“It has been 26.5 years since I left my homeland. It is time for me to return home.”

I intentionally wrote this story of returning to my homeland to answer many people’s questions regarding why I returned to Indonesia after more than 26 years of living abroad. Since I studied and worked at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) for over 23 years, my writing focuses on UTM and the story of my repatriation process to Indonesia. I express my sincere gratitude to the people mentioned in this writing. Without them, I would not be who I am today. May Allah SWT reward all of their kindness.

1.0 Background

This writing attempts to answer this philosophical question: Why do birds live in the same place, on the same tree, when they can fly anywhere on Earth? Although I am not a bird, this story begins with the same question. This writing is not objective and has confirmation bias as it is not scientific.

Homeland is a motherland that loves us so much that it gives everything to us, and we naturally love it in return. It is our nature and human instinct, so “loving one’s country is a part of faith.” The love for one’s homeland is a manifestation and impact of that faith. I left Indonesia 26 years ago, on December 1, 1995, when I departed for Johor Bahru, Malaysia. This was the first time my passport was stamped by Malaysian immigration officers. Thus, I have spent 50% of my life outside Indonesia. These are the places I have lived in since I was born in 1969.

  • Bukittinggi (1969 – 1974), the place where I was born;
  • Padang (1974 – 1987), the place where I went to school until high school;
  • Bandung (1987 – 1995), the place where I pursued my undergraduate and graduate studies;
  • Sapporo (1999 – 2002), the place where I worked as a postdoc; and
  • Johor Bahru (1995 – 2022) is where I studied as a Ph.D. student and worked as a lecturer.

2.0 UTM will always be remembered

I came to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) as a Ph.D. student in December 1995. If I subtract my time in Japan (1999-2002), I have been with UTM for over 20 years. This writing is my story with UTM. There are important things in my life that I spent at UTM: my relationship with my colleagues, my job, my thoughts, and reflections on higher education and life. The purpose of our lives is based on three interrelated principles human beings are intellectual creatures, creatures with choices, and experience suffering in life. These three principles can be seen and felt in the life of every human being and are also reflected in this writing. The purpose of life in this world is the process of approaching the attributes of Allah, such as taqwa, honesty, wisdom, compassion, patience, and so on. Since the source of all these attributes comes from God, we must approach Him by worshiping Him. The effort towards that requires intellect, choice, and suffering, although we cannot achieve Allah’s perfect attributes. Humans can only approach these qualities. Most importantly, we must realize that suffering is a worldly attribute. The story of human life is a story of hope achieved and failure to achieve goals. Every second, life is a network of hope and always linked to suffering. Humans need hope that needs to be fought for in dynamic life.

In life, the most important thing is how we motivate ourselves to find meaning, purpose, and, ultimately, happiness. Self-discovery is crucial in finding meaning in life, especially in motivating oneself. In science for centuries, scientists and philosophers have tried to find the purpose of life. From quantum theory, on the smallest scale, to cosmology, on the very large scale – to the transcendent level, beyond the reach of ordinary human experience, which can only be answered by religion. The continuous search will apply and, in my opinion, will never stop. What is continually asked by humans? According to many philosophers and social scientists, a person’s ability to love and work closely relates to happiness and satisfaction. But most importantly, humans must find meaning in their own lives. This is known as the process of self-discovery.

Professors who teach in higher education are educators, in other words, teachers. My main goal as a professor is to be a good teacher and guide students well. Of course, research is also an important concern, but educating is even more important because a good researcher is usually a good teacher, although there are also those who are not. This is my concern seeing the development of higher education in the region nowadays. More than twenty years with UTM is not a short time. This shows that I am loyal to my job. This is my dedication to an endeavor, not only because of interest but also a wholehearted commitment to working as a lecturer at UTM.

