First Impressions


Individual travelers can expect to be greeted by your hosts and to have transportation to your accommodations. It can also be helpful to make a quick trip to the grocery and to learn when your hosts will pick you up again – gather cell tel and what’s app contact info for at least 2 people. Your hosts are HAPPY to see you, so ask for anything you need.

You’re likely to experience culture shock on arrival, and if you remain 3 weeks or more may experience reverse culture shock on your return. It’s a very real thing. Being sure to talk to other foreigners and locals and other socializing will be a good support to help you fight feelings of loneliness or anger. In talking to others AVOID saying ‘In America we…’ or ‘In Indonesia you…”. Both are large countries, and it’s likely an indigenous person in Alaska has more in common with someone in rural Papua than a New Yorker. Likewise, a New Yorker may have more in common with someone from Jakarta. Your frame of reference does not speak for the entire American Experience. Instead try, ‘I never tasted something like that before…’ or ‘How do you make it’ or ‘A surprise to me was…’ Non-judgmental ways of engaging others as you try to make sense of new experiences is something we all understand.

Jet lag solutions.

  • Try arriving in the evening. Wear an eye mask and ear plugs.
  • If that doesn’t work, try a dramamine (original drowsy formula) or an alcoholic drink. That will work to get you to sleep and using the mask and plugs should keep you asleep.
  • If you are exhausted mid-day and must sleep, set an alarm for 75 minutes maximum. When the alarm sounds take 5 mins to get up but do force yourself to get up.
  • Mild exercise like walking mid-day will also help.


  • Expect a mix of ‘Asian’ squat or ‘Western’ sit style toilets (some flush, some don’t)
  • Expect a tank with water and scooper; fill the scooper & throw in the toilet to flush
  • There may also be a bucket or hose with turn-off valve instead of a tank/scoop
  • Expect wet floors and toilet seats and if it’s open air, mosquitoes.
  • Do not expect toilet paper; carry tissues with you to wipe off the seat and yourself
  • Expect the sink, soap, and towel (if there are any) to be outside the toilet area
  • Carry hand sanitizer wipes
  • Hotel and mall toilets will be sit style with soap and toilet paper


  • Go where your hosts want to take you
  • Don’t hesitate to ask them to take you to particular places
  • Keep ‘small money’ in one pocket to give to workers providing helpful tasks. Eg: If it rains children will appear with umbrellas and assist you. You will also see a lot of begging, including women with small children who they sometimes rent from neighborhood families. In Java, some locals feel giving money to beggars encourages them in begging. Others feel it is important to be charitable to give money to beggars. In Bali, many Balinese are very against begging, say that it is against Balinese culture, and say that if you need a job you should go to see the King and he will give you a job (there are multiple Kings in Bali, and yes, they will give you a job). In the unlikely account you encounter an aggressive beggar, turn your empty pocket inside out and shrug.


At meetings:

  • Do NOT use your left hand to shakes hands. DO present business cards and gather their cards for future contacts.
  • Expect tea to be served. The meeting cannot end until you take 2 – 3 sips. When conversation seems finished thank your hosts so that they know to conclude the meeting. Don’t hug and kiss goodbye. The handshake is generally loose, unless you meet someone who has spent time overseas.
  • Conservative Muslim women will not touch a person of the opposite sex
  • Not everyone is Muslim
  • Allow time for prayer
  • On the way too or from meetings always CARRY CASH
  • On the way to or from meetings, no matter how irritated you get, such as at the airport, NEVER raise your voice. Yelling either elicits silence and inaction, or a very angry response.
  • If there is ‘naked disagreement’ where you feel you have been wronged, such as at the airport, state in a conversational tone all that you have done and your expectation, without blaming directly the person in front of you (such as an airline employee). Try smiling and asking for help. Saving face is important in Indonesia. A traveler recently paid $20 to change to an earlier flight and the agent chased the traveler hoping for an additional $100 payment, say something like ‘I paid the price you said, I have my boarding pass, I am not paying more, and I am going on this flight. It’s good to see you again. (smiling) Goodbye’

At Classrooms:

  • Expect an empty classroom with desks, a blackboard or whiteboard, and a marker or chalk. Hopefully the AC works. Everything else you either need to bring, buy, or request. Most classrooms will now have a projector.
  • Expect to have a shared office to use while on campus
  • Expect to be able to use computers/printers/email
  • Request the copying and equipment that you need
  • Expect your hosts to provide you with whatever you need; just ask and they will make it happen


