Hang out with Fellow Indonesians

Why do we tend to hang out with other Indonesians, and in most of the cases, with only Indonesians, while we’re abroad?

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.



  1. annecantik says:

    actually, I’m the other way around. I’ve been living in Boston for over 12 yrs now, but I didn’t start hanging out with Indonesians until ~4 yrs ago, and that was only b/c one of my friends from Jkt moved to my state.

  2. JennieSBev.com says:

    Anita, it depends on how one positions one’s self. To excel in a foreign country, it is better to embrace the host culture while preserving our own. As a citizen of the world, whatever that means, I acknowledge all three cultures in myself. To abandon one of them is like betraying a part of myself. Just my two cents.

  3. I’m not an expat, but yes, I do understand what you mean. I think it’s because we’re more ..homewards?

    Indonesians are very family-oriented in terms of social gatherings, like, for acara natalan, lebaranan, etc. And a group of fellow Indonesians is the closest thing to a biological family.

    The intellectual need to explore and roam one culture after the next is always a quality –eventhough a good one– that is more applicable in terms of education or career. But socially, we tend to head homewards. IMHO.

  4. mba, i am happy that you raise this issue. Before, i often feel jealous with Indonesian living in a bigger city than mine, where they have more Indonesian, they and could mingle, talk even make cultural events together.

    But now, as the only Indonesian student and one of three Indonesian living in Tromso, i must say i am happy. I am closer to the North Norwegian mentality and this is why i am abroad, to learn the culture and mentality, then get the positive impact out of it.

    One other thing that makes me happy is because-sorry-but; Indonesian talks. Though we are a country of 230 million people, it’s so easy for fellows in Jakarta to find out about one specific person in Holland, California or Bali-for example. Because we talk, gossips and spread the news so quickly.

    Sometimes, i cant stand this. I love my country and meeting Indonesian in some occasions abroad is so much fun, really. Many of them are amazingly great people. But i guess, that’s also because i don’t meet all bunch of them every day here.

    I hope i don’t make my self sounds so arrogant. But that’s just my honest feelings.

  5. A good question you raise. I’m not Indonesian, but I am Chinese growing up in the USA, and all of my life, I rarely had Chinese friends, but there were certainly groups of Chinese friends who isolated themselves from everyone else. I suppose I never understood it much myself. I also wonder if it’s the comfort or camaraderie they share……

  6. I never lived in western country before except for travelling reason. I lived in S’pore for 7 years and I also don’t understand whilst I was there, my indonesian friends are still hanging out with Indonesian. It is nothing wrong but what is the point of living in others country but we still did not learn their culture, try their food. Btw, S’pore is still asean country.

    Personally, since in my high school in S’pre, not too many fellow indonesians but 90% is Singaporean. Till now, I am glad that I mixed and tried to learn other country culture not just Singaporean, they are Thai, Aussie, American, British.

    Even as Indonesian chinese, I notice they are many of them still prefer to hang out and feel closer only with chinese. Nit, honestly I think you have more indonesian chinese friends compare to me hehehehe. Good topic by the way.

  7. “….what is the point of living in others country but we still did not learn their culture, try their food” – Melly has a good point; My parents gave similar advices before I headed off overseas.

    I remember during my high school years there were plenty of Indonesian students and they were always together even during classes and lunchtimes, and to make it even worse, they often spoke Bahasa in such loud voices, it made me feel embarrassed for them!

    Moreover I was declined to hang out with them and choose to find my own cliques, thus making me labelled as ‘snob’ by some Indo students.

    But what was funny was the fact that those students were the one having problems with English because overseas or not, they were still speaking the same language!

    What a waste of their parents money 😉

    Though I never forget what mine always reminded me time and time again: “Take only the best out of both cultures.”

  8. I had a few Indonesian friends, perhaps less than 10, when I lived in Brisbane for the first 2 years. I think, for me it’s more important to mingle with both local and international students… I could learn their cultures, beliefs, thoughts, way of lives, etc. I learnt so many things. And it does need a courage to do it. Coz u know, there are so many Indonesians in Australia. If you hang out with them all the time, then what I learnt from most of my friends, they didn’t get to improve their English. I wanted to spend my 4 years in that country with something different.

    Then I realised that it’s also important to have at least some Indonesian friends. Often times I felt so lonely during Ramadhan coz most of my friends were not moslems (this is only one of the examples… ). So I started to socialise with Indonesians, though I wasn’t very close to them… :) I often felt “safer” to be close to Indonesians who already have family/children… perhaps, less gossips? 😛

    anyway thanks for bringing this topic up!

  9. But we must consider this as a strength though. Our PPIA or PPI everywhere are quite reputable for their activism and teamwork, also their successful cultural projects. Or so I’ve heard.

    Most of my cousins joined PPI when they were still in college, they’ve admitted that (hanging out with fellow Indonesians) isn’t merely personally-driven, but it’s also what’s expected from them.

  10. Mbak anita, I feel more Indonesia if I go overseas, obviously it strengthen my sense of nationalism and at that time there’s a longing to meet my fellow Indonesian there, may be that’s why, anyway I can’t wait to be in overseas again I enjoy a lot being a stranger.

  11. the writer says:

    A good blog entry. I actually had no good Indonesian friends since I came to Denmark two years ago. Well I knew some and decided maybe it’s best not to hang out with them (after meeting them once or twice – due to their *cough* ayam-like behaviour)

    And since I am a university student myself, I often hang out with my classmates than the people from the embassy or whatever but I do notice that most Asians stick together (even in my campus – where most Chinese always go everywhere together – I start to wonder whether they go to toilet in packs also?).

  12. Hi,

    Just blogwalking, and stumbled on to this very interesting post.

    I realized this phenomenon when I first moved to Sheffield, UK but it wasn’t very obvious since there weren’t too many Indonesians there. London, however, was a different case! My short-stint in Singapore, and current Australian experience (two countries with a large number of Indonesians) supports your observation that Indonesians tend to cluster together!

    I have been brought up (mostly) outside of Indonesia, so I learnt quite early on to recognize people beyond their nationality. I make friends based on how well I get on with them, and not their race/passport. I don’t consciously look for Indonesian friends, nor do I avoid having Indonesian friends. ‘Sides, they usually dub me “the fake Indonesian” after a while so there goes the (supposedly) common base of being Indonesian.

    I do find that *sometimes* I feel more comfortable with my international friends because we recognize our differences and do explain something that is culture-specific. With *some* Indonesians, I feel a bit disadvantaged and left out because, maybe, I am not as Indonesian as them and they fail to recognize that. In some occassions, I’m unsure of what to say/do because they expect me to be familiar with Indonesian code of conduct/mannerism. With my international friends, we can overlook each other’s unintended slights due to cultural differences. But I find that, with *some* Indonesians, they take offense if I misconduct myself (as according to Indonesian norms that I forget/am not aware of) even though oft they overlook, and forgive, similar mistakes done by “bule”s or other foreigners.

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