Hello Yogyakarta! Lessons I’ve Learnt During My SMU-X Overseas Course to Indonesia

By Michelle Chrestella Lie, Undergraduate, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

It was a fine morning on the day that I received an email regarding the SMU-X Overseas course, OBHR233 Millennial Talent Management – Recruitment and Engagement. The course—taught concurrently by SMU and the academics from one of the most prestigious public universities in Indonesia, Universitas Gadja Mada (UGM)—offered the opportunity to collaborate with student participants from UGM, as well as to work on a real project faced by a client organisation in Indonesia. Looking at the email, I knew I couldn’t miss up on the chance to sign up for it.

Due to my personal career aspirations, I thought this course was highly relevant. Not only am I interested in learning about cultural principles and processes in a cross-border setting, but I also desire to obtain greater insights into human resources theories that are applicable to millennials—a generation with increasing relevance and importance in today’s workforce.

But as much as this course shouted “millennials” and “human resources”, the outcome of this SMU-X course experience was an unexpected lesson much greater than those two—I was taught the meaning of gratitude, appreciation and adventure.

As this is a SMU-X course, the experiential learning framework allowed us the opportunity to take on real-world challenges by collaborating on projects with a real-life industry organisation. The organisation that we worked with was PT Pagilaran, a subsidiary company under UGM that specialises in tea and cocoa exports. We were given a case study that focused on the human resource challenges that PT Pagilaran is currently facing.

On this trip, we interacted with the tea farmers and factory employees to obtain feedback directly at the ground level. After taking into account their feedback along with our observations on how they work and interact during work, we then identified some of the critical problems that they were facing and brainstormed ideas to tackle them while applying the relevant theories that were taught by the faculty from SMU and UGM throughout this whole programme.

Despite the differences in cultures and working styles between the SMU and UGM students, it was heart-warming to see how everyone came together to contribute towards achieving the same goal. The whole situation was a melting pot of differing thoughts and viewpoints voiced out by people from two distinct cultures. From here, I became more appreciative towards diversity and I could not agree more with the saying: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

We also had the opportunity to experience a homestay near the plantation—something that I wasn’t particularly excited about. If anything, sleeping among giant leeches and flying cockroaches, as well as the lack of electricity and portable clean water, really allows one to appreciate the luxury of basic necessities and creature comforts back home, which we often take for granted. Also, from the numerous unexpected experiences that happened during the course of the project, I also learnt that things will not always go as you plan. These experiences taught me to be more agile, resilient and adaptable.



Additionally, this trip has also taught me the meaning of being adventurous—from daringly tackling busy roads with no traffic rules, courageously trying different street foods, to fearlessly going on a tour to an active volcano, Mount Merapi, which was the highlight of this whole trip. The tour took approximately four hours, however, for safety reasons, we could only visit places outside the three-kilometre radius of the volcano as the government had issued a “high alert” warning during that time. Even so, we still managed to visit quite a few places around the area, which include Merapi Volcano Museum, the late Merapi guardian Mbah Maridjan’s house, a bunker, mass tomb, and several villages that were completely ruined by the volcano. We interacted with some of the locals and it was very touching to listen to their first-hand experiences and personal stories from the unfortunate 2010 Merapi eruption. Furthermore, as a result of the previous eruptions, the road there was extremely uneven, which made our ride particularly shaky and bumpy. Despite that, we completely enjoyed ourselves as it felt as though we were riding a rollercoaster!



Another memorable moment was trying my hand at bargaining with the street sellers at Malioboro, a popular shopping street in Yogyakarta. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I had many opportunities to observe my parents’ business skills—one of which was the art of negotiation (for example, not letting the other party sense your enthusiasm in making the purchase, and to be convincing in what you are counter-offering). Through this seemingly small and insignificant experience shopping with my friends at Malioboro, I actually found myself coming away with a new lesson—to pull off a successful negotiation, one must approach it with boldness and confidence, and of course, a little bit of luck.



Famed inventor and politician Benjamin Franklin once said this: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” I am so thankful for the opportunities that came from my involvement in this SMU-X Overseas course. From the memories and friendships forged, the valuable lessons taught by the faculty from both SMU and UGM, and meaningful life lessons gained during the trip, I am certain that these will be extremely helpful in guiding me not only in school, but also in my career and family life.