My Ph.D. project (1995-1998) at the Department of Chemistry, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), under the guidance of Prof. Halimaton Hamdan, related to the synthesis, characterization, and activity of aluminum phosphate porous materials, VPI-5. After six months of working in the laboratory, I failed to synthesize VPI-5. My Ph.D. thesis came from twelve months of hard work in the laboratory. At the same time, I also collaborated on another project with the topic of synthesizing zeolite from rice husk ash. I graduated with a Ph.D. with several scientific publications on the structural study, physicochemical properties, and modification of porous AlPO4-5 materials using transition metals. I also successfully synthesized NaA zeolite directly from rice husk and rice husk ash. This was a very exhausting twelve months of work. I finally learned how to work independently in science. Although very tiring, this period was very fulfilling. I completed my Ph.D. in two and a half years in 1998. The external examiner of my Ph.D. thesis was Prof. Dr. Liew Kong Yong from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). After that, I worked as a postdoc for one year at UTM. I was the earliest postdoc at UTM. I was the third Indonesian citizen to receive a Ph.D. from UTM after Dr. Ahmad Indra Siswantara (a lecturer at the University of Indonesia) and Dr. Sabar Derita Hutagalung (a lecturer at Jazan University, Saudi Arabia). I thank Prof. Datuk Dr. Halimaton Hamdan, without her, I would not be who I am today.

After graduating from the Ph.D. program, Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) were two universities that accepted me as a lecturer. However, I still wanted to gain research experience. Finally, I had the opportunity to become a postdoc at the Catalysis Research Center, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan. I went to Sapporo with my wife and two children, Farid Rahman Hadi (born in 1995 in Bandung) and Firda Hariri (born in 1999 in Johor Bahru). Two and a half years in Sapporo were enough for us to gain experience. The education of our children started to come to mind. It’s not that Japan is not good for education, but there are concerns about the religious education of our children. My wife and I agreed to return to Malaysia. First, UTM was the most active in inviting me to become a lecturer. Second, our children’s religious education would be better guaranteed, and third, Malaysia is closer to our hometown.

After two and a half years at Hokkaido University, I returned to UTM after Prof. Halimaton Hamdan accepted me as a lecturer at the Ibn Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies (IIS). Prof. Halimaton was the director of IIS and led a research project worth RM 11.5 million under the IRPA research grant. In May 2002, I started working at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) after one year as a research officer while waiting for the application process to be processed at the Malaysian Ministry of Education, and subsequently as a DS45 lecturer on June 2, 2003. I felt gratitude and joy when I was appointed a professor at UTM in 2010.

Ini adalah pencapaian saya yang tercatat di UTM.

I am one of the 41 UTM lecturers who made it to the World’s Top 2% Scientist list for the citation impact category and one of the 17 UTM lecturers who made it to the career-long citation impact list for 2020.

Below is a chronological list of the positions I have held at UTM as well as positions outside of UTM from 1998 to May 2022.

  • 2018–2022 | Director, Ibnu Sina Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (ISI-SIR), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2017–2022 | Adjunct Professor, State University of Malang, Indonesia
  • 2015–2019 | Director, Centre for Sustainable Nanomaterials (CSNano), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2010–2022 | Professor (VK07), Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2015 | Visiting Scientist, Institute for Heterogeneous Materials Systems, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin for Materials and Energy, Germany
  • 2009–2014 | Head of Catalytic Science and Technology (CST) Group, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2008–2014 | Global Alliance Manager (Region 1 – South East Asia), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2008–2010 | Associate Professor (DS53), Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2007–2008 | Senior Lecturer (DS51), Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2003–2007 | Lecturer (DS45), Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2002–2003 | Research Officer, Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
  • 2001–2002 | COE Visiting Researcher, Catalysis Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan
  • 1999–2001 | JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Catalytic Reaction Chemistry, Catalysis Research Center, Hokkaido University, Japan
  • 1998–1999 | Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Chemistry, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

My experience in administration began in 2008 when I was appointed as the International Relations Manager under the Office of International Affairs at UTM, with Prof. Dr. Mohd Azraai Kassim as Director and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohammad Ismail Abd Aziz as Deputy Director. I was with the International Office for five years and four months. During this time, I was involved in UTM’s efforts to recruit faculty members and students from Indonesia, aligning with UTM’s goal to achieve research university status on June 10, 2010. At that time, UTM had over 30 faculty members from Indonesia and around 450 students. I visited Indonesia with Prof. Dato’ Seri Dr. Zaini Ujang, UTM’s Vice-Chancellor, and Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamal Idris, the Director of Marketing at UTM. The first initiative I took as International Affairs Manager was to visit Dr. Fasli Jalal, then the Director General of Higher Education, on February 9, 2009, to introduce the Indonesia Scholar-in-Residence Program (ISRP).

