In this Career Spotlight, we have the pleasure of speaking with Natasha T, Policy Officer at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, about her experience as a career starter in international affairs.
Natasha graduated from the Australian National University (ANU) with a Bachelor of International Relations and Bachelor of Law (Honours) in 2021. She entered DFAT’s Graduate Program in 2022 and is currently doing her third rotation in Multilateral Trade Policy.
She was recognized as one of YAIA's Young Women to Watch in International Affairs 2023 for her passion and work in building people-to-people connections in the Indo-Pacific region. While studying, Natasha participated in the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program, taught legal English in Myanmar, and undertook a research internship in Taiwan.
Natasha strongly believes in the important role of women and culturally and linguistically diverse individuals in diplomacy. She also speaks fluent Farsi, elementary Russian and is currently learning Indonesian.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in international affairs? And what steps did you take to enter the field?
International affairs have interested me for as long as I can remember. The first time I started considering a career in the field was when I travelled to Japan at 15. I was selected to be a Junior Ambassador for the Blue Mountains as part of a Sister Cities program with Sanda City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. This was a pivotal experience for me as I realised how much I enjoyed learning about Japan, its history and culture, whilst also sharing with my newly found friends what life in Australia was like (including describing all of Australia’s interesting animals!). This experience sparked a desire for lifelong learning about different cultures and later through my university studies, how countries and international organisations function and relate to each other in our globalised world.
Alongside my studies, I participated in a range of extracurricular activities to broaden my understanding and to develop important skills for entering the field. I believe this practical experience is essential as you become proficient in effective communication, leadership and cultural literacy, some of the qualities I believe are important for someone pursuing a career in international affairs. Through being part of university societies including the ANU International Relations Society and the ANU Southeast Asia Society, I was able to help organise events and panel discussions with embassies, meet some great mentors and develop my skill set.
How was your experience in the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program and what inspired you to participate?
The Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP) has been an incredible opportunity for me and the ‘gift that keeps on giving’. Despite doing the program virtually during COVID, I was able to form strong friendships with my Indonesian counterparts over zoom and meet some incredible people working in the Australia-Indonesia space. I recently returned from an awesome week in Jakarta as part of the AIYEP Alumni program, which allowed participants who completed the program during COVID to finally travel to Indonesia and participate in cultural activities with their counterparts. It was absolutely surreal to finally meet those I had been chatting to online for three years in person!
In 2020, I decided to apply for AIYEP in order to learn more about one of Australia’s closest neighbours, especially as I had never had the opportunity to visit Indonesia. I thought that AIYEP would be a great way to increase my Indonesia literacy while meeting inspiring new people that I could learn from. I had also heard great things about AIYEP from past participants who shared their amazing stories about the program. I couldn’t recommend AIYEP enough and would encourage everyone to apply!
Your academic journey included studying in various countries like the Netherlands, China, and Singapore. How did these experiences shape your perspective on global issues and international relations?
My in-country experiences allowed me to practically complement my studies at ANU and develop a broader view of key issues that I had learned in my courses. It helped me have a ‘lived experience’ of the country, its political system and learn more about the views of people domestically. For example, studying in the Netherlands on exchange helped me learn a lot about the subjects of European and International Law. I was also able to visit institutions such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice that supplemented my learning further. By conducting research on gender equality in employment in Taiwan, I was able to learn a lot about local views on this topic and engage in interesting discourse on a universal issue.
What has been the highlight of your graduate program at DFAT?
Being a DFAT graduate has been an amazing experience. It means that no two days are the same and I feel lucky to be learning from people with a wealth of global knowledge. In my year and a half of being a graduate, I have had many memorable opportunities that I know I will remember as key highlights of my early career. In 2022, I was fortunate to help with preparations for the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Brisbane, which was hosted in partnership with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. In early 2023, I also had the privilege of assisting with Free Trade Agreement negotiations between Australia and the European Union, which was a great learning opportunity. I am keen to see what my remaining time of the graduate program will bring.
Why do women and individuals from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds play a crucial role in the field of diplomacy?
Diversity is important in any field as it helps bring in new perspectives and ways of thinking. It helps offer innovative solutions to problems by viewing the world through a different lens. Social and cultural literacy is an essential trait for a diplomat, as you will be working with people from all over the world with completely different perceptions to you. It is also important to be aware of different cultural codes and cues to which you will encounter when working in a new environment. Coming from a multicultural background, I have often found that my diversity is a huge strength. It has helped me meaningfully connect with people from all over the world and adapt to difficult situations. It has also helped me break down barriers of language and culture and to learn from knowledgeable people.
Traditionally, international relations and diplomacy have been male dominated. Women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community have often found it difficult to reach senior foreign policy positions worldwide. However, these groups provide immense value to diplomacy through the advice they provide, connections they foster and communities they interact with and it is important to learn from their wisdom.
Who are the people that have inspired you most on your journey?
I have had the privilege of knowing some incredibly inspirational people who have provided me with great advice, challenged my perspectives and have supported me through my international affairs journey. However, there are two exceptional people that have always been by my side: my Mother and my Grandmother. From an early age, both family members encouraged me to learn about the world around me and to make the most of any opportunity that came my way. They believed in my ability to succeed and always encouraged me to be strong, resilient and independent. My Mother and Grandmother have always been wonderful role models and sacrificed a lot to migrate to Australia from Iran. My Grandmother in particular, also taught me a lot about my roots, including how to speak, read and write Farsi. I am so grateful for her perseverance in teaching me, as Farsi has opened many doors, both in my personal and professional life and has allowed me to partake in experiences and opportunities that I had never imagined.
Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations?
I would love to continue my passion for foreign affairs and international relations through my current work and to deepen people-to-people links in the Indo-Pacific. It’s my wish to also continue encouraging others to apply for programs like AIYEP, which are truly life changing. Additionally, I would like to improve and polish my Indonesian language skills and continue gradually working towards fluency.