×
Interested in our Partner Program for businesses or our Local Guide Program for experienced expats and digital nomads? Click here to learn more.
Expat Exchange - Culture Shock in Indonesia
Expat Exchange
Free MembershipSign In
Lunch at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia


Culture Shock in Indonesia

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Mondly by Pearson
Mondly by Pearson

Summary: If you're planning a move to Indonesia, or have recently settled there, it's natural to encounter some culture shock as you adjust to your new surroundings. Our insightful article is designed to help you navigate this transition smoothly. It offers practical tips and draws on the experiences of fellow expats who have successfully embraced the cultural nuances of Indonesia.

Welcome to the vibrant archipelago of Indonesia, a country that offers an eclectic mix of cultures, traditions, and experiences. As you prepare for your move, it's natural to anticipate the cultural adjustments that lie ahead. Indonesia's rich tapestry of customs may be quite different from what you're used to, and understanding these differences is key to a smooth transition. In this guide, we'll explore the phases of culture shock, language barriers, common cultural missteps, and gather wisdom from expats who have navigated these waters before you.

1. Understanding Culture Shock in Indonesia

Adapting to a new culture often involves going through several stages of culture shock. Initially, you may experience the 'honeymoon phase,' where everything about Indonesia seems charming and exciting. As time goes on, the 'negotiation phase' may set in, where differences in language, social norms, and daily inconveniences can lead to frustration. It's common to then enter the 'adjustment phase,' where you start to become more familiar with the local customs and begin to feel more at home. Finally, the 'mastery phase' is where you find your stride and fully engage with the Indonesian way of life. Patience and an open mind are your best allies during this process.

2. Language Learning in Indonesia

While Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, many locals are often delighted to help you practice. However, not being fluent can pose challenges in more remote areas or when dealing with bureaucracy. It's advisable to learn basic phrases and show your willingness to engage with the language. This effort is not only practical but also demonstrates respect for the culture, which can open many doors and lead to deeper connections with the community.

3. Common Cultural Missteps

  1. Ignoring Religious Customs: Indonesia has a predominantly Muslim population, and it's important to respect Islamic practices, such as dressing modestly and being mindful of prayer times.
  2. Disregarding Local Etiquette: Simple actions like using your right hand for eating and passing items, or not pointing with your foot, are crucial in showing respect.
  3. Overlooking the Importance of Face: Maintaining harmony and avoiding public confrontation is valued in Indonesian culture. It's important to communicate disagreements privately and diplomatically.
  4. Misunderstanding Time Perception: The concept of 'jam karet' or 'rubber time' reflects a more relaxed approach to punctuality. Being flexible with time can help you integrate more smoothly.
  5. Underestimating the Role of Community: Indonesians place a strong emphasis on community and social harmony. Building relationships and participating in local events can greatly enhance your experience.

4. Expat Advice on Culture Shock

Experienced expats often emphasize the importance of embracing the local culture with an open heart. One expat shared how joining a local 'arisan' (a social gathering and savings club) helped them form close bonds and better understand social dynamics. Another suggested volunteering at community events as a way to give back and feel more integrated. Many advise keeping a sense of humor when misunderstandings occur and to view every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Remember, every expat's journey is unique, but the shared wisdom is to immerse yourself in the culture, be patient with yourself, and maintain a positive attitude.

As you embark on your Indonesian adventure, remember that culture shock is a natural part of the expatriate experience. By staying informed, open-minded, and respectful, you'll navigate the cultural waters of Indonesia with grace and build a fulfilling life in your new home.

"For me, I found corruption a challenge. Police in Indonesia actually buy their jobs, and because the jobs pay very little, the only way they can earn enough money to live is thru bribery," commented an expat living in Indonesia.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


Mondly by Pearson
Mondly by Pearson

Mondly by Pearson
Mondly by Pearson

Lunch at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia

Allianz Care
Allianz Care

Flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget. Use Promocode: LIFE10 and get 10% off your international health insurance for life!
Get Quote

Allianz CareAllianz Care

Flexible solutions allow you to tailor your cover to meet your needs and budget. Use Promocode: LIFE10 and get 10% off your international health insurance for life!
Get Quote

Contribute to Indonesia Network Contribute
Help others in Indonesia by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Indonesia.

Mondly by Pearson
Mondly by Pearson

Copyright 1997-2024 Burlingame Interactive, Inc.

Privacy Policy Legal Partners & Local Guides