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The GLP Canberra Symposium: An Unexpected Journey

Tommy Catling, Bachelor of Education (Secondary) and Bachelor of Art

Prior to arriving in Canberra for the GLP Symposium I was unsure of the quality of the program. Sure, some of the previous had been interesting and sure, I expanded my knowledge of the world, but I was yet to see the GLP as more than an interesting and educational distraction from my regular classes.

Now, I can confidently say that the GLP Canberra Symposium has been one of, if not the, highlight of my experience at Macquarie. I was, and continue to be, astounded by the experiences I had, the people I talked to and the things I learnt. As difficult as it is, I am going to attempt to recount the highlights of the trip, so that hopefully you can understand what makes the Symposium so great.

The bus ride down was rather unassuming. Our driver, Phil, was entertaining and accommodating, regaling us with increasing amounts of ACT trivia the closer we got to Canberra. We arrived, had lunch, and were whisked away to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for our first experience. The Tent Embassy certainly gave us an unorthodox welcome to Canberra. The campfire, caravans and the titular tents were a marked contrast from the rest of the trip, cast as it was in artificial light deep within government buildings. Roxley, our host, embodied this contrast. Eccentric, energetic and controversially outspoken, his candid and open manner would not be seen in any other people we met with (more on this later). Following this, we toured both the old and current parliament houses. I must admit, I will forever be sad that we didn’t visit the National Art Gallery (maybe not forever, but you get the idea).

A comment on the food. I’m sure most of you remember Canberra from primary school, making the pilgrimage to the capital most of us made in our pre-adolescent years. If your experience was anything like the average, you would have struggled to stomach the food provided on said trip. Thankfully, and I mean, THANKFULLY, the GLP Symposium includes food which is not only palatable but dare I say- enjoyable. I am thankful to the organisers for choosing tasteful options for the lunches and the dinners.

Back to the Symposium. The Embassy visits were some of the week’s most interesting events. On this particular trip we had briefings inside the Afghan, US and Finnish embassies. Unlike our friend Roxley the ambassadors were very tight-lipped (for obvious reasons) and somewhat vague in their answers to our questions. This was frustrating at times, although it showed us the reality of life as an ambassador, needing to guard your mouth carefully and choose your words with surgical precision. Particularly interesting were the observable differences between the embassies. Architecture, security and demeanour all changed depending on which embassy we attended. The Finnish ambassador, for example, was a lot more direct in answering our questions. Yes, she did still perambulate around our questions, but to a far lesser degree than the other ambassadors we met with. She also sat next to us, not separately to us, which made one feel relaxed, comfortable and engaged. I would like to point out that the Afghans were the only ones who gave us the miniature flags. In the future I would like prior guarantee that I will receive a miniature flag from each embassy.

But we did not only receive briefings from representatives of foreign governments. The briefings for the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were both stand outs. Although Assistant Commissioner for counterterrorism Krissy Barrett only spoke to us briefly, I learnt much about the astounding workload of the AFP. I came away with a new understanding of the AFP, who play a surprisingly active role in international affairs. The long arm of the law is longer than I had thought.

Speaking to a panel of Australian diplomats from DFAT was one of my personal highlights. This is where the Symposium truly revealed its value to me. The diplomats emphasised that any career path can lead to foreign diplomacy. I spoke to one diplomat who had previously been a primary school teacher, graduating with a similar degree to that which I am currently studying (Bachelor’s of Education and Bachelor of Arts). When I asked her which skills she had transferred between degrees she laughed and said with a smile ‘resilience’. I can only imagine the horrors she endured as a primary school teacher to form such resilience.

On a serious note it was heartening to find out that my career options are wide open. Had I not attended the Symposium I would have remained in ignorance, unaware of the wealth of career opportunities that await.

Unfortunately, I cannot capture the true nature of the Canberra Symposium. What I have written above is but a faint echo of the real experience, a brief synopsis of an invaluable week packed with invaluable experiences. I implore anyone to attend if they can, especially if they aren’t studying security studies, international law, or the like. It was an experience which gave as much as you took from it, one that will mark itself in my memory for a very long time.


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