As an international business student, Georgia Newell was always hearing about the business potential in Asia, but she’d never had the opportunity to travel there.
So when she came across the Griffith University Borneo International Community Engagement project, she had to apply. “I am not a seasoned traveller and for GBS to give me an opportunity to fulfill a desire I’ve always had was something I couldn’t pass up!” she says.
Griffith Business School has always been determined to develop tomorrow’s globally responsible leaders, and the Borneo trip is all about furthering that goal by getting student leaders to engage in community projects in another culture.
While in Borneo, students were involved in a variety of activities including visiting children in a dyslexia centre, living with the locals in a traditional longhouse and participating in a volunteering experience with Bornean Orangutans. They also spent a morning with one of the local charities, Heart Treasure, that helps adults with disabilities learn handicrafts to help them support themselves.
GBS Student Leader Paul Travers says the experience was invaluable for students who participated. It’s his second year on the trip, having attended last year as a student, returning this year as a senior mentor.
“It’s a unique experience to be able to travel to another country and experience their way of life and learn more about their values and how they see the world,” he says. “Being culturally aware is an important attribute in global leaders, and the International Community Engagement Project gives student leaders the opportunity to develop greater cultural sensitivity and understanding.”
Georgia says being immersed in a culture so different to her own was initially a little jarring. “It was the first time in my life that I have ever experienced culture shock. It was quite surreal and difficult at the time,” she explains.
But once she got into the swing of things, she says her eyes were opened to a whole new world and way of thinking.
“The trip has made me more globally aware, as I can now look through my own experiences when thinking of Asia in business terms, no longer just the information a textbook has given me. It was an eye opener, a challenge and a privilege.”
She says without doubt, engaging with local communities has taught her a lot about what it means to be a true leader.
“This experience showed me there is much more to leadership than taking control. It’s about learning from the people and environment surrounding you and to apply steps to better the certain situation you’re in.”
Paul agrees that participating in projects such as these can be life-changing.
“Trips like this provide a unique opportunity to see how cultures work from the inside,” he explains. “To experience how the people live and understand the different perspectives of different cultures.”
One particular thing that struck Paul on this trip was how much the Eastern culture focuses on relationships and happiness rather than material possessions.
“Our own happiness is often tied to what we have, which is transitory, however observing the Borneo community, it is clear that they are more focused on relationships and community, which bring an overall level of happiness that is a lot more lasting than we have in our Western culture,” he explains. “It really takes an international cultural experience like this to really understand this difference.
“If you have the opportunity to be involved in something like the Borneo project, take it! Be open-minded and involve yourself in as much as possible.
Georgia says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the project to anyone wanting to expand their horizons. “Just do it!” she says excitedly. “Give yourself the opportunity to enhance your education and your view of the world. It’s an absolutely amazing experience.