ISLP International Relations and Diplomacy delegation: South Africa v. China

Last month I spent nearly two weeks traipsing around China as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program’s International Relations and Diplomacy delegation. For those who remember, last year I went on this same delegation, but to South Africa.

As I’ve previously written about my experiences in South Africa as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program, I thought it would be worth comparing the my experiences in both China and South Africa for any future scholars.

China

My goodness, the China delegation is so tightly packed that you will be exhausted by the end of it. But it is absolutely worth it. You get to explore three Chinese cities – Xi’an, Beijing and Shanghai – and see past, present and future China respectively.

We had some really interesting talks from NGOs, government officials, think tank researchers, university lecturers. We even visited the Polish Embassy in Beijing! As someone who wants to break into diplomacy, this provides valuable insight into the world of international affairs.

I do however recommend critically analysing the content that government officials say, as you would in any country. But keep in mind that China adopts the culture of “saving/keeping face” – so consider the language you use if you feel like voicing your opinions.

Then there was the fun stuff… we visited the Great Wall and took sweaty selfies, the terracotta warrior army of Xi’an (which is still being excavated!), we attended a cheesy kung fu show and intense acrobatic show in Shanghai. There are also multiple additional excursions that you can choose to opt into at an additional cost, which isn’t really touched upon in the pre-departure information.

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A different angle of the Forbidden City 🇨🇳

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The Diplomacy delegation to China is one of the largest programs run by Envision. In 2017 we had approximately 80 scholars, with other delegations (nursing, engineering, business etc.) there were 210 of us in China at once. That means no time for dilly dallying or you’ll get left behind.

 

South Africa 

If you prefer a more relaxed approach to your study tours, the South African delegation is definitely the way to go. Fewer people choose to attend the South Africa delegation (there were about 20 of us in 2016), meaning that there is a greater chance of flexibility in the schedule. For example, I was super interested in visiting the International Criminal Court, where crimes committed under apartheid were trialed. This wasn’t in the original schedule, but I mentioned it to our guide and he arranged a visit – we just had to start the day half an hour earlier.

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Constitutional Court, Johannesburg

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A large portion of this trip is focused on learning about the historical context of apartheid in South Africa, its implications and moving forward to seek justice and reconciliation. This is a really moving topic, and can really affect you if you’re empathetic to hearing about these stories. Visiting the apartheid museum puts things into perspective and will probably make you cry.

One thing I found really refreshing about South Africa is how aware everyone is of current affairs and the political climate. Everyone seems to be well-versed in these issues and have really interesting conversations and debates about them.

A big bonus if you choose to head to South Africa is the optional cultural extension – you’ll spend two days on safari searching for the “big five”:  the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros.

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The watering hole outside our rest stop to Kruger

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In short, both the China and South African International Relations and Diplomacy delegations are incredible experiences and they are what you choose to make of them. You’ll meet a lot of interesting and passionate people – whether they’re speakers, university students, members of the delegation or even people you meet on the street. Each delegation will teach you about a different area of international affairs and you’ll learn an incredible amount in such a short period of time through experiential learning. While no study abroad tour is 100% perfect, I would still absolutely recommend experiences such as these – textbooks and internet searches can only teach you so much.

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Could Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why promote better mental health initiatives in schools? [opinion]

The controversy surrounding the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why has blown up over the past couple of months, with thousands of Facebook users taking to their keyboards to either praise or condemn the show.

For those who have yet to see it, 13 Reasons Why explores the events leading up to the suicide of 15-year-old Hannah Baker. The series includes a graphic scene of Hannah painfully taking her own life in the bathtub.

13 Reasons Why is far from a perfect representation of mental illness – many argue that the show glosses over or even glorifies mental illness and suicide – but whether you love it or hate it, the outcome remains the same: people are talking about mental health and suicide prevention.

By promoting conversations about mental health, and exposing viewers to the harsh realities of ill-equipped school counsellors, 13 Reasons Why has challenged existing stigma surrounding mental health issues.

By introducing these types of media into pop culture, the existence of mental health issues become acknowledged and de-stigmatised within communities.

Why is this important?

According to a joint report from Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, nearly 1 in 4 Australian teenagers meet the criteria for “having a probable serious mental illness”.

A recent study from Headspace and the National Union of Students has also found that 1 in 3 Australian tertiary students think about self-harm or suicide.

By acknowledging and de-stigmatising mental health issues, we as a community can open the floor for educated discussions, learn to recognise signs of depression, and save more lives.

High schools and tertiary institutions can use media as a tool to engage students and staff when discussing mental health, disprove stereotypes and highlight the importance of seeking help if needed.

In 13 Reasons Why, the failure of the school counsellor, Mr. Porter, to reach out and provide help to Hannah when she sought it should provide current and future counsellors with an understanding of how not to treat a teenager battling depression.

Students can also be encouraged to educate themselves on mental health awareness, learn to look for symptoms, and find out how to ask for help.

In response to research indicating that teenagers prefer to share their problems with peers, Mental Health First Aid Australia developed a course specifically aimed at teenagers to encourage them to support their peers.

After completing the course, participants had reduced stigmatised attitudes, improved knowledge of mental health problems and their treatment, increased confidence in providing mental health first aid to a peer, and increased help-seeking intentions.

So, it’s up to schools to decide whether they should force their students to analyse Macbeth’s soliloquies and memorise Pythagoras’s theorem, or teach staff and students to potentially save lives.

I know which I’d pick.

How unpaid internships benefit the rich [opinion]

I’m having difficulty adapting to the end of university life. For the past four and a half years I’ve been able to focus on assignments and blocking out the real world. It wasn’t until my final year that I realised the importance of gaining work experience through internships and volunteering.

I was so focused on getting decent grades and completing all my assignments that I forgot that university was a pathway to get to a desired career goal. I think that a lot of people fall into this trap, and we come away from university with our degrees and minimal job prospects because of it.

I heard the other day that it takes a graduate an average of four years to get full-time work related to their study field. That’s longer than most of the degrees out there.

Most workplaces won’t hire you without experience, which makes sense because they don’t want to hire people who may not be able to perform well. But how are you supposed to gain experience if no-one will hire you?

That’s when unpaid internships come into play. In the international relations sector, majority of internships are unpaid and go for several months at a time. If (like me) you come from a city that doesn’t offer internships in your field of interest, you need to relocate at your own cost – either interstate or internationally.

This is where things start to really irk me. If you’re working full-time for several months away from home, it’s going to start getting expensive. Accommodation, food, transport, work-related expenses… it all adds up. Full-time unpaid work doesn’t leave a lot of time for paid casual or part-time work, so you need to prepare to save a lot of money beforehand or go into debt. If you don’t have the money, you can’t afford to live.

This means that only people who are financially well-off or have saved like crazy can afford to take part in these initiatives. Intentionally or not, these unpaid internships benefit the rich, further widening the gap between rich and poor graduates. If you can’t afford to work for free to get experience then it seems like you might be waiting a while for that graduate-level position.