In my nearly 20-year career as a lecturer at UTM, I have supervised 34 Ph.D. students. I have learned a lot from their experiences in completing their Ph.D. Some were slow to complete their Ph.D. due to family and financial problems. I had to be patient and develop strategies to help them pass. I realized that each student I supervised had a unique character. They were different because they came from different backgrounds. We sometimes forget that we need to appreciate and value the uniqueness of individuals and strive to uncover their personalities so that they can excel. We must create an environment that promotes personal values, uniqueness, respect, honesty, freedom, engagement, and hope. Sometimes we sacrifice long-term and noble goals in educating humans for short-term success. Students need to be educated to be independent, creative, able to think for themselves and have high moral integrity.

I have conducted scientific research with the help of my Ph.D. students and produced many scientific publications. However, it is important to question whether the research results are beneficial. I need to do some introspection. According to the Islamic teachings that I believe in, for research to be beneficial, research must start with good intentions. The intention of conducting research is similar to seeking knowledge seeking truth. The best intention is to achieve a noble character and benefit humanity.

I remember when I suggested to Prof. Halimaton Hamdan, Director of the Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies (IIS), in 2005 that IIS should have its own journal, the Journal of Fundamental Sciences (JFS). At that time, I managed the journal alone, from creating the website and making the layout and cover to sending it to the printing press. JFS was the first journal to use the Open Journal System (OJS) at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). I still remember Pn. Zarina Junet installed OJS on the IIS computer server in 2007. Alhamdulillah, this journal has grown to what it is now and has been renamed the Malaysian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences (MJFAS). MJFAS received the CREAM Award 2018 from the Ministry of Education Malaysia and was indexed in Scopus in 2021.

One of the high-impact ongoing projects is the initiative to establish the Indonesia-Malaysia Research Consortium (I’M Research Consortium). This research consortium connects lecturers and researchers at universities and research institutions in Indonesia and Malaysia to interact and collaborate more systematically. To further strengthen Indonesia-Malaysia relations, in line with the aspirations of both countries, establishing this research consortium is important because it is one of the strategic plans through cooperation in education and investigation. On October 2, 2017, Prof. Datuk Ir. Dr. Wahid Omar and I attended the I’M Research Consortium (I’MRC) discussion at the Ministry of Education, Research, Technology and Higher Education in Jakarta, attended by Dato’ Seri Idris Jusof (Malaysian Minister of Higher Education) and Prof. M. Nasir (Indonesian Minister of Education, Research, Technology, and Higher Education).

This is my timeline at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) based on the documents issued by UTM, from my entry as a Ph.D. student to my resignation as a professor on May 31, 2022.

  • Ph.D. student | December 1, 1995 – May 9, 1998 (891 days = 2 years, five months, nine days)
  • Postdoctoral fellow | September 1, 1998 – November 30, 1999 (456 days = one year, three months)
  • Research officer | May 1, 2002 – April 30, 2003 (365 days = 1 year)
  • Lecturer | June 2, 2002 – May 31, 2022 (6966 days = 19 years, 11 months, 26 days)

So, based on the documents (Ph.D. degree certificate and employment contract) with UTM, I am officially recorded as a UTM student and staff for 8,678 days = 23.8 years = 23 years, nine months, one week, and two days. It’s indeed quite a long time.

A photo in a graduation gown from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) spanning over 22 years, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1998 (photo in graduation gown from 1999), being appointed as a professor in 2010 (photo in graduation gown from 2011), and being the latest photo was taken in 2021.

Twenty years is not a short time for a human being. As many hadiths narrate, Prophet Muhammad’s community was 60 to 70 years old. This year I am 53 years old. The nobility of a person depends on the use of time. InshaAllah, more than twenty years with UTM can be a reflection for me to spend the rest of my life on intellectual work that benefits many people. I hope I can use my time well. I also offer my praise and gratitude to Allah SWT and thank my teachers and friends who have shaped me. Humans are imperfect beings and often make mistakes in seeing, making decisions, and doing things. This also applies to me. I want to be advised if anything is wrong with my actions, speech, and service to others. Thus, through learning, humans strive to become more cultured by advising each other in truth. InshaAllah, this post can be a lesson for me.

