Jakarta business internship a 'major learning curve'

Parneet Kohli reflects on his two-month summer internship in Indonesia working at international engineering and consultancy firm Beca. He says learning the Bahasa language and getting to know the culture and people of Indonesia made the experience so much more than he expected.
Parneet with a backpack on in the bush

Parneet: "Working in the Industrial team on a multimillion-dollar pyrometallurgical furnace project for an international client opened my eyes to the possibilities in Asia."

I caught the travel bug during my first solo trip to visit my brother in London, so I jumped at the opportunity to intern in a different country; to do this with Beca, one of New Zealand’s largest engineering and professional services firms, made it an unforgettable experience.

Before I left, I was warned about culture shock and that my senses would be tested - and they were! However, being from India and having spent two weeks in Vietnam prior to heading to Indonesia, I found it easy to adjust to the seemingly chaotic city. With a population of over 10 million, there’s bound to be some traffic, and while chaotic on the surface, there is harmony and rhythm to everything.

I really enjoyed learning the language, getting far too excited when I bought food or directed the taxi driver using only my basic Bahasa Indonesia. The first time I really felt like a local was when I was on the back of a Gojek scooter. As an observer this seems scary, but once you’re on and you trust the experienced drivers, it can feel like the flow of a school of fish.

Despite the lack of footpaths, me and a group of colleagues would often make the 30-minute walk home from work, which surprised many locals. During the walk, we passed through a residential area with kids playing in the street, men playing chess, and everyone greeting and smiling at us.

We would also pass by many food stalls selling local cuisine. Jakarta disrupted my diet with so much cheap and delicious food so readily accessible. Living next to one of the countless malls didn't help either! My favourite local dishes were tahu telur, gado-gado and combro.

Parneet standing in front of a lush green hillside

Despite not getting to see as much of Indonesia as he would have liked, Parneet did get to explore the countryside around Jakarta

I was nervous about joining a big international consultancy like Beca, but from my first day, the entire team made me feel comfortable, and I even got a birthday cake on day two.

Working in the industrial team on a multimillion-dollar pyrometallurgical furnace project for an international client opened my eyes to the possibilities in Asia. It was a major learning curve and I took every opportunity I could to absorb information.

I was able to make numerous connections, with one of my mentors being a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network. It was a pleasure being part of the Beca’s 100-year anniversary celebrations as well. This experience has been a vital steppingstone in my professional career.

Parneet sitting in a cafe with four friends

Parneet says that more than anything it was the people he met in Indonesia that made his time in the country special.

Before reaching Jakarta, I had intended to travel around Indonesia a lot. Although this was not the case, I have no regrets. Spending most weekends in Jakarta, I was able to join a hockey team made up of a mix of expats and locals who I now share some of my best memories with. I’ve been able to make so many deeper connections that would not have been possible if I had left Jakarta every weekend.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to 24 countries in my short 22 years of life. From Sweden to Jamaica, New York to Jakarta, one thing is consistent, no matter where I go: it is the people that make the place. As the Maori proverb goes, “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata”; “What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people". It is because of the people that I love to travel.