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Alumni Legacy: Emily strengthens ASEAN-Australian relations through grassroots projects

Our Alumni Coordinator Danielle Stephenson interviewed Emily Heng Zhi Qin (Em), 5th Year Global Studies and Law student at Monash University and 2019 #AAYLF delegate about her latest projects and how she’s working towards strengthening ASEAN-Australian relations.

Danielle: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Em: My name is Emily Heng Zhi Qin, or you can call me Em. I was born in Malaysia and I have been living in Melbourne, Australia for 10 years. I am currently in my 5th year of a double degree in Law and Global Studies at Monash University. My passion is developing the relationship between Australia and ASEAN member states at a youth and grass-roots level! 

D: What current projects are you involved in regarding ASEAN-Australian relations?

Em: I am currently the Operations Officer for the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) National team. As the Operations Officer, I work with Australian state chapter presidents to deliver state-based events. These events include professional and sociocultural events. This year, I also had the opportunity to conduct online cross-chapter events.  For example, when COVID-19 restrictions were first announced, we had to find a way to keep everyone connected to the Australia-Indonesia space. I worked with the National team and chapter presidents to deliver FLEX, which is a flexible online language exchange program for AIYA members to socialise, network and practice their English or Indonesian. Within a month, we were able to organise a facilitators’ roster and conduct facilitator training sessions.

My current project led on from work I had done with AIYA in the past few years. Last year I was the Chapter President of the AIYA Victoria Chapter. Through AIYA, I have overseen and organised over 70 events for young people aged 16-30 interested in the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship.

Em and her AIYA community.

D: What inspired you to pursue these projects?

Em: I think my background has definitely sparked my interest to pursue projects in the ASEAN-Australia space. I was born in Malaysia, then moved to Manila, Philippines with my family when I was a baby and lived three for four years. I then lived in Dubai for two years, then in Singapore for nine years before moving to Australia when I was 15. So for almost my entire life, I have had the privilege of living within the ASEAN-Australia region (Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Australia). This has opened my eyes to the need for partnership between the ASEAN member states and Australia countries. Importantly, I hope that my projects allow youths to know more about ASEAN member states – the culture, the language, the politics, and the food(!). I want to inspire youths to see the intrinsic advantages of partnering with ASEAN member states and not just the economic advantages.

D: What aspect of ASEAN-Australian relations are you most passionate about?

Em: I am most passionate about the people-to-people links in ASEAN-Australia relations, and this passion is reflected in a lot of the activities I organise. I have organised professional events such as networking nights for young professionals interested in working in the Indonesia-Australia space, but also heaps of sociocultural activities such as dance workshops, sports, and movie nights. I think it is important for the ASEAN-Australian relations to be improved not only at the government and business level but also at a grassroots level.  

D: How do projects like AIYA and AASYP assist you in strengthening ASEAN-Australian relations?

Em: First, projects like AIYA and AASYP connect like-minded young people. Through dialogue, you start to understand the priorities and values of other young people in the ASEAN-Australian relationship, which helps to build mutual understanding and bridge gaps. Second, these projects inform young people of current issues in the ASEAN-Australian relations, and how young people from each country can work together strategically to overcome these challenges. Ultimately, these projects are platforms for forming ASEAN-Australian grassroots ties, providing relevant regional information, and leveraging young people to think of creative solutions to strengthen ASEAN-Australian relations.

D: What unique perspective do you think youth bring to discussions around ASEAN-Australian relations?

Em: Youth today have the opportunity to go on semester exchanges and have vast technological opportunities. They are globalised and tech-savvy, which means that they can leverage their cross-cultural skills and social media to become champions of deeper engagement between ASEAN and Australia. I think youths have the opportunity to illuminate the importance of strengthening people-to-people relations between Australia and ASEAN member states, in addition to traditional diplomacy and trade links. Youth are ready to tackle the big issues of their generation, such as climate change and human rights. 

Em presenting her ideas at AAYLF 2019.

D: What is the biggest challenge youth face in this space?

Em: I think young people are sometimes worried that their voices are not heard even if they speak out, as there are many voices in the ASEAN-Australia space. However, youth represent a large proportion of ASEAN and Australia’s vibrant population – we have the numbers and power to solve global and regional challenges. Therefore it is important that young people are empowered to foster closer ASEAN-Australia relations by using their voice. We need to believe that youth action is where positive change begins!

D: Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for youth interested in engaging in ASEAN-Australian relations?

Em: If you are interested, just reach out! Don’t worry if you don’t think you have any experience – we always start somewhere. I started off as an Events Officer with zero experience. Volunteering is the best way to figure out what you are interested in and hone in on important skills such as project management and communication skills. You will also meet some of the best people on the way. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in the Australia-Indonesia bilateral space, or really anything ASEAN-related!

Alumni Legacy is our regular series highlighting the work of AAYSP alumni across the region.

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