A career conversation with Rebecca Lawrence

New Colombo Plan
Wednesday, September 9, 2020 - 10:29
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Congratulations to New Colombo Plan alumnus Rebecca Lawrence on your promotion to Associate level with EY Port Jackson Partners. We recently caught up with Rebecca to hear more on how her global experiences led to a successful career.

Rebecca, firstly, congratulations on your promotion!

Q. How did you end up where you are now?

I'm living in Sydney now and working as a consultant, but I am originally from Perth. While I was at UWA, I was received a New Colombo Plan Scholarship which allowed me to travel to Indonesia to study, then Singapore and Hong Kong to work. I guess that's how I caught "the bug" to keep travelling. I really enjoyed my time working in those big financial centres in Asia, which is what empowered me to move to Sydney and accept a graduate job when I finished my Honours degree. 

Q. What is the best thing about the work that you do?

The best thing about my job is the fact that I'm always learning. I work on interesting problems for clients in a variety of industries, which allows me to learn new things on every project. I am also surrounded by interesting people, from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, so I can also learn from my colleagues. I think the most important thing for young people in the workforce is to keep learning and discovering new skills and ideas, so this is a highlight for me. 

Q: How did you hear about the NCP program and what led you to apply for the program?

I don't even remember how I heard about the NCP program! I do know that when I applied for it, the program was very new and we didn't know a lot about it. I remember being surprised by how broad the scholarship conditions were - there were so many options of places to travel! I applied without having much of a plan in mind and then later used the prestige of the scholarship to help me apply for internships in Singapore and Hong Kong.  

Q. What did you do through your NCP scholarship?

I travelled to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for a semester of studying abroad. While I was there, the NCP program provided funding for me to take private language courses, which were a valuable supplement to my in-class training. I took advantage of being based in Indonesia and travelled extensively around the country on my weekends and university breaks. The opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and language of one of our important regional neighbours was incredible, and I made lifelong friends (both Indonesians and expats) with whom I am still in contact.

I then undertook a full-time internship with NAB in Singapore. The opportunity to work in an Australian bank operating in one of Asia's financial services hubs was life-changing for me. It allowed me realise that I "didn't know what I didn't know", and I came across lots of people with interesting jobs that I never even knew about before. Initially, I had only planned to spend one month doing at my internship before going back to Australia, but both NCP and NAB agreed that I could extend my time in Singapore after growing so attached in my first month.

Finally, I worked at QBE in Hong Kong. Again, the experience was overwhelming and exciting. I worked in the Emerging Markets division of QBE, which managed the Latin American and Asian businesses. This was an awesome way for me to get an insight into the running of an enormous, powerhouse of a global business.  

Q. Looking back on your NCP experience, what were some of the highlights of the experience for you?

The people I met were definitely the highlight for me. I feel very lucky to have made friends with so many different kinds of people - friends from my host countries, who were always so welcoming and understanding of me trying to learn about their culture; friends at my workplaces and university, who taught me about the professional world they were operating in; friends who were expats from all around the world, each of whom had interesting stories to tell about their own journeys; and importantly, friends from the New Colombo Plan program, many of whom I still talk to regularly.

Q. What advice would you give to anyone considering applying for the NCP program?

My advice would be to absolutely apply for it! Moreover, I would advise people to take the opportunity to use the scholarship as an excuse to do something that they would never otherwise think of doing. There are so many possible host destinations - pick one that's exciting and challenging - that's when you will learn the most. 

My other piece of advice is not to worry if you don't have a concrete plan right at the start. When my scholarship started, I didn't have any internships lined up. I decided what to do while I was travelling, and then I changed my plans when I wanted to stay in Singapore longer than planned. Keeping your plans as flexible as possible will mean that you get the most out of the program. There will be no shortage of opportunities!

Q: What is next for you and where do you see yourself in 5 years?

To be honest, I am not sure where I see myself in 5 years. Even today, I try to stick to the same principles that made my time as an NCP scholar so much fun - being flexible and open to opportunities, meeting as many interesting people as possible, and striving to keep learning about new ideas and skills. In 5 years time, I hope I am still doing this. 

I could definitely see myself doing another stint overseas at some stage, but recently I have been enjoying my time in Australia. I have been exploring both the professional world of Australian businesses through my career, and also exploring Australia as a tourist in my own country. It was worrying when I got back from 18 months living in Asia and realised I had been travelling in Indonesia more than I had in Australia! My recent adventures have been closer to home but no less exciting. 

You can read more on Rebecca's promotion here: