By Lilian Greensill* (BPP 2018)
The University of Western Australia

My situation may differ slightly from the ACICIS students sitting here tonight; I am a grantee of the NCP, however this government initiative provided me the opportunity to travel to Hanoi, Vietnam with The University of Western Australia late last year. During my time in Hanoi, I worked hands on with owners of agricultural cooperatives, UWA students and Vietnamese students to investigate how agricultural cooperatives in a developing country, like Vietnam, compare to other business models in adding value to agricultural production and marketing by capitalizing on export market potential. As a result, the value on people-to-people engagement forged through this overseas education experience in Hanoi and now in Jakarta has been priceless. It has certainly added a practical and competitive edge to my bachelor’s degree and not to mention it has granted me the opportunity to be culturally immersed.

Through cultural immersion I have discovered first hand that our own community values and norms are just a tiny glimpse of the huge diversity that exists, and the way people choose to live their lives contrast dramatically across the globe.

The benefits of taking the plunge and stepping into a new community are far reaching, from the opportunity to attempt to learn a new language and taste new foods, to uncovering the key components to happiness and well being.

Cultural immersion has helped me put my own life in perspective and be a more considerate, compassionate and kind-hearted individual. Something that I believe is essential in the world we live in today, and it is because of the New Colombo Plan that this has all been possible.

For me, travelling and studying abroad is not just about exploring new places, eating different foods and making life long friends. But pushing my own boundaries of comfort and discovering the immense diversity and beauty that exists in the world. As I have grown up in a fairly homogenous society in sheltered suburbia of Perth with norms and customs that I would regard ‘normal’, its exciting to travel around the world and encounter a completely different way of life and behavioural expectations.. Whether it’s eating traditional Vietnamese pho 3 meals a day in rural Vietnam, or exploring the big Durian on the back of an Ojek. My experiences abroad have provided immense personal growth and development.

One noticeable observation that I will hold close with me from both my experiences abroad is the great deal of happiness, joy and laughter that fills every office, street corner and warung. Through my experiences it has become vivid that the cause of happiness is completely unrelated to wealth. Instead, culture and a sense of community are more vital ingredients for well being, and by immersing myself in these tight knit communities, this happiness has definitely rubbed off onto me.

I’m going to share with you all the adventures I have embarked on outside the formalities of this professional practicum. I commenced my domestic travels from Jakarta with a weekend in Pramuka Island where me and 18 others were required to strip back to bear basics. Pramuka Island was a weekend intended for rest and recovery from our intensive language courses and seminars.. However the saying “Its not about the destination, its about the journey” has never been so invalid as 16/18 of us Australians left the boat with our stomachs in a vomit bag.

The temptation of the vast greenery and mountainous landscape outside the big J. inspired me to travel beyond the opulent malls Jakarta. And so a day trip hiking in Bogor seemed appealing. Fresh air, exercise and candid Instagram opportunities.

With that in mind, I thought I was cut out for hiking.. I was even eager enough to pass up the tour guide and go solo, however 5 hours and 11 kilometres later, many tears were accrued and that’s when I realised I was not cut out for hiking in Bogor (especially after it rained all night). Rather I am better suited to Sunday brunch at St Ali and facials at Plaza Semanggi. Which is exactly what I did the following day.

With a strong lesson made apparent in Bogor, I took the initiative to omit any possible hiking tracks from my next tour in Bandung. Whilst an authentic cultural experience was still the aim, I travelled to Kawah Putih and Patenggang Lake with strawberry picking and tea plantations to conclude. Through this, I have definitely learnt that receiving an authentic cultural experience is not always as easy as it sounds.

So wether it be Pramuka Island, Yogyakarta, Bandung, Bogor, or Vietnam, there’s always one thing in common that I take away from these adventures.. and I know its been said before but a smile goes along way. It can be difficult to create meaningful connections with locals when traveling abroad although even if you don’t speak the same language, I have learnt to connect through gestures and emotions in what is a shared human experience.

Money permitting, we love the euphoric feeling of arriving in an unknown destination with minimal expectations, and to be able to do that whilst studying at university is something I will forever be grateful for. So to conclude, I think we speak on behalf of the 135 ACICIS Australian students when we say the New Colombo Plan has certainly become a ‘rite of passage’ for us young Aussies with a passion to make a difference.

*This was delivered as a speech at an NCP Function at the Australian Ambassadors Residence in February 2018.