Working with Indonesians
Let’s go back to spring of 2014. I just finished my first semester of my Master’s at the TU Delft. Like many fellow students, I felt the urge to spend that time abroad doing an internship. I had three main motives: an internship abroad would look good on my resume, I wanted to have this once in a lifetime experience, and I was not compelled to the other courses that were offered at the time. After some careful consideration and weighing of the different possibilities, I decided to take on an internship in Jakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta has always been a special place to me. I was born and raised in The Netherlands, but both my parents are Chinese-Indonesian and born in Jakarta. Hence, I went to Jakarta many times before to visit family. The idea of working there has always intrigued me. Therefore, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Little did I know that I would still go through such a huge culture shock anyways. On forehand, I thought I would be familiar with the country’s cultural aspects since I was brought up with some of them and knew Bahasa, the Indonesian language. Coming into the company and working with people in a different country however, is a whole different ballgame. The two main differences I personally experienced were related to power distance and individualism. As a Dutchie, only being used to working in Dutch companies and studying at a Dutch university. The Dutch company culture is also known as the humble poldermodel (poldermodel = Dutch consensus decision making model). At the Indonesian airline company status was something of high importance. This noticeable by the way that people dressed up for work, the drivers that were available to the managers and the way employees looked down upon interns. Even though this might sound quite negative, it is just the way power distance is perceived in the Indonesian culture. So as a guest in the foreign country, this is something to consider.
The second difference is the low feeling for individualism. Dutch people, like most Western Europeans, are individually oriented. Individual orientation just means that one thrives to achieve one’s goal rather than group goals. This was something I noticed, especially during meetings. In meetings it was not necessarily the content that had to be agreed upon, but the mutual agreement to come to the decision making process. This can become pretty frustrating where you are trying to rush a big project in a short period of time.
After a few hiccups I started to get the hang of dealing with these cultural differences. Let me give you a few tips on working with Indonesian people to prevent you from falling flat on your face or simply coming across rude. Given the assumption that is probably not the impression you want to give off during your overseas experience.
1. Use the cultural dimension tool from Geert Hofstede. This tool will allow you to compare your home country with your destination country and explain the cultural differences by five dimensions that were found at a cross-cultural study among IBM employees in 76 different countries. I found out about this tool (I left the book at home) about halfway through my internship and wished I would have been able to apply it sooner.
2. Make sure to greet everyone, especially if it concerns a manager or director. Because of the high power distance, it is considered rude whenever employees do not acknowledge the presence of a manager or director. It is all right to interrupt your work and make small talk.
3. Get used to jam karet, or rather elastic rubber time management. The Indonesian are not worried about making every appointment exactly on time, so don’t let that frustrate you. Just relax and take the time waiting to prepare the meeting or appointment.
4. Not all Indonesian citizens have had the means to follow a good education and therefore not all people speak English. The ones that do are often shy and afraid to make pronunciation mistakes. Do not let this frustrate you and get creative when trying to get you point across. Also remember to smile, as this comforts most Indonesians.
What are your experiences on working with different cultures? Let me know in the comments!