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

Virtual Public Health Study Tour

Nha-Vi Huynh is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from La Trobe University. Vi undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in November 2021.

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

I chose to undertake the Virtual PHST to develop a richer understanding of public health, which is one of my passions and core focuses in my Health Sciences studies. Furthermore, I wanted to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the history, language, arts, and culture of Indonesia. I was fortunate enough to travel to Bali in early 2020, which sparked my desire to learn more about Indonesia from a genuine, academic, and intercultural perspective. This tour offered that insight while giving me the opportunity to go overseas, albeit virtually!

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

Yes, I am grateful to have received an NCP Mobility grant, which is a fantastic initiative that encourages Australian students to broaden their knowledge about the Indo-Pacific. I believe that the NCP is an important initiative as it not only strengthens cross-cultural relationships within this region, but also makes it more accessible for individuals to contribute as global citizens. Through the NCP, the increase in worldwide collaboration is achieved by removing financial, cultural, and communicative barriers.

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

Honestly, I found the most rewarding part of this virtual program was being a participant. Every moment of the tour has been incredibly fun and impactful – from learning about the range of contemporary public health issues in Indonesia, and forging new friendships across the country and waters, to partaking in cultural activities.

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

Experiencing Zoom fatigue. The intensity of the online classes each day equated to prolonged use of technology and concentration. As much as you try to buffer the negative effects, the symptoms of Zoom fatigue (eye strain and exhaustion) can still surface over time. Nonetheless, the ACICIS staff and fellow peers were excellent in keeping up the momentum and lifting everyone’s spirits throughout the program. We all faced this challenge together and supported one another through it!

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

As a result of this virtual tour, I have become more aware of the variety of public health issues in Indonesia, including HIV/AIDS, neglected tropical diseases, water and sanitation management, COVID-19 surveillance system, and sexual and reproductive health. One significant understanding I have learnt is that public health issues in Indonesia are complex, and thus requires “unity in diversity” (Bhinekka Tunggal Ika – Indonesia’s national motto). During the virtual field visit to the Code River, I learnt more about how water and sanitation management was improved due to collective efforts. Gotong royong (the concept of cooperation among the members of community) was essential to the housing development near the Code River, which required the direct community involvement. This has led to the members of the community engaging in creating a healthier environment for the entire community. While gotong royong used to be just about people in social bubbles helping one another, this collaborative culture has now expanded during COVID-19 and all over the world. Private and social enterprises, local and national governments, and communities have joined hands to help one each other. Hence, gotong royong has wide-reaching implications for new and ongoing partnerships for developing effective coordinated approaches to address the systemic issues in society.

Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?

All the virtual fieldtrips were insightful, but my favourite would have to be visiting the World Mosquito Program site in Yogyakarta. It was the first time I learnt about the Wolbachia (naturally occurring bacteria found in insects) method, which involves breeding Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to contain viruses (dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever) from spreading, thus providing protection among local communities. In addition to improving the health conditions of local communities, there is active participation from the community members, and robust partnerships developed with community groups and local health officials. As we explored the World Mosquito Program facilities, we were given an in-depth explanation of the rigorous breeding process, where the female Wolbachia colony from Australia mate with the local Aedes aegypti colony in Yogyakarta to produce more Wolbachia-carrying offspring. Also, to test for quality assurance of Wolbachia, volunteers are needed for human blood feeding! This requires someone to stand for 20-minutes while placing their arm through a nested lid of a bucket of mosquitos (Would you willingly do this? I would politely say ‘no thanks’ because that just terrifies me). During this fieldtrip, I realised how this innovative, self-sustaining Wolbachia method plays such a critical role in preventing mosquito-borne diseases all over the world, including Australia and Indonesia.

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

Absolutely! The entire tour was a highly immersive and fun experience. Since we were unable to visit Indonesia, I had the opportunity to partake in cultural activities including traditional dancing, culinary and language classes. It was my first time learning Bahasa Indonesia, so I am thankful for my language teacher’s patience and guidance, and for my group members learning with me. The ACICIS staff also encouraged students to practise Bahasa Indonesia during our academic classes, which I really appreciated. These cultural activities certainly gave me a ‘taste’ of what Indonesian culture is, and I only wish to experience more of this in person! Additionally, through my academic classes, I also learnt about the great influence that Indonesia culture has on health beliefs, behaviours, and practices. An example of this may be the perceptions of what the concept of illness is, or how the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health can impinge on help-seeking behaviours.

Q: Why it is important for Australians to learn more about Indonesia and vice a versa?

Before I undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour, I did not know much about Indonesia. Throughout this tour and afterwards, I realised that more than ever, it is important to form intercultural partnerships between Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. I have come to appreciate how the Indonesia health system serves the health needs of the people within the Indonesian archipelago, considering the diversity of languages, cultures, and creeds. While many health issues may be common among different countries, there may be region-specific factors and interventions, which we can all learn from. There is so much potential in building meaningful intercultural relationships that transcends language, cultural, and geographic barriers, creating richer collaboration for realistic, tangible solutions to global health challenges.

Q: Did you enjoy discussing public health issues with the Indonesian students? 

I really enjoyed learning about the range of contemporary public health issues in Indonesia. The Q&A’s during our seminars were fantastic – everyone brought great questions that further enriched the academic discourse. Dialoguing with the lecturers, local communities, and people with lived experience has been an amazing opportunity to gain authentic perspectives of the current public health issues in Indonesia. In one of my groups, we had people hailing from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Singapore, and Indonesia. Everyone came from a diverse range of backgrounds, and therefore were able to offer unique perspectives and experiences to the table. It was probably my first time working in a team where people came from different areas of the world. I have worked in many teams locally but this experience has been phenomenal. We supported each other throughout the tour – during the icebreakers, tutorial presentations, Q&A for the seminars, and group presentations. Everyone was so eager to contribute. There is something special about having a shared purpose in learning; we’re all here to listen to one another and learn together. With this common understanding, we presented on the following topics: Indonesian health system (primary, secondary, and tertiary health care system) and the role of stakeholders; and the behavioural and epidemiological features of HIV in Indonesia, including the approaches used to prevent and control HIV.

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

Going on this study tour has ignited my desire to learn more about cultures and health challenges around the world. I am eager to focus on public health on a broader scale, within Australia and beyond the international borders. I have learnt so much from this tour and see it as a springboard to further address these health inequities throughout my role as a future healthcare practitioner, with the hopes that I may visit Indonesia and other countries within the Indo-Pacific region. During the program, I had many opportunities to apply critical thinking and ethical principles regarding effective public health and health promotion practices. Additionally, this tour has helped to further develop my professional identity as a future health promotion practitioner, where culturally sensitive and holistic care will be prioritised among various population groups.

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

Not only would I recommend the Virtual PHST to my friends, but to any university student who is looking to understand the world from a global perspective. Prior to the program, I was doubtful about how two weeks of intensive online classes might turn out. However, this program surpassed my expectations, challenging my views and attitudes in ways I could not have imagined. Throughout the tour, I had so much fun engaging with the meaty discussions and cultural activities alongside my classmates, lecturers, ACICIS staff, and other supports.

Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?

Terima kasih! This conveys ‘thank you’ in English, though terima means ‘to accept’ and kasih means ‘love’, so terima kasih literally means ‘to accept your love’ – which I find to be rather beautiful.

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

Thought-provoking. Comprehensive. Dynamic.