Living Abroad – It’s Not A Vacation!

12 Comments 24 May 2010 / by

more than a third of my life, i spent it outside of my home country.  when i decided to go back to jakarta after spending almost a decade in the US, i was always getting comments that i must made a good money abroad and praises for being able to live and work abroad for so long.  i cringe to those comments.  mostly because i don’t feel that way and somehow it’s hard to explain that to people who have never been in my position.

i went to the US because i wanted to study.  my parents are not those who have abundance of money and made plans to send me abroad for study.  i believe, it never crossed their mind that they would raise two kids who ended up studying abroad.  up until i was sent to the US for study, my feet only step foot as far as singapore.  there was never a trip all over the countries during our childhood, like many my friends did.  i know nothing about disneyland or universal studios.  i only stepped foot in those places when i was about 25 years old, with my own money!  so, being able to go and study in the US was like something of a dream for me.  a dream i made come true because i worked hard for it.  i was willing to sacrifice for everything less while living abroad as long as i can get the taste of it. 

just imagine, if i were going to bandung for college, i would have good food with my parents always there to help me.  i’d be living by myself but i’d probably have someone to help out clean the place or probably cook, even doing laundry.  anyway, life would probably much better than living all by myself, have to take care the finances and grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning and laundry.. on top of my study!  plus i have to be thousands and thousands miles away from my parents and my comfort zone.  oh yes, at least i was living in america, you’d say.  but going to school in america, in a state in the middle of nowhere, means.. you have no life!  the malls are pretty terrible, the city is very small and the highest building in that town is probably the building stands in your campus.  sounds like america you know?

people get confused sometimes.  america that people see on the news and on the movies are not the same with the real life.  many rural towns in america (especially those made as a college town) are basically boring and empty places.  so it’s not really a pretty sight and a step up from my life in jakarta.  but i was determined that i want to finish school with my hardwork. 

it took me almost 4 years with 4 jobs, 2 universities, 2 degrees in 2 cities to finally able to graduate with a degree.  my parents couldn’t even come to the graduation ceremony!  in the last year of college, i worked 3 jobs so i can support myself through my senior year.  therefore, my parents’ money was only used towards my school tuition and i can have some left to support me while i’m looking for jobs after i graduated. 

thank God, it took me less than a month to secure a permanent position in NY, moved to an apartment and become roommates with 2 other girls.  it’s so funny to remember our sleeping arrangements.  all 3 of us in one room, with 3 single beds next to each other like we’re in a camp or something.  but i didn’t mind, we didn’t mind.  i wanted the experience and i craved for finding my own independence and identity. 

after a while i moved to my own place, went back to school for my master’s degree (which also took quite a strain on my finances, cuz i had to pay it myself with a small jump start from my parents).  it was not a vacation

so when i went home to jakarta after all those times, i was somewhat relieved and afraid.  relieved because now i can enjoy all the luxuries of life in jakarta (malls, maids, drivers) but afraid because i may not used to that anymore since i’ve been doing a lot of my things, myself.  it was quite an adjustment, but what it hardest the most was not adjustment back to my parents’ house, but to answer what people assumed me to be. 

as someone who has spent a number of years living and working abroad, i was assumed to be in a different level than those who’ve only worked in indonesia.  or worse, that i made more money because i was paid in dollars.  guess what?  i also spent in dollars.  i think i saved more money when i was paid in rupiah then i was in dollars.  so does that mean, working abroad is better?  not necessarily.

i spent only 2.5 years in jakarta before i finally packed my bags and moved to singapore again.  this time because i had to follow my husband who was already working in singapore.  we plan to live and make a life here in singapore.  and that decision somehow taken differently with others because it’s as if i don’t like living in indonesia… or that i was more of a value to be working abroad instead in my own country.

