Australia Awards alumna Metho Dema is working as a Desk Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bhutan. She undertook a Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne in 2018, through an Australia Awards Scholarship. She had been in the Bhutanese foreign service for five years when she left for her studies in Australia and re-joined the Ministry when she returned home in December 2018. Metho says she’s very passionate about her job and finds great joy in contributing towards nation-building.
Metho Dema was featured as the “face of” the Australia Awards – Bhutan promotions for study commencing in 2020. Through her reflections below, we uncover the story behind these promotional images and get an insight into her Australia Awards experience.
What motivated you to apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship?
Australia Awards is a very competitive and popular Scholarship program in Bhutan. It attracts some of the best minds in the country. The range of facilities provided to the scholars adds to its appeal, as does the fact that it is well organised. Furthermore, Australia is a popular study destination for Bhutanese people. Notwithstanding the above, for me the source of motivation was “who” rather than “what”. I was aware of the high level of competitiveness for Australia Awards Scholarships and was unsure of my prospects. I was planning to apply to as many programs as possible. However, an old friend and colleague, who is also an Australia Awards alumnus, was my main source of motivation. He convinced me that Australia Awards was the right program for me and that I stood to gain immensely if successful. I am grateful to him for persevering through my indecisiveness. He motivated me to concentrate on Australia Awards with the single-mindedness to be successful. He kept saying, “Don’t distract yourself with other applications; focus on Australia Awards”.
What was the application process like?
There are detailed guides to help prospective applicants through the application process. As a result, I did not face many difficulties. However, it does take some time to complete the application and to ensure that you gather all the necessary documentation. The best way to ensure you have enough time is to start early and plan your application process way ahead of time. I set a strict time-frame for myself and stuck to it. For instance, I finished my application a few weeks before the deadline—but I kept revisiting it every other day and made changes.
Do you have any tips for new applicants?
Research, research and research! Take the time to understand your personal and academic goals, your chosen course and university, and your country’s development needs. Find the areas where they overlap and focus on these in your application. Remember that you are trying to convince someone that you are the right candidate, so make sure that your arguments are evidence-based and rational.
Answer the questions precisely! I can’t stress this enough; I have had some aspiring applicants ask me to read their draft answers. The common problem I observe is that they tend to take a very broad approach to the questions. Drop the unnecessary words and sentences, and focus on answering to the point. Brevity is the name of the game. When they say 2000 characters, they mean it! Follow this rule to a T.
I also strongly recommend speaking to alumni. I am a good example of why talking to alumni strengthens your application. If you know Australia Awards alumni, approach them and seek advice. Additionally, if they are willing and you are comfortable, ask them to read your write up and provide feedback. I did that and my alumnus friend was very helpful.
Finally, I want to say to future applicants: when you start your Australia Awards journey, don’t feel discouraged by the competition; instead, seek strength in it and let it drive you to give your best during the process. Knowing that there are thousands vying for a handful of Scholarships is daunting. However, it also means that you should start your preparation process years ahead. Build your CV and give it value for investment. Start early and finish ahead. All the best!
How was the guidance you received from Australia Awards throughout the process?
I am convinced that Australia Awards is one of the most well-organised Scholarship programs. The Australia Awards team does a wonderful job of guiding the applicants both in Bhutan and in Australia. In my university, there is an Australia Awards Scholars Club which, among many things, acts as a platform for the scholars to remain engaged with the Scholarship managers at the university. Catherine leads a wonderful team who were always receptive and prompt in responding to all our concerns. From our first day in Melbourne, they made sure we did not face any issues. They guided us in every area; from opening a bank account, to taking a tour of the campus, and giving us tips on accommodation and how to get around the city.
If you feel like you need additional academic support during the academic semesters, that is promptly arranged too. Australia Awards also regularly collects feedback about our experience, and, through personal experience, I know they listen to what we say in those surveys.