Indonesian term                   US Term

34 Provinces                               50 States

Regency                                       County

TK                                                 PreK-K

SD                                                 Grades 1 – 6

SMP                                             Grades 7-9

SMA/SMK                                  Grades 10-12 Academic/Grades 10-12 Technology

D1, D2, D3                                  Community College Diploma, years 1 – 3

S1, S2, S3                                    Bachelors, Masters, PhD

Carrefour                                    Meijer

Guardian / Century                  CVS/Walgreens

Dunkin Donuts                         Dunkin Donuts

Pertamina                                  BP Gas

Indomart/Alphmart                7-11/UDF

A Bit of Advice

  • Settle into the time clock of the people and the culture; go to bed early, rise early
  • Take in the enormous diversity and beauty of the landscape, the people, their languages and ethnicities
  • Relish the warm hospitality and graciousness of the people
  • Smile at strangers and watch a smile break across their faces
  • Engage in small talk with all who want to practice their English
  • Say “America” when people ask you where you are from so they will understand
  • Laugh at yourself and joke with your colleagues; enjoy the Indonesians wonderful sense of humor
  • When you don’t know, ask, and don’t be afraid to ask why; why questions are the foundation upon which cross-cultural understanding rests


  • Do not drink the tap water
  • Do not eat food from “kaki limas” (5-legged street carts, 2 legs belong to the vendor)
  • Lock car doors while in transit
  • Watch your purse and wallet as you would in any major city
  • Lock cash/valuables you don’t want to carry in the hotel or room safe
  • Stay out of bird markets
  • Be careful if visiting monkey forests; Some monkeys in some forests take things like glasses. Good luck getting them back.
  • Resist the temptation to pet dogs and cats to avoid animal and insect bites unless you know their owners
  • Use mosquito repellent day and night; carry some form of repellent with you at all times when you are away from the hotel
  • Expect to see cockroaches, mice, and rats


Good morning = selamat pagi

Good day = selamat siang

Good afternoon = selamat sore

Good evening = selamat malam

Good bye = bye bye

See you later = sampai jumpa lagi

Have a good trip = selamat jalan

How are you = apa kabar?

Fine = baik, baik

Common Expressions

Thank you = terimakasih

No thank you = tidak mau

You’re welcome = sama-sama

I’m sorry = maaf

I’m late = saya terlambat

No = tidak

Yes = ya

Right = kanan

Turn right = belok kanan

Left = kiri

Straight ahead = lurus or terus

Good, very good = bagus, bagus sekali

It’s very delicious = enak sekali

It’s bad = jelek

It’s beautiful = cantik (used to describe something close)

The view is beautiful = panorama indah (used to describe a work of art or something far    away)

I am or me = saya

You or yours = kamu

I am very happy = saya senang sekali

I like it = saya suka

I want to go to the university = saya mau pergi ke universitas

Where is the toilet/bathroom/restroom? = dimana toilet?

My name is Tin Man.  I’m from the University of Os =  Nama saya Tin Man. Dari Universitas Os

Common Foods

Water = air, but a popular water is labeled ‘Aqua’ so you could use that word

Fried rice = nasi goreng

White rice = nasi putih

Fried noodles = mie goreng

Chicken soup = soto ayam

Chicken rice porridge = bubur ayam (great with coke if you’re sick, skip the egg)

Fried fish = ikan goreng

Fried shrimp = udang goreng

I want a cold Beer Bintang = Saya mau Beer Bintang dingin

One more coke, no ice = satu lagi coca-cola, tidak pakai es

Tea = teh

Coffee = kopi

Just coffee = hanya kopi/kopi saja/kopi tawar

No sugar = tidak pakai gula/tawar

No milk = tidak pakai susu

No meat: tanpa daging

Common Fruits

Orange = jeruk

Banana = pisang

Papaya = papaya

Mango = mangga

Jackfruit = nangka

Guava = jambu

Young coconut = kelapa muda

Pineapple = nanas

Lime = lemon

Salak = the skin is like a brown snake

Rambutan = the skin is reddish-yellow and has soft quills

Manggis = the skin is beige and smooth

Durian = the fruit is huge, the skin is yellow-green with sharp points (and sharp smells)


