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

Virtual Agriculture Professional Practicum

Bridget Smits was a participant in the 2021 Virtual Agriculture Professional Practicum. Bridget is a Bachelor of Biotechnology, Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability student from The Australian National University. Bridget received a $3,000 New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant to support her participation in this program.

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

I decided to partake in the ACICIS VPP as I was very interested in getting my foot into the international academic world. Despite knowing I wouldn’t be able to travel overseas, the opportunity provided virtually by ACICIS was one that I had not seen offered previously by my university or by other organisations, so the chance to virtually visit and learn about a country was one I had to take up! I partook in the Agricultural Professional Practicum (APP) as this is an area I am interested in learning about to develop my skills and knowledge for future career prospects. Due to the closeness of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, learning about an Indonesian perspective of agriculture seemed very relevant.

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

Yes, I did receive a grant. I was very grateful to be given a grant as without it I would not have been able to partake in the program. I think the NCP is a very important initiative as it encourages and gives Australian students the opportunity to learn about and develop connections with our Indonesian neighbours. We learnt through the ACICIS VPP program the importance of the relationship Australia has with Indonesia, particularly in the new COVID world, which was something I didn’t previously have much of an understanding of.

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

The opportunity to complete a five-week internship with an Indonesian organisation was most definitely the highlight of the program for me. Being able to develop my skills professionally and learn more about careers in the real world outside of my studies was very eye opening and something I cannot wait to continue to do. I also loved having the opportunity to meet so many like-minded students in my APP cohort and getting to know them and my fantastic mentors in our intimate weekly learning sessions where we were guided and challenged to get the most out of our learning. We also spent five weeks in intensive Indonesian Language classes, and while I am certainly not fluent in the language, I learnt a huge amount in a short period of time which I was then able to apply to other professional areas of the program.

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

The most challenging part of the program for me was definitely learning to work independently and communicate with people online. Not being able to physically partake in many of the usual in person activities of the program made learning more challenging, but having successfully completed the program, I am pleased to say I have developed many new skills in relation to virtual communication and self-directed work, which are skills I know will be very beneficial to me in the future.

 Q: What organisation did you intern with? 

I interned with an organisation called Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program (NTFP-EP). With NTFP-EP, I collaborated with staff and other industry related NGOs to make a contribution to a forest-foods board game for a local community in North Kalimantan called Punan Adiu. This traditional hunter gatherer community was facing challenges with engaging local youth in learning about local forest foods, which the community is very reliant on for income and nourishment. I worked with my mentor and her colleagues to create a ‘popular publication’ outlining the importance of traditional knowledge in the community and the work local NGOs are doing to help obtain tenure rights for the community over their land. I also helped create various board games based around the forest foods to help engage the local youth in learning more about their traditional foods. I had meetings over Zoom with my mentor Natasya and her colleagues twice a week. In these meetings I was taught all about the work of NTFP-EP and about the importance of passing down traditional knowledge in a community like Punan Adiu. I was given a clear timeframe of the project I was assisting with and in my own time completed research and worked on drafts of the publication, which we then discussed and worked on during our meetings.

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

The work culture of NTFP-EP was very warm, welcoming and friendly! I was made to feel like a part of the team and that what I had to say was important and my contributions were appreciated and useful. I think it is hard to compare this to work experience I have completed in Australia as I have not completed a virtual internship with an Australian company, but it was very fun and interesting to compare cultures, lifestyles and habits that I experience in Australia with the experiences of the team working in Indonesia.

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

I learnt to work independently and in a self-directed manner as I was only meeting with my HO twice a week, so much of the work I had to complete was in my own time. I learnt the importance of good communication as doing an internship virtually adds another layer of complexity to building a relationship with your host and understanding expectations. I also had the opportunity to develop critical analysis skills through discussions about the needs and wants of the community.

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

I have not previously completed work experience similar to the experience I got when interning with NTFP-EP as I hadn’t previously considered work like this as a future career option. However, having been given the opportunity to learn about community development and forestry in a country like Indonesia has opened my eyes up to a whole new career sector that I am very interested in learning more about. The skills I have developed through my internship will be very beneficial in my future career as the world adapts to reliance on virtual communication, so to say I have had work experience in a virtual space will be useful in my future career.

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

Yes, I would 100% recommend this program to friends! It is really a once in a lifetime experience that I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in, I can’t wait until travel restrictions lift so I am able to travel over and experience this wonderful country in person!