17 February 2015

Terima Kasih - thank you Jakarta!

Isabella Dabaja is a current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the 2015 New Combo Plan (Jakarta), an Australian Government initiative which aims to expand knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia and strengthen institutional relationships through study and internships undertaken by Australian undergraduates in the region

The second week of our field school has been more faculty-centric and allowed us to focus on building our understanding of Indonesian consumers. We were welcomed by staff from Lowe, Sinar Mas, Unilever, Garuda Indonesia, Nielsen Research and MarkPlus consulting.

Our company visits and workshops provided curious insight into not only the Indonesian market, but the experience of doing business in such a dynamic economy. It is worth noting that all companies we visited mentioned the logistical challenges that accompany the distribution of goods and services to over six thousand inhabited islands. Further, the expanse of the world that these six thousand islands are scattered across itself consists of over seventeen thousand islands - magnifying the obstacle of supply.

Not unlike Australia, distance is a significant hurdle – the key difference, however, is that even the smallest islands of Indonesia present huge economic opportunities, given the sheer size of the population. The success of Indonesian companies in this era, where the burgeoning middle class make up over 55% of all Indonesians (Nielsen 2014) is dependent on their ability to service the sheer breadth of their own country. The reality of this alone is demanding, and needs to be navigated alongside the cultural distinctions that exist between every community. It’s clear that catering to the Indonesian market is no easy task, and that the overwhelming diversity that we’ve seen in Jakarta is merely a ladle in the deep melting pot that is Indonesia.

Reflecting now on the fortnight that has just flown by, I’m confident that the greatest aspect of this field school has been the facility of perspective. I feel that as an Australian, I initially observed the complexity of Jakarta, but could only compare it to what I am accustomed to – the very different lifestyle of Sydney.

After two weeks, I've found that the real value in spending time in an unfamiliar environment, especially within the field school format, has been distancing myself from the exercise of comparison and coming to understand a place like Jakarta in its own right.

Having the opportunity to compare our firsthand observations of the city with the life experiences of the households we interviewed for our field work formed a starting block of sorts. From here, we were able to reconcile our own interpretations of the new environment that was around us with the familiarities of the people who comprise it.

In speaking to local university students and unlikely friends out and about – street vendors, shopkeepers, ‘taksi’ drivers and even beauticians – it seemed that for two weeks, my default role in a conversation was to end every sentence with a rising intonation. Questions, questions, questions – for every query I had, I was thrilled to be met by a kind willingness to share anecdotes and opinions.

I am grateful to have experienced even a small part of the fantastic and intricate culture of our neighbours in Indonesia. I already miss the noise and the constant sense of adventure, and admittedly, even the shocking macet (traffic jams) as Jakarta could never be less than exciting, even from the seat of a sedentary vehicle. Terima kasih – thank you Jakarta!

This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

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