America, From an Indonesian Perspective

Three years ago, when I was 18 years old, I decided to go to America to continue my studies. I remember how excited I was — until I got to the airport.

The fact that I would live more than 8,000 miles away from my family and we would not see each other often anymore scared me. However, studying in America had been a life-long dream for me. So it was a mixed feeling.

“I remember how awkward it was when I was about to shake someone’s hand and she gave me a hug. It took me months to get used to the hug.”

I remember when I got to San Francisco to start community college, it was winter time. I had a cold for three days because I wasn’t used to with the weather. In Indonesia, the weather is only hot and rainy. We never have a fall season, nor winter.

The first small thing that I discovered was the drivers sit is on the left side of the car, while Indonesian drivers drive on the right side. I remember so many times I went to the left side of the car because I thought it was the passenger side.

After living for years in America, especially California, I have discovered many cultural differences, as well. Here are a few:

Diversity
I could see the diversity here. People come from different backgrounds, and I met a lot of international students from around the world. There were so many people with different languages speaking around me and I found it really interesting.

Personal space
I was surprised to see people show their affection in public; I did not really experience that in Indonesia because it considered immoral.

Another big difference comes when people greet me. My first impression when people hugged me to say hi was that it was weird. In Indonesia, when we meet people, we either we shake their hands or just wave our hand to them. So I remember how awkward it was when I was about to shake someone’s hand and she gave me a hug. It took me months to get used to the hug.

Food
Food was one of the so many things that was hard for me to adjust to. Not only is the portion size bigger here, but also Indonesians eat rice every day. It’s our main food. I ate rice even for breakfast. Indeed, even Indonesian McDonald’s and KFC serve rice. I realize that in the US, people do not eat rice that often. It was pretty hard for me to adjust to. When I ate American breakfast, such as eggs, bacon and bread, I felt like I did not eat a real breakfast. In fact, I never had bacon until I came to America. Bacon is just not common in Indonesia.

Speaking of food, in my country, street food is also a big thing. Every day, all day, all night, I can find street food everywhere. The streets are always crowded with vendors even if it’s past midnight. Here, most restaurants except fast-food restaurant close at 10 p.m. and the streets are quiet by midnight.

Education
The system of education in America is different than Indonesia. Students here have more freedom to choose the classes, the time and the professor we want to take. In Indonesia, the university chooses everything for us.

I’ve noticed that the professors in America shape our critical thinking. They will ask our opinions and thoughts about the topics or the readings we have. In Indonesia, most of the time we just sit, listen and memorize everything for the exams. It is a big difference for me and I am still trying to adjust to it. I do not talk much in my classes and I am still struggling to write essays because I am still not used to express my thoughts and opinions.

I notice when I get out of the small bubble of my country, I start seeing and experiencing new things that I never knew.  I honestly would not be conscious of my behavior and culture if I did not come to the U.S.

Now, I can see the differences between America and Indonesia vividly because I’ve experienced it. I can also see the differences between Indonesia and other countries thanks to all the international students friends I’ve made here.

By studying abroad I’ve learned more about my country. I’d never known how much I love, appreciate and miss Indonesia until I decided to study abroad. I realize that every country has its own uniqueness, which we may see media or in movies. However, there is so much the media or movies do not cover.

The most amazing part is we get to experience and feel it ourselves.


Monica Kading is a comparative international studies junior. She is an international student from Indonesia.

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