“It has been 26.5 years since I left my homeland. It is time for me to return home.”
I wrote this story intentionally about my return to Indonesia after living abroad for over 26 years. Having spent more than 23 years studying and working at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), I will mainly focus on UTM and my repatriation process to Indonesia. I am sincerely grateful to the individuals mentioned in this writing. Without their help, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. May Allah SWT bless them for their kindness.
This text aims to address the philosophical question of why birds choose to reside in a specific location, such as a particular tree, instead of exploring the entire world through flight. Although I lack the perspective of a bird, this narrative commences with the aforementioned inquiry. It is worth noting that this writing is subjective and may exhibit confirmation bias, as it lacks a scientific approach.
Homeland is a beloved nation that selflessly gives and elicits our affection. It is inherent to our nature and instinct, making it an integral aspect of our faith. The affection for one’s homeland is a visible expression and consequence of this belief. I left Indonesia on December 1, 1995, embarking for Johor Bahru, Malaysia. It was the initial occasion where Malaysian immigration officers imprinted my passport. Consequently, half of my life has been spent beyond Indonesia. These are the locations I have resided in since my birth 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 joined UTM as a Ph.D. student in December 1995 and have been with the university for over 20 years, excluding my time in Japan from 1999 to 2002. This writing recounts my experiences at UTM, including my relationships with colleagues, my job, and my thoughts 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. These principles are evident in every individual’s life and are also reflected in this writing. The purpose of life is to strive towards attributes such as taqwa, honesty, wisdom, compassion, and patience, which are qualities of Allah. To approach Allah, we must worship Him, which requires intellect, choice, and suffering, although we cannot attain His perfect attributes. Humans can only come close to these qualities. It is essential to recognize that suffering is a worldly attribute. The human life story revolves around the pursuit of hope and the struggle to achieve goals. Life is a constant balance between hope and suffering, and humans must actively fight for hope in their dynamic lives.
The most important thing in life 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 some 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.
From 1995 to 1998, I conducted my Ph.D. project at the Department of Chemistry, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), under the guidance of Prof. Halimaton Hamdan. My research focused on the synthesis, characterization, and activity of aluminum phosphate porous materials, specifically VPI-5. Despite six months of laboratory efforts, I could not synthesize VPI-5 successfully. However, I persevered and dedicated twelve months of hard work to complete my Ph.D. thesis. During this time, I also collaborated on a separate project involving the synthesis of zeolite from rice husk ash. As a result of my efforts, I obtained my Ph.D. degree and published several scientific papers on the structural study, physicochemical properties, and modification of porous AlPO4-5 materials using transition metals. Additionally, I successfully synthesized NaA zeolite directly from rice husk and rice husk ash. Although this period of twelve months was extremely exhausting, it was also enriching as it taught me how to work independently in the field of science. I completed my Ph.D. in two and a half years 1998, with Prof. Dr. Liew Kong Yong from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) as the external examiner for my thesis. Following my Ph.D., I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at UTM for one year, becoming the earliest postdoc at the institution. I am proud to be the third Indonesian citizen to receive a Ph.D. from UTM, following Dr. Ahmad Indra Siswantara (a lecturer at the University of Indonesia) and Dr. Sabar Derita Hutagalung (a lecturer at Jazan University, Saudi Arabia). I am truly grateful to Prof. Datuk Dr. Halimaton Hamdan, for her invaluable support and guidance, as I would not be the person I am today without her assistance.
After completing my Ph.D. program, I was offered lecturer positions at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). However, I desired to further my research experience. Eventually, I seized the opportunity to become a postdoc at the Catalysis Research Center, Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. Accompanied by my wife and two children, Farid Rahman Hadi (born in 1995 in Bandung) and Firda Hariri (born in 1999 in Johor Bahru), we resided in Sapporo for two and a half years to gain valuable experience. As time passed, we started considering our children’s education, particularly their religious education. While Japan provides quality education, we had concerns in that regard. Therefore, my wife and I decided to return to Malaysia. UTM had shown the most interest in recruiting me as a lecturer, and it would also ensure our children’s religious education. Additionally, Malaysia is closer to our hometown.
After two and a half years at Hokkaido University, I returned to UTM after being accepted as a lecturer at the Ibnu Sina Institute for Fundamental Science Studies (IIS) by Prof. Halimaton Hamdan, the director of IIS. She led a research project worth RM 11.5 million under the IRPA research grant. In May 2002, I began working at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) after spending a year as a research officer while waiting for the application process to be completed at the Malaysian Ministry of Education. I then became a DS45 lecturer on June 2, 2003. The appointment as a professor at UTM in 2010 filled me with gratitude and joy.
This is my recorded achievement at 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 diverse 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 ongoing project is the establishment of the Indonesia-Malaysia Research Consortium (I’M Research Consortium). This consortium connects lecturers and researchers at universities and research institutions in Indonesia and Malaysia for collaboration. To strengthen Indonesia-Malaysia relations and fulfill the goals of both countries, establishing this research consortium is vital as part of their strategic plans for cooperation in education and research. On October 2, 2017, Prof. Datuk Ir. Dr. Wahid Omar and I attended the I’M Research Consortium (I’MRC) discussion at Jakarta’s Ministry of Education, Research, Technology, and Higher Education. Dato’ Seri Idris Jusof (Malaysian Minister of Higher Education) and Prof. M. Nasir (Indonesian Minister of Education, Research, Technology, and Higher Education) were also present.
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 = two 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.
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. The Almighty Allah has determined everything. We 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.
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, UM asked me 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. The Ministry is sending this letter 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
I returned to my homeland after 26 years and six months of leaving Indonesia. 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.
“It is not us who are great, but it is because Allah has facilitated our affairs.”