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Early Graduates in IR: Liep Gatwech

In this career spotlight, we have the pleasure of talking to Liep Gatwech, a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Science (Genetics) and the Bachelor of Arts (International Relations and Criminology). Currently pursuing his master's, Liep shares insights into his academic journey and current roles at the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce, the African Youth Alliance, and the Young Diplomats Society.




​​Hello! I'm an enthusiastic advocate for international affairs, community engagement and development, and I carry an unrelenting passion for empowering the African youth and diaspora through meaningful initiatives. My journey, anchored by a Bachelor of Science (Genetics) and Bachelor of Arts (International Relations/Criminology) double degree from Monash University, has afforded me invaluable insights into global dynamics and cultural intricacies. I am also currently studying a Master’s Degree in International Relations. 


My passion for international relations and global affairs is the driving force behind my professional pursuits and personal endeavours. I am deeply fascinated by the complexities of global politics, economics, and cultural dynamics, and I am continually inspired by the potential for positive change on a global scale. This has led me to the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce, where I currently serve as the Communications Managers.


Yet, it's within the heart of my community that I find my true purpose. Beyond academics, I've had the privilege of becoming deeply entrenched in community work, serving as a dedicated facilitator with the African Youth Alliance. In this role, I am not just a guide; I am a catalyst for change, fervently dedicated to nurturing and inspiring future leaders within our community. I am a second generation Australian and a child of South Sudanese refugees, as such, for me his commitment to community is not just a duty; it's a passion that fuels my drive to make a tangible difference in the lives of the African youth and diaspora. And it's this commitment that propels me to continue exploring innovative ways to engage and uplift our community.



You have a diverse academic background that covers various disciplines, including science, international relations and criminology. Could you provide more detail about your undergraduate and postgraduate journey?        

                                                                                                   

Biology and Global Politics, my two favourite subjects in High School. I’m not someone who likes to be restricted or put in a box, so when it came to deciding what I wanted to study, I could not choose one, so I chose both. In 2019, I began a Double Degree in Science and Arts at Monash University. I was and am still, also very passionate about criminal justice reform and the criminal justice system in Australia. So I majored in International Relations and Criminology in Arts. In Science, from the beginning it was a no-brainer, I would Major in Genetics. Genetics was an area that intrigued me and caught my attention since VCE Biology, so I decided to do a deeper dive. This ability to study my three passions at the one time, made me ecstatic. My first year at Monash could not have gone any better, with a majority of my close friends also studying at Monash, University became an opportunity not only to study but to socialise. Monash being an extremely social campus on top of this, afforded me with plenty of opportunities to meet new friends, get involved in on campus events and clubs and societies. This was all until 2020. I don’t need to get into what went on this year, I’m sure it’s still all fresh on our minds. Monash to this day is still littered with Social Distancing stickers and mask wearing guidance that no one ever bothered to take down. Remnants of the pandemic are scattered around Monash University, my second, third and fourth years were spent online and rarely on campus. My fifth year however, saw things slowly return to normal. Online University was quite the challenge, but like the thousands of other Monash Students, I persevered.


The beginning of my postgraduate journey saw me asking the same questions I did at the beginning of my undergraduate, what should I study? My love for International Relations and the current state of the global political arena swayed me over and at the beginning of 2024, I began a Master’s Degree in International Relations with a Specialisation in Political Violence and Counter-Terrorism. My decision to specialise in Political Violence and Counter-Terrorism for my postgraduate studies was deeply influenced by my fervent passion for Africa but unfortunately is and a profound concern for the persistent political turmoil gripping the continent. I cannot ignore the tumultuous events unfolding across various African nations, each underscored by political instability, social unrest, external malicious actors and the scourge of terrorism. 


