Meet our students
Find out why our students chose to study, travel and work in the different countries of Southeast Asia, and what a difference it has made in their lives.
- Chris Clark Bagan, Burma
- Sophie Buchanan Geosciences Field School, Indonesia
- Isabelle Whitehead Mekong Field School, southern China, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand
- Brendon Bangman Exchange, Thailand
- Katrina Steedman ACICIS program, Indonesia
A strong interest in Buddhism and Buddhist literature led me to study the languages of Sanskrit and Pāli. I chose to undertake my studies at the University of Sydney because I believe its expertise in Buddhist Studies and languages is unrivaled elsewhere in Australia. I am now completing a PhD, which involves an edition, translation and study of a portion of the Apadāna, a Theravāda Buddhist text in Pāli.
The Apadāna is a large and eclectic collection of hagiographies of early Buddhist monks and nuns. For many centuries, this text was transmitted in South and Southeast Asia via handwritten manuscripts made of palm leaves. In order to track the rather complicated history of this transmission, a key part of my research is the analysis of textual differences between extant Apadāna manuscripts from Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
During my candidature, I have travelled to Burma and Thailand to collect data. I have examined relevant manuscripts at the National Library in Yangon, the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation in Bangkok and the British Library in London. An important version of the Apadāna was engraved upon marble slabs in Mandalay during the early 1860s at the request of Burma’s penultimate king, King Mindon. I visited this site in 2011 and took photographs of the engraved text. A detailed comparison of all these versions is currently underway and I expect it will shed new light on the scribal practices belonging to past Buddhist communities living in South and Southeast Asia, and the exchange of textual information between these communities.
I finished my Bachelor of International and Global Studies this year and capped it off by participating in the Indonesia Field School run by the School of Geosciences. For a student from the Faculty of Arts, I was wary of undertaking 12 units of Geography at the end of my degree, but there was enough versatility within the areas of study that I had no trouble keeping up. The program, syllabus and assessments gave us a well-rounded understanding of the past and present economic, political and social conditions in Indonesia. There was a particular focus on rural livelihoods, a concept we came to understand through participating in a remote homestay, completing surveys and discussing relevant literary theories.
I have taken many valuable things away from the Field School. Having completed an exchange program in high school I already knew the value of cultural immersion, and in this regard, the field school well and truly lived up to my expectations. In others, it surpassed them. For example, I did not imagine that the friendships I made with Australian and Indonesian students would be among the most valuable things I took away from the experience.
A more tangible lesson I took from the Field School was learning about various methodologies to collect information. In an attempt to collate my general observations of Indonesia, I took video footage and later edited it to make a short film. I have since travelled to East Timor and was able to teach the local staff at the organisation I volunteered for how to use video editing software so that they could share their community building efforts with the world.
My first taste of Southeast Asia was during my second year of a Bachelor of Science/Law degree. I participated in the 2010 Mekong Field School, coordinated by the School of Geosciences. This undergraduate geography course partnered University of Sydney students with local university students in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and southern China. For six weeks our group travelled between bustling cities and small villages as we followed the Mekong River downstream. The Field School offered us a first-hand introduction to the natural wonders, cultural diversity and contested politics of the Mekong River Basin. Outside of class, we spent many evenings meeting new friends for dinner at nearby night markets and zooming around on the back of local students' motorbikes!
Participating in the Field School enabled me to engage with prominent academics, contribute to major research projects and gain invaluable practical exposure to the region. I was given these opportunities much earlier and at a much greater depth than would usually be available at an undergraduate level. More than just an “overseas adventure” or a "semester abroad", studying in Southeast Asia allowed me to accelerate my academic and professional development while having a lot of fun at the same time.
In the final year of my Bachelor of Arts degree I went on exchange at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and not for a second have I regretted this decision.
Bangkok was never a boring place to study. It was fast and busy, absorbing you into it in every moment. I fell in love with the food, some of the best being available in the university itself, and I learnt Thai, a script that had previously seemed so alien to me. The classes were different to Australia. I had to get used to more structure and different approaches to learning. In my free time I would get lost in the city, escape the heat in the malls and then meet friends for dinner and drinks.
There are so many possibilities that come with studying in an Asian country the chance to travel, to eat out every day, to participate in a unique experience and to learn about our closest neighbours. I was not disappointed for a moment and I doubt anyone could be.
In 2010, in the third year of my Bachelor of Arts, I studied one semester abroad with the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) Flexible Immersion Program at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. I wanted the challenge of using Indonesian beyond the classroom, to make new friends and to be exposed to Indonesian culture and cuisine. I was also drawn to the opportunity to study classes in Indonesian with Indonesian students. My semester with ACICIS was definitely the highlight of my degree and it was truly an eye opening, rewarding and exciting six months of my life. It lifted my Indonesian language ability, deepened my understanding of Indonesia’s history and culture and introduced to me an incredibly diverse network of people.
Studying in Jogjakarta for six months has given me greater confidence in my language skills, a sense of adventure and has cultivated my love for all things Indonesian. I’d recommend any Indonesian Studies or Indonesia-related studies students to take the opportunity to include an exchange program into their degree whether it is for a semester or one year. It will challenge you – physically and mentally, improve your language skills, deepen your understanding of Indonesia and you will meet some of the most incredible people – Indonesian and Australian.