3.0 Reflection

The essence of all the stories above is about effort and hope. Everyone’s life is always played by hopes that never come true. In the past, I was interested in fine arts and mechanical engineering, but I eventually became a chemistry professor. I wanted to work in my own country but spent 50% of my life abroad. I once aspired to be a diplomat but ended up being entrusted to be an administrator at a university handling international cooperation and research centers. So many hopes didn’t come true, but they ended up with things that were never expected.

I realize that there is no coincidence in this life. Everything has been determined by the Almighty Allah. We just need to strive to live by following the provisions that have been determined by Him and always pray to Him so that everything gets His blessing.

“Pray and forget. Don’t keep asking Him persistently. Because Allah knows best what is good for His servants.”

If someone asks me whether I experienced alienation during my time abroad, my answer would be yes, even though I consider Malaysia my second home. I worked there for a long time and made great friends. As is well known, alienation is a condition of relationship characterized by low integration between individuals or between individuals and a group of people in a community or work environment. I experienced three types of alienation during my time as a foreigner in another country, namely (1) economic and social alienation, (2) political alienation, and (3) ideological alienation. I felt all three types of alienation during my time abroad. The most prominent type of alienation was political and ideological alienation. In addition, sometimes I also experienced discomfort as a foreigner in another country. However, I will surely miss Malaysia.

My identity as an Indonesian is very clear, and it does not need to be hidden. We need to understand that humans exist because they have an identity. My personal website, hadinur.net, unknowingly also serves to build my identity as an Indonesian working at UTM. In life, identity plays an important role in building trust among people. Poor performance or slander can damage a reputation built over a long time. I have experienced the latter. This identity often brings positive and negative effects on daily life abroad.

A feeling of nostalgia is also a reason for me to return. There is a saying that fits this, “nostalgia.” The word nostalgia comes from the ancient Greek language, nóstos meaning “returning home,” and álgos, meaning “pain,” describes the desire to return home to soothe the longing.

One of the most important factors why I am happy and grateful to return to Indonesia is that I feel I can play a role in advancing higher education in Indonesia. I want this nation to progress. My experience of over 20 years, from postdoc to becoming a professor, and my experience as an administrator at a university, can be useful for the advancement of Indonesia. The song “Indonesia Pusaka” by Ismail Marzuki reminds me of Indonesia, my homeland.

Indonesia tanah air beta
Pusaka abadi nan jaya
Indonesia sejak dulu kala
Tetap di puja-puja bangsa

Di sana tempat lahir beta
Dibuai dibesarkan bunda
Tempat berlindung di hari tua
Sampai akhir menutup mata

Sungguh indah tanah air beta
Tiada bandingnya di dunia
Karya indah Tuhan Maha Kuasa
Bagi bangsa yang memujanya

Indonesia ibu pertiwi
Kau kupuja kau kukasihi
Tenagaku bahkan pun jiwaku
Kepadamu rela kuberi

It is clear that my reason for returning to Indonesia is logical when viewed from the reasons mentioned above. After more than 25 years abroad, I never thought I would have the opportunity to return to Indonesia.

Although there is a slight sadness in leaving friends and the environment where I have lived for so long, as a free human being, we should never attach ourselves to a place, a job, or other people. We should attach ourselves to our dreams, visions, and goals. We should attach ourselves to things that others cannot take away from us.

4.0 The story of moving to Indonesia

The long story behind my return to Indonesia can be summarized in the following chronology. I am determined to contribute my energy and ideas to improving education in Indonesia. Hopefully, the process of this relocation will be facilitated and blessed by Allah SWT.

  • 6 – 7  October 2015

    The story of my return to Indonesia began when I met Dr. Markus Diantoro, a lecturer at the State University of Malang (UM), when I was invited as a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Conference on Advanced Materials Science and Technology (ICAMST) held in Semarang, Indonesia on October 6-7, 2015. Dr. Markus spoke to me while we were having breakfast at the hotel. He was interested in hearing my story about university governance. Therefore, he intended to invite me to give a lecture on this topic at the State University of Malang. So, Dr. Markus was the person who played a significant role in my return to Indonesia.

  • 18 December 2015

    I was invited by Universitas Negeri Malang (UM) on December 18, 2015. My lecture was about the strategies and best practices to improve the quantity and quality of research at UM. The rector, vice-rector, deans, and also senior professors attended my lecture.

  • 27 September 2016

    I was invited as a keynote speaker at the 4th International Conference on Advanced Materials Science and Engineering (ICAMST) 2016, which was held in Malang on September 27, 2016.

