Why living abroad can be much cheaper than you think

My friend told me I had a twisted life — he went to Princeton and studied hard so that he could have a good career in Indonesia. I was willing to give up my comfortable life and promising career in Indonesia just for the sake of fulfilling my dream to live abroad. As everyone told me that living cost in Europe was expensive, I was ready to live humbly, eat meat only twice a month, and deny myself the pleasure of life.

I turned out to be wrong. Surprisingly, living in London/Dublin is even cheaper than in Jakarta, especially when you consider the quality of life. I compared my salary/expense as a manager in Jakarta with 20 million IDR income versus as a middle staff in Dublin with 2,400 EUR income (both are monthly, after-tax income):

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Disclaimer: This list was based on my personal experience. Yours might vary.

As implied from the table above, rent and dining out is more expensive in Dublin (and even more in London) than in Jakarta. However, a healthy lifestyle is much more affordable in Dublin/London! I remember putting olive oil and muesli in my basket at Food Hall Jakarta with tears (“sakitnya tuh di sini“) — and gym/Pilates weren’t even an option as they are ridiculously expensive. The best thing is, you can easily jog around Dublin/London stunning parks if you want to avoid gyms, while jogging in Jakarta will probably bring you either lung cancer or traffic accident.

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Merrion Park, 5 minutes walk from my apartment. Bonus: a handsome European boyfriend.

Traveling is much cheaper too. I put Paris and Bali to the list, as they are both 1.5 hours away from Dublin and Jakarta respectively. A short weekend getaway is cheaper from Dublin (and even cheaper from London, with more budget flights flying from London airports!) — and the destinations are endless: Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Milan… We better make the most of 24 days annual paid time off, don’t we?

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My proudest achievement so far. PS: Bus to the airport was more expensive than the flight.

What about long holiday? Bali is a dream destination for a lot of Europeans as Paris is a dream destination for a lot of Indonesians. Well, reflecting back at the table above, someone from Europe can easily afford a flight to Bali without saving for months, while it’s not the case for someone from Indonesia to Paris. Not only the actual price is cheaper (€600 for return flight from London vs €1,000 for return flight from Jakarta), but also the relative cost (compared to income level and other expense). Unfair, I know.

And musicals and concerts! Where do I even begin the list? Les Miserables, The Phantom of The Operas, London Philharmonic, St Petersburg Ballet, Mamma Mia, The Book of Mormon, Coldplay, Adele, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, you name it! While seeing a musical/concert is considered a luxury in Jakarta, it’s not that big of a deal here. Even as a student, I could afford seeing musicals once a month.

To conclude my rambles:

You can afford the same quality of life (or even higher) in Dublin/London as in Jakarta, given that you work as a white-collar employee in both places. Taking the leap (with a calculated risk) will pay off. Don’t listen to those words discouraging you.

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Dreamus realitus!

 

Learn from Facebook: How to create irresistible candidate experiences

 

As arrogant as it might sound – I had never been in a job-hunting position in Indonesia. I interviewed people, I made the hiring decisions, I was almost never on the other side. Then I left everything and moved to the UK to pursue my master’s degree. When I was about to graduate, I had to compete with thousands of brilliant people, most of them had better English and, more importantly, working permit. My struggle began.

I applied to more than 100 companies and I experienced what I had never experience before: rejection, frustration, and defeat. I learned tremendously during my job-hunting journey about how to treat candidates decently — sometimes I learned from what the company did, but sometimes I also learned from what the company didn’t do. The best experience I had was with Facebook, and that’s where I ended up at the moment.

Indonesian startups can learn a thing or two from Facebook on creating an irresistible candidate experience:

Spot-on interviews

In Indonesia, it’s common to make candidates wait for the interviewer. Fifteen minutes late is fairly expected. We tend to think that we are the important one, and the candidates must have less important things to do.

One of my many interviewers at Facebook was two minutes late, and he apologized profusely.

Moreover, all of the interviewers have clearly perused my CV before the interview. No one asked me the question of “tell me about yourself” anymore. And, of course, no one asked me if I was married and how many children I had, since it’s illegal here to ask those kind of questions. The interviewers probed on what really mattered: my competence. The questions were tailored towards the position I was applying to, such as, “If you have to create an automation to do xxxxx, what criteria will you use?”

