Embracing Asia through the New Colombo Plan

michelle-unisa-student-blogger by Michelle

Living in Korea as an exchange student, studying for my final exams and trying to eat my way through the local culture, I was frantically searching for work experience to round out my international journey before returning to Adelaide. I was the lucky recipient of a 2015 Australian Government New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship, and the Inaugural Korean Fellow of the program. The NCP is an initiative for Australia’s ‘best and brightest’ students to explore the wonders of the Asia-Pacific, engaging in student, and professional life on a deeper level.

Now I, like most Aussie students, never even considered studying in Asia. The only thing I knew about Korea back then was Samsung and Gangnam Style, but the program director for my Bachelor of Electronics and Communications Engineering degree, and the UniSA international office, assured me that it was a perfect match. Putting aside my doubts, after an intensive application process, I found myself in-front of the Honourable Julie Bishop in Parliament House accepting my ticket to an 18 month Asian journey.

NCP Korea Fellow Michelle Howie (UniSA) meets Minister Bishop at the scholarship presentation dinnerDespite entering Seoul a stranger, after living with a local family, studying Korean language and taekwondo between nights singing karaoke, I had a much deeper engagement with the country and its people. I loved living in Korea, with its exciting combination of innovation and tradition, and wasn’t ready to go home. Since UniSA engineering students are required to complete an industry work placement, I decided to make mine global.

I initially coveted a Research & Development role in a tech lab, but when I saw that Telstra had an office in Hong Kong, the hub of Asia, I knew that’s where I needed to be. As an aspiring communications engineer, I knew that this Australian household name would be the launch pad into my global telecoms career and it lead me to a five month internship at Telstra in Hong Kong.

I worked in the Network Services team, which is responsible for operating Telstra’s vast network of subsea cable systems, satellite broadcasting, product delivery and customer connectivity. As an undergraduate with limited technical experience, I focused on understanding the telecoms business as a whole while slowly getting into different areas of the technical units.

As their first intern, it was up to me to get what I wanted from the program. I worked with Field Services from Telstra’s cable landing stations, data centres and points-of-presence across Hong Kong, with the Satellite team at an Earth station perched on the tip of a peninsula overlooking the South China Sea, and I represented the company at an Asia wide communication summit in Singapore, just to name a few experiences.

I have also had opportunity to put the role of engineering in a larger context of everything that is required to provide services to our customers, including working with colleagues in Legal, Finance and Customer Service.  This has been really important for me as it has demonstrated how, as an aspiring engineer, I need to understand how my role fits into the broader picture of what the company is trying to achieve. This fits in nicely with the UniSA engineering ethics of a well-rounded technical and logical student.

As a female engineer I have also really enjoyed the inclusive work environment Telstra has established in Hong Kong, where I have collaborated with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. I loved the multiculturalism and convenience of working in Hong Kong – surrounded by 24 hour Michelin star dumplings and street-side noodles, with the subway coming every few minutes. I struggled to adapt to this crowded lifestyle at first, but just outside the chaotic city life I could lose myself amidst breath-taking scenery – an incredible contrast to my suburban Adelaide childhood.

Ambitious (1)The New Colombo Plan has given me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undertake a journey of growth and discovery. I have learnt more about myself and how I can be an ambassador of Australia as well as break down stereotypes of our neighbouring countries. I would encourage all ambitious Australian students to apply for this scholarship. Get a kick start on your career, broaden your mind and experience the wonders of the Asia Pacific!  Moving to countries that I knew next to nothing about was always going to be a challenge but I have adapted and learned to love every local quirk, finding my place as a global citizen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s