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

Virtual Law Professional Practicum

Brenda Hermawan was a participant in the 2022 Virtual Law Professional Practicum. Brenda is studying a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Arts at Monash University. Brenda 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 applied for the ACICIS Law Professional Practicum program because I wanted to broaden my perspective of the world and the law that governs it. Although university classes provide theories and readings that are pertinent to understand the “Why?” of the world and its legal systems, this program would help answer the “How?” and apply practical skills in a real-world setting. Having an Indonesian background, I found ACICIS was the perfect opportunity to collaborate and learn from fellow Indonesian legal practitioners and human rights defenders while being immersed in a human rights organisation to develop my professional, communication, language skills and learning more about its complex legal system. The virtual experience positively expanded my opportunity to develop cross-cultural skills and relationships through the vast array of activities such as seminars, fieldtrips, language classes, afternoon-tea catchups.

Q: Did you receive a New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant? Do you think the NCP is an important initiative? If yes, why? The NCP is a signature initiative of the Australian Government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates on experiences such as the Virtual Professional Practica.

Yes, I received the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant. Because of Indonesia’s close ties with Australia and increasing significance of facilitating bilateral and international cooperation, I think the NCP is an incredibly important initiative to allow students to not only learn more about our neighbouring states, but also with them. In addition to Indonesian law, it is critical to strive to enrich our understanding of its culture and language to both supplement our education and encourage dialogue between the countries and people to better understand one another. Being Indonesian myself, I found I had little information regarding the country’s society, political and legal matters. I am grateful for the Australian government’s initiative to help other students and myself, better understand and connect with the Indo-Pacific region.

Q: How have you found the academic components of this virtual program – i.e. the language classes/seminars?

The seminars were incredibly insightful and thought-provoking as all the speakers were profoundly knowledgeable and personable. They encouraged the students to ask questions and challenge the content presented. This really helped us lift our understanding of the content and compare it from an Australian context which opened our perspective beyond local matters and issues. Despite being highly esteemed in their field, every speaker was more than happy for students to connect with them regarding their careers and any further questions we had. It was inspiring to see teachers and speakers value students’ knowledge and help us strive to succeed.

Although I had some experience speaking Indonesian at home and learning at school, the Bahasa Indonesia classes at Atma Jaya expanded my understanding even more. Often, learning languages can be intimidating but Ibu Fitri always made the classes so enjoyable and fun to learn and ensured we could approach her with any concerns or questions we had. I always looked forward to the classes because Ibu Fitri also delved into the culture of Indonesia, their Indigenous tribes, traditions and shared her own experiences whilst encouraging all the students to also share theirs. I really was able to learn so much and build my foundational understanding of the language in a short amount of time.

Q: What organisation did you intern with? 

I interned with KontraS, also known as Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence). It is an Indonesian non-governmental human rights organisation that investigates and reports on the enforced disappearances and victims of violence. I was also able to collaborate with the Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T) which is a movement to build and connect a community of human rights lawyers against torture in the Asia region. During my time at KontraS, I conducted research reports for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review regarding current human rights situations such as Human Rights and Business (including human rights violations in mining industries, development justice in Indonesia and the UN Guiding Principles). Additionally, I wrote an International Statement regarding the enforced disappearances of women human rights defenders in Afghanistan and recommendations that should be implemented. I also attended webinars moderated by A3T which included discussions by human rights defenders and legal practitioners regarding the ‘Shrinking Democracy’ in South-East Asia and continuance of enforced disappearances and violations against freedom of association and press. Each week, my mentors and fellow colleagues presented various topics regarding current human rights issues in Indonesia which provided us with a Q&A session and invaluable perspectives from activists themselves. By the end of the internship, I had to present my chosen research project to a panel of KontraS members which inquired into the death penalty within Indonesia about law reform, unfair trial (especially the virtual COVID-19 court processes) and case studies.

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

My mentors, Adelwin, Rayya and Nadine really established a comfortable working and learning environment at KontraS. Although they had extremely busy schedules with several matters to manage at the organisation, my mentors ensured I could still approach them for help on tasks and were understanding of my assignments. Throughout all our interactions, I always felt they valued my opinions and feedback by creating discussions surrounding my own knowledge on human rights in Australia and and trusted me with the work they assigned. I am incredibly grateful for my mentors’ time and effort into creating the best internship experience possible.

