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Virtual Development Studies Professional Practicum

Bayan Yazdani was a participant in the 2021 Virtual Development Studies Professional Practicum.  Bayan is studying a Bachelor of Arts at Flinders University. Bayan received a $3000 New Colombo Plan mobility grant to support his participation on this program.

Q: Why did you decide to undertake the ACICIS program?

In 2020, I spent three months in Bandung, Indonesia undertaking the ACICIS International Relations Program at Parahyangan University (UNPAR). Halfway through my exchange, the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic and, before long, we were instructed to leave Indonesia immediately as official case numbers began to skyrocket there. I was devastated to have to leave Indonesia earlier than I had planned and felt that I still had so much to learn about the incredibly diverse country; therefore, when I heard about the opportunity to continue my engagement with our closest neighbour (albeit virtually) I decided to apply for the DSPP virtual program.

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

Yes, I did! In fact, I have also received an in-person NCP mobility grant, along with the longer scholarship. I do believe NCP is a very important initiative because it provides so many students like myself, who would otherwise not have the opportunity to study overseas, with the chance to immerse themselves in the diverse cultures of our dynamic region: the Indo-Pacific. Furthermore, it helps project Australian soft power amongst our neighbours in an era of great geostrategic consequence, which is essential to ensuring our nation’s interests in a new albeit significantly disrupted world. The networks that the New Colombo Plan connects its scholars and grant recipients with help us connect to other emerging leaders across the region through bi- and multilateral youth associations, work experiences and regional conferences/symposiums. I am very grateful for the Government’s generous NCP funding and take pride in now being an alumnus of several of its programs.

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

I really enjoyed and appreciated being able to continue my studies of Bahasa Indonesia, even if my ability to practice it outside the classroom was limited to sharing memes with my class’ cerewat Messenger group or through language exchange facilitated by the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA). My sister-in-law is Malaysian and also speaks Bahasa; she lives in Dili, Timor Leste with my brother. Whenever I visit, I rely on my limited Indonesian skills to interact with the locals who usually don’t know much English. I have also travelled extensively across the region, so I have felt a connection with the language for a while; although I was able to gain a decent foundation through intensive formal study in 2020, I loved being able to continue where I left off with the classes at Atma Jaya University. Our class became very close-knit by the end of the program and our teacher, Ibu Eli, was incredibly kind. A big shoutout to my classmates Abbey, Aldin, Elena, Emilia, Hammad, Jacinta, Keira, Lucas, Madison, Meleva, Minh, Sophie and Tom – this experience wouldn’t have been anywhere near as rewarding or fun without you all!

Q: What did you find to be the most challenging about your experience on this virtual program?

Unsurprisingly, remaining motivated while undertaking a virtual internship wasn’t always easy. While I learnt so much about the development sector in Indonesia through this program and my internship, there were times in which I struggled to remain motivated due to not being in country and seeing the things I was learning about on the ground. In addition, due to the 3.5 hour time difference between Jakarta and Adelaide, it was sometimes tricky trying to manage my time and plan my internship hours without interfering too much with other commitments in my life.

Q: What organisation did you intern with?

I interned with Coffey (now Testra Tech) International Development for Australia Awards Indonesia (AAI): an Australian Government-funded program which provides scholarships for high-achieving students to live, study and gain new skills in Australia to contribute to their own countries’ development upon their return. I interacted with my mentor, Daniel Hunt – Program Director, through several e-mails as well as WhatsApp and Zoom calls. He provided me with great advice and insights into the development sector in Indonesia, including what position AAI has in the extended architecture of Australia’s aid and developmental assistance to Indonesia. My roles and responsibilities included conducting research and reading past annual reports to help generate the contents of AAI’s final Program Completion Report. I also organised and MC’d a virtual networking session with AAI and NCP scholars, whose programs are currently on hiatus due to the pandemic. Other smaller tasks I conducted included attending AAI information sessions to learn how the program (and Australia more generally) is promoted to Indonesian audiences, along with providing feedback on the user-friendliness of scholarship information materials and application forms.

Q: How have you found the work culture (albeit online) of your host organisation? How is it different to work experience in Australia?

Given that Tetra Tech (formerly Coffey) is actually an Australian organisation, based right here in Adelaide I believe, I think there’s not much I can comment on regarding the cultural differences I experienced on this specific program with an Australian workplace. However, I did conduct an unforgettable internship on my first ACICIS program in early 2020 with Greeneration Foundation: an environmental NGO based in Bandung which educates and empowers local communities to promote sustainable development by heightening environmentally consciousness and plastic non-dependence. One of the biggest differences I noticed between my internship there and my work experiences in Australia was the laid-back and more flexible work culture. Perhaps this is exemplified by jam karet, or ‘rubber time’: the notion that there is flexibility in appointment and task deadline times, with some degree of lateness being generally acceptable by employers, supervisors, and colleagues alike.

Q: What are the key skills you have learnt during your virtual internship?

This virtual experience enhanced several of my soft and hard skills. It strengthened my knowledge of socioeconomic issues such as corruption, accountability, gender inequality and social stratification/class disparities. It likewise enhanced my intercultural understanding of certain manifestations of Indonesian culture such as face – something central to Indonesian social relations. Moreover, the greater knowledge I have gained into how Australian soft power is transmitted, and its ability to influence ideas and persuade populations in constructive ways, has provided me with greater diplomatic insight and negotiation capabilities. More practically, my language abilities have improved considerably despite the program’s virtual format – and this has consequently resulted in my noticeably improved Indonesian reading, writing, grammar, listening, speaking and translating/interpreting skills.

Q: How will the virtual internship benefit or influence your future career?

I aspire to work in either the public sector in a role focused on foreign policy and international development or perhaps in the private sector as a consultant for developmental NGOs. This internship has helped me learn about some of the many challenges associated with international development and the various debates concerning it, such as the supposed dichotomy between the environment and the economy (something we, in fact, must learn to resolve under our current neoliberal macrosystem). At the same time, it has also allowed me to have interactive and frank discussions with experienced practitioners through my internship and the insightful seminars on topics including the impacts of COVID-19 in Indonesia, corporate social responsibility, gender disparities and inequality, the controversial new omnibus laws, sustainable development and the environment, and my personal favourite – human rights, religious inclusivity and pancasila (unity in diversity). Having the opportunity to speak one-on-one with the experts provided invaluable insight into the world of NGOs, the UN system and its agencies, and the role of government and grassroots communities in the development process. This has allowed me to better refine my career goals, further hone my interests into a more defined path, and exposed me to the diversity of opportunity available in this field.

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

Yes, I actually went into the program with low expectations due to the virtual format; however, I can honestly say that I was thoroughly impressed by the high quality of the seminars, tutorials, language classes and internship opportunities. The calibre of seminar speakers was unbelievable and the knowledge, accumulated over decades of experience, that they kindly shared with us regarding all things international development will stay with us as we progress well into our careers. Our academic convenors and program assistants, Mba Rani, Mas Dani and Mba Sherly were all also very helpful and likeable despite the limitations of remote support. As long as international travel to Indonesia remains off the cards into the foreseeable future, I strongly encourage anyone interested in Indonesia to consider the virtual programs as a way to gain a taste of the country before we are allowed to visit again in real life. However, even if travel resumes and the virtual programs nonetheless continue, they might be an appealing option for those with disabilities or family commitments who are otherwise unable to make it in-country.