Made up of 17,508 islands, Indonesia is the both the world’s largest archipelagic state and largest predominantly Muslim state. With over 300 distinct ethnic groups and 742 languages, it is little wonder that this country’s motto is “Unity in Diversity”.
Prior to European colonization, the area comprising modern Indonesia was ruled by several independent kingdoms and autonomous tribal governments. The Netherlands, seeking to monopolize the lucrative trade on the islands’ many exotic spices, first began to colonize them in the 17th century, and had conquered all of Indonesia’s current territory by the early 1900s. Japan’s occupation of the country led to an unexpected resurgence of its pro-independence movement, and led by General Sukarno, Indonesia proclaimed its sovereignty in 1945; however, the fledgling nation still faced many hurdles. International recognition wasn’t granted until 1949, and Sukarno’s authoritarian regime suffered from political intrigue and popular opposition. His successor, Suharto, managed to bolster the economy by encouraging foreign direct investment, but his government still drew accusations of corruption and political oppression.
Since Suharto’s resignation in 1998, Indonesia has seen considerable progress, including the first direct presidential election in 2004. More transparent government and laws granting autonomy to certain regions have eased tensions among ethnic and religious groups, and a true national identity is emerging. Indonesia suffered worst of all countries hit by the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s; although poverty and unemployment remain high, the economy has slowly been recovering, with significant growth in recent years led by exports in manufactured and agricultural goods.
As a growing number of multinational corporations are setting up operations in Indonesia, many foreigners move there for work; however, it is very difficult for foreigners to secure employment, especially those who don’t already reside there. If you can’t obtain a post in Indonesia through your company, there are many opportunities for volunteer work. English teachers are in high demand as well, but credentials and certification are required to land a good (legal!) job in this field. Most expatriates live in the capital, Jakarta, but to get the most out of your stay you’ll need to venture outside the city, and likely beyond the island of Java. The nation has the second highest level of biodiversity among the world’s countries, and the second largest number of endemic species. This, coupled with the country’s dramatic volcanic geological features, makes for a wide variety of beautiful natural scenery unique to each individual island. Most of the country’s hundreds of distinct cultures are found off the beaten path as well. This rich natural and human diversity are the real reason to visit Indonesia, and offer enough excitement for any stay, no matter how long.
Indonesian is the official language, used almost exclusively in government and media, and is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It is actually a dialect of the Malay language, and is mutually intelligible with the language spoken in Malaysia. Nearly 100% of the population speak Indonesian, albeit as a second language; the many local languages are used more frequently at home and within the immediate community. Of these, Javanese has the most speakers.