Saturday, October 1, 2016

Land of a thousand smiles



My name is Danica Djermor and I am a student at the Rotterdam Business School. I study "Trade Management focused on Asia" and I just got back from one year studying in Indonesia. This 4-year course allows you to visit, study and work for one year in the country which you applied for. These countries are all based in Asia and consist of China, Indonesia, Japan, India and Vietnam. During my third and fourth year, I went for my minor 6 months to Jogykarta in Indonesia to follow a semester at the Universitas Atma Jaya, followed by an internship of 6 months on the Indonesian island of Bali at a scooter-rental company. 

The reason I chose Indonesia was because of the fact that my family comes from the Mollucan Islands. This sparked my interest and passion from a young age and I had the urge to know as much as possible about this beautiful and diverse country. I can say it was one of the best years of my life. The challenge to stand on your own as a individual and make important decisions really made me a strong person along this whole journey. 

After a long flight alone to Indonesia, I just realised that I had embarked on a adventure which would have me 1 year from home. I was quite anxious and I have to admit, utterly scared,  to know that it would just be me and I in Indonesia. After a couple of days I became a bit used to the weather and all those people staring at me. Despite me being half Mollucan, I was quite the attraction in the neighbourhood even though Jogyakarta is a big student city and becoming very modern and trendy nowadays. 

School life is very different from that in The Netherlands. People are much more humble and treated with respect. There is also a warm feeling of unity everywhere you go. For example, it is perfectly normal to eat outside with friends or even strangers at their local “warung”; a small restaurant outside where your “mama tua” (female cook) serves you one of the best Indonesian food there is. During this semester I made a lot of friends at the University, among them a lot of Indonesians. I never experienced such a warmth and kindness. They took me to unknown and beautiful places hidden in Java and taught me to appreciate life as it was presented to me. 


Everyday on the scooter back and forth to the University while eating Indonesian snacks became a lifestyle where I found total peace in the chaotic traffic with the ricefields passing by. I was feeling completly at home and classes were fun to do and the people were very friendly and nice. 

After doing my final exams, I moved straight away to Bali to work at my internship the following week. Bali, however, was really different than Java. Tourism had taken hold of the Island and for an instant it took me back to Ibiza or Mallorca. It took me quite a while to get used here. The Balinese were rigid and not welcoming, because of the many tourists consuming and partying without any recognition of their Hindoeist beliefs and traditions. 

Even though the island was very beautiful, everywhere I went it was very crowded and I was more surrounded by tourists than locals. Even at my internship it was hard to be polite to tourists as they were ignorant and a bit arrogant. In the meantime, I picked up some volunteer work at a orphanage and some animal shelters. I felt like I wanted to do something for the community to show my appreciation for them welcoming me and tried to make me feel at home the best they could. In Bali, I saw a lot of beauty, especially on the other Islands and the nothern part of the island. 

The first month I was in Bali I went to some temples in Ubud. While visiting I stumbled upon a white little puppy in the ricefields. As I looked for the mother or the nest, I layed him back in the field as I didnt want to take him home. A lot of people would think, that would be really selfish. But as I started tot think about this, it is more selfish to take care of the dog and leaving him shortly after you go back to your home country again. A lot of foreigners do this in Bali. 

Nevertheless, I went back on the scooter after almost getting home. When I got back for him, he was already soaking wet of the rain and shivering. So I did the most dumbest thing you could do in Bali. I adopted a pup and took him in my skirt on the scooter back to Kuta.

Fortunately I had a lot of good friends who would take “Milo” (named him after the chocolate milk in Indonesia) in when I went back to Holland. This little fellow gave me great joy when being there in Bali. After the internship, we would go on the bike and drive to the beach and play with the other dogs. 

I can’t describe in words, what a year it has been for me in Indonesia. The people that I have met, the experiences that come with it, made me feel truly blessed. This country is so diverse in its people, landscapes and cultures. Every mile you go on the road is always different than the last one. Indonesia never failed to ashtonish me and made me such a bigger person. Being a year away from home out of your comfort zone, makes you see things from a different perspective. This study made it possible for me to prepare for my thesis and also to see a new chapter, which I surely see myself going for.  I came back with a full heart and a clear mind. These things all will hopefully make me a better person  while aiming for goals which will not only benefit me but hopefully also other peopleI lost my heart in Indonesia and soon I will go back to retrieve it along with my dog Milo.

