After five interviews, ten months of waiting and a week of failed negotiations, I landed in Jakarta hoping for the opportunity of a lifetime in one of the largest and fastest growing e-commerce companies in South East Asia. Having worked in automotive through its thick and thin in India, I was familiar with the pace at which things moved in a mature business and so, inspired by my economics professor, I was curious to experience new age businesses in emerging countries at the cost of throwing off the opportunity for my family to gloat over my wealth from working in rich economies. I believed that I was making a trade off for a bird’s eye view of the e-commerce industry with a comfortable life, but I think I got much more than I asked for.
I could easily notice the difference in culture. While any new idea would always be challenged in the past, for the first time, I saw that people cheered for each other to bring forth new ideas. You are allowed to feel like you have the power to change the world and bask in it. It was refreshing at first, but I soon realised that this encouragement stems from aloofness. The attrition rate is so high that when someone comes to you with an idea, you say yes either because you know that at least one of you, if not both, is not going to be around long enough to see through the implementation of the idea or live through its risks. So, it is this shortsightedness that allows people to do their best and let others do the same as well. If this is a good thing or not, I am not sure but it is far from sustainable. I must confess that I am a bit old school in questioning the sustainability of such a culture since the lifecycle of businesses today is far shorter than that of businesses from yesteryears.
Jakarta is a massive and beautiful city with a lot of culture that can only be understood by spending time with the locals. I have bittersweet memories of this city in the last two months. In retrospect, it all seems nice and dandy because we humans selectively remember only the good times, which is why I want to pen down everything that has made me who I am in two months, which my mind will never explicitly remember. After three weeks of uncertainty of whether I will stay in Jakarta or live out of a suitcase for the next six weeks, I had checked out of my hotel without any cash to check into another because there are no processes to ensure payment to interns on time in growing companies. I had run out of all the Rupiah exchanged with my Euros at the Soekarna Hatta International Airport three weeks earlier. Then I remembered one of my professors saying during the MBA orientation that having classmates from 60 different countries meant that 60 couches to crash on across the world. I’ve been here for two months and I haven’t seen the face of my Indonesian classmates till date. But, inshallah, I survived.
The stay wasn’t luxurious but it was the closest I felt to home as I didn’t have to be on ulcer medicines anymore from eating Nasi/ Mie Goreng for breakfast every morning. The only downside was that I had to brave cold showers every morning but that just seems like a first world problem now, doesn’t it? On the other hand, at work, people were mostly friendly but there was an underlying feeling of hesitation to socialize with me since I was from the SEA Regional team and not one of them. Being unable to speak Indonesian Bahasa didn’t help matters much as this meant greater effort with no incentive on their part to make me feel comfortable. I spent several days not talking to anyone in office desperate to go back to the flat every evening to just hear my husband on skype (whenever the internet signal was gracious enough to me) since that was my only dose of human interaction for the day (not counting the millions of meaningless messages exchanged on whatsapp groups).
All was not hell since I was lucky enough to ride with a colleague to work in the first half of my internship even if it meant endlessly waiting for him to finish his work. In the second half, I spent six hours every single day organising for transport and actually commuting. Yes, six. I am not joking because working in operations does come with all these perks. Transportation is that crazy in Jakarta if you don’t have your own car or don’t mind riding pillion with a stranger on a bike on a highway full of trailers and a stretch known for rape and robbery. All my friends back home said I’d arrived at the perfect time in Jakarta to enjoy all the Ramadan delicacies. Except, I was working out of a warehouse on the outer edge of Jakarta where the only thing one could enjoy was fasting and five prayers a day. Several days of no lunch helped me crawl back to the bottom of Maslov’s pyramid as I could nonchalantly pick up dust from my lunch in the warehouse and eat it blindly in the days following the fast. I am not going to talk about the unhygienic bathrooms that I desperately avoided because half of you, non-menstruating souls, wouldn’t even understand.
I had been punishing myself further with the guilt of being so pessimistic until this week when several friends of mine shared a sigh of relief for being in their last week of internships. I started to feel a bit more comfortable with my own discomfort because deep down I knew that every single classmate of mine had been battling their own set of challenges but we MBAs are too pseud to ever admit it, right? We’d rather sprinkle our Facebook timelines with pictures of high flying meals, business travels (well, at least I could have a hot shower!), views from our stiffing offices, exotic weekend getaways, lonely selfies, etc to indulge in a social perceptions management battle we like to politely call “#mbalife”! Internships after several years of holding full-time managerial responsibilities are hard for anyone especially when people around you act like they are doing you a favor by showering you with little tasks that could easily be done by my 4 year old nephew who hasn’t spent a year at business school. Although, the one thing that really kept me going was my self initiated project at work.
I discovered my love for understanding user experience. I setup a process to continuously improve customer experience through improved fulfilment quality. I learnt that online businesses can record customer experience at negligible costs and that every customer has a part to play in improving the business. If I had the chance to work in an online business again, it would definitely be in the realm of customer experience because this is the only thing I have managed to heart-fully appreciate about my internship in the last two months and I am not sure I can explain how much this means in just a line on my resume!