonesian fellow students in it. My group consisted of me, an Australian-Taiwanese (who spoke Australian-English with a heavy Chinese accent) and a French. On some assignments which requested more than 3 persons, we had one additional Indonesian(s), but three of us were inseparable throughout the year. Of course I understand my Indonesian school mates’ strategy. Handling an assignment was difficult enough, writing it in English was an extraordinary work, so it’s much easier to share ideas with people who speak your language.
But then outside the Uni, most of us still hung out with other Indonesians. Which wasn’t difficult, since there were many Indonesians in Sydney. We had BBQ, we went out, we celebrated Eid, even shared an apartment, with Indonesians. So we spoke Indonesian most of the time (which explains why so many people went overseas to study but still are terrible in English), we ate Indonesian food, and in general, we preserved the whole culture we bring from our country.
Maybe Sydney is a special case since half of the city is occupied by Indonesians. But here in Aberdeen, I start to see the same thing again. On the first months I was here, I was busy looking for fellow Indonesians who are also stranded in Aberdeen. But that’s because it’s a starting point for me to get to know people, to make friends, to establish networks, and not because I specifically was looking for Indonesians. Should there be L’Oréal in Aberdeen, I would have banged their door and introduced myself. Lately I spend my time with ladies from Madagascar, Holland, Malaysia, Korea, Oman, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. It is really nice to meet other Indonesians too, where we could speak about flood in Jakarta, factory outlets in Bandung, finding exotic spices for Indonesian meals in Aberdeen, Dewa and Peterpan, celebrities gossips, and so on.
But if we live abroad, shouldn’t we try to get to know people who are not Indonesian too? What’s the point of living in outside Indonesia if we still spend everyday speaking Indonesian with other Indonesians?
Is it fear of rejection? Is it embarrassment of learning new culture? Is it laziness to speak other language rather than Indonesian? Is it reluctance of adapting and absorbing new things?
I‘m curious. I have been here less than a year so I still have a lot to observe. Perhaps my perception will change in time. We’ll see.
Updated: 11 February 2008
Strangely enough, Patung wrote the similar thing in Indonesia Matter in February 8th where he raised two issues: 1) Asian students suffer very high levels of isolation and loneliness, and 2) international students are treated as cash cows. Check Study in Australia to read the complete article and all comments.