Head of the New Colombo secretariat, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Lynda Worthaisong and Victoria University and New Colombo Plan Mobility student Jack Flynn (who travelled to Singapore and Malaysia with NCP in February 2017).
New Colombo Plan:
Since 2014 the New Colombo Plan Mobility Programme has funded Australian university students from across disciplines to experience the cultures and work life of the Indo-Pacific region via short-term study, internships and mentorships. This signature initiative of the Australian Government, run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in conjunction with the Department of Education and Training, works with 40 countries in the Asia Pacific. Its aim is to strengthen ties between Australia and its neighbours and prepare young Australians for a globalised world in which cooperation and understanding will be essential in their working and personal lives.
To help students get the most of their experiences overseas, Bennelong Foundation has funded a cross-cultural training programme for students on the NCP mobility placements through either face-to-face or online workshops. It prepares students for what to expect culturally from Australia’s neighbours and allows them to more seamlessly integrate into their new surroundings. The results have overwhelmingly been that students get more out of their trip and can engage more fully with this incredible opportunity, building their capacity for long term business relationships and employment opportunities involving the region.
Lynda Worthaisong: Australia has the good fortune to be located in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s essential to Australia’s national interest that we understand our neighbourhood and that we’re confident in engaging with people from our region. To do that it helps to have experienced their countries and their cultures.
The New Colombo Plan is a very diverse programme. Students study around the region in many disciplines. In addition, students can do practical work, for example on a humanitarian engineering project in Nepal or Cambodia as part of their engineering degree. These experiences give the students a practical value-add to their degrees, which they can put to good use in their future careers in the Australian workforce.
What we hear most from the students when they return is what a life-changing experience they have had . They’re building skills in their relevant career area, but they’re also building what are sometimes called “soft skills”; their confidence and their understanding of themselves as well as of the region.
In 2017 the New Colombo Plan is supporting 7,400 mobility students to study in the Indo-Pacific and we encourage all of them to do the Bennelong cross-cultural training. It’s really important to the New Colombo Plan. Sending these students into the region is a significant investment by the government, and giving them this training before they leave ensures they get the maximum value from their experience and hit the ground running when they’re there.
The quality of the training is excellent. Even though I‘ve had postings into the region myself, I found it really useful. It’s a well-targeted training module. I’ve seen the students participate and engage, and I can tell they find it useful and practical. A lot of the training is about understanding context and being aware of difference and working with it instead of against it. They’re universal skills.
Jack Flynn: In the future, I’m looking to work internationally and I thought a little bit of exposure to Asia would be a really good opportunity for me.
I did the cross-cultural training before I travelled and again when I got back. You learn some of the things you’ll be experiencing overseas, like culture shock, and different traditions and customs. And it goes through techniques on how to cope with that. Basically: just because it’s different, it doesn’t man there’s a right or wrong. It’s really good to experience things through a cultural lens.
I found the training really good at the start, but also really good when I returned. You get caught up in experience sometimes and you don’t think about the theory right away, but it was really good to relook over the training modules and realise, “Yep, I felt that”.
The training went into a bit of detail about how there are different business customs and expectations in Asia. And the different expectations of you depending on what county you are in. It made it easier to converse with local people. Sometimes things would have gotten lost in translation had I not done the cultural training. Some of the concepts in this training could even be useful in situations in Australia when you’re speaking to someone with a different cultural background to your own. Since Australia is so multicultural.
I definitely see the value in the NCP programme and recommend it. Now I’m going for the full NCP scholarship, which is six months and then an internship in Hong Kong. If you want to do anything international, especially if it’s business, I can’t see a better way than going over there, and learning more about what you’re interested in.