Entrepreneur to MBA: How My Indonesian Culture Taught Me to Invest in Myself

Family and community support essential as a first-gen college student

When I first moved to the U.S. from Indonesia after graduating with an undergraduate degree in food science, I struggled with low self-esteem. I had doubts that I would be able to secure a good job, especially without much work experience. 

I had only worked part-time as a teaching assistant during college. However, even with some experience under my belt, finding a job was still challenging. After applying for several jobs, I was thrilled to accept an entry-level office position at the California Department of Justice. From there, I worked even harder to grow in my career. 

During the four years I worked for the State of California, I received a promotion almost every year. However, I realized I still had much to learn and decided to pursue an MBA at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. 

Investing in myself by furthering my education has been a never-ending learning journey. By being humble and finding the chance to learn from everyone around me, I've grown both personally and professionally.

My Indonesian Roots Influence My Small Businesses

As a first-generation college student, I recognize that I wouldn't be the Bay Area MBA student I am today without the unwavering support of my family and community. 

Growing up, I witnessed the hard work and the sacrifices my parents made to provide for our family and instill in me the value of education. My parents, who did not have the opportunity to pursue higher education, always emphasized the importance of learning and investing in yourself. They taught me that in today's world, your mind is your best asset, earned and owned by yourself. Their wisdom has been a guiding light for me throughout my academic journey.

Gracia Liunita and her family dresses in traditional Indonesian attire
Gracia Liunita with her family wearing Indonesian-inspired apparel that is available at her Etsy shop, BatikBatique.

Their sacrifices inspired me to pursue my dreams and make the most of every opportunity. Always take chances, and don’t be afraid to tackle new things. However, I also recognize that not everyone has the same level of support and encouragement. That's why it's important to give back to our communities and be a source of inspiration and support for others.

This has driven me to manage multiple small businesses by partnering with my sister. Together we started BatikBatique, an Etsy shop to showcase batik, a traditional fabric from Indonesia that has been given a modern twist for everyday wear. Our products are made in Indonesia to support our local sellers. In addition to this, we also co-own Go Reng SF, a food business that specializes in Indonesian fried snacks made with the recipe from our families to bring the authentic taste of Indonesia to San Francisco during pop-up events.

Juggling school, work, and running a business is no easy feat, but it has taught me valuable organizational, time management, and multitasking skills. I have had to sacrifice my free time, weekends, and even sleep to make it all work. Despite these challenges, I remain committed to giving back to my community and actively volunteer at my church. 

My goal in pursuing an MBA degree is to continue to grow professionally and personally, making a positive impact in both my career and volunteer experiences. 

As a proud Indonesian, I am determined to promote my culture and take it to the international stage. I aspire to increase awareness and appreciation of Indonesian culture around the world. I am confident that a UC Davis MBA will help me develop the skills to make this a reality.

Group of students on UC Davis campus
Gracia Liunita with the Bay Area MBA entering class of Fall 2022.

Seeking Opportunities for Growth

One of the most valuable things I've learned during my MBA journey is the importance of support and community. The UC Davis Graduate School of Management is a diverse community, with students that have amazing backgrounds and experiences. By sharing our stories and supporting one another, we can create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone can succeed. 

I've also learned that we should never stop learning and that it's essential to seek out opportunities for growth. Whether it's seeking advice from a mentor, joining a club or student association, or simply reaching out to a classmate, many resources are available to help us succeed.

As the saying goes, "If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room." It reminds me to surround myself with people who will make me better, who will challenge and motivate me to grow and take steps to move forward in life.