that is an assumption made of those who apparently don’t know shit about anything.  because for me, i was valued more if i work in my own country.  until now, i’m still adjusting my work life because of the strain of competition that’s far more futile than those in jakarta.  life is much better for my family if i live in my own country because my parents and families are there.  so why do both hubby and i punish ourselves by living in different country?  because we love the independence we’re in. 

both of us agree that one can go to work at other countries not because that one person has better requirements or smarter than those who works in their own country.  it’s a matter of choice.  if you choose that you want to pack up your things and willing to raise your family in other country, then you do it!  if you don’t, then stay. 

so assuming that us, who live abroad, have a better life, higher level of living, better salary, is totally WRONG!  i know people who has much better life than us, higher level of living and far far more better salary and still live in indonesia.  we live in singapore, because we choose to do so.  we work here as a result of that choice.  and that doesn’t make us different than anyone who live and work in indonesia. 

if people in indonesia (and haven’t been living abroad) thinks that living in other country is better living, then do you know that we also think the same for you?  living in indonesia would be a bless with all the good food and strong family support system.  so why don’t we move back to indonesia?  then, let me ask you the same.. why don’t you move to live abroad if you think that living abroad is far much better?

until you can answer that question, then i can give you mine.

Your Comments

12 Comments so far

  1. eryka says:

    love this writing mba shin..
    always dreaming bout living abroad someday…
    pengen bisa kuliah lagi dan hidup diluar…
    it’s very inspiring story…
    mudah2an deeehh…bisa bawa kayla tinggal diluar negeri..heheee

  2. sLesTa says:

    eryka: thanks ya! you can always catch your dream if you believe in yourself.. mudah2an someday bisa bawa kayla tinggal di luar negeri ya.. and believe me, jangan bayangkan tinggal di luar negeri itu selalu senang dan bahagia. it takes lots of hard work, mungkin rada beda sama di indonesia yang sebenernya lebih enak karena banyak yang bisa bantu.

    ini yang kadang orang suka salah. hanya karena terlihat hidup di luar negeri itu enak, bukan berarti kita yang tinggal di luar negeri itu jadi hidupnya enak. mungkin iya, convenient karena apa2 ada dan dibikin untuk kita hidup tanpa bergantung dengan orang lain. tapi salah kaprah tuh karena kita tetep mesti kerja keras & mandiri banget! 🙂

  3. niken says:

    Sooo true!! Sebagai org yg gak pernah kuliah atau kerja di luar kota dan tiba2 harus ikut suami ke singapura, I’m still in a shock.
    How different people’s expectations (and initially, mine) to the reality. Hard work indeed AND hard spending. Baru selama bbrp bulan di sing baru gue merasakan, enaknya dan nyamannya jakartaku.
    Missing my car, a full support system, and family all d time can be so stressful.
    Still adjusting up to this day and taking it one step at a time. Thanks for d inspiring story

  4. very well said. it certainly is no vacay being an expat in the U.S. ! This is my… gosh… eight or ninth year in Los Angeles. Truth be told there were sooo many times that I am tempted, so tempted to just pack my bags and my daughter’s bags and toys and move back home! To good old Indo 🙂

    Try also being a single mom and not having that wonderful family support that one absolutely needs in hard times. None of that. So yes, fully support the argument: until you can answer that question, then I can give you mine.

    Well done mama!

  5. MrsRance says:

    Kalo gw bilang juga tinggal di Indonesia itu emang paling enak dibanding di luar negeri. But entah kenapa gw lebih seneng tinggal di US, eventhough gw cuma ngerasain 2 taon doang di US. Udaranya yg bersih, transportasi umum yg ok. Wkt gw di DC gw ada mobil, tp lebih seneng naik metro and bus, itung2 sekalian olahraga. Mau apa2 sendiri juga ok2 ajah. Asli jd lebih mandiri, lebih sehat, dan lebih kurus :p
    Kalo kata gw di Indonesia itu enak…dimanja…hehehe.
    I would love to live abroad someday *pray*

