The Expat Experience in Indonesia

The moment I stepped out into the distinctive night air, that is Jakarta, eyes followed me everywhere as I made my way through the bustling stream of people.  As did a gentlemen who rightly detected that I was a tad lost and trying to locate my spouse who was to meet my at the exit and which me back to our new apartment, in this new city, in our new country.  Where the bloody hell is he?  I kept asking myself as I realised that I had no phone coverage to call him.  My new ‘friend’ suggested that I use his phone to call or perhaps follow him to his taxi and he would help me.  As he moved to take my suitcase an assertive and loud ‘no’ did the trick and I was soon left to my own devices.  Just then the crowd parted and my knight finally appeared.  This was my first experience as an expat with all eyes watching me and a situation unfold around me.  It was not to be my last.

Many Western expats, particularly those who look like me with pale skin and blonde hair, will share experiences of being stared at, leered at and having people look into your shopping trolley as they go about their business.  For women, it is especially unnerving.  Here there are no personal boundaries, cultural norms are very different and there is no such thing as keeping a respectful distance.  Men drive this society and for Western women this is a hard pill to swallow and not something I have accepted even after all of these years.  So from a local perspective we look different and behave usually which is definitely worth gawking at. We must look a funny lot as we attempt to assimilate and understand this new normal when we first arrive to Indonesia.  We need to remember that we should try to adapt to our new normal, rather than try to mould the culture and people around us.

The expat experience gets more interesting though – you have suddenly become a VIP in your adopted country.  Treated like royalty almost and its something that I cannot (will not/) become accustomed to.  Raised in a social minded family, my world view is that we should treat others with respect and courtesy regardless of social standing, religious views, sexual orientation, gender and so on.  Not always the reality in a country based on patriarchal and class based society.  Here, we are waved through vehicle security checkpoints due to our diplomatic plates, offered the best tables in restaurants, extended invitations to slight after events and generally extended preferential treatment all round. 

Some expats move in powerful circles and network with important people and soon find that they have drunk the cool aid so to speak.  They start to believe this fairytale existence and buy into this newfound self importance. Some expats grow to love this celebrity and rand become increasingly demanding and entitled which is not a good look, lets be honest.  Perhaps a reality check is needed at this point in time?  That or these expats are setting themselves up for an almighty fall when they return home and they are treated as regular people. 

How do you keep yourself grounded in the expat bubble?

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Social Media and the Expat

Many moons ago, I packed a suitcase and headed for the UK, A place close to Manchester to be precise.  This was back in the early 2000s when social media was slightly more than emails – no Facebook or Skype – where staying touch with loved ones back home was reliant upon well timed phone calls and letters. 

Social media has transformed into a wonderful place where we can chat to loved ones face to face online, simply send a text message or instantly update others on where we are and what we are up to.  Further to this expats find that the world of technology offers much in the way of support before even leaving home.  We can now research and network our new home at the click of a button.  Amazing! 

For me, I researched all things “Jakarta” and “Indonesia” as soon as we knew we were relocating.  Womens organisations, expat Facebook groups, things to do, recommendations for cafes, language apps, the list goes on!  The unknown became less of an unknown and this in turn allowed me some control of the situation.  Surfing the web from the comfort of home was ‘safe’.  I didn’t need to know the language to commence researching and I was able to dip my toe into the culture and  investigate what the city had to offer before we had even left home. 

Social media supported me to connect with expats and expat groups already on the ground; experts who provided guidance and encouragement when needed and who offered to be my guide when I arrived.  Small gestures make a huge difference to newcomers.  These Women’s groups host many expat events, post relevant information on their Facebook pages and facilitate networking opportunities for members. Further to this, social media allows one to connect with expats around the globe; a very supportive bunch of people who truly understand the joys and challenges of that present as a result of this lifestyle.  These people who have selflessly shared their own personal experiences and advice with me, a perfect stranger, have proven invaluable to during my time abroad – here is my opportunity to say ‘thank you’. 

Many expat spouses take to blogging in an effort to document their thoughts, feelings and experiences abroad.  A vehicle for good mental health and wellbeing perhaps?  At times these may seem quite dark and at others quite uplifting and surprising.  My blog was created as a means to work through issues about finding myself and finding my way as a former career gal grappling with suddenly not working and not being so busy.  Using this platform has shown me that my experiences are commonplace amongst expat spouses and I realise that I’m not alone if I reach out to others.  Blogging has been quite cathartic and feedback from readers has been very positive and affirming – give it a try!

@aubergine_jelly

Home is only days away..

As this post goes live, we will be merely days away from returning ‘home’.  Prior to our move and shortly after we arrived, we were prepared by our organisation for the initial challenges of change and cultural adjustment.  Repatriating, we have found a gaping hole. There is very little support in preparing us for the transition ‘home’.

