My Two Home Countries

VERDYKA KURNIAWAN, President of the Indonesian Professionals Association, shares how he fell in love with Singapore after coming here on a scholarship more than eight years ago.

ILLUSTRATION RODRIGO FORTES


 

G

rowing up in a modest middle-income family in Magelang, Indonesia, my parents who were entrepreneurs, always encouraged me to pursue my dreams even though I didn’t dare dream too big.

In 2006, my life changed when I was offered the Sembawang Corporation Scholarship. I was excited because the scholarship gave me my very first opportunity to visit the country. I had never been here and my impression of Singapore at the time was that it was a very clean and safe place to live, and one of the best global hubs for work and study. My dreams began to grow.

In Singapore, I spent four years at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The experience was much more than I had expected. Initially, there was a bit of a culture shock as I struggled to keep up with the level of competitiveness and the pace of the curriculum. And I had to get used to the fact that everyone spoke English. Back home, I spoke very little English.

Days, weeks, and months passed quickly. As I made more friends, played futsal with them, visited their homes and got more involved with the community, I started thinking of Singapore as my second home. Before long, I found it very difficult to choose between Singapore and Indonesia. I realised I had fallen in love with Singapore.

I think my love affair with Singapore deepened when I tried local food like wanton noodles for the first time. Initially, the taste didn’t really suit me. But I changed my mind about Singapore food when I tasted ban mian at NTU Hall 14’s canteen. It was love at first bite and I kept going back to the same stall every day for a week to have it. Of course, since then, I’ve discovered other favourite dishes, like bak kut teh and fried carrot cake.

Verdyka Kurniawan (with cap), 27, visiting the United States with colleagues.
He currently works in sales in Singapore.

GOOD NEIGHBOURS

After getting involved in non-profit organisations like the Indonesian Professionals Association (IPA) Singapore, and an industrial attachment with a Japanese multinational corporation, I realised that Singapore is a rich country, not only financially, but also as an international socio-cultural exchange. The Singapore Government has made it easy for people from other countries to blend into Singapore and vice versa.

What struck me the most about my stay here is how tolerant and open-minded Singaporeans are, and how willing they are to learn about other cultures. I invited some of my Singaporean friends to an Indonesian cultural event and they enjoyed it very much.

In 2013, I was appointed the President of IPA Singapore. In my time with the IPA, I worked closely with the Singapore International Foundation and Contact Singapore, and it has truly been an eye-opener.

They showed me how Singapore participates in the community development of neighbouring countries. They also help foreigners integrate smoothly into the local community. For instance, Contact Singapore helps keep IPA members informed of job opportunities here, while SIF’s cultural exchange programme, Little By Little, promotes understanding and appreciation of different cultures between Singaporeans and world communities.

Singapore may be only a little red dot on the map, but it plays a big role in the global community, especially in neighbouring countries.

I hope that one day I can contribute to Indonesia, using what I’ve learned from Singapore. As President of the IPA, I hope to continue the current opportunities for collaboration between the two countries.

There is much we can learn from each other. Indonesia can look to Singapore in learning how to attract global citizens to stay and work. Singapore, in turn, can learn from Indonesia how to create an environment that fosters creativity and the ability to think out of the box.

All in all, I’m grateful for what Singapore has given me. Today, I consider both Indonesia and Singapore as my homes. I feel like a child who is asked which parent he loves more. The answer for me will always be: I love them both.

 


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