I arrived very late in the evening my first day in Indonesia. After a long journey, I was tired, hungry, and a bit disoriented by Jakarta’s chaotic energy. I decided to venture into the neighborhood for a late night meal. Armed with nothing—certainly no prior knowledge of Bahasa Indonesian—but my determination to satisfy my hunger, I entered the nearest food stall to order a non-spicy, plain meal. The effort was an overwhelming failure as I was brought a bowl of what I now know was ox-tail soup. It was so spicy that I was brought to tears.

During my time in Indonesia I have learned how to navigate a new way of living within a confusing and uncertain environment. However, I have never once felt alone. If I found myself struggling at a local warung, I would feel a tap on my shoulder and a point in the right direction. Grab-bike drivers are often hard to locate, but someone always helped me. My new friends have taken the time to practice Indonesian with me, to explore new foods, locations, and activities with me, and they are always there to answer my questions and help me navigate life in my adopted country.

Six months in, I have had the opportunity to visit rural biogas farms, see the magnificent Borobudur temple, and climb Mount Merbabu. I still learn something new about Jakarta each day but the initial disorientation is no longer there.

I conduct policy research on energy, and separately, on refugee issues. At Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), my placement, I have gained insights into what drives growth and barriers within the low-carbon industry. This work has deepened my understanding of ASEAN as well as Indonesian’s energy markets. I also volunteer at the Sandya Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to peacebuilding, countering violent extremism and human rights advocacy. My earlier interest in emergency response infrastructure and sustainability landed him on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in the summer of 2017, volunteering in refugee camps. Sandya has allowed me to continue my passion, learning more about the life of refugees and asylum-seekers in Indonesia and helping craft an advocacy framework to encourage greater rights and protections for those seeking a safer life.

During the remaining months of my Luce Year, I hope to continue to pursue my rewarding work. I also hope to explore more towns and cities unfamiliar to me, experiencing disorientation and arriving at a deeper understanding in the process. Indonesia’s Declaration of Independence states that it would “work out the details of the transfer of power etc. as soon as possible.” Author Elizabeth Pisani describes life in Indonesia the best when she points out that this ‘etc.’ is what Indonesia has been chasing ever since. That same ‘etc.’ is what makes Indonesia an uncertain landscape, a land of endless and expansive opportunities. There is always more to explore, more to see, and more to learn.

by Matthew LoCastro on February 18, 2019