Michele grew up in regional Queensland and studied at UNSW, where she enrolled in a combined degree in Engineering and Arts majoring in Industrial Relations. Although she had little to do with Indonesia before moving to Sydney, after experiencing UNSW’s vibrant Indonesian community, she enrolled in Indonesian and went on to win a scholarship to study in Yogyakarta. After graduating, Michele taught Indonesian, History and Mathematics to highschool students before returning to university to complete a PhD in history and politics on the Indonesian labour movement. One of Michele’s favourite things about Indonesia is that it makes you take things as they come – although, of course, sometimes this can be frustrating, especially if you’re on a tight timeline! Michele took some time out to answer some questions from the AIYA team.

Tell us a little about your Indonesia work experiences?

I am based in Australia but have been doing research and consultancy work in Indonesia since 1999. Until I took up my current position as Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, I taught about Indonesian politics, political economy, human rights and development in social science seminars delivered in Indonesian and an English-language class about social activism in Southeast Asia. I continue to supervise Honours and PhD students working on Indonesian topics and do research on the Indonesian labour movement. I think I was successful in getting my job because I have really strong language skills and enjoy teaching Indonesian, but also because I have a strong research record. It’s a good combination. Looking ahead, I plan to keep doing what I’m doing because I think it’s the best job in the world.

Any practical advice for young Australians interested in working in Indonesia?

A lot of my students have had a fantastic time working in Indonesia, either during their transition into the workforce or in the longer term. Obviously it’s important to have a good skill set. Language and cultural knowledge is important, but on its own, it’s not generally enough. One of the best possible combinations in terms of being job ready is to a vocational degree with a diploma of languages and spend a year in Indonesia as part of your degree. Master the language –  Indonesians really appreciate it if you make the effort, and if you can speak REALLY well, it gives you a huge amount of cred and access. Find yourself an internship. Stick with it. Be prepared to take detours. Network with other people who are passionate about Indonesia.

Dream 4-week travel itinerary?

Fly into Aceh, spend a week on Pulau Wei, another week travelling along the coast, then a week at Danau Toba and a week in West Sumatra.

Check out some of Michele’s work at http://sydney.edu.au/arts/indonesian/staff/michele_ford.shtml