Indonesia pushes you all the way out of your comfort zone

When you're a student, you're after more than just book-smarts – you want to develop as a person, too. During the WINNER conference from October 18-20, join sessions about knowlede exchange between the Netherlands and Indonesia. Speakers from the student mobility panel will discuss experiences and why it is so nice to take a leap of faith.

When you're a student, you're after more than just book-smarts – you want to develop as a person, too. Studying abroad may push you all the way out of your comfort zone, but what you'll learn as a result is truly priceless. Ella Put says: ‘I have never seen a student return from studying abroad and not be more confident than they were before.’

Lotte Troost, an internship coordinator in Jakarta, is naturally a highly organised person and likes to plan out her work before starting. In that regard, Indonesia was indeed rather far out of her comfort zone. ‘Things just kind of happen in their own time here. Plans tend to change at the very last minute. The first month of my study abroad period in Indonesia, I was fairly stressed out because everything there is so completely different than in the Netherlands. Still, it was a really great learning experience for me. It brought out totally different skills in me as well. I learned how to go with the flow: to have a more flexible attitude and to think more in terms of possibilities.’

During the WINNER conference on 18-20 October, Lotte will join other speakers in sharing a more in-depth look at her experiences in Indonesia and explaining to interested students why it is so rewarding to dive into the unknown. While there is a long history of Indonesian students choosing to study in the Netherlands, Dutch students haven't exactly been fighting for a spot at Indonesian universities. Today, however, Indonesia is slowly beginning to attract a growing number of Dutch students.

Paramilitary women

When Lotte was 14, she and her parents went on holiday on Indonesia – and something inside her changed forever. ‘We were in a remote village on Bali where tourists rarely came, and we quickly made contact with the local people: I still remember feeling very welcome there. In no time at all, I was playing football on the beach with the kids from the village.’ For the first time in Lotte's life, she found herself interacting with people from a completely different culture. ‘It triggered something in me. I knew right away that I wanted to come back to Indonesia.’

The resolution she made at the age of 14 came true. Lotte returned to the archipelago several times as a young adult. Via the South and Southeast Asian Studies programme at Leiden University, her path took her to Yogyakarta to immerse herself in the Indonesian language and later – during a Master's in Contemporary Asian Studies at the UVA – to Kalimantan for a study on women in paramilitary movements. ‘My research explored the reasons why women join that kind of movement. In many cases, they turned out to be victims of domestic violence and the paramilitary environment offered them safety and protection. It was a way to regain their self-confidence.’

After that, an Indonesian scholarship enabled Lotte to spend ten months in Bandung for a course in Indonesian language and culture, and today she works for an Australian organisation in Jakarta that arranges internships. ‘Indonesia never gets old: every city is completely different from the next. That inspires me to keep coming back, too: there’s so much to discover here. When I'm here, I feel alive.’

Where the action is

The country of Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world. According to the World Bank, its economy grew by 5.1% in 2022 and is predicted to grow another 5.3% in 2023, despite the global economic malaise and inflation. As an emerging economy, Indonesia reduced poverty among its inhabitants by half (to 9.8%) between 1999 and 2018. Indonesia is the place to be right now. That is where the action is. Yet somehow, it's not the most obvious choice for Dutch students who are looking to spend some time studying abroad.

Ella Put (a communications adviser at Nuffic who is responsible for WilWeg) knows why that is. ‘First of all, the distance plays a role: Indonesia is obviously incredibly far away. And air travel isn't very popular among students of this generation, who tend to value sustainability.’ The students who do go to Indonesia are often those with a prior interest in the country – like Lotte – or in the region. Ella will be joining Lotte in a panel discussion during the WINNER conference, in which Ella will speak on behalf of WilWeg. Her contribution will deal primarily with the practical arrangements for spending time abroad.

Still, Ella feels that Indonesia is definitely an option worth considering if you are looking to study abroad. ‘Spending time abroad is more of a life experience than a learning experience. That means you need to have a proactive, enterprising mindset. For one person, “the unknown” is a big part of what draws them to another country. While for another, that can be what makes going abroad just a little too exciting.’

Dispelling an urban legend

But what about your required credits? Say you're interested in studying abroad: won't that cause a major setback in your study progress? According to Ella, this is nothing more than an urban legend. ‘We live in a globalised world where big differences exist between countries and regions. Training young people to be global citizens helps us find solutions to the serious problems we, i.e., humanity, are currently facing. The Netherlands is really a tiny country in a very big world. It is so valuable to look and see what's on the other side of the dikes.’

But to make the whole process just a little smoother, WilWeg can help enterprising students with a number of practical matters. Their website clearly sets out all the aspects you need to consider: housing, visas, insurance, driving licence, etc. And there is naturally plenty of attention for the financial aspect as well: are you entitled to Dutch student financing when you study abroad (in many cases, the answer is yes) or can you apply for a scholarship or grant?

Laughing at yourself

Ella also has first-hand experience with how spending time abroad can affect you as a person. ‘In secondary school, I spent a gap year in Germany, then did an internship in London, completed part of my Bachelor's degree in Sweden and, from there, went to Palestine for another internship.’ For her, taking a job with Nuffic was really just the logical next step. So what did Ella herself gain from all that international experience? ‘I now know that I can manage on my own, anywhere in the world. I started my gap year in a place where I didn't know anyone and didn't speak the language. By the end of the year, though, I was interning with a German newspaper and had a broad and varied group of friends.’ In conclusion, one last observation from Ella: ‘It also teaches you to laugh at yourself.’

To learn more about Lotte's experience and how she overcame setbacks, you can read her personal story at WilWeg .

About the WINNER

The Week of Indonesia-Netherlands Education and Research (WINNER) is an initiative by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Jakarta, Nuffic Neso Indonesia, the Indonesian Academy of Young Scientists (ALMI), the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), and the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Read more about the WINNER on our event page.