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Scholar reflects on her Australia Awards experience

Posted: 1 February 2021

Gender equality, Scholar experience, Social inclusion,

Josephine is currently pursuing a Master of International Development at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.

Before receiving an Australia Awards Scholarship, Josephine worked with Girl Determined/Colorful Girls as Sports Program Coordinator and Research Coordinator. During her time there, she had the privilege of working with thousands of adolescent girls across Myanmar through programs that help them to build their leadership skills. While working, Josephine completed an undergraduate degree in English from Mandalay University of Distance Education.

Josephine has been featured as the face of Australia Awards Myanmar Scholarship promotions. Through Josephine’s reflections, we gain insight into her Australia Awards experience and her advice to future applicants.

What motivated you to apply for an Australia Award?

One priority field of study highlighted in Australia Awards is gender equality, social inclusion and human rights, and that is the field that I am most passionate about and want to establish a career in. Equality and inclusion are among many of the essential goals Myanmar needs to achieve in its development process, and I want to play a part in the process and make an impact. Knowing that Australia Awards prioritises this field of study, I was determined to apply.

Another reason I was particularly motivated to apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship was because it provided scholars with a two-year, fully funded study support plan. It truly benefited someone like me who needed to start with a coursework study option to build up good foundational knowledge on the course I was pursuing before taking on any research-focused study.

Needless to say, the Australian education quality is highly recognised and respected worldwide. Learning at one of the Australian educational institutions will certainly help me become a well-informed scholar who is able to access better opportunities in life. Australia Awards was to me a pathway to access high-quality education in Australia.

I have worked mostly with not-for-profit community-based organisations and doing development aid meaningfully is something I have always been interested in and wish to advocate for. This interest has led me to learn more about development and global debates around how international aid can be effectively and sustainably distributed.

Josephine with three other Myanmar scholars

Josephine with three other Australia Awards Myanmar scholars who are studying in South Australia

How did you find the application process?

Applying for a scholarship through the OASIS online application system was fairly easy. The application window is open long enough for applicants to really take their time and complete the application step by step, and save and edit the information along the way. Another quite helpful part was that applicants did not have to present proof of their English language qualification at the time of application. That relieved some pressure from the applicants who needed time to prepare for the language qualification test. In fact, Australia Awards supported the successful applicants to prepare for language testing, which was immensely helpful for those who could use the support to achieve the required language qualification.

Once shortlisted, applicants had one more step, a panel interview, left before their application was considered successful or not. Overall, the whole application and selection process was time efficient and applicants did not have to wait long for the final results.

What suggestions do you have to future applicants to help them be successful in receiving an Australia Award Scholarship?

I can share a few tips that I found helpful from my own application experience.

Understanding the application process first is a good start: before filling out any information, I read through all the questions and information asked for and noted down any information or documents that I needed to gather and prepare for online submission (notarising documents and scanning for electronic copies, etc). It is good to start this process as early as possible so that applicants have enough time to obtain any required documents on time.

Let our experiences and personal goals tell the story: my opinion is that our own experiences and the visions we have for our country and for our communities are what attract the scholarship providers. Sharing one’s unique experience, values and interests; stating a clear study plan and reasons for study choice; and projecting specific goals and future plans may increase an applicant’s chance of receiving a scholarship. Hence, my recommendation is to worry less about knowing popular trends and generic, sophisticated terms but to try to articulate your thoughts and dreams as clearly and powerfully as you can.

Australia Awards are provided so that scholars can return to their home country and contribute their learning to country’s development: after expressing our goals and visions for our country and our communities, the next step is to describe how Australia Awards can help us achieve our goals. In your application, demonstrate how you want to contribute to Myanmar’s development and how receiving an Australia Award can help that happen.

Reaching out to previously successful scholars helps: I was fortunate enough to know a few scholars who had received an Australia Award, and so I was able to ask for any help and clarification I needed with the application process.

