Cultural Wanderlust

I’m never good about describing myself. So, what better ways to have an introduction than a story about my self, my experiences and my desire to see the world written by one of my most talented friend, Samantha Lau. She wrote this story for one of her university assignments and i patted her back when she scored amazing on this piece.

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Cultural Wonderlust

A young Indonesian woman’s journey from Jakarta, to Kuala Lumpur and to Adelaide. 

A young woman brushes away a tendril of her black hair from her smiling face, causing the many Indonesian-carved wooden bangles to clunk together melodically. The sudden DING! of an oven timer snatches her attention and she hurries over to check on the cookies she had baked for Idul Fitri, the Muslim holiday that signals the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fastingAs the delicious smell of nastar (traditional Indonesian pineapple tarts) wafts across the room, the woman, Andita Frida Aisha, resumes her seat. She is wearing a classic white kaftan, a type of traditional clothing worn by Indonesian women during the Muslim festival. The intricate gold embroidery that embellishes the kaftan’s neck, cuffs and hem catches in the sunlight.

The scene before me could be taken from any home in Indonesia but this particular setting is instead from Adelaide, Australia.

Andita Frida Aisha—or Frida, as she prefers—is one of the many international students that have decided to pursue their studies abroad. Unlike most of the international students, this is not her first time away from home.

At the tender age of 16, Frida had already left her family in Indonesia to live in a whole new country: the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Unlike many Indonesian families, Frida’s ignored the tradition of holding on to their children and instead wanted her to be ‘independent and willing to live alone and to face the world’s new challenges.’

When asked ‘Why Malaysia?’ Frida responded that though her family had a more progressive outlook on the upbringing of their children, they still felt that she was very young and they didn’t want her to live too far away from them.

“I’m really grateful my family was able to send me away, you know? Because not a lot of families can afford to send their children abroad for better education. Education in other countries is much better than back here in our home and so that’s why my parents preferred me to go earlier,” she says, with a nonchalant shrug.

Frida did her pre-university education in Kuala Lumpur and confessed she enjoyed it immensely. “My college years were really fun because that was when I started living alone. My parents in Indonesia were a bit protective so there were a lot of restrictions in my life. Then when I came to KL, it was like a door had opened; freedom beckoned!”

But her new freedom would be nothing without her Malaysian friends; “Meeting new people there was the best part, because I started having all these really good friends that I needed. Because I lived apart from my family, I only had them, and it was really important they were in my life to experience new things with me.”

There was a need, she explained, to make use of her time in Malaysia to see and travel everywhere. Apart from exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur, she’s been island-hopping around the famed beaches of Malaysia: Redang Island, Perhentian Island, Langkawai Island and Penang Island, to name a few. The bubbly young woman has made it a point to see all the sights.

Wan Nur Hidayah Akhir, one of Frida’s friends in Malaysia exclaims how Frida’s love to try new things was contagious. “I’ve lived in Malaysia all my life but being friends with Frida made me realise that there’s so much more I haven’t experienced!” The two have become fast friends ever since they met and the three years Frida spent in Malaysia have cemented their bond of friendship.

Malaysia is right next to Indonesia so the culture shock experienced by Frida was not as pronounced. “I didn’t really have trouble adapting, because Indonesian and Malaysian culture weren’t very different.”

One common trait in both cultures is the notion of punctuality not being important. Frida laughs as she recalls those moments, “I’d agree with my friends to meet at 7 pm but all of us would only show up at 7.30 pm!” In Indonesia, this phenomenon is described as ‘jam karet’, which means rubber watch. Malaysians just call it ‘Malaysian timing’.

Although she had spent so many years away from home already, Frida was not done with travelling; she wanted to experience a whole new culture. When she was 20-years-old, Frida decided to further her Bachelor’s Degree in Media Arts in Adelaide, Australia.