Clear, guided steps

I used to neglect my candidates. A month could easily go by without any update from me. I didn’t realize that they were waiting anxiously on the other side, as some part of their lives were depending on my call.

At Facebook, I went through 1 test + 5 interviews. After my first interview with the recruiter, she explained to me what the next steps were and what to expect in each step. She emailed me materials to help me prepare for the interviews. The result of each stage was informed to me in 2-3 days. It felt like upgrading from dating a wishy-washy boy to dating a reliable man: no more sleepless night looking at my ringless phone!

A warm welcome

Two days after I signed my offer letter, I got a Facebook t-shirt and a handwritten card sent to my door: “Welcome to the family!” My manager added me on Facebook (obviously) and he wrote about how he couldn’t wait to have me in his team. He introduced me to a guy who would be my buddy and encouraged me to have a coffee with him before my first day. The whole team greeted me on the entrance door when I came to the office. Seriously — I couldn’t ask for a warmer welcome.

Why creating irresistible candidate experiences is important?

Because when a company put a lot of thought and effort to create an awesome candidate experience, you can know for sure that they already have awesome customer and employee experience. Customers and employees are clearly more essential to a company than mere candidates.

Thoughtfully improving your company’s candidate experience will send this message loud and clear to the best talents out there: “We take care of our customers and our employees — and we will take care of you, too.”

 

Three less known tips on adapting in the UK

Prepare your vocabulary of positive adjectives

I found it surprising to hear how positive European people are about everything (although later I doubted their sincerity). After attending a workshop, for example, my response was only, “Meh. It was okay.”, while theirs would be, “It was amazing. The speakers are all fantastic.” You will find yourself talking with people you are not too close with, and that’s when you need those positive adjectives. And you will look stupid if you only repeat awesome, great, and nice all the time. Ah, and lovely particularly works well with grandmas and grandpas.

 

Say ‘please’ when asking or ordering something

It might sounds obvious but it took a while to get used to it. In Indonesia, you don’t say please that often. Say, in an airplane, and the flight attendant asked you, “Mau kopi atau teh, Mbak?” (Do you want coffee or tea, Miss?) – You will answer, “Teh aja, Mbak.” (Just tea, Miss.) while smiling politely. Your tone and smile are already counted as ‘please’ in Indonesian.

While here, you have to end every sentence with ‘please’ when you are asking something.

Example:

You: “Can I have one chicken, please?”

Him: “Dine in or take away?”

You: “Take away, please.”

Him: “With sauce?”

You: “Yes, please.”

 

Few months ago, there was a bomb threat in Baker Street, and the traffic was held. Everyone was panicking. My friend’s bus was stopped, and she wanted to get off the bus instead of waiting for uncertain hours. She said to the driver, “Can you open the door?” – and the driver replied, “Can you say ‘please’?” Yes, even in the time of crisis, you can’t never be too polite. Can I hit you on the face, please?

 

‘Sorry’ is the magic word

Use it all the time. And I really mean all the time. When you bumped into people on the street, no matter whose fault it is, just say sorry. I once watched The Book of Mormon Broadway, and during those two hours show, I exchanged ‘sorry’ five times with the lady who sat next to me. First when I arrived to my seat. She had to move her leg a bit to give me room, and we both said sorry to each other while smiling friendlily. Then in the middle of the show, my huge backpack touched her feet, and we both said sorry. Then during the break, she needed to pass to go to the loo or something, and we both said sorry again. Et cetera, et cetera. Saying sorry doesn’t mean you are really sorry. It can be a magical and practical replacement of ‘excuse me’ or ‘thank you’ in some situation.

Three most underrated cities in Europe

(The weather is becoming too hot to do anything that requires brain right now, so I decide to put aside my dissertation and write this instead.)

Paris. Rome. London. They are all in every Asian’s travelling wish list. And going to the most touristic cities means that you can’t even take a proper picture of that famous landmark because tourists are swarming over it with their pink jackets, selfie sticks, and ugly hats. Ugh.

Although visiting those cities is also a must, I found myself happiest when I’m in these three cities. So without further ado, here they are, in no particular order:

1. Stockholm

I have to admit that I’m not being objective here – one of my two favourite children books writers is Astrid Lindgren, and she’s from Sweden. I grew up with kids from Bullerbyn, Madicken, Lisabet, Ronya, and Lotta. So the first thing I did when I arrived in Stockholm is visiting Junibacken, where her masterpieces are immortalised. I simply love that place.

