Paris & Vienna: My First Business Trip Abroad

Well hello there! I sure haven’t written in a while. I’ve come up with random things to write, or a catchy title but those ideas can’t seem to compete with my fatigue and sleepiness as a result from the work load I’ve been enduring these past few months.

Last week I was very fortunate to have the chance to go on my first business trip abroad. By the grace of God, my superior(s) selected me as one of the delegates of the Ministry of Energy & Mineral Resources for the World Gas Conference 2015 in Paris (WGC Paris 2015). The news came in by surprise because at that time work was a feeding frenzy of deadlines and PowerPoint slides. I mean I didn’t expect a (relatively) new hire like me to accept such an assignment. So these past few months I have been busy at work assisting the Director General (then acting, and since early May was officially appointed) so most of the day I’m either at the DG’s floor (the 16th floor), out and about tagging along to assist in meetings or other work related events, instead of my original cubicle floor (the 6th floor).

About 3 weeks ago, a very close coworker of mine texted me to come down to the 6th floor, because there was something urgent that required my attention. Coincidentally I was on my way downstairs from the 16th loor because I had something to fetch from my cubicle. Well, it turns out that my superiors had news to break to me: I was assigned to go to Paris for the World Gas Conference 2015. The first reaction that popped in my mind was a mix of “Kyaaa!!” , “Wait, what?”, “Did I hear that correctly?”,  and “Hold up, did you just say, Paris?” But, well, being the calm and reserved person I am (or had to be at that time, jumping and squealing is totally inappropriate), I kept my cool and solemnly nodded my head and said “Okay, Sir.” as my boss explained the steps I should complete due to the mild complexity of the bureaucratic procedure of international business trips.

Well to start things off, at that time I did not have a service passport. If you’re wondering what a service passport is, well it’s a passport exclusively designed and made for government officials. It’s blue, different from regular passports that are green.

paspor biru

The thing with service passports is, you can’t really apply for one unless you have an official and written reason to go abroad. My mom once told me, months before to quickly apply to make a service passport so I’d have one handy in case I get assigned abroad, but well I can’t without an official invitation or letter that bluntly states my name being assigned for an international business trip. So yeah, at that time I only had about 2 weeks to get everything done, and it was kind of a gambling situation. Luckily, France requires no visa for service passports, so there was still a chance to get all the administration done on time, or at least really really close before I depart. And luckily, again by the grace of God, it was done on time. I received my passport and my exit permit 10 hours before departing. You just have to know how nervous yet numb I was then.

The golden rule I’ve learned over the first year of working in the public sector is to really manage your expectations. Actually it’s best to nullify any expectations you have. Yup, zero expectations is the best way to survive around here. And I’ve heard it over and over again especially during my passport application process. There were real cases of my office seniors applying for visas/exit permits/passport extensions that ended up in failure and they ended up not going. It was bureaucracy, and bureaucracy isn’t exactly science or a natural phenomena with predictable parameters that can be calculated with formulas. There were many x-factors that can turn out to be huge hinderances. So I did my part, submit the requirements, and pray. Pray that the person in charge of signing the documents isn’t out of town or isn’t too busy to sign them on time. Pray that the person in charge of passport application is healthy and in a good mood. Well I guess praying indicates a glimmer of expectation or hope I had, but frankly I couldn’t help it. I’m young, new, and still very excited about this kind of thing. So I ended up surrendering it to God, if the assignment was meant to be mine, it will be, if not, so be it, at least I’ve done my part. And besides, I had other things that required my attention so worrying about the documents was a waste of energy. And unlike previous trips abroad that had me excited weeks before departing, frankly I wasn’t as excited at all. I guess I was really exercising the ‘No expectations.‘ rule. Haha.

So finally the day of departure came. It was sort of dreadful because I was left hanging with no passport in hand on the day of departure. But after some gruesome hours of waiting in vain, the passport was done and I could finally say: I’m going to Paris. I finished my packing and last minute preparations and off I went. I flew with Garuda Airlines and it sure added a lot of miles to my Garuda Frequent Flyer card, though I ended up still being a silver and 7095 miles away from being upgraded to Gold haha. The flight was about 16 hours in total: 14 hours 20 minutes from Jakarta to Amsterdam and a little over an hour from Amsterdam to Paris, with a short layover in Amsterdam. On the flight to Amsterdam I watched Before Sunrise (one of my favorite movies) and I realized that the movie was shot in Vienna, and Celine was on her way to Paris. What a coincidence haha. After the long flight and desperation to take a shower, finally: Paris! It was my first time to Europe, I’ve never been to Europe before. So it was exciting, especially when my eager eyes spotted the Eiffel tower for the very first time, even from a very far distance. My heart jumped and I squealed with glee. All this time I’ve only seen the Eiffel Tower on Tumblr/or other people’s Instagram/Facebook photos, and here I am seeing it for myself.

