A bond lasting longer than our lives: Journeys of four AADPSP students | Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs (2024)

Four Master of Strategic Studies graduands participating in the ASEAN – Australia Defence Postgraduate Scholarship Program (AADPSP) have shared with us their exciting journeys of study, family, and friendship at the Bell School.

It all began in February 2023 when four officers joined the AADPS Program. Three of them came from Southeast Asian countries:

  • Mohammad Shahril Bin Saad, a training officer in the Malaysian Army,
  • Reza Zulkarnaen, a foreign education officer in the Indonesian Army HQ,
  • and Vannak Hun, who comes from Cambodia and worked at the Department of ASEAN Affairs, General Department of Policy and Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defence.

They were joined by Daniel Olsen, an Air Traffic Control Officer from the Royal Australian Air Force, who was born and raised in Canberra.

Falling in love with Canberra and ANU

Reza, Shahril, and Vannak immediately fell in love with Canberra and the ANU campus for its natural environment and family friendliness. They liked that Canberra had little traffic and a city that was easy to get around, which has a different kind of atmosphere from their home country. The proximity between home and the University and the lack of traffic congestion enabled them to have time to drop off their children before class.

Four AADPSP students were thrilled to be able to study at ANU in the Bell School, which is the globally leading institute in educating future talents and leaders with a strong focus on the Asia and Pacific regions. As Vannak expresses his excitement of studying at ANU,

I am deeply honoured to have studied at ANU, an institution I have long aspired to attend due to its prestigious standing in education both locally and internationally.

They were fascinated by the beauty of the ANU campus as well, which is nicely integrated into the city and open to the public, whereas in their home countries, universities often resemble compounds and are only accessible to students, not the general public. Canberra and ANU provided a family-friendly environment for these three students from Southeast Asian countries. With numerous gardens, and bordering Lake Burley Griffin, they felt ANU is like a beautiful park, and Canberra is like a ‘park city’, which offered great benefits for students and their families. As Reza says,

I want my family to have a relationship with this university, not only me personally... They need to have this experience as well!

The AADPSP has provided generous financial support to the scholarship recipients and their families. The scholarship not only covers tuition fees and living expenses for students and their accompanying family members, but also includes school fees for their children.

The unparalleled support by the Australian Government really gave us the best of two worlds – study experience and family living experience, which will be a wonderful memory for me and my family, says Reza.

ANU also provided a culturally inclusive environment for the ASEAN students. There are two musallas (prayer space for Muslims) on campus and one Muslim-friendly toilet in the Coombs building, which Shahril really appreciates.

It was really nice and convenient for us [Muslims] and showed ANU’s acceptance of our culture.

As for Daniel, he is thrilled to see the ASEAN student cohort enjoying their time in Canberra,

It has been really nice to share it with the cohort and watch them fall in love with Canberra and enjoy their time here with their families.

Practical experiences, networks and friendships

The four AADPSP students were deeply impressed by the Defence Leadership in ASEAN course convened by Dr Greg Raymond. The course, which is exclusively designed for students participating in AADPSP, offered the cohort a unique opportunity to learn leadership with heavy emphasis on practice. Students were offered a chance to visit the Department of Defence and have conversations with many high-ranking officers and defence experts in charge of military operations. Greg also invited guest lecturers with field experience to give seminars, which Reza found much easier than “reading books from cover to cover”. The cohort even got an opportunity to conduct a climate change simulation to put their knowledge into practice. As Shahril recalls,

Our team had done various simulations back in Malaysia, applying them skilfully to our line of works. But diving into a climate change simulation? That was uncharted territory for me! I'll never forget the thrill of my first climate change simulation - it was like stepping into a whole new world of possibilities. The experience was eye-opening, leaving me buzzing with newfound knowledge and excitement. I can't wait to return home and share this adventure with my colleagues. I'm sure they'll be just as captivated as I was, and together, we'll explore how this cutting-edge approach can revolutionize our work!