Putting Junibacken aside – Stockholm is fantastic! It consists of little islands, connected by bridges as you can see in this map.

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(This is a screenshot of my own Google maps, with places I favourited.)

Each islands has its own places of interest. Go explore those tiny roads in the old town Gamla Stan, or cross further to Sofo to try the famous Meatball For The People (which in my opinion is overrated). Grab a kardamombulle in Urban Deli Nytorget (thank me later). Visit ABBA Museum but don’t bother to enter – just sit outside, enjoy the songs and free wifi. Try the princess cake (prinsesstårta) at Vete-Katten where you can also enjoy free coffee.

I went there in the summer and I spent hours just sitting in a dock, eating ice cream, looking at sea, ships and seagulls.

2. Liverpool

After visiting more than 10 cities/towns in England, I found that all of them look very similar: Old buildings, old church, big clock, Marks & Spencer, Boots, and The Body Shop. If you closed my eyes and teletransported me somehow to the middle of one of the cities, I wouldn’t be able to guess where I am.

But Liverpool is different. First, it has docks and sea, which brings a nice addition to the regular English cities. And it has The Beatles. I will repeat it again: it has The Beatles.

To be fair, I wasn’t a huge The Beatles fan. I only knew Hey Jude and Yesterday. But then I went to The Cavern and fell in love.

The Cavern is an underground pub that serves live music almost all day long (from 12 noon to 2 midnight). It is famous because The Beatles has performed there for more than 200 times. And because it is underground, you can go there in the afternoon and feel like it’s midnight already. The live music is awesome. Solo or band, young or old, they are all amazing. And yes, you will hear Hey Jude over and over again.

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I never like clubs/pubs with loud, crappy music that you can’t hear yourself talking. But in The Cavern, you are not supposed to talk. Leave your seat, stand in front of the stage, and feel yourself being carried away by the music.

3. Budapest

I almost cancelled my trip to Budapest, because I was in Prague and there was nothing much. I thought Budapest would be similar, or even worse. I’m really, really glad I didn’t!

Budapest consists of two areas: Buda and Pest, and they are divided by Danube river. Buda is hilly and residential while Pest is flat and centre of government & commerce. It means that you have fantastic views from both sides: you can sit on the river bank in Pest and look at beautiful hill with old buildings in Buda. Or you can climb Buda and see Pest from the top.

Budapest history is also interesting. Being occupied by many empires give this city rich background and diverse architecture. You can see a pretty building from Hofburg era side by side with a dull one from communist time. And the thing I love the most is, there are hidden histories lie behind what look like ordinary statues! I strongly recommend you to join the free walking tour (especially the communism one) to discover the untold stories. (Confession: the tour was great and I didn’t have money to tip them properly – so I promised myself that I would promote them as my gratitude.)

IMG_20160707_165337.jpgBonus point from Budapest: they have the most amazing ice cream ever. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been obsessed to find best ice creams in Europe, and I think Levendula wins so far! Try their chocolate lavender and mint raspberry – heaven.


DISCLAIMER

First of all: your impression of a city or a new place will much depend on your experience. If it rains a lot when you are there, or your wallet is stolen, of course it will ruin your mood. I might be just lucky that my experience in these three cities are perfect. It doesn’t mean yours will!

Secondly: I didn’t expect anything when I came to these cities. I didn’t read much about them, I didn’t have places to visit listed. I found most of the places I mentioned above by accident – and that way, I got delightful surprises when they were that good. I’m not sure you will have the same wonderful experiences if you already have certain sets of expectation on them.

 

 

Three things I learn from solo travelling

I started solo travelling when I broke up with my boyfriend, back in 2013. Around the same time, I decided to quit my job at the ‘Most Admirable Company in Indonesia’ – and I bought a one-way ticket to Bali. Since then, I solo travel almost all the time. And I learn…

1. How to take care of myself

Sometimes I get sick while travelling. I can’t even get up to buy medicines or food. But I have no options than lie in bed in fetal position until I get a bit better… then I crawl to grab myself some food or medicine.

Things happen and you can’t depend on anyone else.