This story appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Future of ASEAN

Ambassadors to the Netherlands of Lao People's Democratic Republic, 
Indonesia and Thailand attended ICAD 2016 
On 3 September 2016, I was one of the speakers at the International Conference on ASEAN Development (ICAD) at Leiden University. Goal of the 2016 edition of ICAD was, as stated by its organizers PPI Belanda (Indonesian Student Association in The Netherlands), “to build a bridge between the EU and ASEAN and to learn from the EU in the fields of Law, Politics, Economics, Culture and Technology for a deeper integration and development of ASEAN”.

Although my speech focused on economic parallels between the EU and ASEAN, whereby economic integration in the fields of trade and investment and economic  disparity of its member states were highlighted, it struck me that my fellow speakers as well as the audience at the Conference were quite sceptical on the (future) achievements of ASEAN. They did not have much confidence in ASEAN gradually assuming a leading, both political and economic, role in the region and beyond. The Conference’s audience was made up of approximately 120 Indonesian students, pursuing Bachelor-, Master-, and PhD-degrees in The Netherlands and other EU countries, representing the around 1500 Indonesian higher education students in The Netherlands and over 5000 in Europe. 

Recent surveys held in Indonesia and neighbouring countries show that the “awareness” of ASEAN is increasing. In addition to large multinational companies, now also SMEs and individual entrepreneurs are seriously eyeing cross-border opportunities . However, apparently, there is still quite a large number of young people in the region that are hesitant when it comes to truely believing in the concept of ASEAN. The Indonesian students who attended ICAD 2016 pointed out the economic disparity between ASEAN member states and the unwillingness, or incapability, of showing leadership and decisiveness.




I am far most optimistic than some of these Indonesian students and strongly believe that ASEAN will in due course develop into a powerful union. But ASEAN will have to do it the Asian way, looking at the EU for some guidance, in particular from an institutional perspective. Jakarta could become a kind of Brussels, but nevertheless assume its own definition of a central role. Where the EU is struggling to keep its member states on board and is having a hard time enforcing agreements on them, politically as well as economically, ASEAN will work out its own way of dealing with geo-politcal and geo-economic issues. This may be regarded as being indecisive, but quick decisions and agreements without true support lack  credibility. The monetary crisis, the refugee crisis, the Brexit, are all examples how NOT to deal with political, economic and humanitarian issues.

As I said earlier, from an institutional perspective and as far as intra-union trade is concerned, the EU is a good example. ASEAN can definately learn from the EU how to better “organize” its institutions and how to boost intra-ASEAN  trade and investment. But as far as aligning individual member states on common (?) political and economic (monetary) challenges, ASEAN should create its own framework, whereby initial disparity between member states may not necessarliy be an obstacle. However, its geo-political and geo-economic balancing act is even more delicate than Europe’s. ASEAN is embarking on a cautious and careful course whereby a non-confrontational approach will prove to be far more effective than going head-to-head on matters of national interest or on geo-political sensitivities. 

Will this road be a mere “walk in the park”?  Definately not, ASEAN will stumble every now and then, face set-backs occasionally. It is a complex journey.  As in Europe, ultra-nationalism and populism are also on the rise in Southeast Asia. National governments will have to explain policies in a convincing way in order to avoid xenophobia coming along with migration. There is bilateral friction between member states. Philippine newspaper, The Inquier, as well as the Japan Times, this week expressed their concern on the political indecisiveness of ASEAN. Both articles referred to the ASEAN meeting in Vientiane, Laos, last week, where ASEAN failed to take a firm stance against China’s interference in the South China Sea. The articles questioned China’s commitment to ASEAN’s Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the international ruling of the arbitral court of the UN Convention of the Law and the Sea (UNCLOS).  Concluding  the meeting in Vientiane, ASEAN failed to align all member states to issue a joint statement in which it would stand up to China in this maritime conflict.

