Having completed part of his degree with the support of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan, Sunshine Coast university student Caleb Mattiske has played an important role in strengthening links between Australia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Studying abroad is high on the list of experiences for university students, dreaming of educational adventures in foreign lands, where they can not only continue learning, but greatly add value to their life skills.
With one semester left in his arts/business degree majoring in geography and international business, 22-year-old Caleb Mattiske has taken full advantage of his time at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
In 2015, he spent two weeks in Battambang, Cambodia as part of a semester-long sustainable tourism project. Then in 2016, the Suncoast Christian College graduate spent a year abroad, attending a semester at Konkuk University in South Korea, a three-month business internship at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Korea, in Seoul, and another three-month internship in Suva, Fiji, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania regional office.
That was unreal because I got to meet a large portion of the Australian ex-pat community in Seoul and hear about what they’re doing and meet a variety of government representatives, from state and federal levels on the ground. That’s the interlinking component of the scholarship – I now have friends and networks from a range of companies and government agencies.”
“This process continued in Fiji, it was about developing networks, that I can bring home and use to indirectly strengthen the bilateral relationship between Australia and the Indo-Pacific region, and help connect USC and other students to that.”
Caleb worked mostly in communications roles, meeting executives and professionals from the two international organisations, assisting their operations and engaging with their clients.
“In Seoul, for instance, I helped facilitate a seminar on the incoming new anti-bribery legislation. With IUCN, I took part in the organisation’s World Conservation Congress in Hawaii where 10,000 delegates discussed pressing environmental issues,” he says.
“I was able to combine my interests in business and geography while getting insights into how important the Indo-Pacific region is to Australia’s future.”
The New Colombo Plan Scholarship is an initiative of the Australian Government, to boost the nation’s relationships throughout the Indo-Pacific by supporting undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.
“It’s about creating people-to-people links with the Asia-Pacific region, because that’s where Australia’s business is and that’s where our future is,” says Caleb.
“That’s at the heart of the program and I’m testimony to that, I had never even thought about studying in Asia, it never crossed my mind. Most people want to study in Europe and America and that’s what I was thinking, I’d love to go to Norway or something, but the opportunity came up and I thought, ‘Why haven’t I thought about that?’
“We identify with Europe and America so much more strongly and those are the destinations we romanticise and dream about, so like for me, it (Asia-Pacific) was off my radar.
“But when you look at Australia’s trading partners, where our investment and goods come from, it’s Japan, Korea and China, and increasingly south-east Asia, Indonesia, Cambodia. And the
Pacific remains an integral strategic partner in many ways, for instance in terms of addressing climate change, where they’re really on the frontlines.
“We’re westerners, but we live in Asia and we miss out on engaging with so much of what’s going on in our region. Indonesia, for instance, which is on our doorstep, ranks the next most populated country behind the USA, and we don’t engage and it’s a missed opportunity.”
Caleb, who is USC’s alumni ambassador for the national program, says it wasn’t until he returned home that he truly saw the value of his experience.
“It’s tough initially, because you have a rollercoaster year of things you never thought would happen, you need to come down a little bit and get back into studying, but it helps give you focus.
Sometimes you get so caught up in the study and exams that you forget why you’re doing what you’re doing,” he says.
“For me, my experience has helped clarify the goal of why I’m at uni and what uni is all about. It’s also about being able to share my experiences with other people; I helped a few people apply for their scholarships last year and a few of them got it and they’re excited but they don’t even know how much they will benefit.”
Caleb says he is now looking forward to shaping a career around further engagement with Australia’s neighbours.
“I wouldn’t mind a stint overseas but I want to be based in Australia,” he says. “Being away made me appreciate home a lot and made me realise how important it is. However, wherever I go, I want to stay connected to the region and be a part of growing that relationship and increasing the consciousness of its importance to Australians.”