Isha Singhal is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The Australian National University. Isha undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in July 2021.
Q: Why did you decide to undertake this virtual program?
Indonesia’s cultural experience and its strategic importance as an Australian partner made me interested in the program. I was very keen to understand how given its own religious, economic and social characteristics, Indonesia handled public health challenges. Particularly, in response to COVID-19, it has become really interesting to look at how countries leverage their own socio-political situations to get the best public health response.
Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Why do you think the NCP is an important initiative?
Yes, I was fortunate enough to receive the NCP grant and it played a vital role in my ability to attend the program. I think the NCP grant goes a long way in ensuring that such a vital global and cultural experience remains accessible to Australians of all backgrounds, and in strengthening ties with the Indo-Pacific region. Initiatives like the NCP are instrumental in ensuring that Australians have better cultural awareness and are ready to participate as a graduate in a globalised world.
Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual program?
I think the most rewarding part of the program for me was the cross-cultural immersion and the ability to meet and make friends with such amazing people. I loved the ability to not just gain a better understanding of public health systems, but also the chance to learn the Indonesian language, and traditional dance and cooking.
Our buddies and programs coordinators organised so many fun events and games, and I have many memories that I will cherish for a long time.
Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on the Virtual PHST?
I found coordinating the time difference to be the most challenging aspect, however luckily the program was exceptionally well organised, and it made coordinating multiple time zones much easier. I also found it hard at times to remain up to date on the readings, but after a few days I better understood how to do my readings more effectively and it taught me a valuable skill that I’m sure will help me in other parts of life.
Q: What public health issues in Indonesia have you become more interested in/aware of as a result of this virtual tour?
I came from a background outside of public health, but doing the program has made me really interested in different localised aspects of public health. It’s made me more aware of the in-depth socio-cultural factors associated with implementing public health-based policies.
I’m now really interested in how different public health issues are address in response to social issues at a local level. I think its exciting to look at all the innovative solutions that people in Indonesia have come up with, given the diversity across islands.
Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?
I enjoyed the trip to the World Mosquito Program. I think it was remarkable to see the inside of a lab facility and the unique scientific methods adopted to address uncontrolled mosquito breeding. I also admired the way in which people in the facility worked and I aspire to have that level of resilience.
Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program?
I learnt so much about Indonesian Culture, and for that I am so thankful. I got the wonderful opportunity to explore Indonesia far beyond textbooks, but having the chance to interact with people from Indonesia and learning about their culture directly from them. The program gave us the opportunity to learn Indonesian language, dance and cooking and weeks after the program, I still remember everything I learnt.
Q: Why it is important for Australians to learn more about Indonesia and vice a versa?
Indonesia and Australia have a long-standing relationship and will continue to be important to each other in today’s ever increasing globalised world. Beyond that, Indonesia is a nation with a wonderful culture and some amazing people, and I have no doubt that all Australians would gain a lot personally by interacting with people from the country.
Given the interdependence of Australia and Indonesia on each other, learning about each other’s nations would only help us strengthen the ties that we’ve had for decades, and build friendships that hopefully last us lifetimes.
Q: Did you enjoy discussing public health issues with the Indonesian students? If yes, can you describe your experience?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think we all gained so much perspective and understanding from our group conversations. It really showed us the difference between a theoretical understanding of something versus actually communicating with those who have lived experiences in the area.
We presented on a variety of topics including COVID-19, food safety and abortion, all key public health issues which are heavily reliant on local and day to day practices.
Q: How do you think the Virtual Public Health Study Tour will influence your future career or studies?
I think the learnings, not just academic but also skills I gained during the program will help me a lot in the future. I think the program went a long way in enhancing my cultural awareness and helping me develop time management skills. I think it has definitely developed my understanding of Indonesia and interest in the Indo-Pacific region.
Q: Would you recommend this virtual program to your friends?
Yes! There’s so much to learn. You don’t even know what you don’t know until you give it a shot. It is so well organised.
Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?
Q: Describe your experience of the Virtual PHST in three words:
Novel, exciting, and a wholesome community.