Catherine Hutasuhut – President of the American Women’s Association of Indonesia

For this month’s profile, WNJ sat down with Catherine Hutasuhut, a busy mother of two that also dedicates her time to take care one of the oldest expat communities in Jakarta, the American Women’s Association. Catherine has lived in Jakarta for the past three years, and is passionate about sharing her experience and stories about living in what she calls the ‘great crazy city’ of Jakarta.


Hi Catherine! Thanks for sitting down with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

My name is Chaterine Hutasuhut, and I am originally from Charlotte, North Carolina in the US. I was a ‘military brat’ so I grew up traveling around the Southeastern part of the US, so I consider myself a southerner, and I’ve lived in Jakarta for three years. We moved to Jakarta because my husband had a job opportunity, to come out here to work in their office in Indonesia. And we thought it would be a great opportunity because we have two young children now, 16 months old and a 4 year old, and we really want them to grow up knowing their Indonesian heritage.

What do you do in Jakarta, in a daily basis?

Every day is a different day here. I am currently the president of the American Women’s Association; I usually start my morning firing off emails before my kids wake up. Then we do what I call the ‘wild rodeo circus of getting everybody ready and out the door’! So as the day progress I do errands, I go all over from South to Central Jakarta, getting things done, organizing things for my husband, and checking in on whatever is going on in AWA.

How does your family like Jakarta so far?

My children love Jakarta. My little guy, he likes Indonesian food a lot. He doesn’t do spicy food, yet. No sambal. But he loves his nasi kuning, perkedel, sate, somay, sop, soto betawi, so he has a good appetite! We do the cooking ourselves, my mother in law and I. It’s another great thing that she is living with us, which means the kids get to see their opung (grandma) all the time. If we lived in America they’d probably be able to see their opung once a month. But here, their relationship is so much closer. And they also have their aunties and uncles too.

Does your family partake in the traditional Indonesian get together or arisan?

Yes, my husband’s family is originally from Singkarak, Sumatera, but here we usually have monthly arisans. So it is very important for us to for our children to get to know the culture, and speak the language. My children already speak more Indonesians than me, and even some Batak words! That’s why I’m trying to catch up and enroll myself in Indonesian language classes.

You mentioned your role in AWA? Can you tell us a little about it?

The AWA is an expat non-profit social organization that serves the expat community in Jakarta. It was founded originally in the 50s, and it provides a touch point for Americans living in Jakarta, and it has evolved to the point that now we have a very global membership, of expats from all over the place, from America to Mozambique, Brazil, Kazakhstan, so not just Americans. We do have many American members, but our members actually come from all over the world, and we have something in which is that we live in this great crazy city.

How did you get involved in AWA?

3 years ago when we first move here, I was introduced to the AWA house, and I really liked the people that I met there. They are very friendly and helpful to our transition of moving to Jakarta. Even though I have a family here, this was my first time personally having to relocate to a different country. So it was really nice to have fellow expats, with their experiences, tricks of the trades, and learning how to get the best out of Jakarta. It’s a great organization that exposes its members to all the great things to do in Jakarta, meeting new people, and also as an opportunity to serve the community. Our social welfare team is actively involved with social organizations around. Our primary goal is to empower children, women, and the elderly, people that we call the most at risk to fall into the cracks.

You mentioned that the AWA helps expats during transition, in what form is it done?

It can be about anything, information about schools, or where to get special education for kids with certain educational needs, etc. many times expats that relocate here don’t or have not learned Indonesian, so they face a language barricade. That’s why I encourage everyone I meet to practice, and don’t be scared to make mistakes. And you just have to try. Indonesian people are very gracious, friendly, if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Do you have anything going on soon in AWA?

Yes, actually the AWA expat community is going to be having the AWA Fall Bazaar. It is a great opportunity for folks that want to discover amazing vendors that we have gathered from all around Indonesia, and Southeast Asia; Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia. You can find anything from vendors that make artisanal cheese, coffee, antique kimonos, gorgeous handbags, shoes, any kind of wearable arts, and much more. What’s even better is that this bazaar goes to support our social welfare initiatives

What are your tips for expats living or moving to Jakarta?  

First thing I always say to people, go to the zoo. Expats that come here, usually crave greenery, if you do, go to the zoo early in the morning. It is so beautiful to walk around in. It’s a wonderful oasis that is not hard to get to at all. Second, look up interesting restaurants; Jakarta is a foodie paradise! There is a lot of great food out there, and you are missing out if you only know nasi goreng and mi goreng! Thirdly, join organizations; be involved, get out there and form connections. Don’t just sit by yourself, because it could get lonely if you don’t speak the language. So go check the embassies, see what’s going on around you. If you’re bored in Jakarta, you’re doing something wrong.

What about for expat mothers?

Number one: Get out and explore because, there’s actually a lot of things your can do with kids here. Yes Jakarta is an urban jungle, but there are a lot of amazing things you can discover. Like the indoor playgrounds that are actually quite great and also the wonderful playgroups. , don’t be afraid to take your kids out there, they will love it.  Even though it is something as simple as going in a bajaj ride, the key is to pick something and go do it.

What is favorite places to go as a family?

In Jakarta, just like any southerners, we love to eat. I have to say for family dinner, we love Middle Eastern food, and Warung Turki and Turkuaz are our favorite places to go to. Warung Turki in particular, is really beautiful at night, perfect for a date night. The top floor has wonderful Turkish lantern, the food is fantastic, you’ll forget in crazy kemang. For brunch, I really like Shangri-La’s brunch, because they have pony rides that my children love. We don’t have these things in the US!

For weekend getaway, the botanical garden in Bogor is a perfect place if you want just a short day trip or Bandung, which is great as long as you go during the weekday. And I highly recommend going by train. Expats should not overlook the train in Jakarta. It’s cheap, very comfortable, and if you have kids, they will love it because they can run up and down the coach, and also watch the beautiful view that we pass.

If you have a long weekend, take the 3,5 hours drive to Anyer or even to Krakatau. It will be worth it, you will find a completely different world out there.

And again, I won’t get tired of recommending the Ragunan Zoo. I love their beautiful primate center, if you come early enough sometimes you can even interact with the primates, before everybody gets there. They also have a new children zoo, that I’m looking forward to go to, and also the new Komodo dragon enclosure.

Thanks again for sitting down with us and sharing about your life in Jakarta, Chatherine!

You’re welcome, thanks for having me!

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