Shaun Thomas is a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient from The University of Western Australia. Shaun undertook the Virtual Public Health Study Tour in July 2021.
Q: Why did you decide to undertake this virtual program?
I undertook this program with my friend, so that we could gain a bit of knowledge about public health and what is required to improve health in populations (and gain some course credits in the process).
But as I learnt more about the program, I also thought it would be great to gain some knowledge about Indonesia and its culture! Even though it is one of Australia’s close neighbours, I did not know a lot about it.
Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Why do you think the NCP is an important initiative?
I did receive an NCP Mobility Grant. The NCP grant, for me, is what made this experience really accessible.
Money affects so many of the decisions we make, and while it is not ideal, this includes regarding cross-cultural education (given there is a lot of cost required for cross-cultural programs).
The NCP is so important in removing possible financial barriers for students so that we can learn without worrying about cost. It helps us focus more on our learning, so that we can maybe come up with or implement solutions to major problems in the future. With these financial barriers lifted, we can dare to explore so much more about the Indo-Pacific region!
Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual program?
The most rewarding part of the tour for me was hearing the experiences of both people who have dealt with disease and health issues firsthand as well as the people who try and help those affected, as their personal experiences are so valuable and eye-opening.
This is not to mention all the friends I made in the process of the tour, and the student buddies who were so great to talk to!
Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on the Virtual PHST?
The most challenging aspect of the Virtual PHST for me was being able to keep up with everything being taught! Whether it was through language classes or the seminars or even the assigned readings, I learnt so many new things every single day, and sometimes it made my head hurt (although it was obviously very rewarding in the end).
Q: What public health issues in Indonesia have you become more interested in/aware of as a result of this virtual tour?
I think it would be impossible not to include COVID-19 as a major public health issue I learnt so much about – while this is a global issue, seeing how it has affected Indonesia (as a very populous nation), and particularly the way it did at the time of the July VPHST, really gave me so much more insight regarding its impact, and it helped me understand the way it should be managed (and even about infectious disease in general).
Learning about the management of HIV/AIDs was also really thought-provoking in terms of understanding how to navigate an issue that is in essence an infectious disease, but is strongly tied with culture and beliefs as well (which are aspects of life that are really strong in Indonesia).
I also learnt so much about women’s health (e.g. family planning) during this VPHST – something that I had absolutely no idea about in Australia, let alone in Indonesia. Again, I got to see how culture affects health policy and vice versa.
Q: What was your favourite virtual fieldtrip?
My favourite virtual field trip was to the Kali Code River settlement, as it demonstrated the effectiveness and importance of community-led initiatives, and how big a difference it can make when residents participate in village management and healthy practices. I personally found this to be really inspiring.
Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program?
Certainly – through the language classes which were extremely informative if not a little bit scary because they were mostly in Bahasa Indonesia (shout out to Pak Abduh), the classes about Indonesian dancing and cooking, and from hearing about Indonesian culture from student buddies and seminar leaders themselves, I was able to learn SO much about Indonesian culture.
Q: Why it is important for Australians to learn more about Indonesia and vice a versa?
1. Australia and Indonesia are really close Indo-Pacific neighbours, and as a result, it is so important that we know more about each other and form a strong international partnership (Australians visit Bali all the time anyway!)
2. Indonesia is the fourth biggest country in the world! It is a nation that houses so many different types of people and cultures. To know more about Indonesia is to know more about the world as a whole.
3. Each of our two nations have so much to learn from each other, in terms of approaches to health care, and strategies of disease management (e.g. Australia’s health promotion systems and Indonesia’s puskesmas systems)
Q: Did you enjoy discussing public health issues with the Indonesian students? If yes, can you describe your experience?
I absolutely enjoyed discussing public health issues with the Indonesian student buddies. They each had so much insight regarding Indonesian culture (of course), but also public health issues that face Indonesia and had really good ideas for possible solutions.
They were also extremely friendly to us and always looking to learn more, and quite inspiring that way!
My groups presented both about COVID-19 in Indonesia and HIV/AIDs management in Indonesia (now that reflect on it, that is probably why those were the most memorable issues for me).
Q: How do you think the Virtual Public Health Study Tour will influence your future career or studies?
After the Virtual Public Health Study Tour, I really think I would like to work or study in Indonesia in the future, or even partner with organisations committed to improving Indonesian public health.
This study tour is simply an experience that I will always remember, and I think that as much as I learnt over those two weeks, working or studying in Indonesia will teach me so much more about public health and how to make a difference.
Q: Would you recommend this virtual program to your friends?
Of course, I certainly would!
To anyone who is considering it, DO IT. The experience is so worth it, and you will end up a better health professional or even just all-around-person for it.
Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase?
Q: Describe your experience of the Virtual PHST in three words:
Educating, fun, memorable.