In Defense of Nationalism: Does Travel Disrupt Our Love Affair with Our Beloved Country?

Let me clarify to begin with. I am not a globetrotter yet, neither a long term traveler. I’ve only been to less than 10 countries, and I never traveled long term for say, a year. Thus, the view expressed in this writing is totally subjective, based on what I feel, what I’ve done, and my first hand observation.  And yes, I’m always open to any discussion J

I believe most of us have faced a situation when people ask about our nationality, or in more general form, where we are from. This is not uncommon question that most travelers ever be asked at least once. But I believe more than once in every place we visit. Haha

I am not really sure why our nationality or our home country is among the first questions local people ask to travelers. Maybe because we are physically different so they are curious about the origin of these ‘different’ creatures. Maybe because they can associate us with certain ‘stereotype’ or ‘identification’ that may belong to our ‘group’, so they can know how to behave with us. Or maybe because it’s just the easiest ice breaker question, instead of asking the annoying ‘are you single?’ thing. Haha..

Indonesia does exist

But things never ended up there. People often asked where I am from, but turned out they didn’t even know where in the world Indonesia is located. Oh wait, some of them didn’t even know that there is a country called Indonesia. So one day I was in Grand Bazaar, looking for some silk scarf for my mom. A merchant asked me “where are you from?”. I replied “Ben Endonezya’lıyım (I am Indonesian)”. “Oh, Malezya!”, he shouted. “Hayır, abi! Endonezya! Evet, Malezya’dan Endonezya uzak değil! (No, brother! Indonesia! Yes, Indonesia is not far from Malaysia!)”. When I was in Ürgüp, I looked for a pharmacy to find aspirin for a friend of mine. The exactly same thing happened. “Gunaydın, burada aspirin var mı? (Good morning, is there any aspirin here?)”, I asked. “Evet, aspirinim var. Nerelisiniz? (Yes, I have aspirin. Where are you from?)”, he asked me back. “Ben Endonezya’lıyım, ama İstanbul’da yaşıyorum (Iam Indonesian but I live in Istanbul)”, I replied. “Endonezya nerede (where is Indonesia?)”, he asked me again and made me draw a map of Asia to help him figure out where Indonesia is.

This really made me sad. Not many people knew about Indonesia. Or, if they knew about Indonesia, they mostly never thought that I was Indonesian. When I was in Thailand, people thought I was a Thai. When I was in Cambodia, local people thought I was a Cambodian, that the waiter in restaurant tried to talk with me in Khmer language. Most people I met on the road guessed that I was a Philipino. The most annoying part was when I saw a guy on a bus from border to Siem Reap, Cambodia. He was looking for a seat on that bus, and the seat beside me was empty. In order not to be mean, I offered him the seat beside mine. “Are you looking for a seat? You can take this space if you want”, I told him. Can you guess what he told me back? No, he didn’t say thank you, instead he said “Oh, you speak English!”. I was like, okay, I speak human language, if that’s what you mean! Later on he wondered why Indonesian does speak English. Duh! There was even the worse guess when a French girl and a Swiss guy I met in Ho Chi Minh City  thought that I was an Asian-French (Vietnamese-French) because I talked to them in French. I told them that I was an Indonesian who happened to speak French. Only a Dutch girl guessed it right that I was Indonesian. Oh, did I mention that it was because she was half-Indonesian? Haha

The fact that people don’t know about Indonesia really bothers me. I felt so angry that how came people didn’t know about Indonesia? It is the largest archipelago on earth, fifth most populous countries, and among the most economically growing countries. They literally should read more! Well, I have to say that I was in this anger stage, until I realize that I didn’t know all of the countries on earth as well. I knew that a country named Burkina Faso did exist when I was in a short diplomatic course, and we were simulating the UN security council meeting. Burkina Faso was one of the members of UN temporary security council back then. Like, I am now in more relax state when people don’t know about my country, because I myself also don’t know about all of the countries on earth.

However, the fact that not many people know about Indonesia awakens the sense of nationalism inside me. The term nationalism itself is varied among the scholars, based on the angle they take. Max Weber argued that nationalism can be formed by ‘togetherness’. In short, he argued that common ancestry is a consequence of collective political action. People see that they belong to each other as a consequence of acting together[1]. In addition, according to Benedict Anderson[2], nation is an imagined community, in which the members might never meet each other, but they have a common identity. Anderson within his book was trying to explain that the most important one is the imagined identity the members believe they share together. In sum, nationalism is a sense of belonging to the nation. Thus, within this writing, nationalism is defined as feeling of loving the nation or identity that people bond themselves in.  Nationalism within this paper is more associated with patriotism, an awaerness of moral duty to the nation or community we belong to[3]. I would sum up that nationalism is the feeling of patriotism towards my beloved nation; Indonesia.

Citizen of the World vs Patriotism

Well, sometimes I adore the more comfortable life in some other countries I’ve visited. I envy how their transportation system is way better than the one in my country. I envy how their education system is really good. However, I also found that my country is better in some other aspects. Like, the people are really welcoming, helpful, and honest. By traveling, we know that yes, our country is sometimes left behind, but still there are lots of things to love. Comparing and contrasting the countries is not a bad thing, to see that there’s still many things to be proud of our home country, and yes to make betterment out of it.

Well, in another point of view, some people assume that we should leave our national pride behind when we travel. When we travel, people say that we should become the citizen of the world. But hey, I personally think that where I am from makes who I am today. The nationally inherited values I hold shape how I am today. I am proud to be an Indonesian, and I will always show that wherever I go. I won’t give up my identity only to mingle with people and be ‘the citizen of the world’. I do agree that we all are equal and should respect each other, but it doesn’t have to make us uniformed. The uniqueness of our identity is what makes traveling an exotic thing to do ; to meet different people from different part of the world. And yes, to respect the uniqueness itself.

Other than that, traveling is the right way to promote my own country to people who don’t know yet about it. Traveling awakens my sense of nationalism in term of “proving” that my country does exist. I was so proud to present about Indonesia in my roommate’s cultural class back when I was in Istanbul. I was so happy that finally they knew about Indonesia. When I travel, I usually suggest fellow travelers to visit Indonesia. I also mostly happy to clarify the news they heard about my country. Like a fellow traveler still thought that cannibal people still exist in Papua. Oh my. It was like hundreds of years ago! Haha.. Thus, I’d like to say that traveling revives the sense of belonging of my nation. Like, I tend to show how my country is like, how the people are like, and how we can stand up in the crowds. I love Indonesia! 🙂

[1]    Philip Spencer & Howard Wollman, Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, (London: Sage, 2002)

[2]    Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991) p.6-7

[3]    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (June 2009)

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