Notes from an International Student in Development

The view from the Arts Graduate Lounge, one of the many study spaces available on campus.

I am Natasha, a Masters of International Development Practice student in my second semester. My core area of academic interest lies in the field of international relations and development studies. As an Indian, this interest stems from the lived experience and conscious memory of seeing rising developmental issues, numerous diplomatic and military conflicts, genocide, human rights and gender injustices.

Throughout the course of my higher education I have been engaging directly and indirectly with questions relating to gender, conflict resolution and security in development practices and international relations.

Why I study in Australia?

It was a visit to Australia as a tourist during my undergraduate studies, that set me on the path to further studies abroad. I fell in love with Monash´s stunning Caulfield campus; it’s liberal environment, highly experienced faculty, welfare and support facilities, and the conducive living and learning atmosphere.
All these aspects, were surely going to make my time at Monash an extraordinary experience. And to top that, being able to learn at this much-lauded university is one of the best ways to imbibe multi-cultural diversity, develop an international perspective and understand the role of Australia´s development sector, which I have always wanted.


First weeks in Australia

Arriving in Australia as an international student, one of my first hurdles was the usually routine processes of opening a bank account, getting an Australian phone number, Monash ID, and OSHC card.

Getting important admin out of the way, on to the house hunting, where I was lucky enough to find a nice two-room place near the university without much trouble. Initially the distance looked minimal but as classes began and catching the shuttle bus became a major mission, I realised getting a bike was a smart idea and hence Gumtree became my best friend! I found a second-hand bike along with some furniture for the house.

Looking back after five months, I remember how getting a fridge, a microwave or even a donna became such important things and entertaining conversation topics.


First months at Monash

My experience at Monash as an MIDP student has already been an interesting journey. Firstly,everything is online, leaving me feeling a little technologically challenged. Coming from India where a lot functions the old-fashioned way, working with Moodle (especially while submitting assignments), Allocate+, WES, all these were both interesting and frustrating at the same time. But in the end I learnt how to spot various aspects of my course online such as presentations, discussions, course content. Everything was just a click away, and just like learning an instrument or sport, navigating Monash´s online world gets easier with practice

As an international student, understanding the Australian accent and its own colloquial slang words was quite the challenge. I have to admit to still listening to things twice, with double concentration to understand what the lecturers say or what my peers discuss. Hence, many times I missed out on jokes that went around in class and I would then appeal to my neighbour to explain what just happened.


Settling in and lessons learned

Being part of MIDP program, I have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people from all across the globe. It is a pleasure to listen to their experiences as development practitioners working in various countries. It is great to learn of the ground-realities from the field. It helped me understand the similarities of problems across the world and hearing the various development practices working as solutions insightful.

Another important skill I have gained is working in groups, as a lot of assignments require us to work with 3-4 people. It is a daunting task to agree to what everyone else has to say. Sometimes most of your time can be spent narrowing down the various ideas without offending any particular person.

However, by the end of semester we understood each other well and had grown from being total strangers to friends. While I must admit, this friendship was mostly due to food and other hot topics that dominated our discussions, often more so than the academics! It is also comforting to know I am not the only one who felt clueless, there were others also in the same boat.

Studying development in an international setting

In India right now, not many places provide a specialisation in international development practice. After gaining an understanding of international relations and working for think-tanks and NGOs I felt that a more specialised understanding of development practices from issues emerging in the international community was much needed for me to excel in this field and to also carry out further research in the form of a PhD in the future.

Pursuing a Masters of International Development Practice at Monash University complements my academic and working experience. The MIDP program has so far been amazing, especially with a faculty from whom I believe I still have so much to learn.
The program allows flexibility for an interesting range of subjects, especially as I have found, for students with an international relations background. The multi-disciplinary nature of the faculty and students helps contextualise my experience of South Asian politics and international relations with global development perspectives.


Looking forward

After successfully completing the first semester, I move on to the second, feeling much more confident with an increased sense of belonging at Monash.

This semester I am going to be studying Project Planning and Management and am looking forward to learning project planning from an international perspective and using it in the future in a local context.

Aside from the academics, I am excited to meet new people, not just from MIDP but students from other courses as well. I am thrilled to spend more time at the new MPA lounge on the Caulfield campus and during exams, making the Arts Lounge my home again. Not so preoccupied with the fears of beginning the first semester, I am sure I will now enjoy experiencing the things I may have missed out on before.


My top piece of advice

As an International MIDP student, I am perhaps too young in the programme to make total sense of it all. My one recommendation is to spread out the core units, one during each of the first three semesters. As many of the students work part-time alongside the full-time course, it is advisable to space out these core units, allowing for a better understanding of them through a deeper engagement with their content. Doctrines, Project Planning and Research Methods, these form the basis of our programme and our understanding of development, give yourself the time to absorb all that they have to teach you.

MIDP student

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