And how to deal with “different leadership styles”, to put it euphemistically in the case of Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, for example ? Are the rulers in these member states a threat to the cohesion within ASEAN ? They could be, although their unpredictable, radical way of governing their countries may have a greater effect on their relationship with the "international community" in the West, than on their dealings with neighbouring states in Asia.

These are all enormous challenges that ASEAN faces, I have to admit. But the outcome of the Laos meeting is no surprise to me as ASEAN will have to perform a balancing act between being friend or ally with China, and/or with the so-called “international community”. Earlier I mentioned the “Asian way”: addressing regional conflicts or interfering in eachother’s national affairs will not be done “bluntly”. A quick solution putting a superficial plaster on wounds, will not be the way ASEAN will resolve its problems. Complex problems will have to be tackled by means of bilateral talks between individual member states on various levels of government.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Winning the hearts & minds

In this second decade of the twenty-first century, China has become a superpower. In particular, in the last 10 years, the country has established itself firmly in the global political and economic arena. Was it Europe that dominated the world in the 19th Century and the U.S. in the 20th Century, this new era may well be China’s !

Geopolitically and geoeconomically, China is making its presence felt in the region and in the rest of the world. Numerous acquisitions in Europe and the U.S., economic expansion into Africa and, of course, trade and investment in its own “backyard”, Asia. 

The One Belt, One Road initiative, the “claiming” of territorities in the South China Sea, the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), its prominent role in the recent Paris Climate Conference, are all signals that China is not only spreading its wings economically but also politically. China is letting the world know that the days that Western nations solely dominated the political and economic agenda are over. 

However, China faces a tough battle. Although large parts of the world do turn away from Western influence, whether in Africa or in Asia, this does not mean that China is automatically embraced as the replacing superpower. Just as the U.S. is struggling with “winning the hearts & minds” in large parts of the world, China is having to deal with this on maybe an even larger scale. Where the U.S. at least has loyal Europe unconditionally on its side, China is having a hard time lining up “allies” even within Asia. Whether historically-determined, or driven by more recent events, China’s gesture of goodwill is not seldom met with a lukewarm response. 

It takes more than just money and know-how to be accepted by the world as a leading superpower. In the years to come, China will have to work hard on “winning the hearts & minds” of other nations in Asia and in the rest of the world.

This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Getting to Belitung Island


H.A.S. Hanandjoeddin Aiport

In2008, relatively unknown Pulau Belitung off the coast of Southeast Sumatra gained instant fame with the Indonesian box office hit “Laskar Pelangi. The movie pictures a group of young boys coming of age on the island. Millions of Indonesians embraced the movie and since then, domestic tourism, primarily comprising ethnic-Chinese from Jakarta, has surged dramatically.

The island attracted curious visitors once more when East-Belitung-born Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, rose from Deputy-Governor under current-President Joko Widodo to Governor of Jakarta in 2014. Several middle-class hotels and the occasional upmarket hotel have sprung up in the captital town of West-Belitung, Tanjung Pandan, from which pristine beaches along the Northwestern coast and numerous tiny islands off the Northwest tip of the island can easily be reached.

Belitung Island (residents pronounce it as Belitong), which, together with neighbouring Bangka Island, makes up Bangka-Belitung Province, was named after Dutch Mining Company, Billiton. While the island is less suitable for rice farming, it is rich on tin and agriculture consists of pepper, coffee and rubber, among other crops.

With approximately 275,000 inhabitants, the 5,000 sq.km.- island is sparsely populated (in comparison with the island of Bali which is slightly bigger but houses over 4 million people !). Belitung's population forms a harmonious mix of ethnic-Chinese, who, contrary to their fellow-countrymen in Java (mostly Christian), are primarily Bhuddist here, Muslims and even Hindus, who left the island of Bali and came to Belitung as a result of former-President Suharto’s“transmigrasi”- policy. Their dessa in the heart of the island is called“Balitung”. The dialect 
spoken on Belitung is Melayu (Malay).
Photo taken from lighthouse on Lengkuas Island

The island’s marvelous white-sand beaches and off-coast rocks and islets are not only stunning, but also quiet and peaceful as a result of tourism still being in its infancy. Flights tot the island are limited; several times daily from Jakarta (45 minutes), while NAM Air connects the island with Pankal Pinang on neighbouring Bangka. 