So after reaching our hotel, I freshened up and decided to take a walk. It was cold. Before departing I checked the weather online and anticipated temperatures to be around 20-21 degrees Celsius. When we arrived it was 11-13 degrees Celsius. Chilly! Thank God I brought my spring coat and some sweaters so I layered up. Resting was not on my mind at that time.

Mercure Opera Louvre

my hotel room in Mercure Opera Louvre, Paris. I had the room to myself, thank God I don’t have any issues with sleeping alone in hotel rooms (I know people who are scared of that)

It turned out that our hotel was only a 15 minute walk from the Louvre so I took a walk and walked there, took some pics. I also met up with my college senior who works in Saipem, Paris. We went to the Eiffel Tower and ate churros (locally called Chi-Chis) and had some hot cocoa by the Seine.

it was a cloudy day in Paris

it was a cloudy day in Paris

After the day of the arrival and a rather smooth transition (no jet lag whatsoever) to the time there (it was summer so it got dark at around 9 – 10 PM) the real work started: World Gas Conference 2015! It was a lot like the IPA Convex earlier in JCC, Jakarta, only it was bigger! Due to my limited time at the conference, I really savored every detail, took notes and pictures. Compared to the OPEC Seminar, this conference was heavily dominated by private sector participants (obviously). So it was an interesting experience to taste the best of both worlds.

Being a delegate in WGC Paris 2015 :)

Being a delegate in WGC Paris 2015 🙂

Hanging out with Bu Lies Kurniasih at Pertamina's impressive stand at WGC Paris 2015

Hanging out with Bu Lies Kurniasih at Pertamina’s impressive stand at WGC Paris 2015: that’s a touch screen table like the ones in movies

Next Destination: Vienna!

A day before the departure date, my Director notified me that I was assigned to join to assist the Minister’s group in Vienna. So, on the 3rd and 4th of June, the Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources along with top officials from the ministry, including my bosses, both my Director and Director General, and officials from Indonesia’s very own National Oil Company was set to go to the 6th International OPEC Seminar in Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria. I guess that event was a precious moment to initiate (and continue) dialogue with oil producing countries for cooperation in the energy sector. It was also an attempt for Indonesia to rejoin OPEC. So a day before the departure date, my boss summoned me to his office and told me that I was assigned to join the group in Vienna to assist during those 2 days. There weren’t any staff from the DG of Oil & Gas coming to the event other than the international cooperation section head, so I guess they could use an extra pair of hands to help out. So that meant I had to make some calls for trip arrangements, from Paris to Vienna, and the way back. And that also meant I have to leave the conference for 2 days. An assignment is assignment, and it has to be finished. So it was another new experience for me: a business trip abroad and assisting the minister’s group. And receiving that assignment, I made a mental note of things I had to prepare for that trip like: the dress code, briefing sheets, folders, memorize the event schedule, and some basic facts of the event and other related material. I repeated over and over again in my head: ‘Don’t mess up. You can do this. Don’t mess up. You can do this.‘ Yeah I have a serious streak when it comes to assignments.

So on June 2nd, I had to take the night flight to Vienna using Austrian Airlines. Honestly I had mixed feelings about the whole trip. Before departing, someone repeatedly asked me if I was brave enough to fly on my own to Vienna. But I assured him that I’ll be fine. I flew from New York to Jakarta alone 2 years ago, so the 2 hour flight shouldn’t have been such a hassle. Well, I was wrong. It seemed that Murphy’s law proved itself during that day. The traffic was horrendous, the zipper on my skirt broke (trust me this had nothing to do with the carbs I’ve been gulping since I got there haha), and there was a glitch when I checked in: the airline guy was unaware of the visa free policy for Indonesian service passports. But after a little patience everything turned out to be OK. The airplane had an old feel to it, and I usually find it tricky to adjust to new airlines, so I thought I could use a glass of wine to fall asleep, or at least to relax a bit.

The famous hazelnut wafer and a glass of wine

The famous hazelnut wafer and a glass of wine

I got to Vienna at night (which meant another night of sleep deprivation). The OPEC seminar was on the next day so I had to be on top of my game. Tagging along a group of bosses meant that you have to stand by, be sharp and alert for on the spot & spontaneous errands. Thank God I made the decision to buy an Orange SIM Card so coordination and communication was not Wi-Fi dependent (which can be a pain in the ass when you’re abroad since not all public places have free and reliable Wi-Fi). Buying an Orange SIM Card ended up being cheaper than activating Indosat roaming so it was a good deal. For 40 euros I got 1 GB of data for 2 weeks, and a lot of free texts and calls. And I could use the SIM Card outside of France too so it was great.

