Tamsin Plotnek was a participant in the 2021 Virtual Law Professional Practicum. Tamsin is studying a Bachelor of Law (Honours)/Arts at Monash University. Tamsin received a $3000 New Colombo Plan mobility grant to support her participation on this program.
Q: Why did you decide to undertake the ACICIS program?
I was really excited by the opportunities the program offered, especially undertaking an internship at a human rights NGO, which was a prospect I found especially exciting. I was lucky enough to study Indonesian in high school and really missed studying a language in university. I thought the program was the perfect way to expand my horizons and diversify my law degree. I wish to have a career working for an international legal organisation and I had hoped to undertake part of my degree overseas (a hope that has been put to rest since last year!). While it was disappointing to only meet all the ACICIS staff and fellow students online doing the entirety of the program, I was so excited to have a unique and international experience while Australian borders remained closed.
Ultimately, as a law student passionate about human rights and especially interested in an international career, it was never an option to let the ACICIS virtual internship program pass me by!
Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Do you think the NCP is an important initiative? If yes, why?
I did receive a NCP mobility grant. I believe this is an instrumental mechanism to encourage students to undertake the program, as it offers a more equal opportunity for students and increases the ability for students to learn Indonesian language and culture. The cost of the program is an immovable obstacle for many students, and certainly not one everyone can easily afford. The NCP Mobility Grant not only makes it possible for students previously unable to participate, it encourages students to apply and increases the number of young Australians who are deeply engaged and acquainted with Indonesia in terms of its language, culture and legal and government systems.
I believe government funding helps increase the number of students who have such a meaningful experience at an Indonesian school and is instrumental in strengthening the relationship between Australia and Indonesia.
Q: How have you found the academic components of this virtual program – i.e. the language classes/seminars?
I greatly enjoyed the variety of seminars I undertook as part of the Law Professional Practicum. I found it invaluable to attend presentations from professionals in myriad topics and fields, such as public health, the environment, business regulations, and the mechanisms of the Indonesian justice system. The seminars delivered gave me a holistic understanding of the Indonesian legal system within its historical and cultural context and I was confident entering my internship that I had a strong foundational understanding of Indonesia.
The language classes were very constructive and I found I was learning a vast amount each week in a way that was manageable. My teacher was very supportive and made sure we revised new vocabulary and sentence structures at the start of class. It was definitely scary at first having to speak a new language in front of my peers whom I had only just met, but we all quickly become comfortable and were able to improve our pronunciation and fluency with each week.
Q: What organisation did you intern with?
I interned at Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) where I was primarily tasked with supporting my supervisor in the research and writing of a policy report on healthcare rights of migrant workers. I attended various meetings with the staff at HRWG and was able to take notes at focus discussion groups, which HRWG hosted and saw professionals and experts representing different countries in Asia discuss the various protections their healthcare systems offered to migrant workers.
Q: How have you found the work culture (albeit online) of your host organisation? How is it different to work experience in Australia?
I found that the structure of meetings is much more flexible than what I am used to, and often meetings would specify a start time and go for hours while people shared ideas and discuss upcoming events and projects. I greatly enjoyed seeing that everyone was really supportive of each other and understood all the other demands each person was experiencing in their lives. There were no specific guidelines regarding the content of the research I was doing, and no due date, which was a stark contrast to my university assignments! It was strange not to have my supervisor check in each day, but everyone was happy to answer my questions at any time.
Overall, the working culture was not that much different from my placement experience in Australia, except that meetings were notably more casual and time was seen much more loosely.
Q: What are the main skills you have learnt during your virtual internship?
I was able to develop my research and writing skills as I was completing a report that the general public will eventually access. As opposed to normal academic essays, where I tend to write verbosely, I had to write concisely during my internship and summarise at times complex information and concepts clearly and in a way that was easily understood.
I also was able to develop my public speaking skills when presenting my research summaries and progress updates to the HRWG staff. I was definitely nervous about doing this at first, but I learnt that informal and concise presentations were the most valuable to my supervisors.
Before my internship I definitely struggled with presenting ideas and speaking up in meetings to share my thoughts. While at HRWG I was able to build my confidence.
Q: What did you find to be the most rewarding part of this virtual experience?
I found my internship at HRWG to be very rewarding, as I was able play a small part in advocating for migrant worker rights in Asian countries. At the end of the internship, it was really encouraging to have produced work that would help HRWG encourage countries to improve their healthcare systems for migrant workers. This is an issue I became especially passionate about over the course of my internship and felt encouraged that the work HRWG is doing will affect material change. While the experiences of migrant workers are horrifying, and there is a dearth of mechanisms available to protect migrants who work overseas in Asian countries, I am glad to have been educated on this issue and hope to further play a part in protecting and enforcing human rights for migrant workers during my legal career.
Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program? If yes, how was this achieved?
I found the seminars and language classes invaluable in teaching me the intricacies of Indonesian culture, social conventions and the role religion plays in Indonesian society. I learnt many language conventions and the different titles to give to individuals and how these change compared to relative age and status. I enjoyed learning that in Indonesia people ask lots of questions when meeting someone new; asking how old you are and if you were married is commonplace, compared to Australia where this may be thought of as nosy or insensitive! The two documentaries we viewed, and the following Q&A sessions with the film directors were hugely insightful in learning about Indonesian life and the human rights issues facing the country.
While undertaking my internship, I was able to pick up on some colloquial phrases not taught in my language classes. The majority of my understanding of Indonesian culture come from observing social conventions and behaviours at meetings. As previously mentioned, schedules were made quite differently at HRWG compared to in Australia and communication was always quite casual.
Q: How will the virtual internship benefit or influence your future career?
While working for HRWG, I have been exposed to the human rights atrocities that migrant workers are subjected to, and how profoundly their healthcare is neglected by various host countries. Since beginning my law degree I have been interested in pursuing a career in human rights and social justice, especially on an international scale and this experience has very much confirmed my aspirations. I would love to be able to continue my work, at HRWG or elsewhere, in researching and advocating for legal reform surrounding healthcare for migrant workers.
I have been so privileged to have had the opportunity to complete this virtual internship and I hope the experience will be valued when applying to similar organisations in the future!
Q: Would you recommend this virtual program to your friends?
I absolutely would recommend this program to my friends and have already been in touch with a few of my peers who are thinking of applying for the summer program. There are so many benefits to the program, and I readily recommend it to those who are looking to undertake a summer class or placement.
Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase:
Q: Describe your experience of the virtual internship program in three words:
Enriching, inspiring, instructive