Meet Barry Thrasher, the expat kid who’s not at all a kid. His forward-thinking attitude drives him to realize his dreams and not just talk the talk. This eloquent 17-year-old likes to keep himself busy with volunteering for humanitarian and social causes. Jakarta will need to fill a void of a good presence when Barry leaves for college next year.
Where are you from, Barry? Tell us a little bit of your background.
My dad’s American, he’s from Detroit, Michigan, and moved here about 20 years ago and met my mum. My dad grew up in Detroit in its golden era, so he saw a better Detroit than what we see now. I was born here but I go back to Detroit almost every summer.
This is our first interview with an expat kid, we’d like to know how you feel about being an expat kid? What do expats your age do for fun?
I grew up listening to stories of how my dad socialized in his day where there was a strong community living without walls and everyone was friendly, teenagers could go wherever they wanted and had options on what to do; the world he lived in is markedly different from ours now. Living in Jakarta as a teenager meant being exposed to the magical social trifecta – school, home, the mall. Kids coming from the US to Jakarta observe this trifecta and would say “wow, this is very depressing and constricting”. Typically, after school, I’d go home or do my volunteering work. If I do go out with friends, it’s on the weekends and usually to the mall to watch a movie. Maybe, once in a blue moon, I’d go clubbing with school friends. So, to answer your question, you literally are restricted to the expatriate community you belong to, unless you break that bubble.
What about at school? What’s your circle of friends like?
I’m a senior at JIS (Jakarta International School) and I pretty much grew up with people who are considered ‘third-culture kids’; everyone had a passport country as their identity. Initially that’s how we identified each other; the Brazilian kid, the American kid, etc. People used to regard JIS as an American school – American curriculum and all that – it simulates a very American environment in terms of how the social orders are; there’s the cool group, the jocks, what have you. I grew up with that sort of stigma that you have to fit in to a certain group. But once we hit high school, we had to forget about the social stereotypes, we had more important things to worry about like the SAT scores, our GPAs; that’s when the identity stereotyping started to fade away, we just became a community.
Why do you volunteer a lot when you can be out partying with friends?
It goes back to the question of ‘what’s your philosophy in life?’ What are your priorities, your values, and what do you see as having a good time? For me, I like meeting new people and exploring new things. I’m not saying I don’t go clubbing and hang out with friends, but I think volunteering is something exciting.
What does volunteering mean to you?
There are two types of volunteers; the first are people who volunteer to get a pat on the back and add points to their resume and college application – because college is always the end goal for high school kids. On the other side of the spectrum are people who volunteer because they like the thrill of meeting new people, and giving back to the community; whether it be by building houses, or collecting stuffed animals for hospital kids, or writing articles to raise awareness on certain issues. By doing these things, you are breaking the bubble, you are shattering the previously said ‘social trifecta’ of home, school, the mall. You essentially nullify those restrictions on you. No one put those on you, it’s all self-inflicted, so you’re the one who can break that. Go out and do something about it.
What’s GINDO? How did you start getting involved?
GINDO is a really cool concept, actually. It’s essentially a community with shared values that want to participate in solving interdisciplinary social and environmental issues. JIS students went to the Global Issues Network (the GIN in GINDO) conference six years ago. They came back and explained how the conference was really expensive, and so what’s the point of that? Let’s spread that to the masses. So, we set up a domestic conference called GINDO so that local schools can get involved and broaden their horizons. Since then we’ve grown to about 500 members in 11 different schools. It’s entirely run by students of the participating high schools. We hold a conference every year with inspiring keynote speakers explaining about what they do and acknowledge what different organizations are doing and how you can help.
GINDO also hosts workshops where kids can learn how to make hydroponic systems and implement it to their schools. Everyone gets involved and there’s tangible action; it’s not just all talk. GINDO adopts an egalitarian system, so there’s no alpha school responsible for the events; all the responsibilities are spread out equally between the schools involved. It works really well with teenagers – but I don’t think it works well with adults. I’m very hopeful for GINDO. The new element in GINDO, beside the conference and workshops, is ActionX where we shuttle out hundreds of high school kids to different parts of Jakarta and do community service in those areas – from cleanups, to building orphanages. That is the essence of GINDO; actually doing stuff. Again, when you’re involved in these activities, you are breaking that stereotypic social bubble, which is not something a lot of expatriate kids do these days.
What are your other projects?
I also do something called Parlemen Muda, it’s like youth parliament; I’m the managing director. Parlemen Muda is a Subsidiary of Indonesia Future Leaders (IFL). And we draft policies for youth aged 17-25 using the government’s model of legislations. I’m also involved in Model UN.
Does your family support what you do and help?
They don’t necessarily ‘support’ in a coddling way, but rather they’re doing laissez-faire parenting where they give me guidance but also autonomy; it’s very empowering.
What grade are you in? We heard you’re continuing your studies abroad soon?
I’m a senior in high school. I’ve applied to some schools in America and was just deferred from Brown University. I’m looking for schools with a small student-teacher ratio. I’m considering taking a global liberal arts program.
Do you have a motto you live by?
Do what makes you happy and make that your thing. If you like to skateboard, then do something with it; raise awareness by skateboarding across the city. If you like to paint or draw, that’s great, you can auction your artwork for charity. Find your passion and people around you can help; just start doing your part.