This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

India, a country of contradictions

My former teacher, Mr. Van den Broek, requested me whether I could write an article for his website on how I ended up in India. That is a very easy and short story. Once upon a time I came across this course called Trade Management aimed at Asia, which is a BBA course combined with Asian language and culture, at the Rotterdam Business School. That really appealed to me. Part of this course is going to Asia for one year for a student exchange and internship. So the real question here is not, how did I end up in India, as all of his students at one point go to Asia. The real question is: why did I stay?


Before coming to India, the question I heard most often was: why India? You, of course,  have the Indian growing economy, the rising middle-class, the neglecting of seeing the opportunities in India as most people doing business in Asia focus on China, the highly educated youth, the technological developments etc.. My decision was not based on facts like these, but on a gut feeling that I had to opt for India. Every day I am still happy I did not listen to the people telling me to go to China and listened to my gut feeling.

Now that I have decided to stay in India, the questions I hear more often are: do you have a boyfriend in Delhi (no) and did a Dutch company send you to Delhi (no). The idea that I am in Delhi because I choose to be in Delhi is difficult to comprehend for many Dutch as well as Indian people. I have fallen in love with this crazy, beautiful, hectic city and I can’t imagine another place where I want to live, at least not for the coming few years. 


My school did its best to try to prepare us for Asia. During two days of self-reflection in the middle of nowhere they taught us all about the curve you go through when you move abroad. You start with the honeymoon phase, where everything in the new country is amazing. The creators of this theory have obviously not been to India. India is right in your face. It is impossible to have a honeymoon phase in India. The first few days you see the beggars, the poverty, the crowds and you just think by yourself: how am I ever going to feel at home here. I was lucky that I had a relatively easy start in India, as I arrived in Mumbai. Mumbai is, compared to Delhi, a less aggressive city.  Especially when you are staying with a friend, who still lives at home. Her mom was very sweet and protective, resulting in me rarely stepping outside alone. So my real introduction of having to deal with India came after two weeks, when I travelled alone through Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for three weeks. 


My first introduction to travelling alone was a mixed one. When I think back about my first solo trip, I usually at first only think about the positive things. The Dutch heritage at Kochi, boating in the backwaters of Kerala, trying to swim in the ferocious waves in Gokarna, biking around in the breathtaking landscape of Hampi, doing absolutely nothing in Bangalore, exploring the mix between India and France in Pondicherry, merging with pilgrims in Rameshwaram, enjoying the nature in Kodaikanal and seeing three oceans merge in Kanyakumari. When I dig deeper into my memory I remember the negative things. The sometimes innocent, sometimes not so innocent eve-teasing, difficulties with finding the right tickets and accommodation, vicious food poisoning while being in a sleepers bus, people trying to scam you and being an attraction for Indian tourists. While complaining about the negative sides of travelling to friends they all told me the same: wait till you get to Delhi. South India is nothing compared to Delhi.

Luckily, they were wrong. I arrived in Delhi on the 1st of July in 2014. I came to Delhi with the intention of only studying there and trying to find an internship in Mumbai. Within one month I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to do my internship in Delhi as well. Within a few months, I decided that being in India for one year was too short and I would try to write my thesis there as well. 

 After arrival in Delhi, I had a few weeks till my school started. One of my teachers in the Netherlands had put me in touch with a friend of hers in Delhi and he asked whether I could help out at his company for a few days. His company, Siddhartha Das Studio, is a design studio aimed at the cultural field. They work on projects like museums, art installations, heritage spaces. I went to helping out for a few days, to working part-time during my student exchange, to doing my internship there, to writing my thesis for his company, to working there fulltime. 