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

I learnt how to unlearn conscious and unconscious biases I gained through Australian studies and enhanced my communication and critical thinking skills. By interactively discussing issues outside my scope of knowledge with my superiors, I developed my inter-cultural communication skills and a deeper understanding of matters I would not have thought to research into myself. I also learnt how and when to seek for help and clarification on a matter to produce the work expected and succeed in my tasks. As human rights issues are rapidly changing, I learnt how to research efficiently within a short timeframe and adapt my writing to the specific organisation. Additionally, I was able to adapt to a new culture and ensured to respect their customs and traditions to effectively collaborate with colleagues at KontraS. Now, I can carry these skills to any future work and learning environments.

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

From the application process all the way through the virtual experience, all the ACICIS and Atma Jaya staff were always so welcoming and supportive. I especially enjoyed the afternoon tea catchups and connecting with both staff and students through our hobbies and interests. It was a great way to interact outside the academic aspect. My host organisation, KontraS were also so friendly and accommodating and made me feel as if I was working right there with them as part of the team. Additionally, spending time learning and creating friendships with students from all over Australia and Indonesia was made all possible because of ACICIS. I hope to meet everyone in Indonesia soon!

Q: Were you able to learn about the Indonesian culture from this virtual program? If yes, how was this achieved?

I learnt about the Indonesian culture from both the ACICIS and Atma Jaya staff and the cultural activity day where I learnt how to draw and the history of Batik from ‘Lukman Batik’. This was an important part of the program as students were able to cook traditional foods and drinks, traditions such as puppeteering and making of Batik. Additionally, learning about domestic migrant workers from the cast and crew of ‘Help is On the Way’ introduced a new perspective on what I previously learnt in Australia in which this opportunity was afforded only by ACICIS, and created a positive spin on the lives of domestic migrant workers from women who experienced the life themselves. Indonesian experts generously shared their customs to deepen our understanding of Indonesian culture and inspire us to explore beyond what we are taught in Australian schools.

Through the seminars, tutorials and language classes, these opened my perspective to Indonesia’s pluralistic and complex legal system and just how integrated it is to its religions, culture, politics and history. These learnings were further enriched by both the practical work experience in my internship and the immersive field trips to the Constitutional Court and Parliament building.

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

Whilst having learnt how to apply the law, through my interest in policymaking, now enhanced by my internship, I will ensure to question and challenge why certain policies are implemented through a multi-dimensional and cultural lens and how these may affect various individuals in the Indo-Pacific region. Through KontraS, I aspire to work within the international human rights and policymaking sector. ACICIS has expanded my critical and cross-cultural communication skills while strengthening my cross-jurisdictional knowledge which will allow me to effectively and efficiently collaborate and negotiate with international actors from diverse backgrounds. I feel the program’s emphasis on practical training, pluralism of the law and cultural awareness has broadened my understanding in international and Indonesian law. The combination of KontraS and my seminars has allowed me to compare varying political and legal perspectives between human rights defenders and the government/policymakers which has created an understanding on how better to facilitate dialogue accounting for intersectionality especially in human rights matters.

I find it is rare to quickly and comfortably adapt to a new environment, especially virtually. However, the comfortable environment consistent through all aspects of the program and internship allowed me to openly participate and communicate to staff and fellow students which prompted new perspectives and conversations whether through the internship, seminars, tutorials, language and cultural classes and catchups.

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

Definitely. From the organisers of ACICIS, Atma Jaya, seminars, tutorials, language classes and immersive internship, it is a truly eye-opening program that I feel everyone who has the opportunity to apply for, should experience. The NCP grant also provides great financial assistance. I think it is a one-of-a-kind learning experience, the life-long friendships and connections you make through this program is both wonderful and something you will carry throughout your own life, studies and career.

Q: Favourite Indonesian word/phrase:


Literally, it is a popular dish in Indonesia, a mix of vegetables in peanut sauce. Figuratively, it is a metaphor for Indonesia – a nation of over 17,000 islands, hundreds of languages, ethnicities and beliefs. Through Ibu Ayu Utami’s teaching, gado-gado symbolises the unity in the diversity of Indonesia’s community.

Q: Describe your experience of the virtual internship program in three words:

Invaluable, Unifying, Enlightening.