Working and Living Abroad in Sulawesi in Indonesia

by | Jan 5, 2017 | Asia, Indonesia, Where is Sulawesi? | 4 comments

Would You Live and Work in Sulawesi in Indonesia?

For this week’s blog, I want to take you on a different kind of journey. Three years ago, I spent two months living and working in Indonesia.

Working abroad is a very different experience from vacationing abroad. Well, it was not all work, as you will see from all the photos.


Are you interested in a work-abroad experience?

Would you leave your family and live in Indonesia for two months?


Would you step out of your everyday life and fly halfway around the world to work in a foreign environment?

Here is how the trip came about: I checked my work email and found an unusual message that Humber College was recruiting professors to go to Sulawesi for two months and run entrepreneurship workshops for university professors.

What would you do?

  1. Delete the email
  2. Look up Sulawesi on a map because you have never heard of it and don’t know where it is; and then delete the email because Sulawesi is really really far away
  3. Read about Sulawesi on Wikipedia and discover that it is one of the best diving/snorkeling sites in the world; so you apply for the job

I went for c, got the job and spent two months in Manado, a city on the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

My co-facilitator, Ianinta, had no affiliation with Humber College. She was trolling the internet for jobs when she stumbled upon the Humber recruitment site. This should be inspiration for anyone who in interested and has the necessary credentials for a travel/work experience. Apply! 

Ianinta is half my age. We became best friends over the two months that we worked together. It was great for us that we got along so well, because we spent a lot of time together. Each workshop ran from 9 to 5 for 10 days. We took this workshop to 4 universities.

We were a team of 2 for a grand total of 40 days of workshops.

The English language level at two universities was sufficient that we did not need translators. We used translators at the other two. It took a bit of practice to speak slowly and stop for translation. I was lucky to have Ianinta to step in to help with the great language divide.

I met lots of people, ate lots of new foods, and experienced Sulawesi in a very different way. The cultural differences were not as challenging as one might imagine. North Sulawesi is a former Dutch colony and there are many Dutch influences in the culture. The population is mostly Christian. They are open, friendly and welcoming.

In the photo above, the spot on the sand to my left is vacant because a fellow-snorkeler volunteered to be the photographer. This is a picture of a typical group of Sunday snorkelers, stopping for a lunch break on Manado Tuo, one of five islands in the World Heritage Bunaken marine park system. We are drinking fresh coconut water from coconuts that the locals on the island chopped down for us. After a couple of hours of snorkeling, coconut water is wonderfully refreshing. After we drank all the water, we scooped out the young coconut meat. It is soft, gel-like and a bit chewy. There is a surprising amount of meat in each coconut, but after a morning in the ocean, I ate every bite of this deliciously succulent treat.


Can you picture yourself here?

Working abroad is hard work!


Working in an exotic location is very different from visiting as a tourist. You are there to work. It takes all your time and energy. You need to like the work. If you are ready for the challenge, it is a great way to travel the world.

First, all travel, accommodations, meals and insurance were covered by Humber College.

Second, I was paid my regular salary while away.

Third, we had lots of local and home support if something were to go wrong. Lucky for me, I found it to be a great experience.


Preparing for the trip


I needed a work visa. This required lots of documentation from Canada and Indonesia, but ultimately was not difficult to obtain from the Indonesian consulate in Toronto.

The College paid for any vaccinations or medication that I deemed necessary for the trip. My big concerns were malaria and dengue fever from mosquito bites. You can take anti-malaria drugs but there is no protection against dengue fever.

After much deliberation, I opted not to take anti-malaria drugs. Malaria is not a wide-spread problem in North Sulawesi. I used insect repellent on weekend excursions.

In the two months that I spent in the tropics, I did not get a single mosquito bite. In contrast, the workshop professors who went to Macassar in South Sulawesi were eaten alive. Other than the discomfort of bites, they did not suffer any lasting medical issues.

This was not a hardship post. I lived in the Aryaduta Hotel.

Most days, Ianinta and I went for a refreshing sunset swim in the hotel pool.

I did not cook for two months and I did not miss it!


I ate out every night. The food was fresh, cheap and delicious.

There are two kinds of restaurants in Manado: local and American fast food chains (KFC is the most popular). The fast food chains look just like here. I did not eat any meals in a fast-food chain.

All the local restaurants look sketchy. They are not. The food is absolutely fresh. I had the most wonderfully delicious and exotic food. Most nights, I ate fresh fish, my favourite being deep fried grouper. The whole fish, including skin, tail, head, complete with eyes and teeth, is marinated in salt and lemon, then deep-fried. I almost screamed when I saw it for the first time: a deep-fried grouper looks like a prehistoric creature. Once you get over the look, the taste is fabulous. For the truly adventurous, the cheeks are considered a delicacy.

My favourite snack was peanuts, pan-fried with fresh oil, salt and lime leaves. It was hard to resist this warm tasty treat while waiting for the main course. I made up my own recipe when I got home and it was reasonably good, but not like the real thing.

No dabu-dabu please: For self-preservation, I learned one Ba’hasa phrase very early in the trip: no dabu-dabu. North Sulawesians LOVE hot food. I do not. For me, the taste of a wonderfully fresh fish is lost in a sea of dabu-dabu.

Here is how wikipedia describes dabu-dabu:

Dabu-dabu is a type of hot and spicy condiment commonly found in Manado cuisine of North Sulawesi, Indonesia.


Dabu-dabu uses a lot of chopped red chili peppers, bird’s eye chili, shallots, red and green tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and sugar, mixed with fresh calamansi juice or kaffir lime or lemon juice.

Dabu-dabu comes close to the Mexican salsa sauce, sometimes described as Manado’s raw sambal.

If you read this description, dabu-dabu sounds delicious. Try it at home and see for yourself!

One evening, while having dinner with Ianita, I accidentally bit into a chilly. All conversation stopped. I described the sensation. I said it felt like my brain had just exploded through my ears. She was envious of that feeling! She said that is why she keeps eating hotter and hotter chilies.

Would you ride on a motorscooter in flip flops, with your kid in front?


There was devastating flash flood in Manado the week before I arrived. It washed out the bridge in the centre of the city. The temporary bridge did not look very safe.

Repairs were completed just before I left.

Hop on a mikrolet


If I didn’t feel like walking, I could hop on a mikrolet, a minibus. It cost 10 cents, no matter the distance

We did a day tour in the highlands overlooking Manado


Our driver, Henry, took on a day-tour into the highlands. It is a bit cooler with a bit of a refreshing breeze.

Not everyone has a car or a truck in Sulawesi.


The Tomohon market is not for the faint of heart


Henry took us the Tomohon market. This is unlike any market I have ever seen. I couldn’t even take pictures of what I saw.

You can google Tomohon market if you want more details.

This ancient burial site is not seen by tourists


Henry took us to an ancient burial site but could give us no information about it.

I took three pictures and have included them all here because this is something that very few Westerners or tourists have ever seen.

I asked Ianinta to be in the pictures to show the size of these wooden creatures, decorated with skulls.

This is Henry, our driver.

Why is there an ancient amphitheatre in the middle of nowhere?


Henry took us to this abandoned outdoor amphitheatre. It is far from any town or village.

We could not figure out when or why it was built.

Indonesians love to have fun


We stopped at a few tourist sites in the highlands. This group of school children begged me to take their picture, even though they would never see it. They were sweet and fun.

Sunsets in North Sulawesi were always spectacular.

I have lots of tales of adventure in Indonesia to share with you.


Are you ready to pack your bags and live and work in Sulawesi in Indonesia?

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

Latest posts by Rose Ann MacGillivray (see all)