One = satu

Two = dua

Three = tiga

Four = empat

Five = lima

Six = enam

Seven = tujuh

Eight = delapan

Nine = sembilan

Ten = sepuluh

Eleven = sebelas

Twelve = duabelas

Thirteen = tigabelas

Fourteen = empatbelas

Fifteen = limabelas

Sixteen = enambelas

Seventeen = tujuhbelas

Eighteen = delapanbelas

Nineteen = sembilanbelas

Twenty = duapuluh

Twenty one = duapuluh satu

Fifty = limapuluh

One hundred = seratus

Five hundred = lima ratus

One thousand = seribu

Five thousand = lima ribu

Ten thousand = sepuluh ribu

Twenty thousand = duapuluh ribu

Fifty thousand = limapuluh ribu

One hundred thousand = seratus ribu

One million = satu juta

Tipping in Indonesia

  • Sample Salaries: School teacher 3.5M IDR= $300/month; Junior faculty member 4.5M = $400 USD. College Dean 10M = $900 month. Shop worker = 1.5M = $100/month working 13 days/ 8 hours over 2 weeks. Hotel Bar Worker = 5M = $450/5 days/wk.
  • For easy conversions, 10,000 Rupiah = approximately $1 USD. Many places you will pay a million for a hotel room for one night. Think of it as $100 (actually about $77).
  • To keep things in perspective, 49 % of Indonesia’s population lives on less than $2 USD per day. Tips are really appreciated.
  • Hotel include a service charge; even if they do, it is nice to leave a tip for the waiter/waitress
  • 20,000 Rp is OK to leave on your hotel pillow every morning or give to someone who delivers food, laundry, or other things you requested to your room
  • 20,000 Rp is OK for someone who handles your baggage
  • A few extra Rp on top of the fare is OK for taxi drivers
  • Give your driver 10,000 – 20,000 Rp for lunch if you stop for lunch while he is driving you – ordinarily he will not eat with you – you can ask him, but expect him to decline
  • Reward the university driver with a tip when you are close to departure from a city. Judge the amount to give by how much the driver has been involved.  Think in terms of multiples of 10,000 Rp and 50,000 Rp.  If his work has been extensive, required several days, long distances, many trips, many stops, early mornings, late nights, think in multiples of 50,000 Rp.

Beverages and Use of Water

  • Load up on water to keep your system well-hydrated and toxins flushed out. Indonesia is on the equator.  Even if you don’t typically drink a lot of water, you need to do so here.
  • In better restaurants table water will be bottled. In street-side warung-style restaurants, buy a bottle of water. Even in the finest hotel, ice is from the tap. EITHER do not take ice OR do take an antibiotic.
  • Order Aqua and skip the ice whenever you are unsure; buy Aqua at a grocery store or warung (small shop or kiosk) to supplement the complimentary bottles (usually 2) provided by your hotel; leave 20,000 Rp on your pillow and tell the person making up your bed how many bottles you need
  • Coffee and tea offered by your hosts are OK to drink (don’t worry that the tea is tepid; the water has been boiled and allowed to cool)
  • Soft drinks, tea, coffee, juices (fresh and bottled or boxed) are all safe to drink
  • You can order beer, wine, or drinks in most hotels and beer in many restaurants. Beer Bintang, made locally, is good and less expensive than imports. Wine and spirits are imported, unless you are in Bali where rice wine is made.
  • Enjoy the fresh fruit and vegetable drinks that are widely available
  • Brush and rinse your teeth with Aqua; rinse your toothbrush in the tap water to rid it of toothpaste; then pour Aqua over your brush and let it air dry; alternate between two toothbrushes so they dry out thoroughly between brushings

Vegetarians will love Indonesia. Do not use the word ‘tidak’ (no) to say no meat. Instead say ‘Saya vegetarian’ or ‘Saya tidak makan daging’.

Spice- Most Indonesians love spice. Some eat habanero peppers like popcorn as a snack. Chilis and chili seasoning will be in a lot of things. If that’s not for you, get a local to help you find something less spicy.  There are a range of cuisines across the archipelago that you can explore.

Street Food- kaki limas (2wheeled, 1 legged carts with one worker) are everywhere.  Do not eat from them, but do feel free to order from them so you can participate in the show and then donate your purchase to someone in the neighbourhood.

Warungs, tent-like street-side restaurants vary in quality and specialty. Ask a local for a good recommendation.

Pork is not generally available outside Bali.

Silver ware – a spoon and fork. No knives. No chopsticks.

