The fact is, there are a lot of Indonesians abroad. A LOT. Working and living abroad. They're just not that visible, because:
- Indonesians tend to adapt themselves to the local traditions of wherever they work and live, at least in public.
- Indonesians do bring their culture abroad, but usually for their own consumption; i.e. food. Even in Singapore, which arguably has a lot of Indonesians living and visiting, there is only a handful of authentic Indonesian restaurants.
- By the numbers, there are not many Indonesians abroad compared to people from other countries, i.e. India, China, and Vietnam.
There's also the real issue of job competition. In a world economy teetering on recession, not many jobs are available - for anyone - in Europe or North America, the usual "dream location" for overseas work. A language barrier stands between many and a job in other Asian countries, because many otherwise qualified people may not have the necessary English-speaking or local-language skills to work effectively. Also, for many, the simple fact that the local culture is totally different from what they are used to, living is often impractical or uncomfortable.
These many factors, compounded by the fact that most Indonesians would be reluctant to leave their extended families behind, has probably prevented many people from trying their luck abroad.
Let me share my experience on living abroad, if I may:
- I spent most of my childhood in Sydney, Australia, a developed, Western society; living there in my school years meant that there was no pressure from work, and just going through the usual social peer pressure and school work.
- I have worked for almost a year in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a country which has many similarities with Indonesia, but culturally very different (not to mention the language, which I have yet to master). Living here is more of a challenge because I have to work with Vietnamese colleagues, some of them not English-speaking, and not to mention the various differences in work culture.
I have always wanted to get experience working abroad, so I could have a more regional perspective on South East Asia, rather than stay in Indonesia and "only" have the Indonesian local knowledge. And the probability of me finding a job overseas was higher in markets where the industry development was at least on par or slightly behind Indonesia, where my personal knowledge and experience would be more valuable - as opposed to competing through CVs with other hopefuls for a job in, say, Singapore or Hong Kong. And of course, my job here enables me to be more than just a "cog in the machine" because I can work more creatively (which is my preference).
My experiences aside, here are the factors which I think influence an Indonesian in considering a job overseas:
- salary & benefits. Not all industries offer the packages provided by multinational companies, especially the oil & mining industry (where many Indonesians in Vietnam do work).
- family. Many Indonesians decide to stay home to be close to an ailing relative, a child who has just started school, and so on.
- cultural differences. While it may be easier for some to slip into a Western society, due to familiarity and the relatively more advanced public support system, it will be a challenge for many to work at, say, Cambodia (although essentially it is not that different compared to Indonesia, just a few years behind in development).
- living comforts. It is of course easier for many to move to a Western society for the obvious living comforts, while it is a challenge to move to another country with living standards which are the same or lower than Indonesia, with a totally different culture.
- comfort zone. Many simply cannot move outside the comfort zone. It's not the matter of living conditions alone, but it's the financial and emotional safety net you have when you are close to your family and friends.
I will close this post with a note - I would recommend to anybody with an opportunity to take the leap and work outside of your country, even if for a little while. Make sure it makes sense for you, but make that jump anyway.