Even before we completed our studies, Australia Awards helped prepare us for our return home and reintegration. Through this support, I was exposed to the concept of reverse culture shock and I honestly thought it was an exaggeration to think we would suffer from it, given that I have lived in Bhutan all my life. My friends and I could not have been more wrong. When we returned home, we understood the value of that discussion. Even my Australia Awards alumni friends from other countries agree. In short, whenever we needed support of any kind, we could always count on our Scholarship managers.
What was your experience in Australia like?
Undoubtedly, my experience in Australia will be one of the highlights of my life. The words that best describe my experience are “very fulfilling”. Academically, I couldn’t have chosen a better, more relevant course and university. In two years, I learnt so much; it’s hard to fathom that I wrote around 35 essays on topics as varied as international policy-making to post-development to monitoring and evaluation to human rights. Personally, I developed so many dear friendships, and I returned a much wiser and more mature person. Professionally, I connected with many young leaders and professionals from different countries, and I know these relationships will prove very useful in time. I am now watching some of them pursue their dreams and become inspirational change agents. It reminds me to aspire to do good with my learning.
Nevertheless, I don’t mean to say that it’s all rainbows and sunshine. Living abroad is always a challenge, especially for someone like me: born, brought up and educated in Bhutan. I was initially very excited but also anxious. In the first semester, I developed extreme anxiety from all the stress and adjustment. Thanks to my partner and friends, I learned to cope with it slowly. Now I talk openly about that experience because it is important for future applicants to realise that your new life in Australia will not be all rosy. But if you persevere, you will understand that there is value in hard times.
What was your biggest achievement or highlight during your time in Australia?
I think getting exposed to a new meaning and culture of “learning” was the highlight of my time in Australia. My university has a tagline, “Teaching you how to think (not what to think)”. It was a line I tried to live by for two years and continue to do so even now. I would say 90% of the learning resulted from my frank and open interactions with highly learned professors, academics and students in the course of two years, and of course a lot of reading. Through these modes, I learned so much about topics that always fascinated me. At times, essay questions would “spark joy”. Having such easy access to a wealth of information and knowledge is something I truly miss now.
Learning from some of the best minds in the world was also an illuminating experience in self-discovery; you see that they know a lot, but you also realise that you can add value to the discussion because our experiences and outlooks are varied. No one has a monopoly over knowledge. As a result, I have had many “A-ha” moments during this process. I would also add that many international students, especially from my region, tend to undermine our own abilities. I think this applies to a larger group of people too, irrespective of our nationalities; we are all a bit insecure about our abilities. However, at the university, I truly witnessed the potential of my fellow Bhutanese and scholars. My takeaway is that if you do not put yourself to the test, you will never know what you are truly capable of.
Now that you are back home, how do you plan to use the knowledge and experience you gained in Australia to contribute towards the development of Bhutan?
While it’s hard to list all that I learnt and how I will apply it, the many intangible skills and knowledge I picked up in Australia are already proving useful in my work. I don’t look at problems the same way I used to, and I know there are myriad ways to resolve them. I believe that any good and sustainable work requires collective ownership, and this can only be achieved through genuine teamwork and sound leadership. Therefore, I understand that while seeking viable solutions to problems is still difficult, it is not impossible.
Studying development at the University of Melbourne has made me realise that many times the answer to a question lies at the origin/source. As such, I feel my country is on the right path; we have always understood that we must be the author of our own destiny and no one else. But as times change, our challenges are evolving and becoming bigger and more daunting. As Bhutan prepares to graduate from the United Nations Least Developed Countries list to being a lower-middle income country in 2023, the order of the decade is to turn many of our persistent challenges into new opportunities. My education in Australia has given me a renewed sense of faith and confidence that we will be able to do just that.
Do you have any final thoughts on Australia Awards?
To the people and the government of Australia, thank you for your generosity. As an alumna, I can assure you that your investment in developing countries through such programs makes a significant difference to the individual and the country at large. In return, I know that Australia Awards alumni will prove to be intangible assets for Australia in the long run. Namey samey kadrinchey la! [This Dzongkha phrase for thank you translates to “grateful and obliged to you beyond the earth and the sky”.]