1 August 2016

Michelle Ratering - Expat in Jakarta, Indonesia

Michelle Ratering - Expat in Jakarta, Indonesia

Ms. Michelle Ratering is an American expat blogger living in Indonesia. Her blog “Teaching. Traveling. Writing”  explores her life as a teacher, a photographer, a writer, and an expat abroad.

Ms. Ratering has been living in Indonesia for more than a year and admits that the biggest challenge she’s encountered is adjusting to life in Indonesia, particularly getting around the city, and the lack of modern infrastructure especially in Jakarta. “I think the most intense adjustment was living in a big city that doesn’t have a “modern” infrastructure. Getting used to such a big space… I don’t know if I will ever fully have a map of Jakarta in my head! Plus, navigation is always by taxi, unless you are gutsy enough to ride on the back of a motor bike or able to purchase a car, so that doesn’t help with figuring things out, either” said Ms. Ratering.

Aside from difficulties in adjusting to the city, Ms. Ratering has pointed out that Indonesians have been very welcoming and nice to expats in the Indonesia. According to her “Indonesians are so friendly! Generally, local culture is very welcoming.”

Read more about Michelle Ratering’s experiences as an expat blogger in Indonesia with her full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am originally from a small-but-growing town just north of Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

I really loved Michigan, but I took a look at the economy and getting a job close to home didn’t seem like a safe bet. The job market was better in other states, but I thought to myself, “If I have to move a plane ride away from home anyway, I might as well go someplace awesome.” 

Q: Where are you living now, and how did you come to choose this new Indonesia of residence?

A: I now live in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Really, Indonesia chose me. I was looking for a job at an international school, but since most school are looking for teachers with at least two or three years of experience, I didn’t have a lot of options. However, I did have a really strong connection to the school where I currently work through two of my professors, who had done professional development with the school in the past. So, when I applied, not only was I my college well regarded by the school, but I had recommendations from people who could vouch for me.

Q: How long have you been living in Indonesia?

A: I have been living in Jakarta for a little over a year—I arrived in July of 2013, so that makes it about 16 months now. 

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had in Indonesia?

A: I think the most intense adjustment was living in a big city that doesn’t have a “modern” infrastructure.  Getting used to such a big space… I don’t know if I will ever fully have a map of Jakarta in my head!  Plus, navigation is always by taxi, unless you are gutsy enough to ride on the back of a motor bike or able to purchase a car, so that doesn’t help with figuring things out, either. 

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Indonesia? What was your experience with these?

A: Thankfully, I have a company that sponsors my KITAS, which is the temporary working resident permit. I still have had problems getting my KITAS renewed, and that is something that many people here experience. I fly to Singapore frequently to get my visa re-worked. 
In regards to health insurance, my company also navigated that situation, and connected me with an international health insurance company.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live by myself in a studio apartment.

Q:  Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Indonesia? How did you manage to find a social circle in Indonesia?

A: Socially, I was dumped into a pretty unique community of expats from other countries, as well as national teachers, so my social circle was mostly established within the confines of that structure. I mainly socialize with other Western expats, but have some national friends as well.  Because my work takes up so much of my life, I stay within that community of people.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: I live in Kemang, which is a really hip part of South Jakarta.
I recommend eating at Amigos, a local tex-mex restaurant that is delicious.  Every Friday night they also have salsa dancing, which is a big pull as well. If you want to tap into your inner child, there is a laser tag place called “Laser Game,” which is pretty fun. A lot of Indonesians really like malls, and the biggest mall around South Jakartais Pondak Indah Mall, which has both stuff to do (movie theatre, arcade), a huge range of stores, and delicious food options.

Q: How does the cost of living in Indonesia compared to your home?

A: I think a cup of grande latte at Starbucks I think a grande latte costs about 35,000 RP, which is about 3.50 USD. It’s about the same anywhere else as well. An inexpensive restaurant would cost anywhere from 40,000RP to 100,000 RP, which is about 4-10 USD. I have heard that The Four Seasons has a brunch for about 70USD! However, I would say that, on average, a “nice” restaurant would be closer to 30USD per person. A bottle of wine would actually be quite expensive, due to the religious influence of the Indonesia impact the political structures…. So about 30USD for a bottle that would cost less than 10USD in the states. Cigarettes are very cheap, however, at about 1.50USD a pack.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Indonesia?

A: Indonesians are so friendly! Generally, local culture is very welcoming. Professionally, however, an American would have to adjust to being in a work environment where priorities may be different, and conflict is handled in a different way.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Indonesia?
A: Living in Indonesia is a great launching point of a lot of places in Asia. In addition, it has a very rapidly growing economy. Some negatives of living in Indonesia might be the pollution in the big city, and the general fact that it is still a developing Indonesia.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course! Especially during autumn and holidays. It’s eternally summer here, so sometimes I just long for the days when I would put on a sweater and spend time outside. 

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Skype really helps me stay connected, as well as messaging apps like Whatsapp. But, I also make sure that I make my apartment feel like home. It’s important to feel comfortable where you live.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I don’t really know. I think I may be staying in Indonesia for another year, but only time will tell!

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: I left a lot of people I loved when I moved to Indonesia, and will be leaving a lot of people I love when I move away from Jakarta as well.  The transience of being an expat is emotionally exhausting.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Learn to be patient —traffic is unpredictable and you will be late.
Take time to learn the language, because you will feel connected and much more comfortable.
Make sure you explore Indonesia, and not just your own city, because the archipelago is amazing and worth traveling in!

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Indonesia?

A: thehoneycombers.com ! It has so many articles about Jakarta and Bali and Singapore that you could read for days and days! It’s a very hip website.