  6. sLesTa says:

    niken, lolo, MrsRance: 🙂 i’m sharing this cuz sometimes people imagine things differently. living abroad, obviously is better for its convenience, but every place has its plus & minuses. i’m trying to make a point that when i choose to live abroad, is not because i’m better off that i don’t want to live in my own country (people misunderstood this sometimes) but because i choose to living in other country, and i make it work.

    obviously, we all know, living in your comfort zone of your own country, surrounded with your family is much better, but sometimes you need to sacrifice somethings (ie. strong family support) to gain others (ie. better quality time and education).

    lolo: salute and hats off to you for being able to raise such a beautiful daughter and success in your career, while away from your own family! i guess, when you are far away from your own family, you create a new one. obviously the new ones cannot replace the old ones, but they made you strong, right? 🙂

  7. srezky says:

    very well-written and an inspiring piece 🙂 living abroad for almost 9 years (still counting) dan sampe’ detik ini agak takut membayangkan kalau hrs start over dan kembali tinggal di jakarta..takut udah ga kebiasa 🙁 smuanya kan serba sndiri dsini huhu.. tinggal di luar/di indonesia smua ada plus minus-nya masing2 ya mba, emg bener bgt semua tgantung Pilihan :):)

  8. sLesTa says:

    srezky: sebenernya ga ada yang perlu ditakutin kok. but sometimes people are too comfortable in their comfort zone, they’re afraid of change. based on my experience, setelah gue juga dialami rasa takut untuk balik ke indonesia after a decade being away.. it wasn’t as bad as i thought!

  9. natalie says:

    I agree with what you’re trying to say, but it’s not that simple, really. Those people who think that living abroad is better… why don’t they move abroad, you ask? Well, most likely the answer is because they can’t. I know so many people who are dying to live and work abroad but they just can’t, be it for money and/or visa restrictions.

    For me, living abroad and living in Indonesia both have their own pros and cons. Nothing beats the comfort that living in Indonesia (specifically Jakarta) offers. Maids, drivers, babysitters, being in close proximity with dear family and friends. On the other hand, living abroad broadens your mind and makes you more independent – and I truly believe life experience is one of those things that money can’t buy. Not to mention the $$$ is good too (I don’t know about you, but what I save up here each month – already minus rent/food/living costs/etc – is still much more than what I earned back in Jakarta). I don’t blame people who associate working abroad with good money. I can understand why so many people dream of living abroad. Not only because of the lure of good money, but also because of the overall better quality of living: good health and education system, less pollution, etc. If you notice closely, most (if not all) people who say living abroad is better and are confused as to some people want to move back to Indonesia after years of living abroad are those who can’t afford (or simply can’t – for many reasons) to go and live abroad. We, who are fortunate enough to experience living abroad, after awhile don’t really think about it too much anymore, but those people who basically can only dream about it, still think of living abroad as that: a beautiful dream (that is probably unattainable).

    So I guess my point is: it’s true that living abroad is not always as wonderful as what most people think it is, but for those people who up to this point can only dream about it, we can’t really blame them for wondering why the hell people would want to give up the kind of life that they can only dream about.

  10. nadhika says:

    very..very inspiring story..nice to read your written mbk….thanks 4 share 🙂

  11. eka says:

    tulisannya bagus banget, mama shin..
    Rumput tetangga gak selalu sehijau yg kita bayangkan yaa..
    Rumput di halaman sendiri bisa jauh lebih hijau kalo kita rawat, ya nggak?
    Dan salut banget deh sama perjuangannya kerja ini itu buat support biaya sekolah..
    Cerita Sekamar bertiga tumpuk2an kayak ikan pindangnya juga seru banget 🙂
    so proud of u, mama shin.. Tfs the inspiring story!


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a worker by choice, a mother and a wife by nature / owner of / co-founder of the urban mama / the urban muslimah | email: slesta[at]slesta[dot]com

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