We recently caught up with Sally Andrews, a graduate from the University of Sydney who took two years of Indonesian Studies as part of her combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Government and International Relations) degree from 2012-2016. Her passion for studying Indonesian language and history helped shape her path towards her career as a Policy Adviser at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. In this role, she draws on her knowledge of Indonesian affairs and her experiences of studying and travelling in the Indo-Pacific to inform and advise on policy decisions that impact Australia's relationships with its neighbours. Join us as Sally shares her experiences and insights into this fascinating field.
I was keen to learn more about our nearest neighbours and to better understand the social, political and religious background of Indonesia. It’s a fascinating country and one of Australia’s most important partners, so I felt studying Indonesian at university would set me up well for a career in foreign policy. It is also a relatively easy language to pick up in the early stages, which was another important factor!
Having a good understanding of Indonesia’s history, social and political context has been invaluable in setting me up for a career in government and foreign policy – my personal view is that all people wanting to work in this space should seek to develop a good grasp of the complexities of Indonesia, including as a means to understand why this relationship matters so much to Australia.
Studying Indonesian became my entry point to study abroad at Universitas Islam Indonesia, after I won a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to live in Yogyakarta – which is an incredibly interesting and cool city, widely considered the cultural and educational capital of Indonesia.”
My experience in the region later helped me gain an internship with the Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York, where I worked on issues surrounding decolonisation movements in the region, including Bougainville and New Caledonia. The amazing experience I had in studying in Indonesia and travelling around the provinces also gave me a distinct advantage when it came time for me to apply for grad programs within the public sector – many employers within this space are looking for applicants who can demonstrate familiarity and knowledge of the Indo-Pacific. I still draw upon these experiences in my current role as a policy adviser, and imagine I will do so for the rest of my career within government - including because Indonesia is set to remain such a critically important partner for Australia.
Through the New Colombo Plan I was able to undertake an internship with General Electric in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and studied abroad at Universitas Islam Indonesia in Yogyakarta, Indonesia during my final year at the University of Sydney. These experiences not only helped me develop cross-cultural communication skills, but also enabled me to develop more resilience and empathy. Study abroad always brings both opportunities and challenges (I was bitten by a dog and got typhoid, but also got to meet Komodo dragons and hike up an incredible volcano, Mount Merapi).
I came back with a huge respect for the challenges ESL people face in their day-to-day lives here in Australia, and a huge admiration for people who move to this country and take on the challenges of both mastering English and navigating a different culture.
I also made friends with many young Indonesians and Papua New Guineans who will shape the future of their countries, and I believe these networks will remain valuable in both my personal and professional life. Overall, studying in Indonesia and interning in Papua New Guinea gave me hands-on insight into what it means for Australia to be finding its place in the Indo-Pacific. We often talk about wanting to listen and work in partnership with our neighbours in the region, and I think studying Indo-Pacific languages and undertaking exchange in the region can be a good first step.
I would offer hearty encouragement to anyone considering studying languages. I firmly believe that studying another language will open up doors for you in your career and enrich your life. My choice to tick the box on the enrolment form to study Indonesian when I was 18 years old really shaped the rest of my career and brought me to amazing places – visiting the ancient temples of Borobodur and Prambanan, debating the death penalty with my classmates at Universitas Islam Indonesia in Yogyakarta, and even performing a rap about Indonesia’s first President Sukarno in front of Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia.
Languages will open doors for you in both your career and your personal life, and if we Australians are serious about finding our place in the Indo-Pacific, learning languages from within the region is a really good step.
Hero image: Sally Andrews hiking up Mount Merapi on the border of Central Java and the Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Indonesian Studies is offered through the shared pool of majors and minors for a range of undergraduate degrees, and is available as cross-institutional study and the Diploma of Language Studies for current students and graduates of an undergraduate, combined or postgraduate degree from an eligible institution.