Being a chameleon in the world isn't easy, but it sure is magical. From running around in her grandparents' Batik factory to managing marketing pitches in downtown Toronto, Agita talks about her journey to the western world. If you ever thought of starting something of your own, then let Agita inspire you to do it sooner! Read her story below..
What was your life like growing up?
I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia my whole life until about 18 years old. My first house was a shop-house that fronted a bustling 6-lane road where I lived until I was about 5 years old. My parents owned a home hardware store on the ground floor and we lived on the second floor. On Saturdays, after my parents closed the store, we'd head to my grandparents place which was located in a more industrial part of Jakarta. They owned a Batik (traditional Indonesian-patterned cloth) clothing factory and so my weekends would be spent running around the factory with my cousins while my parents socialized with other family members. We'd be literally weaving in and out between the factory machines, throwing ourselves on piles of freshly-pressed batik clothes, and climbing the bamboo sticks where they hung the clothes to dry (health and safety measures were nonexistent!). Safe to say I had a happy childhood.
However, being of Chinese descent, we were considered a minority in Indonesia and there was a lot of propaganda back then which created hatred among civilians. My parents' store was burned down twice, including during the Jakarta Riot in 1998. Afterwards, my Dad dabbled in real estate and eventually, opened three automobile showrooms.
Being in a family of entrepreneurs also means that my success was measured not only in academic success, but also creativity, persistence, hard work, courage, and hunger to learn. My grandparents owned a clothing factory that they built from zero, my sister created her own personalized gifts business, my aunt created her own school lunch catering business, and my Dad dared to start over multiple times in his life and succeeded. It was a subliminal message passed on from one generation to another: "You can do anything you put your mind to."
Growing up this way pushed me, an Indonesian-born Chinese girl, to move halfway across the world to Canada for a better education, to work hard while attending school so that I finally had enough to take a summer abroad program in Italy, to travel to different places to broaden my mind, to make friends along the way, to land multiple jobs in different industries over the past years, and to keep learning and rewriting my story as I go.
"The true cultural exchange happens when locals open up to you, invite you to their routine, to their homes, to eat like them, speak like them, and live like them."
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working in a marketing agency in downtown Toronto as Sales Operations Manager while helping Sierra (founder of Travelistas United) with the operations of her Italian travel company, Creative Edge Travel. After reading Sierra's interview with Pink Pangea, I was reminded of why I love traveling and specifically how my time in Italy during a summer abroad program had left such an impact on me. I contacted Sierra and that's how we started working together!
Before my current role in the marketing agency and Creative Edge Travel, I was everything from a Student Activist, a Server, a Street Fundraiser, a Project Coordinator, a Non-Profit Education Researcher, a Co-founder of a Toronto Walking Tour, a Software Release Coordinator, and a Training and Support Manager.
What has been the biggest obstacle during your journey?
The biggest obstacle that I'm still trying to overcome is balancing the "western" and "eastern" values that I learned from the two places I've lived in. Growing up in Jakarta, I had been taught strong eastern values: never talk back to the elders, always serve others first, don't rock the boat, prioritize the community's goal instead of your own, blend in, make sure to keep a good family name, etc. Whereas living in Canada for the latter part of my life has taught me other things: speak up, demand what I deserve, never be silenced, treat myself from time to time, embrace my own uniqueness, etc. These two values clash every so often in my head and has become the source of my inability to react to a situation or to make a decision.
How would you like to impact the travel industry?
I'd like to promote travel to authentic, off-the-beaten-path places to find a more meaningful travel experience. From my time traveling and moving from one country to another, I realized the only way to really broaden one's mind is to be present and ready to receive new ways of living. The true cultural exchange happens when locals open up to you, invite you to their routine, to their homes, to eat like them, speak like them, and live like them.
"Being in a family of entrepreneurs also means that my success is measured not only in academic success, but also creativity, persistence, hard work, courage, and a hunger to learn.
Can you share your favorite undiscovered destination?
I love this town called Monopoli, in Puglia. After meeting Sierra there (in person for the first time), the town really grew on me. It's located by the sea with white-washed buildings, old churches, lively piazzas, and the strong pull of community. It was bustling at 10 PM on a weekday with locals drinking in enotecas and kids eating gelato in the main piazza. During the day, we went to the beach where kids played after school and we swam there for a couple of hours until the teenagers who cuddled with their loved ones were called by their mammas for dinner. We took a long walk back to the main square as the sun set and I could feel an ease to their cadence of life, they say "tutto a posto" which means everything is good and I think that was clearly reflected in their lifestyle. I was just a guest there but instantly I wanted to be a part of this town, to be comforted with good wine and simple southern Italian deliciousness, and to fall asleep and awakened by church bells tolling. I will definitely come back to Monopoli the next time I'm in Southern italy!
Want to follow Agita on her journey? Check her out on LinkedIn!