 I am balancing in between of two worlds. I will never fit in within the Indian culture, but I also don't feel comfortable with some aspects of the Dutch culture anymore. I truly understood how much India had affected me when I went back to the Netherlands for three weeks after having been away for almost a year. I felt like a stranger in my own country. The Netherlands seemed like such a cold, empty and colorless place. I was missing the hectic, colors and smells of Delhi. I often tell Indians who don't understand why I choose to live in Delhi: "this city has more residents than my country, which means that there is always so much to do, to see, to explore."


 During my two years in India, I have experienced so much. It has been a very intense time. I studied, I travelled a lot, I worked. It feels that the longer I am in India and the more I see of it, the farther away I get from understanding this society and the more peace I have with that fact. I am convinced that every closed question about India can be answered with both a yes and a no, depending on where and with who you are. India is a country of contradictions. From the world's most expensive residential home to the largest slum, from Hindu to Muslim, from traditional tribes to trendy yuppies, from tinder to arranged marriage, from history in every little part in South Delhi to Gurgaon with its skyscrapers. India is a mystery I will be never able to understand, but of which I am very eager to learn more. 


About the author: Anouk van de Kar is a BBA graduate from Trade Management Asia, Rotterdam Business School


This article appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 








Monday, May 9, 2016

Women of Myanmar initiative


Women of Myanmar (WoM) is an initiative founded by an energetic multicultural group of experts, on the job wherever people and organizations are in need of creativity, innovation and change. Working on the edge of intellect and intuition, WoM takes on serious challenges and answers with results.

WoM's founders are experienced professionals with different backgrounds; garment industry, business development, international cooperation, education and human development field. A perfect combination to offer great new programs on business/human development, creative leadership and empowerment.

WoM's concept and way of working has a proven track record not only in developing countries like Myanmar but also the countries within the European Union.

WoM strongly believes that women have a major role in an emerging market. Education/vocational training is an important ingredient for development. Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship* are ways to enable Myanmar women to profit from the upcoming success of a developing country.

In the power of the collective, WoM wants to work conform the principle "pass it on". "Knowlegde is only interesting if you are able to share it". Part of WoM's offer is based on this principle. It develops a program in which it trains a group of potential leaders that will pass on the learned knowlegde to 10 people within the organization. By pushing people to look outside their comfort zone, WoM changes followers into leaders.

WoM develops applied training programs. In order to learn new skills, perspectives and behavior, WoM believes it is necessary to work with the actual, relevant and emerging business and personal situation. It links theory and skills to the actual practice in order to to realize immediate change. The training sessions are highly practical and result-oriented, every new concept introduced will be explored through practical exercise.



See clip on the WoM program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzEsR2yrfo4&feature=youtu.be

* Intrapreneurship is the concept that focuses on employees of a company that have many of the attributes of an entrpreneurs and are taking risks in a effort to solve a given problem


This aricle appeared earlier in e-magazine Business Trends Asia 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Catching up with Timothy Kong


It was the second time I met with Timothy Kong. This time in Amsterdam where we shared ideas about The Netherlands, Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Timothy Kong was born in Amsterdam, 29 years ago, and completed his education at Hogeschool Inholland. During his student years, he founded 
Stage in AziĆ«, which is Dutch for "internship in Asia", focussing on internships in Malaysia for Dutch students. In Malaysia, his company is known under the name Kong International 

When asked what he loves about Asia, he passionately describes the variety of fantastic food and the dynamics of cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. "Walking through a skyscraper city makes you feel alive", he adds. Kong also emphasizes the entrepreneurial spirit in Asian cities, where "companies are being built every hour".

"What brought you to Malaysia ?", I wanted to know. Timothy explains that his brother was studying in Singapore and while visiting him he spent a couple days on the Malaysian island of Tioman. Later, in 2011, he did an internship himself at a tour operator in Malaysia. It was then that he saw the tremendous potential that Malaysia has for students. "Everyone speaks English. And who doesn't want to stay in an affordable apartment with a swimming-pool, a gym and security ?"




Kong proudly states that Stage in Aziƫ/Kong International carefully selects the best companies in Malaysia for its interns. What are Kong's plans for the (near) fututre ? "As a company, we are still growing, expanding our service portfolio into new industries, such as Game Design, Web Development, IT and Finance".


"Good luck with your business and see you again soon, Timothy !"