20.11.2021

Getting the most out of your exchange

By Adeline Tinessia, Westpac Scholar, 2018 Asian Exchange

2020 was a year filled with unexpectedness. And 2021 has continued to challenge us as we navigate what living with COVID-19 looks like. For those fortunate to receive a Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship in the past two years it’s meant a delay in your exchange experience. The silver lining is hopefully you’ve had more time to research your destination and time to plan and maximise your exchange experience with opportunities beyond the classroom.

Asia is a dynamic region. This means that while you will be studying in Mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong or Singapore, your scope to experience Asia is not limited by those destinations. And beyond travelling as a tourist, consider volunteering and completing work experiences in other parts of Asia to better understand the local culture and people for a much richer exchange experience. One that could put your life on a new and exciting path.

I always had a keen interest in Southeast Asia and went on exchange to Singapore whilst completing my Honours in International Security Studies at The Australian National University (ANU). While Singapore is a melting pot of many Southeast Asian cultures, people and languages, I wanted to explore the region more fully. Thus, I decided that I would spend my exchange studying in Singapore and interning in Indonesia.

The experience of working in Indonesia offered me a different perspective to the region, one that was very different to the more cosmopolitan Singapore. Firstly, as Indonesia is not an English-speaking country, working there pushed me to use Bahasa Indonesia. Secondly, living in Indonesia is a vastly different experience to living in Singapore in terms of pace and the way things work. However, I really enjoyed the sense of community, which centers around family, food and religion. Thirdly, the experience meant that I had to recognise and adapt to the differences that exist between the two countries’ work ethic, culture and socioeconomic status. There is no ‘one size fits all' approach to working in Southeast Asia. One must adapt to each country.

During my internship in Indonesia, I worked at a human rights organisation called Human Rights Working Group to develop a base study on the status of refugees stuck in Indonesia. As a result of both my internship and my study exchange, I am now working on a project with the same organisation looking at the effects of COVID-19 on migrant workers in the region. The project involves collaborating with other organisations in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

For those heading on exchange, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and look beyond the country that you will be studying in. Analyse what your interests are, and whether other countries in the region will better serve those interests. Don’t be deterred by the paperwork needed to get necessary visas or the uncertainty of moving around. In my experience, I looked for a place to intern months before beginning my exchange to allow for the time it would take for my visa to be approved. Taking a step away from the solace of the developed destinations where you will be studying may be just what you need to make the most of your exchange.

And you never know, taking the initiative to volunteer and intern elsewhere could open more doors for your future and give you the courage to take on new challenges.