In early 2021 I completed one of the Australian Consortium for Indonesian Studies’ (ACICIS) virtual mobility programs. The programs are normally in-country but due to the ongoing pandemic they were delivered online. As a medical science student our opportunities for international exchange are limited so I was thrilled when I learnt that I could participate in the ACICIS Public Health Study Tour (PHST).
The PHST is a unique opportunity to learn about the complex public health challenges, such as the triple burden of disease in Indonesia and to understand what more can be done to improve outcomes. We also participated in language classes, culinary classes and dance lessons which enhanced our understanding of Indonesian culture. One of the many highlights from the tour was learning about Indonesia’s ongoing response to COVID-19. It was interesting to discuss some of the obstacles that the country is facing in relation to vaccine distribution, acceptance, contact tracing, and how to maintain a united front against the pandemic.
I believe that the cultural insight, intercultural sensitivity, and cross-cultural communication skills I gained will benefit me in both my personal and professional life and help me adapt to a increasingly globalised world. The current pandemic has highlighted just how important it is to collaborate on international health issues. To achieve global health security, Australia must continue to strengthen its international partnerships with trust, understanding and mutual respect of each societies cultural differences.
I am passionate about inclusivity, diversity and fostering intercultural understanding. Learning to accept and celebrate different ways of being and doing from other cultures can be difficult but it is crucial for cultivating cultural self-awareness and encourages us to become mindful global citizens. My newfound understanding of the public health challenges in Indonesia has given me a strong sense of social responsibility to learn about what I can do to enact positive change. I am particularly concerned about issues such as the marginalisation of poor and vulnerable people who will experience a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 illness due to inequities in access to food, shelter, and healthcare.
My best memories from the PHST include meeting and getting to know our friendly Indonesian buddies from Universitas Indonesia, fellow Australian students, the ACICIS team and all the knowledgeable speakers, teachers, and academics. It was a privilege to be taught by so many academics from the prestigious Universitas Indonesia which has the oldest and one of the best Public Health Faculties in Indonesia! There were several opportunities to chat and make friends between seminars and fieldtrips in our group time as well as during a social event that the tour leaders organised for us. Indonesians are fun, humorous, and kind and it was impressive to learn how peaceful and tolerant they are as a multi-ethnic society. Indonesians are also caring and will go out of their way to help foreign students. Many academics were kind enough to share additional resources with students who were interested in topics and even invited students to accompany them on field trips in Indonesia in the future to learn more of the language.
I keep in contact with my Indonesian buddies and really look forward to seeing what they achieve in the next twenty years as future leaders in the Public Health sector. I hope to work in the Indo-Pacific region one day and I am grateful that the study tour has already connected me with bright students and healthcare organisations that I may collaborate with in the future. To progress towards my goal, I am continuing to engage with the region through bi-lateral youth associations such as AIYA, ACYA and multilateral youth associations like AASYP. I recommend anyone interested in the Indo-Pacific space to get involved with these associations as it is a great way to acquaint yourself with young professionals and students who are passionate about Australia’s partnerships in the region.
I was fortunate to be a recipient of the New Colombo Plan’s (NCP) mobility grant for the PHST and am proud to say that I am now an ACICIS and NCP alumni! The NCP is an important initiative of the Australian Government which funds in-country or virtual undergraduate student mobility programs in the Indo-Pacific region. I am very appreciative of the government’s generous support enabling students from varying disciplines and socioeconomic backgrounds to afford mobility programs and have enriching educational and cultural experiences. The NCP enables students to be at the forefront of Australia’s exciting public diplomacy efforts and to form and develop lasting people to people links and deepen partnerships with organisations and communities in our region.
I wholeheartedly encourage other students to participate in any virtual programs through ACICIS and in the Indo-Pacific and to apply for NCP funding. They will embark on an immersive holistic educational and cultural experiences and gain a deeper understanding of our Indo-Pacific neighbours who will also benefit by facilitating the programs. Students will form meaningful international networks that could open future career opportunities and improve their employability. NCP funded students will have the chance to become part of a group of tens of thousands of likeminded Australian NCP alumni who will have access to professional development and networking events. These alumni will be pioneers who will connect Australia to the Indo-Pacific in this Asian century. Their unique insights into the history, culture and geopolitical environment of many Indo-Pacific nations and increased Asia-literacy will help to advance Australia’s soft power in the region.
Natasha Kidd, Bachelor of Medical Science participated in Public Health Study Tour (PHST) Virtual Program in Indonesia in S1 2021