Perceptions towards Indonesia: In-Depth Interviews and Media Tracking

Indonesia currently stands at a crossroads in its history. The Millennial generation, a generation that will become the bulk of the population, is predicted to largely shape the direction of the nation’s economy, and by extension its future. Considering their importance, understanding the Millennial generation, what their interests and aspirations, is crucial to taking the steps necessary to make sure that they use their resources to further the betterment of Indonesia, and to prevent a “brain drain,” that is, the migration of intelligent and trained people from a given country due to more favourable conditions abroad compared to unfavourable conditions in their home country. As of 2007, it was predicted that the brain drain phenomenon in Indonesia had already reached a significant number of 5%. Although the term of ‘brain drain turns into brain gain’ has recently gained popularity, the idea of reversing the effect is another challenge to be addressed, especially against the backdrop that about 81% of millennials worldwide are actually willing to work abroad for more career opportunities.

To better understand the issue, I interviewed two of my associates named Lila and Jake who could be considered members of the Millennial generation to get their opinions about Indonesia, of what are the push and pull factors that may trigger the brain drain phenomenon in this country. Both participants have had experience living and studying abroad, however they've spent a majority of their lives in Indonesia, and both currently live in Jakarta. Through their experiences abroad, they have a point of reference in which they can more accurately compare their quality of life with Indonesia and other nations. It’s important to note that their views may only represent a minuscule element of the vast array of diversity in Indonesia.

I interviewed both participants on Sunday, January 14th, 2018 (during separate sessions) with a set of 20 questions I had prepared beforehand. The questions are divided into 4 topics that would be the most important to a millennial when considering where they would live: Politics/International Affairs, Culture and Society, Technology, and Career Opportunities. Before I got to the questions in each category, I asked them to rank the four topics in order of which ones they consider the most when deciding where they want to be in the future. Lila answered that career opportunities were most important to her, with technology next, and politics and culture coming after. Jake answered that technology was most important to him, followed by career opportunities, with culture and politics following suit.

 

Politics/International Affairs

The first topics I had asked about first was politics. The first question I asked was “What are the most important issues do you think the (Indonesian) government should address?”, seeking to understand what these millennials find the most important action the Indonesian government should take. Both Lila and Jake stressed and education was the most important issue that needs to be addressed in Indonesia, both citing the poor quality of schools. Jake explains that the structure of the curriculums in schools place a heavy emphasis on memorization rather than development, which leads to a divide when Indonesian students graduate and take up practical jobs. Jake commented that in the 18 years that he has lived in Indonesia, he has not seen the education system reform in any significant manner whatsoever, a fact which he finds extremely frustrating.

The next most important issues that Lila names are public infrastructure, citing the poor mobility offered to Indonesians through the lack of a quality public transportation, as well as general equality--especially regarding the LGBT community--as another issue to address. Jake states that particularly the law also requires reform, as he feels the three types of courts used in Indonesia--customary, Islamic, and national--lead to inconsistencies within the judicial system and hampers efficiency. It is further exacerbated by the compounding issues of bureaucratic problems that government institutions face, resulting in a growing apathy by both government officials and the Indonesian people towards an actually efficient bureaucracy, which often leads to the necessity of corruption and bribes, even on small-scale offices. He also cites the need for better public healthcare.

The second question I asked is a follow-up to the first, asking how they feel the government is representing them and their concerns mentioned above, if at all. Lila answers that she doesn't feel like she is being thoroughly represented by the government and that the Indonesian government is performing unsatisfactorily in general, particularly in undervaluing important issues. Jake answers that although he feels that the government is attempting to address the issues he mentioned, he feels as if they procrastinate too much in order to make a genuine difference.

The third question is more of an expansion on the previous question, that is whether or not the government is doing an actual good job in representing their interests. Lila answered with a resounding “No,” adding that she feels that the government only truly represents the interests of native, muslim Indonesians. Jake responded that he believes that there are people in the government that are genuinely attempting to advance Indonesia for the betterment of the people, however those in power who do not share those interests are too large in number for their advancements to be worthwhile.

The final question for the category of politics I had was how well the Indonesian government was doing in comparison to other countries. Lila answered that particularly in regards to education and public transportation, Indonesia is lacking even compared to developing countries. Jake responds similarly, but notes that some of the problems that Indonesians face, such as bad traffic and flooding, are also due to the cause of Indonesian people themselves.

 

Culture and Society

The next category I moved onto was culture and society, with the first question being whether or not the participants feel that they are accepted and apart of a community in Indonesia. Both answered yes without going much into further detail, describing it as a general feeling of being accepted within the context of their family and place of study/work.

I asked the participants next if they felt as if their personal identity was defined solely by the language that they speak and the culture they are apart of, expecting them to expand upon what they think makes them, them. Lila answered that she was unsure how to answer the question while Jake felt that culture influences your personal identity greatly, and also comments that consuming or experiencing foreign cultures can shape your identity just as much as your native culture.

The next question I asked was whether or not the participants had faced any sort of discrimination when living in Indonesia. Both answered no (it should be noted that while Lila is fully ethnically Indonesian, Jake is half-Filipino half-Indonesian), while Lila remarked that the only time she experienced any sort of discrimination was during her short time in the United States. As an extension of the previous question I asked if the participants felt that the government or other influential groups (such as the national Ulema) within Indonesia are taking any steps to curb or prevent that discrimination, with both Lila and Jake responding that they aren’t seeing the government taking action and promoting tolerance, with Lila citing the example of the arrest of former governor of Jakarta Basuki “Ahok” Purnama on blasphemy charges.

