2020 was a challenging year, while the borders were still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ACICIS launched its very first virtual program in December 2020. 29 students from 8 Australian universities joined the two-week Virtual Public Health Study Tour (VPHST). 28 of 29 students who undertook the virtual program were supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Program. The students spent two weeks learning about the rural and urban public health issues currently facing Indonesia, including the latest COVID-19 pandemic situation in Indonesia. The inaugural virtual tour was led by the VPHST Tour Leader, Dr Lila Wulandari who was also the in-country PHST Tour Leader in 2017 and 2018.

The virtual tour started with an opening ceremony as the tour was officially opened by the Dean of Faculty of Public Health Universitas Indonesia (FPH UI) as the host university, Prof Sabarinah Prasetyo and the ACICIS Resident Director, Dr Adrian Budiman, followed by orientation from the ACICIS and UI staff. The students also got a chance to meet their counterparts, the FPH UI students; and broaden their network by meeting with the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) Jakarta Chapter in a fun networking and ice-breaking event.

Like the in-country program, the students were required to attend a series of seminars presented by various speakers, such as experts and lecturers from FPH UI, Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Indonesian National Task Force for COVID-19, and local NGOs like Samsara and Rifka Annisa. Apart from joining a series of webinar on public health topics, the students also got an opportunity to visit Code Riverside Community to learn about water and sanitation management; World Mosquito Program to gain insights into how the project aims to minimise the spread of dengue fever; and Yakkum Rehabilitation Centre to get to know the services available to assist people with disabilities and mental health issues through a live virtual tour with an ACICIS staff reporting directly from the sites in Yogyakarta. Moreover, the students also virtually visited Puskesmas and Posyandu – local community health centers in Yogyakarta and Bogor, hospitals in Depok and Bogor, and waste management sites in Bogor through pre-recorded videos with representatives from each site giving presentation and answering questions.

Since the students were unable to visit Indonesia, they got the opportunity to dive deeper into Indonesian culture through virtual language classes, traditional culinary class, and traditional dance class hosted by Lembaga Bahasa International (LBI) UI. During the traditional culinary class, they learned the story behind a royal cuisine called Songgo Buwono and followed the instructor to cook it at their own kitchens.

The tour was wrapped up with academic presentations. Students were assigned to groups with Indonesian students from FPH UI and they delivered presentations to the Dean of FPH UI, FPH UI lecturers, Tour Leader, and ACICIS staff. Then followed by a touching virtual closing ceremony where the students suddenly changed their Zoom background to “Thank you.” and special performance by an Indonesian Singer, Ourel Sinuhaji. ACICIS would like to thank our first cohort of the Virtual Public Health Study Tour students who made this pilot such a success. We hope you enjoyed the tour and we look forward to seeing you all in Indonesia soon when this pandemic ends!