By Robert Letchford (Sem 5/Aug 1997 & Sem 6/Jan 1998)
Murdoch University

I have been working for the last 17 years as a manager, consultant and practitioner in the overseas aid and development sector. I have worked in both conflict and post-conflict environments, primarily in the public sector with a focus on capacity development (individual and organizational). I have completed assignments in areas of human resource management (HRM); training design, development and delivery; project management; management development; strategic planning; change management; institutional strengthening and governance; and, organizational and capacity development.

I currently work at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Vietnam as a Chief of Party (COP) managing the Partner Capacity Development Program (PCD), which is a USD$6.7 million-dollar program funded by the United State Agency for International Development (USAID). The PCD program is a unique cross-cutting HICD (Human and Institutional Capacity Development) program, that provides program support to all USAID\Vietnam technical and the program office. PCD also works with a range of Government of Vietnam (GOV) ministries and agencies, as well as Vietnamese NGOs.

I have also worked in Australia, Indonesia, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, South Africa, Senegal, United States, Liberia and Kenya in relation to foreign aid programs.

The primary reason that I participated in the ACICIS program in 1997/98 was that I believed it would provide me with practical experiences in Indonesia that would benefit my studies in Australia at Murdoch University; and, enhance my career prospects i.e. be able to secure work for companies and/or institutions in the Southeast Asian Region. I participated in the ACICIS program as an undergraduate (double major) to further my Bahasa Indonesia (Asian Studies) and Commerce (Telecommunications Management) studies. At that time, I was keen to link my telecommunications studies with my interest in Indonesia and completed one semester at UGM studying a mixed program incorporating Bahasa Indonesia and immersion program (studied three immersion units). In my second semester I undertook a research project at UMM in Malang, East Java linking my interests in telecommunications with language studies on the topic of “telemedicine”.

Studying in Indonesia provided me with great insights with respect to living and working in another culture allowing me to understand perspectives of another community (cross cultural skills) working outside of Australia. I was privileged to have the opportunity to be fully integrated into Indonesian student life, building relationships with students and academics that have stood the test of time. The ACICIS program provided me with many practical experiences that helped me to identify the work I really wanted to do (international aid and development). Language and cross-cultural skills learned through my participation in the ACICIS program enabled me to successfully apply for my first aid and development position in Dili, East Timor where I worked as a training coordinator and translator for the Timor Leste Revenue Service (TLRS) under the Ministry of Planning and Finance (MOPF) in Dili in 2001.

The ACICIS program has had a significant impact on the direction and trajectory of my career working in the aid and development sector. As a result of the ACICIS program I was able to develop practical skills, knowledge and competencies that enabled me to get my first job in Timor Leste in 2001 and I have continued to work in the aid and development sector for the last 17 years. I am now working as a Project Director (also known as Chief of Party) and have been based in Vietnam since September 2015 to date.

My advice is to take advantage of the ACICIS program to gain access to practical educational programs that can give you real world experiences that can contribute to your area of studies as well as your potential to start a career in whatever sector you want to work. Don’t hang around other expats too much and take the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and language as much as you can – the benefits are endless….