Moving back to Jakarta - my culture shock and what you should expect

It seems just like yesterday I was biking to work, planning my day down to the minute and truly enjoying the warmth of the sun during the cold winter time. I moved back to Jakarta in December 2015 after living and working overseas for around 4 years.

To give you a bit of a background, I was born and raised in Indonesia into a multicultural family, my mother being German and father Indonesian. I have always embraced my German side by speaking the language, eating the food - even though that probably just means sauerkraut and bratwurst - and applying some of the German ‘pünktlich und ordentlich’ existence into my lifestyle. Somewhere along the line, I decided to take my Masters degree in the Netherlands, stayed because I got accepted at an HR consultancy firm, and only came back to Indonesia after I realised that I absolutely could not stand the Dutch weather any more, more or less!

I knew that going back to Jakarta might take some getting used to, but after a couple of months, I found out it was much harder than I had imagined. If you are familiar with the term ‘reverse culture shock’ you’ll know that at times readapting to your home country can be even harder than adapting to a new and foreign environment.

Why is it so hard?

There is a simple explanation to this phenomenon: expectation. When you are unfamiliar with a place you do not know what to expect, you tend to accept things the way they are. On the other hand when you think you know the place, you have certain expectations.

You have an idea of how things will go, and when things go the other way you get disappointed. Disappointment can lead to stress. Stress influences your daily activity which decreases your performance, may it be in your personal or work environment.

It was as if my German side grew stronger the whole time I was in Europe and my Indonesian side weaker. I now get annoyed sometimes at tardiness, inefficiency in systems, and especially the chaos of Jakarta traffic.

What can you do?

Even though on returning home you know what is expecting you in the bustling city of Jakarta, everything can still be overwhelming. Here are several things that I recommend you do when you are going through this experience:

  • First thing to do: Accept it! You need to realise that this is normal. Sure, not everyone will go through the same experiences, but this transition period is more common than you think.
  • Secondly, identify the source of your stress: Is it living with your parents once more, lack of privacy, traffic jams, working hours, the travelling time from home to the office, the heat?
  • Once you have identified the issues, figure out which of them you can control. Is it possible for you to look for a place for yourself? Can you negotiate working from home once a week? Perhaps you can find a good book to read or do one of those adult colouring books while you are in traffic?
  • What is also very important: Plan and spend your weekend well!


RELATED: Membangun Negeri: a Returning Indonesian shares her story


Last but not least, find a support system. You will always have that friend that tells you that you are over reacting. Give them a wide berth for a while and find someone; friends, family, a colleague, who understands what you are going through and makes you feel better.

One of the other best things you can do is find a healthy and accommodating working environment. Based on my personal experience it makes the transition much smoother.

If you’re thinking about moving back to Indonesia, now or in the future, it helps to understand what options you have in your career. Our Membangun Negeri campaign has brought home many Indonesians who were previously based overseas. Get in touch with us to start a conversation on your move back home.

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