More importantly, the cohort highlighted the network and friendships they fostered during the Defence Leadership in ASEAN course. Many activities were designed for AADPSP students to get to know each other, such as going to Mount Majura, having an excursion to Black Mountain with Aboriginal Elders, and visiting a Senate meeting. The AADPSP students really appreciated the chance to make friends and build interpersonal relationships with each other, as Vannak remembers,

In addition to the academic benefits, I find that this course has fostered personal communication and friendship by providing opportunities for group interaction and mutual understanding. This is distinct from other students who attend individually. Although they may form friendships while studying together, they might not experience the sense of camaraderie within a single group as we do.

Furthermore, Vannak explains the benefits of fostering networks among leaders of ASEAN states and Australia in the future,

I believe this course has provided us with opportunities that extend beyond mere personal communication. It has laid the foundation for fostering closer relationships and enhanced cooperation in the future. Given that we already know and have spent considerable time together, if we have the opportunity to work together in the future, our prior acquaintance will enable us to cooperate more effectively and closely compared to working with individuals we have never met before.

Daniel further elaborates on the salience of forming close relationships among participants, which is unique compared to other defence cooperation programs,

This program is unique. It pulled us together. Specifically, the ASEAN Leadership course, delivered by Dr Raymond, fostered engagement, which enabled us to form those close relationships… so when we all go back to our military roles, if something happens in the future, we have somebody to reach out to.

Other than the Defence Leadership in ASEAN course, Daniel also enjoyed some core subjects taught by leading academics in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), such as Strategic Studies by Dr Andrew Carr and Strategic Studies Concepts and Asia Pacific Conflict by Prof Brendan Taylor. He also appreciated the flexibility of the degree that allowed students to pursue their interests in various fields. Nuclear Strategy by Prof Stephan Fruehling, Law of The Sea by Prof Donald Rothwell, and Strategic Issues in the Law of Armed Conflict by Dr William Boothby stood out for him. “Learning directly from them was a privilege.”

What’s next?

Four graduands will embark on different life journeys after completing their studies.

Shahril is set to return to his former role as an officer responsible for the training program in Malaysia. He is enthusiastic about sharing the experiences he has gained, particularly his newfound knowledge on nuclear power – a subject he hadn't had the opportunity to explore in Malaysia. Shahril aims to impart this valuable information to officers who are interested in pursuing further studies or those who are about to attend Military Staff Colleges either in the country or abroad.

Reza hopes to expand his career scope, not only limited to education, but also to the International Relations or regional/global security division at the Ministry of Defence after the graduation. Through the scholarship program, he finds himself becoming more interested in security issues from not only national, but also regional perspectives.

Vannak will return to his previous position at the Department of ASEAN Affairs in Cambodia. He is expected to make full use of the knowledge he gained from the program for his work, which involves defence cooperation with ASEAN countries and Australia at the working group level. He believes that the core concepts of strategy that he has learned during the 18 months of study here will be of great use for his work, such as drafting speeches or providing policy recommendations.

As for Daniel, he will be working for International Policy Division of within the Department of Defence, which sponsors AADPSP. In this role he will have the opportunity put learning into practice, as he supports Defence’s engagement activities with the ASEAN Forum and various expert working groups. After that, he hopes to have the chance to work on anything with an ASEAN focus, whether it be in his previous role at Joint Operations Command, or in a new role in Air Force international engagement.

No matter how far away they will be from each other and how different their pathways will be, the good memories that they share and the friends they made in Canberra and the Bell School should last long. All four AADPSP graduands unequivocally highlighted the importance of the interpersonal connections they have built during the studies, as Shahril says,

We create a bond that should last longer than our lives. Hopefully, the relationships [among us] go from generation to generation.

Finally, the four students express their sincere gratitude to Greg Raymond for all his work and efforts to support for the scholarship program.

Without him, I don’t think this program would be anywhere near as successful as it has been, says Daniel.

Visit our website for more information about studying a Master of Strategic Studies at Bell School.

By Jiashu Fang

A bond lasting longer than our lives: Journeys of four AADPSP students | Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs (2024)


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