Experience Southeast Asia. Experience more than a holiday.

23 April 2015
YOA Regional Curator, Heather Mofflin

I vividly remember my first trip to Southeast Asia when I was 12. I couldn’t believe that a country so close to home could be so incredibly different and, as one of my first overseas experiences, I was hooked. The constant swirl of traffic and people made the whole country feel so alive, the food was beyond incredible, and despite running into a fully grown python, I knew I would be back here in the future.

While studying a Bachelor of Communications (Professional Communications) at RMIT University, I would frequently look around at my classmates and think how motivated and on track they were. By second year I had done an internship at a PR firm, but so had 90% of my course, and I was starting to think, ‘how on earth do I make myself stand out from this group of people?’ And that’s where Southeast Asia comes in. When I saw an opportunity to study in Vietnam I jumped on it, I was desperate to secure one of the 15 spots so ran to the information session early. But when I got there, there were only 5 others. How had no one else picked up on this opportunity yet? While my friends were planning their exchange to Europe and America and going through the highly competitive process, here I was, being given this opportunity with open arms. It was, beyond any doubt, the best thing I could have done to improve my resume and further future job opportunities.

Firstly, in Vietnam we were offered the opportunity to work with real companies and customers. We met with clients, worked for NGO’s and travelled (and got hopelessly lost) around the city to meet with, and see how our companies operated in an environment so different to our homes. The company we worked for, a not-for-profit second hand store helping the underprivileged in Vietnam, still sends us regular updates about the work we did for them, and I can confidently say if I ever went back there, there would be an opportunity for me to do more work with them. It was also an opportunity to network with people outside our own age bracket. I met mentors who can open doors for me not just in Vietnam, but also with connections throughout Asia. Learning firsthand about these different cultures is also important to understand whether you’re in business, international relations, finance or almost any field these days. Business with Asia is on a dramatic rise and it is becoming more important to understand the culture of our closest neighbours to be able to maintain strong business ties with them. After changing my flights home from Vietnam to a later date twice, much to the detriment of my wallet, I couldn’t stop thinking about when my next trip would be.

This year I got to travel to amazing Cambodia. Along with having an awesome holiday filled with the bluest beaches I have ever seen and lots of cheap street food, while I was there I met expats who were working in a variety of fields in Cambodia, in particular a great friend Zoe. Graduating last year with an arts degree in Melbourne, Zoe was at a loss on how to break into the social work industry. Knowing she faced stiff competition in Australia, with most of the unpaid positions she tried to apply for requiring at least 3 years’ experience. She found herself questioning, how was she meant to get a job when even internships required previous experience. So Zoe made the bold decision to put her life in Melbourne on hold and move to Cambodia. Immediately she was offered a job at a local school, teaching English to young children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She is paid, gaining invaluable experience to add to her resume, growing connections, and most importantly, absolutely loving her job.

Young people need to continue to engage more in this region. When I tell people I am studying Indonesian, the first question is always ‘why?’ This will be something that stands out on my resume, something that makes people want to ask me this ‘why’ in person. In my job interview for my first full time job, the first question they asked me was ‘we see you studied in Vietnam and we want to ask you why.’ Anything to get you into an interview position is important, so while you are planning your next holiday, I suggest going to Southeast Asia and jump on board any opportunities given to you, try as much food as you can and most importantly stay away from pythons!

Heather Mofflin is a Master’s of International Relations student at the University of Melbourne, focusing on Southeast Asia. Last year she worked with RMIT University promoting overseas opportunities to young people and trying to get them involved in the international community. When she isn’t buried in a pile of readings, she enjoys running continual laps around Princes park.

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