Goedemorgen, hoe gaat het? Today, I find myself stumbling over what I can share with you lovely readers when I stopped and realized: I’ve changed into a completely different person by studying here. Of course, change is inevitable when someone takes on the adventure of studying abroad, but the notice of change doesn’t ordinarily happen until the student returns home. When I fly back to Jakarta, I genuinely notice how different I am compared to my family and friends: how I’ve changed, how I’ve adopted certain Dutch traits and characteristics, how I resemble my Angsty Auntie from Rotterdam more than I do my own mother.
But why did I notice this change all of sudden? Well, I was at the University Library in Utrecht when I went outside for ten minutes with a thin sweater on, in the middle of December. From someone who use to turn red every time the cold hits, to someone who doesn’t even notice the cold anymore. I’ve adapted, what’s up with that? Although sometimes I struggle with the concept of “not being Indonesian anymore,” I’ve come to appreciate what I’ve learned from the Dutch. With that being written, here are five lessons I’ve learned from living in the Netherlands:
Lesson #1: Being Punctual
The Dutch have taught me to appreciate time and punctuality, it might sound dull but it’s an important trait. It makes complete and total sense to me (now) to be on time or even early for an appointment, why would you want to keep someone waiting anyway? Leaving for a meeting with ten minutes to spare is something I constantly do now, whether its to meet friends at the bar or for a lecture. You’ll never know when you’ll need those extra ten minutes: the train might be late, the wind might slow you down on your bicycle, you just never know and it’s handy to keep that “just in case.”
Of course in Indonesia, there isn’t enough to worry about for these kinds of things. So what if you’re late? Santai, relax. Before I moved to study abroad, I could be telling my friend that I’m stuck in traffic when truthfully, I haven’t even left the house yet. It wouldn’t matter if I showed up ten or even thirty minutes late because in Jakarta, we all have a mutual understanding of how difficult it is to get anywhere on account of all the traffic. Before, I generally acted like I had all the time in the world but after living in the Netherlands, every hour starts to count.
Lesson #2: Independence
The Dutch see themselves as modest, self-reliant, and overall, independent people and why shouldn’t they? The Netherlands is a “self-service” country and moving here gave me my first taste of independence. It is true however, that moving to a different country alone gives you independence by itself, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Netherlands. What I’m talking about is mental independence, the ability to think for myself instead of the Indonesian collectivist perception of constantly considering others.
As Indonesians, we generally belong to “groups” and in these groups, we take care of each other in exchange for loyalty. How else would you explain the popularity of bike gangs vrooming about in Indonesia and the high existence of the PPI in western countries? We take care of each other, we’re Indonesian, that’s the deal. Whilst others might find comfort in this kind of familiarity, I felt like it was holding me back from other experiences I wanted to chase.
Being able to think for yourself sounds selfish, but it genuinely isn’t. Why should you go out with a group of friends when all you want to do is stay home and curl in bed? Why should you have to consider your family if you wish to conduct your graduation research in the Netherlands instead of Indonesia? Are they working hard to achieve a diploma, or are you? The Dutch have taught me how to ask myself these questions, how to consider myself in everything I do, and overall, how to be mentally independent and its a trait I, personally, am proud to have gained.
Lesson #3: How to Complain
The Dutch are notorious for complaining, whether it’s about politics, sports, work, or simply the weather, the Dutch will complain about it. Bawel kan? Unfortunately, this is a personality trait I’ve gained over the years I’ve lived in the Netherlands. It isn’t necessarily because I’m complaining in need of attention, but complaining either helps me realize nothing can be done about the situation, or something can be done about the situation and it leads to a discussion of options. Both pros in my head, but to Indonesians, it’s a different story.
With the cultural principle of equanimity, Indonesians don’t typically like to hear others vent or complain because to us, problems are treated as issues to be solved in consideration of others and ego-based or emotional complaints are considered inappropriate. Well then, lesson learned! Regardless, the Dutch have taught me to release frustration through complaining. Try and see it this way, is it better to hold things in or let things go?
Lesson #4: The Value of Money
Whilst on a city trip to Prague, several Indonesians and I went out to dinner with our Dutch companions and ended up getting frustrated because we spent over half an hour dividing the bill and arguing over who actually ate what. Half an hour. We Indonesians just looked at each other and laughed because despite having the urge to just pay for the entire bill and leave, we didn’t. We just sat there and waited, because what’s the use in “traktir-ing” when we knew we won’t ever see that money back?
There’s a reason why splitting the bill is called “going Dutch,” they keep a tight watch over their spending. In the Netherlands, paying for yourself (and only yourself) leads back to independence: it is a way of showing that one is self-reliant, a trait highly valued in Dutch society. In Indonesia however, almost everything is exponentially cheaper and to pay for everyone’s meal isn’t an unusual thing. In fact, it’s encouraged, it’s a I’ll-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine kind of mentality.
But when things as simple as groceries and food get expensive, you learn how to take advantage of markets and Albert Heijn’s weekly bonuses and in the end, you save quite the bit of money. Moreover, the Dutch have taught me that just because you can afford something, it doesn’t mean you should spend your money willy nilly.
Lesson #5: Having a Voice
The most important lesson I’ve learned from the Dutch is to have a voice, to believe that my opinions matter. I’ve constantly run into experiences in Indonesia where I was told to let things go: “Udah lah Sar, santai. Biarin aja deh!” When conflict arises (an uncomfortable situation to Indonesians), we are told to leave it alone because “it is what it is,” but if I want to fix the problem and move on, why shouldn’t I?
Why shouldn’t I try and share my opinions if that means I can peacefully sleep at night knowing I said all that I had to say? None of this “Oh you know what, I should have told her to suck it, that would have shown her!” five hours down the line or maybe even months down the line! When there’s a problem or discussion, I constantly try to say all I have to say about it because the Dutch have taught me to be liberal, and to me, that’s a gift.
What have you learned so far from studying in the Netherlands? Let me know in the comments below, share your experiences and troubles because trust me, I want to read them!