By Pamela Chan
Where Ralph Swie Tjhiang Go grew up, people seldom left. With an Indonesian father and a Dutch mother, Ralph and his two siblings were born and raised in Emmeloord — a tiny, desolate farming town in the north of Holland. Some of their chores included tending to the land, cutting roses, and milking cows. It was the kind of place where the nearest train station was an hour away, where everyone knew each other’s names, and where its inhabitants lived for the entirety of their lives.
Ralph decided to take a different route. Fascinated with the big city of Rotterdam and its local football club Feyenoord since he was little, he decided to enroll at Hogeschool Inholland Rotterdam where he studied International Business & Languages. In his third year in Rotterdam, he met his now-wife who had moved there from Indonesia for her studies.
After graduation, Ralph landed a job at Allianz, a German insurance company. Two years later, he realized two things: 1) Corporate life wasn’t for him, and 2) After hitting a wall, it was time for a big change. He explains, “I came from a small town, moved to a big city, and was wondering what was next for me.” Turns out, packing up their lives and moving abroad was exactly the reset he and his wife needed. Within two months of the decision, they returned to their roots by landing in Indonesia — home sweet home for his wife, and a homeland to be acquainted with for Ralph.
However, the move wasn’t all smooth sailing initially. He recalls, “My Indonesian grandmother and aunt lived with us in Holland, and I grew up eating Indonesian food. I had the idea that I’d adjust to Indonesia really quickly, but this wasn’t the case.” Not knowing how to speak Bahasa Indonesia was just one obstacle Ralph had to contend with; understanding the Indonesian culture was another ball game. He describes Dutch and Indonesians as being on ‘opposite ends of the spectrum,’ with the former having a more individualistic mentality and the latter a more collectivist one. The mannerisms in which interpersonal issues were resolved, for instance, were predominantly governed by this cultural outlook.
Nevertheless, Ralph was adamant about boosting his cultural competence. Living in a kos kosan (a rented room in a local neighborhood), making friends with locals, eating the local cuisine, taking public transport (prior to Gojek, of course), and saying yes to any and all social invitations were just some of the ways he assimilated into the Indonesian way of life.
Ralph has worked in recruitment for the nearly fourteen years since his move to Indonesia: 3.5 years as a headhunter consultant and 10 years as an in-house recruiter for Sinarmas, Traveloka, aCommerce and Tiin Tiin. He admits, “Now, I don’t feel homesick for Holland whatsoever. Indonesian people are some of the nicest in the world, and I feel right at home. I’m grateful to have connected deeply with my Indonesian roots.”
After his most recent workplace folded in 2020, Ralph was searching for an opening at a local start-up, preferably in its infancy stage, as his next venture. However, when a Gojek recruiter reached out to him, he revealed that he was swayed by the GoTroops he interacted with. “Every time I met somebody on the team, I thought ‘That’s someone I see myself working with,’” he says.
As our Corporate Recruitment Lead today, Ralph oversees the hiring of all non-tech-based roles for Gojek. To him, Gojek is a company of great opportunity and impact. He posits, “It’s the one company that I believe has really changed the way of life for so many people on a daily basis.” As someone who has always prioritized volunteer work even back in Holland, Ralph believes working at Gojek is “one and one is two”: instead of taking time to volunteer outside of work, what he does at Gojek automatically benefits his community. In other words, social impact underpins his every effort at Gojek. A food merchant in north Jakarta can now sell their goods in the south. People can get from one place to another safely and at a fixed price. Through technology, people’s daily routines have been drastically enhanced.
“There are not many places in the world where you can have a direct influence on how society does things, especially not in the west since there’s already a structured framework,” Ralph asserts. Being closer to the gravity of issues such as social inequality, Ralph believes Indonesia is the optimal environment for significant progress to be made through technology: “I joined Gojek because we are leading this change in the region, and there’s still so much to be done.”
To anyone — locals and foreigners alike — thinking of moving to Southeast Asia or Indonesia in particular, Ralph says, “If you want to grow to your fullest potential, you need to leave your comfort zone. You can only be fully ‘tested’ if you can take what you’ve learned on one side of the world and apply it to an opposite culture. This poses challenges that really push your abilities, making you a better professional and master of your craft.” In fact, his friends in Holland would tell him that his growth was striking every time they reunited.
And while moving (back) to Indonesia may present a (reverse) culture shock, Ralph believes it’s a unique opportunity to better yourself and your community simultaneously. “It’ll accelerate your self-awareness and help you reevaluate and improve how you do certain things that’ll ultimately progress society.” He admits that moving abroad is a challenge in and of itself, but utilizing what you’ve learned to progress society is taking that challenge to the next level. “Especially if you are Indonesian, how much more amazing is it to know that you can still influence generations to come with the work you do? You can only do this by coming to Indonesia,” he highlights.
Ralph’s story is one that has been propelled by the desire to grow, explore, and do good. Above all, it demonstrates that going back to your roots isn’t merely an act of self-discovery that staying in your comfort zone would inhibit, but one that also cultivates the soil from which one stems. Little did young Ralph tending to his farm town in Holland know that he would eventually do the same all the way in Indonesia.
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