When I asked if they believed that Indonesian society as a whole is becoming more tolerant and progressive, Jake agreed that the Indonesian people are becoming more progressive, while Lila responded that she doesn’t see it as a whole becoming more tolerant, however the younger generations in particular are becoming more progressive.

 

Technology

The next category I asked the participants about was technology, something ranked by both millennials for importance when deciding their future. The first question I asked was if Indonesia could meet their technological needs, using the internet, public infrastructure, and the availability and price of electronics as examples. Both Lila and Jake cited that the quality of internet and public transportation are areas dire of most improvement, with Lila particularly citing the difficulties of having a simple two-way call through the internet (as both interviews were done through the messaging service Line).

I asked the participants next if they considered technology to be an important or even necessary component of their daily lives. Both, predictably, answered yes, as well as citing having an internet connection to be the most important piece of technology in their lives, with Lila naming her laptop as the next-most important while Jake preferred his phone.

I asked them next how they felt Indonesia was impacted through the rapid advancement of technology within the past decade. Jake answered that there were positive and negative impacts, primarily being that people, especially children who are still in school, have such easy access to information that is “just one click away,” theoretically making newer generations smarter than those previous. However he adds that due to the near omnipresence of technology (particularly smartphones and computers), he feels as though children are becoming more disrespectful and unappreciative of the real world. Lila thinks there are negative and positive sides to the impacts of technology as well, however states that the effect has mostly been positive.

The final topic I asked about was about the career opportunities present in Indonesia and the world. I asked them first if they planned to live and work in Indonesia in the future. Lila answered that she would very much prefer to not live in Indonesia in the future, due to a lack of adequate healthcare, retirement plans, and a dislike of a regular lifestyle in Indonesia. Jake answered that he was unsure, citing that while he would prefer to live and work in the United States or New Zealand-mentioning higher career opportunities due to their liberal economies-he may stay to take care of his family, including his two younger sisters.

I asked the participants next if their potential future careers were reliant on modern technology. Lila’s answer was an obvious “yes”, considering that geothermal energy and petroleum extraction both need complicated machinery, while Jake commented that almost all careers in the modern day-not just his-require modern technology-at the bare minimum an internet connection and computers.

The final question I asked the participants was whether or not they felt that Indonesia provides the necessary facilities regarding their careers, such as education, training, or subsidies. While Lila speculates that it is at the minimum satisfactory level (it should be noted that while Lila currently works for a geothermal energy company, she is majoring in petroleum geology, so during her time there she had to be completely re-trained). While Jake feels that the government and the various enterprises operating in Indonesia have given him ample opportunities to expand his skillset in his career, he notes that the same cannot be said for Indonesians in a disadvantaged position, such as those in poverty or those who have difficulties in crossing the language barrier, and feels as though the inequality of the opportunities provided hampers the development of the people “who don’t stand out.”

Considering all of the answers above, there are many reasons why some millennials would want to leave Indonesia and live and work in a different country altogether. This is partly due to an unpopular government that is inefficient, inconsistent, apathetic with rampant corruption that lacks the motivation to properly improve Indonesia by reforming its outdated education sector. Social inequality and the current rise of religious and ethnic intolerance can also be another factors, with the government seemingly doing nothing to curb the this inequality nor promoting unity and tolerance. Couple that with the fact that it’s relatively easy and becoming increasingly popular to move and work abroad in developed countries with responsible governments and a high quality of life, it’s no wonder these two interviewees--and perhaps some more--millennials would leave Indonesia if they had a chance.

 

The International Community Perception of Indonesia

The international community seems to think much the same way. In addition to interviewing millennials, I also scanned through various articles concerning Indonesia on various international news agencies, including BBC, Reuters, Fox News, Xinhua, and the Guardian. Most western media outlets reported the religious-based problems Indonesia faces, such as the forced conversion of native peoples in Sumatra to Islam and the aforementioned rising intolerance towards other religions and ethnic peoples. Government corruption and scandals dominated the headlines, focusing on controversial figures such as Setya Novanto, as well as military conflicts in West Papua.

On top of the negative reports, numerous articles and photos showcased Indonesia’s unique cultures and cuisines, however these factors are most important for foreign tourists, not millennials looking for careers and futures, and as the participants mentioned, culture is not a factor that they take into consideration the most when deciding their future.

 

Conclusion

Personally, I share many of the same concerns that the participants and the international media have about Indonesia. In public schools the classrooms are broken, the teachers under-qualified, with the material and the system focusing entirely on the memorization of topics that most students are not interested in and will not use in their future careers. A good public education is the foundation that leads to the development of any nation, decreases crime, and increases the standard of living throughout the country by providing the opportunities to every citizen to succeed in life, and the fact that the Indonesian government has done little do reform the system for the past several decades is disheartening to say the least.

In summary, some--and perhaps a significant number of--millennials, as expressed by the participants may have doubts with living and working in Indonesia due better opportunities and a higher standard of living abroad, as well as a monolithic, irresponsible government that seems loath to reform its outdated education sector and address important social issues, a sentiment which is shared by international media.