“Malaysia and Indonesia were so similar that it didn’t feel like I was really discovering a new culture, you know? I wanted that jarring feeling of culture shock; to be in a totally different environment.”

Adelaide was the best!” Frida explains her reason for choosing to go to Australia, clapping her hands together for emphasis. “Everything is so much better in Adelaide compared to Indonesia or Malaysia; the public transportation, the services, the environment and the opportunities. It’s clean, and there are parks everywhere!” Frida describes her hometown in Jakarta as the very opposite of Adelaide; it’s crowded and cramped with the urban landscaping of commercial buildings and sky-reaching offices.

“Adelaide’s got so much more ‘outdoorsy’ facilities—Jakarta has only malls.” She explains that the conventional hang-out spots for young people her age were simply at malls. “Malaysia’s the same. We don’t really have other options. We don’t have much parks to bike or whatever, and it’s been polluted so much that we can’t really go outside. That’s how I’ve been brought up. Parents don’t really have anywhere else to bring their kids except to the mall. It’s kind of the only entertainment for us.”

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“outdoorsy”

Once again, it is the new friends she met in Adelaide that has made the most impact on her. “We’re all from different countries, and we’re all trying to cope in this new place, without our families. That’s how I found out who my real friends were.”

Alex Jocic, a girl from Adelaide describes Frida as ‘full of life with a never-ending thirst for adventure.’ Although Frida will only be in Adelaide for one year, she has already made the best of her short time in Australia by trying to experience everything. She’s been to the local events and shows held in the festival state of South Australia; The Fringe Festival, The Royal Adelaide Show, and many others.

“She’s so fun to be around! Though we’re from different countries and different backgrounds, Frida makes an incredible effort to live and understand Australian culture,” explains Alex. Not many international students are as eager to conform to the new, different culture and instead stick to the safety and familiarity of people from their country. They are afraid to venture out and mingle with the locals. Frida is the opposite of that.

Perhaps because she has been living abroad for so many years, it became easier for her to adjust to new and different cultures. She reiterates an example: “In Adelaide, a trust-based system governs a lot of things. For instance, if you take the bus in Adelaide, it’s actually really easy to get a free ride because it’s expected of you to validate your bus ticket yourself, not by a conductor or anything. It relies a lot on your own honesty.” She frowns before continuing, “In Indonesia or Malaysia, a lot of people would just cheat the system by pretending to have validated their ticket when they haven’t.” Australians, she found, tended to obey the rules and regulations more thoroughly than the South-East Asian countries she’s lived in.

Though she’s lived in so many places already, she still holds true to her Indonesian culture. In fact, she tries to bring it into the country she’s visiting by helping out with planning Indonesian events. Frida has been very active in volunteering her time to celebrate Indonesian festivals like Kartini Day and Indofest.

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“Frida performing a traditional Indonesian dance during Indofest”

“I love sharing my own culture and experiences with my new friends, and they in turn can tell me stories about their country. It makes me feel like we’re all just a small part of a very, very big picture.” There’s a look of quiet contemplation that stills her otherwise animated features as she ponders over the thought.

Upon graduating, Frida will return to her hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia. But the young woman’s wanderlust has not been satiated.

“There’s so much more out there that I haven’t seen! I’ve only been travelling around South-East Asia and Australia; I want to go to Europe! Or Britain! And France!” There’s a bright grin on her face as she ticks off countries with her fingers. “I’ve only seen French and British people in movies and they always seem so poised and sophisticated. I want to find out for myself whether they really are like how the movies depict them.”

Every new experience in the different places she’s been has only contributed to her growth as a person. Because she left home at such a young age, Frida has become highly independent and self-reliant. She is eager to continue her life journey; eager to continue growing and finding out more and more about herself.

“I’m not ready to settle down yet. I want to see the world, experience other cultures. How would it change me?” A dreamy, far-off look enters her eyes. At age 21, a vast range of opportunities exist for Frida to pursue. She’s got places to go and people to see.

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