Megan is a current GLP exchange student from the United States studying social relations and policy. Recently she was a delegate on the Global Leadership Program’s domestic symposium to Canberra. This symposium involved a visit to Parliament House for Question Time, an evening with the High Commissioner of Pakistan in his diplomatic residence and numerous opportunities to explore the culture and socio-political issues of Australia.
What does it mean to be a global leader? I along with other GLP delegates went along to Canberra to find out. As an American exchange student, I expected to be enlightened by the political landscape, intrigued by the cultural differences, and surprised at the experiences, but I underestimated just how much my participation in the symposium would broaden my understanding of cultural and political issues within Australia.
Comparison of the Murrumbidgee River in Canberra and the Potomac River which overlooks Washington D.C.
Upon arriving in Canberra to Parliament House, I was struck at how similar it looked to Washington, D.C. Question Time in the House of Representatives taught me about the nature of discourse in Australian national politics. The manner of debate in the Australian House of Representatives made me reflect thoughtfully on the similarities and differences in the U.S House of Representatives, I suppose I learned to analyse perspectives in the context of a larger scope, an essential quality of global leadership. After witnessing Question Time, I took a trip home-well to the U.S Embassy, where we had a briefing on U.S -Australian relations and posed questions to the diplomats. As they answered our questions, I began to understand the value of critical analysis in interpretation and how this ability is an essential quality in leadership.
The visits the next day focused on the cultural challenges within Australia and their political impact. We received presentations from Companion House and the Healing Foundation. Companion House is an organisation that helps migrants and asylum seekers who have experienced trauma settle in to Australia by providing them with medical and psychological services and employment assistance, as well as other services. The presentation highlighted the issues that asylum seekers and migrants face and the political pressures surrounding this group. I leanrned of the campaign, “Stop the Boats” and the rhetoric used to dissuade migrants from emigrating using illegal means. This helped me analyse the situation in the U.S in a very different light. Although Australian immigration problems are very different from the U.S, I gained a more profound understanding of Australia’s role in the South Pacific. I came to the understanding that events outside of your immediate geographical domain can still affect you.
The Healing Foundation was set up in conjunction with the Australian government to transmit words of apology for the suffering of Indigenous persons during the Stolen Generations into policy action through local enrichment projects, employment assistance, education, and cultural initiatives. Listening to the struggles of Indigenous persons and the efforts of the Healing Foundation, I realised that it is an essential quality of good leadership to recognise the past and evaluate the present in order to shape a better future. This ideal is what The Healing Foundation for Indigenous and Torres Strait people is based on. The presentation made me reflect on the treatment of the Native Americans in the United States and how advancements can be made to ensure their progress within society.
We also attended a briefing and dinner at the Pakistani High Commissioner’s home. He discussed Pakistan’s history, their major imports and exports, economic prospects, their role in the world today, and his hopes for their future relationship with Australia. This was my favourite event of the symposium. I only knew a little about Pakistan and their role in Asia and the world, so I really looked forward to the evening. I was given a new perspective to examine the press coverage I had seen about Pakistan and understand the rationale behind it. I think this evening reminded me to consider all sides of a story before coming to a conclusion and that it’s important to keep an open mind.
During the symposium, the delegation was divided into teams and assigned projects that related to different events that were to take place. My team was given the assignment to make a book outline on the history of immigration in Australia with a focus on Indonesian immigrants. At the end of the weekend, we presented our team projects. This was a challenging experience for me because I did not have any background on relations between Indonesia and Australia. After the other members of my team helped me understand the context behind the project, I felt like I was more able to contribute. The lessons I learned from each event of the symposium made working in a group a successful experience.
This symposium taught me so much about myself: how I can grow as a leader, and what leadership means in a changing global context. The most important lesson I learned from the weekend is that anyone can lead. I think that leading is about wanting to make a change and being bold enough to try, no matter how small of a role you think you have.