Indonesia’s cultural heart has Ashleigh hooked

Ashleigh McFarland immersing herself in Indonesia.

Griffith University business student Ashleigh McFarland always had a long-held ambition to work overseas, although her reasons for doing so are more textured than a desire to simply bolster her resume.

Ashleigh describes herself as passionate about global business, international relations and social entrepreneurship. These are traits she developed as a youngster, embedded in the ideals of helping others and making the world a better place.

However, after beginning her Bachelor of International Business degree at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus in 2015, Ashleigh has now discovered her role in improving the broader relationship between Australia and Indonesia.

She has found her niche in Indonesia where she is currently working and studying on a semester exchange program made possible by a study grant under the New Colombo Plan (NCP). It was one of three study grants Ashleigh secured last year, including the Asia Business Challenge in Beijing.

While she admits she is ‘hooked’ on Indonesia and its people, she has also been inspired by the work undertaken as an intern with Trade and Investment Queensland as part of a short-course program in Jakarta earlier this year.

“In that role I assisted more than 15 food and agricultural exporters from Queensland, conducting extensive market research to help the companies break into emerging and established markets in Indonesia,” said Ashleigh.

The role involved Ashleigh developing competitive analysis, market penetration and entry strategies, and meeting with key stakeholders such as importers, distributors and clients.

“It was exciting promoting Australian products to Indonesian counterparts,” she said.

Appreciating cultural diversity

Ashleigh’s experience has also given her a greater appreciation of cultural diversity.

“Living in Jakarta, and now Yogyakarta, has completely changed my outlook on life and I can honestly say that the people I’ve met are the nicest and most genuine people I have ever come across,” she said.

“People go out of their way to say hello, and families who have nothing will put all their food on the table and offer you everything with a massive smile on their face.

“Living here has opened my eyes to the fascinating nation of Indonesia and I now see what the media fails to show us.

“Before moving here, I saw Indonesia being portrayed in a negative light, and I only heard about the bad things that happen.

“However, this isn’t what the majority of Indonesia is like and I can’t help but feel peaceful and ridiculously happy when I’m here. The beauty, culture and diversity that lie within Indonesia’s 18,000 islands are what continue to draw me in.”

Griffith student Ashleigh McFarland, pictured left, in Jakarta with a fellow ACICIS student, Brianna Lane from Curtin University in Perth
Griffith student Ashleigh McFarland, pictured left, in Jakarta with a fellow ACICIS student, Brianna Lane from Curtin University in Perth

Ashleigh’s journey to Indonesia began late last year when she received an email fromGriffith Global Mobility to participate in the Business Professional Practicum in Jakarta. This is an ACICS (Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies) initiative providing opportunities for students of business, management and marketing to gain experience in their chosen field in Indonesia.

“In no time at all, I was on a plane bound for Jakarta under the NCP program, where I would spend the next two months living, working and studying in ‘the big Durian’,” said Ashleigh.

Improving the relationship

Initially she took up studies at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta where she studied the Bahasa Indonesian language and attended seminars on the Indonesian political and cultural landscapes.

The language skills helped her jump into the Indonesian workforce with the Trade and Investment Queensland internship.

“From the start of the ACICIS program in Jakarta, I was hooked on Indonesia and I knew from that point on that I wanted to dedicate my studies, and potentially my career, to improving the Australia-Indonesia relationship.”

Ashleigh has since undertaken her second ACICIS program, taking her to Yogyakarta where she is currently studying the Indonesian Business, Law and Society semester program at Universitas Islam Indonesia.

“The subjects on offer were beyond fascinating and I decided to choose International Human Rights Law and International Trade Law,” she said.

“I am finding these to be extremely interesting and I feel very privileged to be in such an honest and accepting learning environment, where we are open to share our opinions on controversial topics.

Focus on community empowerment

“I now view legal issues from an international perspective and have learnt to consider values, beliefs, traditions and cultural norms before comparing them to Australian law.

“Once my language classes finish, I will be completing an internship at Satu Nama, which is a non-profit organisation that focuses on community empowerment governance and political awareness on the basis of rights, respect, and resilience.

“The project I will be working on is in conjunction with the Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), where we will be educating villages in Jakarta and Surabaya, with the goal to eradicate corruption.”

Ashleigh McFarland attending an Indonesian foreign policy conference in Jakarta
Ashleigh McFarland attending an Indonesian foreign policy conference in Jakarta

Ashleigh continues to study her Bachelor of International Business at the Gold Coast campus and is set to graduate in mid-2017.

However, her experience in Indonesia has empowered her to cultivate a deeper relationship with Indonesia.

“Australia is where I call home, but for now I am very passionate about improving the Australia-Indonesia relationship, so Iwill do whatever it takes to achieve that,” said Ashleigh.

“I’ve realised that I can make a difference through tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

“With international business and international relations, I see excellent opportunities to develop innovative solutions for society’s most pressing social problems, on a global level.

“Through the opportunities to study abroad with Griffith University, I now understand the importance of international business and international relations, which has had a large influence on my career goals.

“It was through these experiences that my personal growth expanded, and I now realise where my heart is and what I want to do for the rest of my life.

“I want to make a positive difference in the world and I have learnt this can be achieved through appreciating diversity, showing profound optimism with grace and humility, being generous, compassionate and understanding differences.”