Living Abroad in Indonesia

By Stephen Kim

People say to me all the time: “Have you ever thought about studying abroad? Don’t you ever want to experience living in another country? Think about it. College is the only time for you to go out and do something like this!” I’m sure everyone has been asked this before. But my response to them is: “I already have! For six years of my life!”

After being born and raised in southern California for the first twelve years of my life, I moved to Indonesia and attended an international school during my junior high and high school years. Living in Indonesia has impacted my life tremendously, providing me with a broader cultural perspective and worldview, and has made me the person I am today.

One aspect of Indonesian culture that I experienced and was fortunate enough to learn was about good manners when you enter into another person’s home. Upon being welcomed in, guests will usually be offered some food or some sort of tea or coffee. However, you must kindly decline their offer. A little while later, they will generously offer food, tea, or coffee again for the second time. Once again, you must respectfully decline their kind gesture. Finally, some time later, they will offer it to you for the third time. By this time, however, you are free to accept it. The reason for this long and complex process is that the first and second times they offer you food and drink, they might not actually have anything in their kitchen to offer you! They are just trying to be good hosts. If you say yes to their first or second offers, you will put them to shame for not having anything to present you. This is an example of a small cultural lesson that I had to learn in my daily Indonesian life but, big lessons were also presented to me in various ways, one of which I’ll remember for my whole life.

During my first year of living in Indonesia, I was involved in a motorcycle accident. Through this accident, I personally experienced the caring heart and helpful culture of the Indonesian community. After the other motorcyclist drove into me, I fell off my bike and blacked out. When I finally regained consciousness, I realized that I was surrounded by a huge crowd of people, all doing their best to take care of me, whether that be by giving me water, calling the ambulance, or even chasing after the motorcyclist that drove off. (If he stayed, he would have been beaten up for injuring a kid like me. Good thing he drove off!) Being that this time in my life was shortly after the tragedy that occurred on September 11th, 2001 and considering the fact that Indonesia is a predominantly Islamic nation, waking up to a crowd of concerned Indonesian strangers was not something I expected to encounter. In fact, up until that moment, I was a bit scared and fearful of living in this country. But through this experience, I learned not to judge people by what I have been previously taught, but to have an open mindset and formulate my own perceptions and conclusions based on facts and personal experiences.

This movement from first-world America to third-world Indonesia taught me to appreciate life and be content in all situations. It gave me an opportunity to expand my knowledge on cultural diversity and for this I am truly thankful.

Featured image by Anggit Rizkianto on Unsplash

Stephen just graduated from USC with a degree in Human Biology and is hoping to soon begin a career as a physical therapist. Although he is a second generation Korean-American, born and raised in southern California, he has spent a significant portion of his life abroad, living in Indonesia for six years and visiting other countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Mexico.  In his spare time, he loves to engage in all sorts of physical activity such as playing basketball, working out, rock-climbing, and hiking.