2. That I make friends – and I lose them

Staying in hostels enable you to make friends quite easily. You chat in common areas such as living or dining room, and if you find many things in common, you can travel with him/her the next day(s). You talk whole day with them – sometimes you even share things you never tell anyone.

But then they leave. Or you leave first. You exchange contacts, but it’s least likely that you will keep in touch. After the first text (“Hey, I arrived in London already. Enjoy the rest of your trip!”), you just stop being in touch. Life simply gets in the way.

3. How liberating it is to be yourself

The sense of anonymity is liberating. You can wear anything you like without being self-conscious. You can stroll aimlessly, take unexpected turns, explore that tiny road, eat when you feel like it, go inside those cute shops, lie down on the grass watching squirrel and pigeons, buy that third cone of ice cream… The list is endless, when you stop trying to please other people.

Wait, am I writing about solo travelling or about… living your life?

 

Macabre metrics: Quarrels between departments

It was a one ordinary day at my startup. Around 10 am, my sales team would come to me to complain: “The operations dept is so annoying! This client – whom we have chased for months – wants us to deliver on Thursday. But the operations dept insisted they would deliver according to SLA, which was Friday.”

At 10.15 am, the Head of Operations would come to me and complained: “Your sales team thinks the whole company revolved around them! I have set rules and SLA to make the operations process regulated. Why can’t they follow the schedule?”

That kind of quarrel happens almost every week, with little improvement after each case. Now that I’m observing from outside the company, I can see more clearly what’s going on. I think the main problem lies in the KPI/metrics.

What gets measured gets managed. And the more frequently you got feedback about something, the more likely you are going to work on it. 

Now, if the target for sales dept was the $$$ value of sales, they would do whatever it takes to sell, including offering ridiculous discount or giving empty promises to the clients. And if the target for operations dept was merely cost efficiency, they would not care if the clients’ hairs turned grey waiting for the delivery.

In the ideal world, of course, the metrics should ensure sustainable growth and long-term value creation as opposed to short-term wins. There are two widely-used sets of metrics: HEART & Pirate metrics.

HEART is the acronym of Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention, and Task Success. While Pirate, well, what sound does a pirate make? “AARRR!” and it stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue.

If, for example, customer happiness was the KPI for all departments, everyone would thrive to deliver the most delightful customer experience. The quarrel between departments were minimised because they were all fighting for the same target. And as we’ve agreed that there’s no such thing as multitasking, focusing on one KPI in one period of time is the wiser choice, rather than try to accomplish everything and achieve nothing. That one single KPI has to be emphasised again and again to the whole team, and also has to be tied with reward and recognition.

However, obviously, don’t take this advice to the extreme side and spend the last millions of dollars in your bank account to make your customers happy – and then die tomorrow.

 


(Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to be the expert here. This is just my reflection. Any thoughts are welcome!)

Be comfortable in the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’

How many hours do you spend in internal meetings every week? How many times do you leave the room without achieving anything productive?

In my startup, I used to spend lots of times discussing problems. Usually the trigger was a complaint from clients, caused by some errors by IT or operations team, and those errors were caused by unclear instructions from sales or product team, so on and so forth.

Usually some certain people would start to be defensive, and others would try to mediate and make jokes to lighten the situation. In the end, people left the meeting room feeling better about themselves (“Yay, so the complaint was not entirely my fault!”), until a similar error happened again.

From my favourite professor, Prof. Cliff Bowman, I learned something new: “Team” is not good in senior level. Fear of hurting team harmony is not something a manager should have.
In every meeting, usually there are two zones: zone of comfortable debate and zone of uncomfortable debate.

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In the first zone, we are discussing light topics and fun options. “We know we are not gonna do this, but it’s fun to talk about.” It’s dangerous if your meeting is still in that zone. 
Instead, we have to learn to discuss in the zone of uncomfortable debate (ZOUD). How?
  • Dig the root cause of the problem (ask 7 why’s if necessary), then move on to solutions. Stop dangling on whose fault it was.
  • Stop being personal – this is not about you. We are all here because we care about the same company, and we share the same vision.
  • Critique the works or the actions, not the people.
And more importantly, leave the ZOUD before leaving the room. If you are not mature enough to do it, then maybe you are not supposed to be in that room in the first place.