Repatriation is difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced it. Many people perceive returning expats (repats) as being overly nostalgic, affected, resentful and difficult to relate to at times.  I mean, repats are returning ‘home’, so what’s so hard about it?   Well, for us ‘home’ is where we have lived for the past few years.  We have carved out lives here, we work here, have friends here and here is where our normal and familiar is.

wpid-wp-1421211122475.jpegResearching repatriation, I have discovered that the process of returning is extremely challenging for most. Most repats experience depression, anxiety, grief, isolation and reverse culture shock that may last for up to 12 months.  Friends and family just wish you’d stop talking about your old life and get back to normal, back to reality. But what you really need will be their support, patience and understanding.

Friends and family have changed since we moved away due to life experiences, as have we. I am acutely aware that some friendships won’t last the test of reconnecting and that has to be ok.  That’s life.  Another stressor however, is how this next phase will affect and test our relationship as we move from being a single income family with pressures of life abroad to a double income family with the additional pressures of the everyday plus transitioning back to a Western culture.  Relationship breakdowns are common within repat communities.

Having worked for only a short while during our posting, additional anxiety is emerging for me about returning to work. Have I lost my knowledge and skills and have I still ‘got it’?  Will I cope with the long hours and a job that is mentally and emotionally demanding? How will I establish a work/life balance and not burn out? Will colleagues understand if I have a mini meltdown due to stress or anxiety about settling back into Australia (reverse culture shock)?

So.  with all of this in mind, we cross our fingers and hope for a relatively smooth transition into our previous lives.  I’ll keep you posted..

@aubergine_jelly

 

Useful apps for Expats in Jakarta

Below are just a few apps that have been useful for us during our time in Jakarta.  You’ll find many more of your own.

WhatsApp – used by most expats

XE Currency Converter – easy to use & no explanation required

Go-Jek – for all manner of deliveries, cleaning and beauty services

HappyFresh – online groceries and delivery

Uber – similar to taxi service

Eztable – online restaurant and cafe reservations

Google Maps/Waze – handy for travel times and online directions

TripAdvisior – helps to plan things to see and do, recommendations for hotels, restaurants etc

Facebook – connect with other expats and community groups

Testing Times

11755705_10153439309178433_1361961058966712893_n.jpgRelationships take a bit of a hit when you move and live abroad.  Prior to the move attention shifts to working through the uplift process and then setting up a home at post. Once things begin to settle, cracks will appear.  Suddenly both partners are dependent upon the other to fulfil emotion and social needs and this is particularly true for the stay at home spouse.  So let’s focus on them.  Oddly, I have found that this occurs at the beginning, around the midway point and again as the post draws to an end.  And these periods are tough for both individuals.

The officer does not have a easy life at post, however they do enjoy the benefits of routine, working in an environment similar to that at home, interacting with others and escaping the confines of home.  The trailing spouse has none of those things and must strive to carve out some sort of normalcy for themselves with little support.  Initially, the isolation and lack of confidence combine to make a formidable force that psychologically inhibits the spouse to  leave the house.  You know little of the language, have no clue on the layout of the city and feel scared to venture out in a taxi alone, anything could go wrong.

So what happens?  You stay within the confines of your new abode and beat yourself up because at home home you are a bubbly, independent woman with interests and hobbies. Your partner returns home from a busy day of work and asks the dreaded question – ‘what did you do with your day?’  And in that moment you feel like you are merely a shell of your true self.  This is where the pressure emerges for the working spouse to be your everything.  And it becomes tiresome very quickly.  Suffocating even.

Below are a few tips to work through these trying periods at post:

Communicate –  have honest and timely conversations with your spouse about how you’re both coping and how to best support each other moving forward.  Talk about ways to use your time at post be it through study, volunteering or work.  Make travel plans together to have something exciting to look forward to and as means to reconnect and create positive experiences and memories together.  Discuss how to give each other breathing space or time apart to recharge.

Utilise every support available to you – visit the doctor, chat with trusted confidantes at home, use the company counselling service, keep a journal.

Tough love – force yourself out of the house.  Sit in a communal area and smile at those around you, strike up a conversation at a cafe, wander through a mall.  Accept social invitations and actually attend.  Tough love remember!

Exercise – exercising releases endorphins and feeling good about yourself physically will transfer to a better frame of mind and may contribute to improved mental wellbeing. Attend gym classes, if offered, as a means to meet new people.

Join an expat group – many cities have chapters for the American Women’s Association, British Women’s Association, Australian and New Zealand Women’s Association and other groups.  Most of which accept membership from all expats and regularly host social events including seminars, excursions, morning tea and luncheons.  Check it out and remember that not all groups will be a good fit and that’s ok.

Be bold – when attending work events with your partner mingle and hand your phone number out like candy.  Some will share their contact details and get in touch, others won’t.  You’ll meet some friendly and not so friendly people but you are actually meeting people and you may meet the first person to meet out for lunch or a coffee.  And one friend leads to another..

Relationships are never easy and expat relationships have added pressures.  You will find a happy balance and create a dynamic that supports the needs of both spouses if both give 100% effort, and extend patience and love towards the other.

@aubergine_jelly