With the minister (Menteri ESDM), DG of Oil and Gas (Dirjen Migas), commisioner of Pertamina (Tanri Abeng)

With the minister Pak Sudirman Said (Menteri ESDM), Pak IGN Wiratmaja DG of Oil and Gas (Dirjen Migas), Pak Wawan Head of UPK ESDM, Pak Agus my director, Pak Sentot the section head of international affairs, Pak Tanri Abeng commisioner of Pertamina, and officials from the Indonesian Embassy

On the morning of June 3rd we walked from the hotel to Hofburg Palace. I was the only girl in the group and I had heels on (not wedges, sigh). So I had to keep up with the group. There was this guy from the embassy who took pictures along the walk to Hofburg Palace and my face in the pictures was really full of struggle haha. The seminar was interesting and it was held in this fancy palace. The OPEC Seminar reminded me a lot about Model UN. Each country read aloud their position papers and outside the conference room there was a lot of unmoderated caucus going on. In Model UN, unmoderated caucus is where the real business happens. It’s when delegates informally meet to negotiate. I guess the OPEC Seminar was the real deal. Outside the room, the committee provided meeting rooms for bilateral meetings between countries, mostly represented by their energy/petroleum ministers which also meant an exchange of souvenirs between countries. During that event, the Indonesian minister got to meet with ministers from Saudi Arabia, UEA, Iran, Iraq, Angola, and Kuwait.

the room of the seminar

the room where the seminar was held

In front of Hofburg Palace

In front of Hofburg Palace

Well it turned out on the day of the seminar I had some spare hours. Luckily the venue was only a brief stroll from Volksgarten, a beautiful garden with pretty flowers. I love flowers. It was a hot day so I took off my blazer and cooled off in the shade enjoying the sight of pretty, blooming flowers.

the pretty garden

the pretty garden

Me in Volksgarten. The weather was so hot, my skin got really itchy from sweating too much

Me in Volksgarten. The weather was so hot, my skin got really itchy from sweating too much.

So after 2 days of negotiation, the group flew to Azerbaizan for another bilateral meeting, and I flew back to Paris to resume my participation in WGC. Before departing with the ESDM group, we had the chance to hang out a bit. It was a rare opportunity to be in the same table with these bosses to have some ice cream. I made this mental note to really work on my small talk.

When I returned to Paris, it was also hot (what a drastic change of weather in one week)! The rule of thumb of zero expectations was also applied. Don’t expect to have enough time (or energy) to explore the city, or well to multitask work with traveling (I learned this over my months assisting the DG). During my trip to Vienna I planned to explore the city using the iconic public transportation (if I had the opportunity) but I ended up being way too tired until my boss called me to join for dinner with the minister and the CEO of Pertamina.

Thank God the whole trip went well. I’m really thankful for the helpful people along the way. I also didn’t lose my wallet or anything like how everyone warned me. Even though I didn’t explore Paris (I didn’t go in the Louvre or any other museum, I didn’t go on the Seine cruise, I didn’t go up on Eiffel Tower, I didn’t enjoy macaroons at the Laduree in Champs Elysees), it was still a great experience for learning and networking. I bumped into a couple of seniors from the ITB Chemical Engineering Department also attending the conference, Mrs. Isabella Hutahaean (TK93) and Mr. Nanang Untung (TK77). We had really insightful conversations.

At first it was overwhelming to be the single delegate from the ministry since there weren’t any seniors from my office coming to the World Gas Conference. I was also the youngest. It was a bit intimidating at first since most of the people going there were very experienced with 10-30 years of experience, compared to the newbie I am with only one year of experience. But I decided to turn that into a challenge and just be the wide eyed kid eagerly learning about everything. There were a lot of conference materials and annual reports about gas from the International Gas Union at the conference and I took all of them home to study. Another interesting thing is, I’ve already known about WGC from last year. Last year when it was open for abstract submission I was thinking of submitting an article about policies regarding natural gas. But I wasn’t confident and the application fee was a significant sum (with the current funding system that is quite rigid, I doubted that I could get funding from the office), so I ended up not writing anything. Since I plan to study abroad, I thought getting my writing published and presented in seminars would be very good for skill building, experience building and also CV building. And I do enjoy writing. That’s why after WGC, I hoped that one day I can present my paper in the next WGC or any other international seminar on energy/oil and gas. Actually after the conference I got an idea to consider to focus on natural gas for my master’s degree since it’s such a relevant and interesting topic, but hey clearly that’s subject to discussion. But all in all it was a very nice highlight to my year (so far). I mean this will become a memory I’d like to remember one day and tell my grandkids “When Grandma was 23 years old, she went to Paris and Vienna on her own …. “ 🙂

To sum up, it was my first time to Europe, it was for business, and I do hope to return one day, for business or pleasure, but if it’s for pleasure hopefully it would be without my laptop haha and definitely not alone 😉


3 thoughts on “Paris & Vienna: My First Business Trip Abroad

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