- New Colombo Plan
- Micronesia, Federated States of
For Grace Corcoran, applying for a New Colombo Plan Scholarship was the “perfect way to be exposed to the [Indo-Pacific] region and to learn more about their area-specific health issues,” as part of her Bachelor of Applied Public Health and Bachelor of Global Studies at the Australian Catholic University.
However, Grace soon found that the NCP afforded her opportunities to deepen her connections with the Indo-Pacific, travel to locations far-beyond her initial host location and expand her understanding of some of the diverse cultures in the region
“I would not have been able to study in the Indo-Pacific region without the support of the New Colombo Plan”
The first stop on her New Colombo Plan journey was in the Federated States of Micronesia. Here, she studied in Palikir, Pohnpei at the College of Micronesia.
She also interned at Pohnpei Public Health Hospital. While initially Grace felt “under-prepared for the intensity of the cultural differences between Australia and Micronesia,” with the support, training and on-going experience she was soon able to adapt, learn and understand the importance of cultural intelligence, nuance and localism in her work. She says:
“I learnt a lot about Micronesian culture and how strongly culture impacts perceptions of everything, including health. I also learnt how significantly colonisation impacted on Micronesia and how it is one of the causes behind the negative health statistics they have today. Through this I learnt that health/development initiatives need to be culturally appropriate and country specific, based on local knowledge, and that no country can have the same health/development program as another.”
In addition to her internship, the NCP Scholarship also allowed Grace to come into close contact with the work of the Australian Embassy in Kolonia, Pohnpei. Grace notes how she was “inspired by the work that the Australian Embassy participated in” with staff being locally involved in the communities.
Equality, Diversity and the Importance of Culture
Grace also immersed herself in campus life and became involved with a number of university groups, including the LGBTQI+ group, the Women's Empowerment group, the Sport and Recreational group and the Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Building on her passion for equality, Grace played an organising role with Micronesia’s inaugural Pride Walk, working alongside, and in support of, the diverse LGBTQIA+ community in the Pacific Island state. The event was a success for seeing “70-80 participants with a mixture of locals and ex-pats showing their support”.
“I have never been more inspired or empowered by such a fantastic group of people….. I learnt that regardless of where I am, it is okay for me to stand up for my belief in equality. I learnt of the challenges that exist within such small, religious communities. I learnt that on one of the smallest islands in the middle of the Pacific, that no one seems to have heard of before, there is a group of people who are going to change the world, ” Grace reflects on this experience.
From the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and Beyond
While Grace started her NCP experience studying and interning in the Pacific, the flexible nature of the scholarship allowed her to travel deeper into the Indo-Pacific region, further broadening her learning experience and understanding of a range of Australia’s closest neighbours.
Following her time in the Pacific, Grace travelled to the Republic of Maldives. Here, she conducted a three-month internship with Women and Democracy, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women’s economic and political participation. Grace later travelled to Sri Lanka where she interned with the Brien Holden Vision Institute. Here, she worked on a three-year strategy plan and developed their social media marketing strategy.
For the final stint in her NCP Scholarship in the Indo-Pacific, Grace interned at The Asia Foundation in Manila, Philippines.
Fundamentally, the combined opportunities, experiences and people she met on her NCP Scholarship taught Grace the “significance of culturally appropriate initiatives and how many problems result when culture and local circumstances are not considered in program planning”. Reflecting on her time she writes:
“I would recommend the New Colombo Plan to every single person, with my whole heart. This experience has been the best experience of my life in so many ways, expected and unexpected. I have learnt so much about myself and grown as a person. I have made so many friends and professional connections and learnt about so many different perspectives and ways of life. I have developed professionally and been exposed to fields of employment I had not considered before.”
From Scholar to NCP Alumni Ambassador: The Journey Continues
Having completed her NCP Scholarship, Grace understands the importance that it will play in her future as she progresses in her career and as Australia becomes even more engaged in the Indo-Pacific region:
“I believe I will have a great amount and variety of personal engagement in the Indo-Pacific region in the future. I still stay in contact with my colleagues from my internships as well as my friends”
Now back in Australia to complete her university studies and begin the transition into the next stage of her life, Grace is continuing her official engagement with the NCP. She has been selected as an NCP Alumni Ambassador – a prestigious role that promotes the program and is a continuation of her NCP journey.
For Grace, her role as an Alumni Ambassador will allow her to share her own story, promote the NCP on campus and around Melbourne, and help future students. She also looks forward to promoting her unique experience as an NCP scholar in the Pacific Islands region.