Understanding Indonesian Family Values (by Caroline Robling-Griest)

When I was living with my Indonesian host mother in Philly, Bu Wendy, she mentioned that Indonesian parents are generally more strict about their children’s whereabouts. During one conversation in particular I noted that it seemed like Indonesian kids and young adults have so many responsibilities but not much independence, and that young adults from the US have more independence and fewer responsibilities. She thought that this was an accurate description.
When I arrived in Indonesia, I talked with my host family here in Sumba about my schedule and activities, and what I want to see and do while I am here. They asked me to inform them of where I was going if I went out with some friends. I agreed to let them know where I was, and I was expecting this based on what Bu Wendy had told me might happen.
One afternoon I went out with two friends who I met at the university, Titan and Bryan, and fellow GC student Trey. We went to grab lunch and then played some card games at Bryan’s house before deciding to go out and drive to the hills. My host sisters had mentioned that the hills were very beautiful and so I was excited to go. Before we left, my host mom called Bryan to check in with him about me. I assumed that she also knew we were headed to the hills.
We got to the hills and enjoyed the views. We could see the ocean, the city of Waingapu, and many rice fields. It was cloudy so the weather was a little bit cooler which was a nice break from the sweltering heat. It soon began to lightly rain. After we had been exploring the hills for awhile, my host mom started to call Bryan and Titan. She had also called me but I had my phone in my backpack and couldn’t hear the ring. She was asking Titan where I was and where we had all gone. At this point I realized that she and Bryan hadn’t touched base on the phone about where we were going. We headed home shortly after that to meet up with her and I was worried that she would be mad at us. When we got back she talked to us briefly about not knowing where I was and being concerned for my safety. We apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen in the future. Now, whenever I plan to go out with friends I am sure to politely ask permission. I also let her know when I am going to different places and when I am on the way home.
Initially, I was a bit frustrated at having to constantly inform someone of my whereabouts. As a junior in college I am very used to being independent and not having to tell people where I am all of the time. It is new for me to always be informing someone of where I am and where I am going. I now think about it in terms of respecting the culture of Indonesian parents and their kids. I know that it is not common for Indonesian children to constantly be going out with their friends. Because of their many responsibilities they tend to stay at home and take care of people there. Parents aren’t used to their children going out with friends. There are other factors that added to my host mom’s stress, such as the rain. Indonesian people believe that you can get sick if you are out in the rain, and so they usually stay home when it rains. Once it began to rain, my host mom wanted me to get home.
I also understand that my host family feels completely responsible for my safety while I am here. It is understandable that they would want to know who I am with and where I am so that they know I am safe here. Now that I better understand the culture and the role of Indonesian young adults, I understand the reason why it is so important for them to know where I am. I am here for just five weeks and I get to be a part of their culture and family for this time. I want to make sure that I experience the things that I want to see in Waingapu, but I want to be respectful of the culture and the adults around me as well.