By Emma Roberts

After recently returning from 18 months studying, researching and interning in Indonesia, I can confidently say that choosing to spend that time abroad is the best decision I ever made. The second best decision I ever made was choosing to switch to an Asia-Pacific Studies degree back in 2012 and while I could easily write an article about why you should all do the same, that isn’t my focus this time around (but watch this space). What I hope to highlight through this article is why every student – from any disciplinary background, doing any study program – should incorporate an overseas experience in the Indo-Pacific into their degree.

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(1) The growing importance of the Indo-Pacific

The 21st century has been commonly dubbed the “Asian Century”, referring to the projected geopolitical, economic and cultural dominance of Indo-Pacific countries within the next 100 years.  In response, international actors in the rest of the world, both governments and corporations are increasing collaboration with their Indo-Pacific counterparts and expanding their overseas presence.

The Australian Government’s high regard for Indo-Pacific engagement is particularly evident through the launch of the New Colombo Plan scholarship program, which funds students to undertake long and short term study programs in our region. The government’s decision to invest millions of dollars into this initiative and its commitment to making Indo-Pacific study a “rite of passage” for Australian students clearly demonstrates that by choosing to study in our region, you are making yourself exponentially more employable for any public sector position.

Further, most major banks, consulting groups and law firms have been establishing offices in many Indo-Pacific cities over the last decade. What this means is that a career in just about any field will, in due course, require a degree of Indo-Pacific literacy, which you can begin to develop through an in-country experience while at university.

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(2) The plethora and diversity of in-country study opportunities

Now that we have established why you should include an in-country Indo-Pacific experience as part of your degree, let’s look at how you’re going to do it. Luckily, this question is not difficult to answer because there are currently more opportunities than ever before for Australian students to study, research and intern in our region.

In addition to the semester-long exchange opportunities offered by ANU (there are 57 Indo-Pacific partner institutions to choose from) and the College of Asia and the Pacific’s Year in Asia program, many ANU academic colleges now offer field schools and study tours in various Indo-Pacific locations. A few examples include the Media and Politics study tour in Japan, the interdisciplinary Pacific Islands Field School, the international relations program in Indonesia, and the Political Economy of Myanmar study tour. In addition to ANU’s own short-term Indo-Pacific study programs, ANU students are able to participate in externally-organised courses around our region such as the IARU Global Summer Program (in Japan, Korea or Singapore), the FASStrack Asia social sciences program in Singapore and, for first year students eager to get an Indo-Pacific study experience under their belts early on, the PRIMO program in Japan, Korea or Singapore.

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(3) The abundance of available financial support

One reason many students are reluctant to study abroad is due to lack of funding; after all, many of us are already struggling to work sufficient hours to have enough money for our daily lives, let alone thinking about saving for going abroad. Fortunately, the Australian Government’s prioritisation of Indo-Pacific in-country study means it is becoming increasingly possible to fit an overseas experience into your time at university without having to reach too far into your own pocket.

The New Colombo Plan provides about 100 scholarships each year valued at up to $67,000 for Australian students to study, research and intern in our region for a period of 6-18 months. I was extremely grateful to receive one of these scholarships for my experience in Indonesia and am willing to provide advice and assistance for any ANU student interested in applying for the 2017 scholarship round (email address below).

In addition to the scholarship program, the New Colombo Plan provides thousands of grants each year for Australian students to undertake shorter term study in the Indo-Pacific – in fact, most of the field school and study tour opportunities I mentioned above can be supported by a New Colombo Plan grant and often these are awarded to all participating students, saving you a lengthy application process.

Essentially, choosing an overseas study experience in the Indo-Pacific will give you the opportunity to have new experiences, internationally expand your social and professional network, substantially boost your resume and quite possibly not have to pay very much for it. Really, what is there to say ‘no’ to?

Emma can be contacted on emma.roberts@anu.edu.au

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