Josephine hiking at Wilpena Pound

Josephine has been exploring Australia during her university breaks, including this site at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges

What guidance have you received from Australia Awards throughout your scholarship?

I have received enough support from the Australia Awards teams – both the university-based and the country-specific teams. All the recipients participate in a comprehensive Introductory Academic Program before the semester begins. The program prepared us to be able to engage well in our respective courses.

The university-based team communicates with the recipients regularly, provides any study and individual support, and organises various activities. The country-specific administrative team also stays connected on a regular basis and provides any necessary guidance and support.

How has your experience in Australia been so far?

Apart from having to study online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my experience here so far has been good. Adelaide is a beautiful and less-crowded city with plenty of natural places and beaches to explore. Students can visit many of these places using public transport, which is quite convenient. During the study breaks, I have camped in outback areas like the Flinders Ranges, explored Kangaroo Island, hiked Mount Lofty a few times, and visited many national parks.

Another important thing to appreciate about Australia is the variety of food available. A typical Asian, I initially had great concerns about not being able to find the food that I usually eat, and it surprised me that every supermarket had most of what I needed, even the spices. Now another holiday activity has become cooking traditional dishes and sharing them with friends.

The public service system and social inclusion efforts are among other things to learn while in Australia. The system put in place to support the less advantaged population, the youth, and the students are something I wish to see in my homeland in the near future. Efforts put into the private and public systems to ensure access for persons with all forms of ability are also remarkable.

Last of all is my particular interest in Australia’s reconciliation efforts with the First Nations people and the traditional landowners. On campus and in public places, we see and witness increasing recognition of Aboriginal culture and I look forward to learning more about the different strategies and plans to take the reconciliation process further.

What would you say is your most significant achievement or highlight of your time in Australia?

I took a field school topic out of interest and it gave me my most exciting learning experience here. It was a community archaeology field school and we stayed at Burra, a small historical mining town in mid-north South Australia for a week and did some archaeology study about the traditional Ngadjuri people of the land. Around the mid-north region, I had the opportunity to explore rock arts sites, ceremonial scarred trees, an ochre quarry site, and most importantly, I had the honour of meeting the Ngadjuri Elder Vince Copley and listening to the stories of his life and the Aboriginal people of South Australia.

The field trip was an invaluable experience, and it has encouraged me to want to learn more about the Ngadjuri people and their cultural heritage. I am so truly inspired that I am now looking into the possibility of doing a thesis research project about cultural heritage and sustainable development.

Josephine at a ceremonial scarred tree site during a university field trip

Josephine at a ceremonial scarred tree site during a university field trip

When you return home, how do you plan to use the knowledge and experience you gained in Australia to develop your career and contribute towards the development of Myanmar?

As my career has already started in development work, I am quite confident that I will go back to do similar work in Myanmar, especially with community-based organisations, and hopefully taking on a more advanced role. My learning journey in Australia has helped me look at development issues from various points of view, understand the global flow of development funding better, and learn from other countries’ examples of how they have overcome certain development challenges in local and sustainable ways. I intend to use this knowledge in my future professional and research work.

My immediate goal is to contribute to the development of the Karenni community to which I belong. Given my previous work experience with Colorful Girls, I am hopeful that I can help initiate similar programs for girls from rural Karenni areas with the support from my former co-workers. Furthermore, I would like to be involved with as many local organisations as possible and support them in any capacity I am competent. My life-long goal is to build a career as a researcher and consultant in sustainable community development.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Receiving the opportunity to study and live in Australia is a life-changing experience. One learns to be independent, adapting to a new culture and a new environment while studying with people from all over the world. The most rewarding experience for me is meeting my next-door neighbours – students from other South-East Asian and South Asian nations – and learning more about the development of the Asia-Pacific region. I already know that I will go home a different person who is able to see things from different perspectives and able to connect the dots at a local, national, regional and global scale. In a nutshell, living somewhere outside our homeland, meeting different people, and experiencing different things will certainly help us grow and be better-informed individuals who can contribute to the development of the communities we care about. So grab your chance now.