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Alumnus in Indonesia: Gietty Tambunan

Gietty Tambunan
Gietty Tambunan

Gietty Tambunan (38) remembers her arrival in Groningen in February 2008 as if it were yesterday. The night before, she had arrived from Indonesia into Schiphol, and it was early in the morning when she got to Groningen by train. The weather was icy cold, but she was welcomed warmly. ‘It sounds cheesy, but I enjoyed my time in Groningen tremendously. I only had to study and take care of myself. And it was wonderful to be able to travel around in Europe.’

In Groningen, she followed the Master’s degree programme in Literary and Cultural Studies at the Faculty of Arts and graduated in 2010, having written a cultural analysis of the film Slumdog Millionaire. ‘What interests me is how globalization leads to cultures having an impact on each other. This is evident from that film too: an American production about life in India. Usually, globalization is considered to be a Western phenomenon with the West having an impact on the East. But how does this work in the East? My PhD in Hong Kong was about the impact of TV dramas from Japan, Korea and Taiwan on an Indonesian audience. Although these dramas do not resemble daily life in Indonesia at all, they are very popular. Watching such a drama means that you feel, for a while, as if you are part of that culture. In fact, you sort of appropriate that culture. This is also true for Korean pop music, which is really rather American music performed by Korean-looking people. In my dissertation, I use the term betweeners: people who live in one culture but have the desire to belong to another culture.’

Currently, she is back at the University of Indonesia in Depok, where she works as lecturer, scientist and has recently become Vice Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. During her lectures, she is often reminded of her own days as a student in Groningen. ‘Dutch students are very outspoken and they are expected to contribute verbally in class. For me, this was hard, and I was often very quiet. Now, I try to get my own students to contribute during lectures but they find this as hard as I did. We are not raised that way. But I learnt to adapt and I try to get them to do the same.’

The contrast between her current life and the calmness of Groningen is huge. ‘I have so many responsibilities now, that there is hardly any time left for research. I still write articles. For instance, I have written about the influence of globalization on culinary practices. People like to think that their way of cooking is authentic and they relate this to their own, local identity. But in today’s world, nothing is really authentic anymore. That is no problem: your identity can evolve too. What is rather special right now is that COVID-19 is forcing us to think locally. People are growing their own food and buying from local markets. At the same time, I have noticed how easily we can meet online now. My students are able to access free online books and magazines that they normally cannot afford. So, I do hope that this pandemic also leads to better things as well.’

Text: Ellis Ellenbroek
Source: Broerstraat 5

Last modified:01 July 2020 10.04 a.m.
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