  • 1 February 2017

    I was appointed adjunct professor at Universitas Negeri Malang starting on February 1, 2017. I am the first adjunct professor at UM. My duties as an Adjunct Professor include (a) increasing UM’s international publications by including UM affiliation in the relevant work; (b) providing input and guidance on UM’s institutional development planning documents; (c) improving the quality of journals at UM; (d) increasing the quantity and quality of international collaborations; (e) increasing the quantity and quality of collaborative research.

    My speech on the occasion of my appointment as an adjunct professor is entitled “Kearifan sebuah universitas” (which can be read in PDF format).

  • 20 March 2019

    Various initiatives are being carried out between Universitas Negeri Malang (UM) and UTM, as well as several universities in Malaysia. This is part of my responsibilities as an adjunct professor at UM and as the coordinator of the Indonesia-Malaysia Research Consortium (I’MRC) program.

    A delegation from UM, consisting of Prof. Dr. Ah. Rofi’uddin (Rector), Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Bafadal (Vice Rector IV), Dr. Markus Diantoro (Head of LP2M), Prof. Heri Pratikto (Director of Halal Center), Drs. Utomo Pujianto (Chair of University Ranking), Dr. Evi Eiyanah (Director of International Relations), as well as Dr. Djoko Hartanto (Institut Teknologi Sepuluh November), visited the Ministry of Education Malaysia on March 20, 2019, to discuss matching grants for the “Innovation in STEM Learning Media” project between UM, ITS, and several universities in Malaysia under the I’MRC program. On March 21, 2019, the UM delegation also visited UTM to discuss cooperation in the field of Halal. During this visit, Prof. Dr. Ah. Rofi’uddin spoke to me about the possibility of me moving to UM.

  • 24 January 2020

    On January 24, 2020, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Prof. Dr. Abdull Rahim Mohd Yusoff, and the Director of the Ibnu Sina Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (ISI-SIR), Prof. Dr. Hadi Nur, represented UTM at the signing ceremony of an MoU between UTM and Universitas Negeri Malang (UM) at Universitas Negeri Malang (UM), Indonesia. The representatives from UM were Prof. Dr. AH. Rofi’uddin (Rector), Prof. Dr. Hadi Suwono (Dean of FMIPA), and Dr. Evi Eliyanah (Director of International Relations). This MoU is a legal standing to enhance the cooperation between UTM and UM.

  • 12 December 2020

    After informal discussions, I was asked by UM to write a letter of willingness to become a lecturer at Universitas Negeri Malang (UM). To support the application, I also attached my accountability report as an adjunct professor (which I attached in Google Drive).

  • 20 December 2020

    I have sent UM all the requirements requested by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology.

  • 1 June 2021

    I am completing the additional data requested by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology. This letter is being sent by the Ministry to the Rector of UM.

  • 1 July 2021

    Although the additional documents have been sent to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, my transfer application to UM still requires approval from the UM Senate, which is scheduled to convene on July 1, 2021.

  • 9 December 2021

    I have received the decision of the Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology of the Republic of Indonesia, Number 80896/MPK.A/KP.05.01/2021, signed by Nadiem Anwar Makarim, regarding the academic rank equalization of lecturers.

  • 15 December 2021

    I am sending a resignation letter as a professor at UTM.

  • 4 January 2022

    I attended my first meeting as a staff member in the Department of Chemistry at the State University of Malang (UM).

  • 16 January 2022

    I have set my Annual Work Targets or Sasaran Kerja Tahunan (SKP) for 2022. This semester, I am teaching four courses online in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics.

  • 24 January 2022

    I started teaching at the State University of Malang. I am teaching four courses, namely Material Physics, Nanomaterial, Chemical Industry Process and Research Methodology, and I am also part of the faculty team for the Chemistry Seminar. The academic semester runs from January 24 to May 20, 2022.

  • 2 June 2022

    After 26 years and six months of leaving Indonesia, I returned to my homeland. Hopefully, my homecoming today using the AirAsia flight from Johor Bahru to Surabaya will bring goodness and blessings.

  • 17 February 2023

    The story about my experience was published in Radar Malang newspaper.

5.0 Conclusion

“It is not us who are great, but it is because Allah has facilitated our affairs.”

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