A letter about change, by an Indonesian college student
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A letter from An Indonesian College Student in America: How studying abroad is making me love my home country more each day

I don't know where you're from, but I hope this letter finds you well and sparks the hope in you.

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A letter from An Indonesian College Student in America: How studying abroad is making me love my home country more each day
Bagus Suntoro Utomo

I am your typical upper-middle-class Chinese-Indonesian. Educated in an international school throughout elementary, secondary, and high school, with plans of going abroad to study in the future. I write more fluently in English than in Indonesian, and can barely speak more than three sentences of pure Indonesian before I subconsciously utter an English term. I watch Western TV shows because I think they're wittier than Indonesian soaps, and I know the words to more English songs than Indonesian ones. I read ten English novels for every one Indonesian novel I skim. One time, I literally asked my friends what the Indonesian word for durian was (it's duren).

And you know what? I'm writing this out to the world because I'm ashamed.

Truth is I love my country with all my heart.

As I'm writing this essay at an American coffee shop, surrounded by English-speaking people on the very Independence Day of the United States of America, all I can think is how much happier I would be at home. Yes, I can't write a critical paper in Indonesian, but I can write a pantun(a.k.a. a poem) despite a bad one. Yes, I sometimes think Indonesian television is cheesy and English rap has more flow, but there's nothing that makes me laugh harder than an Indonesian comedy movie or gives me more goosebumps than a heartfelt Indonesian love song. And don't even get me started on the food. If I had to choose only one type of cuisine to have for the rest of my life it would be Indonesian. I don't need burgers or steaks or pastas or sushi's when I can have Soto Betawi, thank you very much.

What I'm trying to say is, I'm not studying abroad because I wanted to get away from Indonesia. On the contrary, I'm doing it because I love it. The same holds for many of my international friends, and maybe you as well: the longer I am away from home, the more I miss it and the more I appreciate every small aspect of its comforts.

Coming to college somewhere that is 22-hours of flying away from home, I isolated myself from a place that I grew up in. Somewhere that I was, and still am, comfortable. Comfort, unfortunately, is a double-edged sword equipped with the capability of blinding us from the truth. Leaving this comfort was only way that I could notice and question the "issues" that I could previously never see. I put "issues" in quotations, because up until my isolation, I had simply dismissed them as slight inconveniences and never as serious problems that required addressing. Now that my vision has been corrected, it's time for me to learn what makes things work here and how I can implement them back home.

For example, why can we get around on foot and via public transport in other countries, but back home in Jakarta (or at least this is where I'm from) we worry about the reckless drivers and the polluted air? How can we improve air quality and traffic?

How is it possible that malls and slums are next-door neighbors in Jakarta, with one ignoring the other? How could the upper class ignore their less fortunate counterparts, when they are so blatantly presented side-by-side? How can we change the deeply-rooted value of our culture that prevents us from feeling more empathy towards the struggling lower class, and how can we use that empathy to create a positive change?

Perhaps most importantly, how can we foster conversations about our problems and motivate people to create change, instead of pushing these "inconveniences" aside and living life as we know it? My letter to you, as a matter of fact, is an attempt at a first step toward a more conversation-friendly society.

I could go on for ages - there are so many problems that need fixing. I, for one, cannot wait to go home and make some sort of change even if I don't know what it is yet. But changing the world is not a job for one person, it's a job that requires all of us. I want us to wake up and realize: it's up to people like US to act. We are the ones gifted with the resources, education, and even the privilege of seeing the greener grass on the others side. Indonesia is young, but it's bursting with potential. Same can be said about your country and even the whole world! It's time to look beyond our degrees as our little moneymakers and start thinking about how we can use our education as tools to right the wrong.

I know it won't be a walk in the park. And I don't have all the answers - I don't know how to demolish corruption or eradicate pollution. You might read this letter and think, I know exactly what I'm going to do. Most likely you won't. So, let's start small. Let's encourage conversations about problems that we see and thinking of how we can fix them. Let's remember not to become too comfortable, lest we start ignoring problems. Let's make an effort to read, keep tabs on the news, and share knowledge and opinions. Even bringing your own bag to the grocery store is a step in the right direction! These actions might seem arbitrary, but believe me, they make a difference. And all these differences that we make will allow us to create a powerful impact on our society, starting with our social circle, to eventually our country and even the world.

Here's to a small first step, but a step nonetheless.

Yours sincerely (and optimistically),

Gaby

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