Meeting people

Dating and weddings are great ways to meet locals. Google ‘Dating in Asia’ or ‘Indonesian dating’ and you will find the usual kinds of www sites, some of which are free. Meeting in bars and night clubs is also an option. Weddings are often grand affairs taking 3 days in some places. Most are 1 day. Sometimes there are 2, one in the home town of the bride and one for the groom unless the couple are from the same town. Traditional weddings will close the entire neighbourhood as tent cities are constructed. A typical wedding could have 500 guests. Marriage equity has not reached Indonesia. Gay people report that sometimes it’s easier to bring a same sex partner back to their room than a different sex partner because of the hetero-normative assumption.

You may notice pilgrims at the airports, particularly around Haj. They will be in groups and dressed alike in traditional holy clothes.

If you’re a solo male traveler, expect less support from hosts. Expect people, primarily women, to want to have their picture taken with you. Foreign males are called ‘bule’, something like ‘gringo’ but not intended with any negative connotation. In bars and on streets in some areas you may attract attention from prostitutes – see below.

If you’re a solo female traveler, expect more support from hosts. Expect people to want to have their picture taken with you. Expect a lot of invitations for lunch and dinner.

If you’re an opposite sex unmarried couple, some travelers have reported difficulty in staying in the same room in rural area hotels. However the consensus is you have to be in a very rural area for that to occur.

If you’re a same sex couple, expect no problems because of the hetero-normative assumption. It will be assumed you are friends sharing expenses.

If you’re a family, expect to be loved a lot. Indonesians love families and will happily make arrangements for child care and arranging family fun activities.


Snacks, candy, soda – widely available

Liquor – Beer Bintang widely available at less than the US price. Liquor and wine only in better restaurants/hotels at the US price. In medium sized cities a hotel will sometimes have a very small boutique style liquor store. Expect to pay 4 – 5 x more for wine/liquor bottles than you would in the US.

Smoking. Widely available. In larger cities expect 2 – 3 smoking floors in the hotel. In smaller cities expect only 1 -2 non smoking floors and expect that the non-smoking policy may not be observed.

Narcotics – Absolutely not. Sniffer dogs used. Possession of the smallest quantities are severely prosecuted. Larger quantities are eligible for the death penalty. Authorities prosecute foreigners more severely than Indonesians. In short, if you can’t go for a month without a joint, then you should not be going to Indonesia. Also note, historically the one exception to this policy was a couple of ‘magic mushroom’ soup boutiques in Bali. These were closed a few years ago. If someone says ‘wants some magic mushrooms, it’s legal in Bali’ say no it’s not any more and run away. It’s probably a cop.

Porn. Absolutely illegal, including that naked selfie on your phone. WWW sites are blocked by a crude government run filter which makes doing legitimate research on breast cancer or bikini fashions difficult. Download 1 – 2 VPNs (virtual private networks) from the app store and turn them on to get around government censorship.

Guns, mace – absolutely prohibited.

Prostitution / sex workers. In that this topic is of interest to educators working to support female empowerment and childhood safety, here are some helpful facts. You will also see news stories on TV related to these issues. Additionally male solo travelers can expect to be approached in some street areas and bars. On some Bali streets, workers can be aggressive and may grab you by the arm. Keep it light, smile and laugh, make a ‘windmill’ motion with your arm swinging it up and around and the worker will not be able to maintain her grasp on you.

Prostitution is illegal but widely practiced and comes in many forms. Gay prostitutes are mainly online but may also be in Jakarta and Bali gay bars. Male prostitutes for female customers are common in Bali in beach areas. You may also see them at clubs in other cities. Look for 1 – 2 younger guys with a somewhat older woman, usually Indonesian.

Female sex workers work online, in Jakarta brothels, in bars, and in local areas known as ‘lokalisasi’ where law enforcement is intentionally relaxed. Even the smallest town will have a lokalisasi area although the national government has a plan to close all of them by 2019.

It’s estimated 20% of workers are trafficked. In Bali, the WHO reports 50% of workers are HIV+. On the other hand, families especially from rural low income and at-risk communities see their daughters working in the sex industry as a viable alternative to crushing poverty and use income to educate their children and build more permanent structures to replace housing that may be structurally unsafe. The lokalisasi policy is contested in that critics say the policy is not concurrent with a Muslim country, while proponents say anti-trafficking initiatives, NGOs and health educators can more easily be successful operating within a lokalisasi. Google ‘International Labor Organization Prostitution Semarang Yogyakarta’ and ‘Prostitution Indramayu’ to learn more.


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