Working hard… or hardly working…

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of my pet peeves here is when people find out that I’m not scheduled to teach a certain day and say “Wah! Libur!” (Wow! You have the day off!) This probably relates to my own overachiever’s guilt, since I’m only actually scheduled 2.5 days a week. In practice, I do a little work almost every day, and most week days I am, indeed, working at home or at a coffee shop: planning lessons, grading papers, setting up or preparing presentations, working on my research project, studying Indonesian, etc. So I don’t want people to think I’m just here at home picking my nose. But if I try to explain to people that I work at home, I get a blank stare. Indonesian people don’t work at home. Many don’t have the computers or resources to be able to work at home, and besides, they all have families they want to spend their time with. When they are home, they are off. The American concept of working at home just doesn’t translate.

Besides that, I think Indonesian people want to work at the office precisely because they don’t have to work at the office. A lot of what happens at “work” is chatting, gossiping, going for a cup of coffee or a smoke, praying, and other things that are decidedly not work. Or are they? I go to campus with my American to-do list and mostly sit in my office and get stuff done from behind my computer. But what exactly is the purpose of all that work I’m getting done? Yes, my classes are better planned, my students get their papers back sooner, my e-mail in-box is cleaned out. But I’m missing out on the work everyone else is doing – building relationships. Most offices and businesses are set up with this goal in mind. In most shops, you have to ask someone for what you want instead of picking it up off the shelf. At any given restaurant, there always seem to be 4 times as many waiters as necessary, I think so that most of them can stand around chatting. Pak Lutfi, our office manager, doesn’t seem to have many duties besides opening the office in the morning and locking up in the afternoon, but he is always there, hanging out, “at work.” And if most people on campus had to choose between who works harder, Pak Lutfi, or me, they’d probably pick Pak Lutfi, just because they see him there more often. And, in truth, he is spending more time doing the work that matters to Indonesian people. Relationships are key in this communal culture, and by working at home or hiding behind my computer on campus, I’m missing out on the best part of working here. I’m glad I have another year here since Im only figuring this out now. I’m going to try to throw out that to-do list and spend more time doing the work that really matters. Or maybe I’ll just keep the to-do list but add “sit on the office couch.” And “see what they’re up to in the office next door.” And “do less work.”

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2 Comments to “Working hard… or hardly working…”

  1. Nicely put. I have to remind myself of this plenty. You should share this with newcomers.

  2. Great post! This is so true! And after two years of “relationship building” in Indonesia, it’s quite an adjustment to come back to the US where people really do have to-do lists to follow.

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