New Colombo Plan - Connect to Australia’s future - study in the region.

Virtual Public Health Study Tour

Jack Taylor is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The University of Western Australia. Jack undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in January 2021.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake this virtual program?

I had heard about the ACICIS Public Health Study Tour at the start of 2020, and thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity to broaden my horizons internationally by studying abroad. However, unfortunately due to the COVID19 pandemic, the in-person program was cancelled. When I heard about the virtual program, it sounded like a great chance to fulfil my initial desire to learn about another culture and study abroad, while also developing a greater understanding of public health, which directly relates to my study of health and medical sciences. As an added bonus, I was able to scratch my travel itch, despite the closure of international borders, by “going overseas” for two weeks!


Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Why do you think the NCP is an important initiative?

Yes, I did receive a New Columbo Plan Mobility Grant, and I believe that it is an important initiative. The Indo-Pacific is a close neighbour to Australia, and improving the ties between Australia and this region, by encouraging Australian students to undertake study and internships there, should lead to great benefit for everyone involved. From my own experience, I doubt I would have undertaken a course based in Indonesia if not for the New Colombo Plan, and my experiences have vastly shaped my understanding of the Indo-Pacific, and have fostered a greater interest in the people, cultures and challenges faced by the region.


Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual program?

For me, the most rewarding part of the virtual program were the group discussions, as they represented the culmination of our learning, and they provided a great opportunity to connect with other students on the tour. Being a virtual program, initially I was worried about not having the same personal connection that happens with in-person classes, but I found the tour struck a good balance with this, in part through these discussions. As well, being able to share ideas on the topics we were studying with people from various different cultural backgrounds was very insightful and rewarding.


Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on the Virtual PHST?

The virtual nature of the program was something that I found quite daunting at first, but was ultimately a challenge I was able to overcome. On the first day of the tour, I was nervous about the wall of faces I saw, and was worried we wouldn’t be able to form the same connection you can when studying in-person. However, we soon went into small language classes, and met our groups for the first week’s presentation. My fears quickly dissolved, as we had many opportunities to actively engage, and soon we all knew each other and became friends. Another challenge of the format can be fatigue of sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time, but again, the tour leaders made sure we had lots of breaks with fun activities to keep us energised, and were always supportive.


Q: What public health issues in Indonesia have you become more interested in/aware of as a result of this virtual tour?

I learnt about a variety of public health issues present in Indonesia as a result of this virtual tour, but one that I found particularly interesting, and was not aware of before, was the shortage of healthcare workers. Part of the reason I found this to be interesting as this lack of staffing creates cascading challenges, and can exacerbate other issues, such as a further reduction in healthcare access in rural and remote communities. In addition to this, I also found the solutions introduced in order to reduce the impact of this understaffing to be very interesting. For instance, the use of volunteer community health cadres in temporary maternal and child health clinics called Posyandu, which run once per month. In this way, I found it interesting to not only develop a greater awareness of Indonesia’s public health issues, but also the solutions being implemented to alleviate them.


Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?

I really enjoyed all of the virtual fieldtrips, but if I had to choose one, I would say my favourite was the trip to Kali Code (Code River). Not only was it interesting to learn about the innovations in wastewater treatment, and changes in local attitudes to the river in order to keep it clean, but I loved having someone walk us through the village on a livestream as we moved between locations. I really enjoyed being able to gain insight into the people and culture there, hearing from both local and expert perspectives on the public health interventions and challenges faced by the community.


Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program?

Throughout the virtual program, I was able to greatly immerse myself in Indonesian culture. One of the more obvious ways this was achieved was through engaging cultural activities such as lessons in Indonesian language, traditional cooking and dance. While these explicit cultural activities certainly helped me to learn about the Indonesian culture, this was also achieved through other aspects of the tour, more indirectly. No social challenges exist in a vacuum, and so as we were learning about different public health topics, it was interesting to see how elements of culture related back these. For example, learning about attitudes towards different diseases, and especially their stigmatisation, or how traditional medical practices relate to public health issues.


Q: How do you think the Virtual Public Health Study Tour will influence your future career or studies?

Having completed the Virtual Public Health Study Tour, I have a much greater interest in public health as well as Indonesia. Looking to the future, I would love to incorporate more public health into my studies, but to also focus on it at an international level, rather than solely exploring public health within an Australian context. As well, if the opportunity arises with the opening of international borders, I would love to go to Indonesia in-person to continue to explore public health there. Even though I learnt so much over the two weeks of the tour, I feel like it is only the tip of the iceberg, and it would be great to actively participate in addressing some of the public health issues in Indonesia.


Q: Would you recommend this virtual program to your friends?

I would definitely recommend this virtual program to friends! Although I was somewhat apprehensive at first of the idea of a virtual study tour, I had a great time, and was able to learn so much in such a short period of time. Not only did the program make a valuable contribution to my academic studies, but I had a fantastic time, and met lots of great people.


Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?

There’s so many to choose from! One of the top picks would have to be: “semut, orang, gajah”, which means “ant, person, elephant”. It comes from one of the group games we played, which was an Indonesian version of rock paper scissors (ant beats elephant, elephant beats person, and person beats ant). Going forward, I’ll definitely be using semut, orang, gajah instead of rock, paper, scissors to settle all important debates.


Q: Describe your experience of the Virtual PHST in three words:

Enriching, thought-provoking and insightful.