Witnessing the complex interplay of political dynamics, socioeconomic factors, and historical legacies fuelling conflicts in Africa ignited within me a burning desire to understand the root causes of such violence and to contribute towards its resolution. As part of a community that is primarily refugees, a large part of the outcomes in my life and in the lives of my South Sudanese community are the products of political violence and as such, there was a deeply personal aspect to my decision too. I know Africa has a wealth of untapped economic and social potential and I want to be a part of making change, and it became evident to me that addressing issues of political violence and terrorism on the African continent required not only a nuanced understanding of the local contexts but also a global perspective informed by theories of international relations and conflict resolution.  



In the final year of your undergraduate studies, what emotions did you experience and how did you prepare for your life after graduation?


My final year was nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster, marked by the tumultuous backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. As someone who thrives on social interaction, transitioning from vibrant campus life to solitary online classes was extremely challenging.

 

Navigating through the third and fourth years of my university journey felt like traversing a rocky terrain, with obstacles and uncertainties looming at every turn. However, reaching the pinnacle of my undergraduate studies, my final year, felt like emerging from a dark tunnel into the warm embrace of light. It was a moment of immense relief, tinged with profound pride.

 

Despite the hurdles and doubts that clouded my path, I refused to succumb to despair. Each step forward was a testament to my resilience and determination and also a motivated by the resilience and determination of those who came before me (in South Sudan), those couldn’t make it, those who died and those who gave up everything, especially my parents who sacrificed their own education, dreams and goals so that I could have the chance to achieve my own. As I stood on the threshold of completion, I couldn't help but marvel at how far I had come. The goal that once seemed distant and insurmountable was now within arm's reach, a testament to my unwavering perseverance and dedication. I was going to make my family, community, and myself so proud.

 

Yet, amidst the swell of pride, there lingered a sense of trepidation. I was now entering a new major point in my life and was stepping into a myriad of unknowns and uncertainties, the prospect of moving into this beyond the familiar confines of academia, definitely stirred a cocktail of emotions within me. It is well known that amongst inflation and other economic pains, a number of organisations are cutting costs, slashing budgets, and worst of all, cutting jobs. The company I worked for at the time even put a freeze on hiring. As a young, black man, I also feared how my race and racism could play a role in dictating my future. I had the extra pressure of knowing that I could not be just good but had to be great, to not just perform but to excel, I had to work twice as hard as my peers to receive the proper recognition that I deserved. These factors as well as the prospect of facing an ice-cold job market was to be honest, scary; however, I was confident in my ability to persevere and find a place for myself in this market, and if I did not find one, I would make one.

 

For myself, failure is not and has never been an option, I must succeed for the good of my family, for my community and for the betterment of myself, so if it meant building my own space, my own organisation, my own practice and building from the ground up, that’s exactly what I would do, and I would not stop building until I “made it”.  In essence, my final year was a mosaic of emotions— a symphony of triumph and trepidation, pride and apprehension. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, I emerged stronger, more resilient, and ready to embrace the next chapter of my journey with courage and conviction. All I wanted to do was make my mum proud, and I did.



What experiences or moments helped you identify your passion in international affairs, and how have you been pursuing it throughout and after university?


My passion for international affairs has been a deeply ingrained aspect of my identity for as long as I can remember. While I can't pinpoint a specific moment that sparked this passion, I believe it has always been a part of who I am. As someone who constantly questions the world around me and seeks to enact positive change, I naturally gravitated towards the realm of politics and international relations. It is through this lens that I see the potential for impactful change on a global scale.


Throughout and after university, I have pursued my passion for international affairs primarily through writing. I discovered my love for writing early on and began contributing articles to the Young Diplomats Society as a volunteer. To date, I have authored over 10 published articles covering a diverse range of topics, from the geopolitical implications of conflicts to the global impact of social movements. Some of my notable works include analyses of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, religious violence in Bangladesh, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Additionally, I immerse myself in literature and videos on international affairs, constantly seeking to deepen my understanding and broaden my perspectives on global issues.


By engaging in writing and consuming content on international affairs, I am actively contributing to the discourse surrounding global challenges and opportunities. My passion for international relations fuels my commitment to staying informed and actively participating in discussions that shape our world. Whether through my writing or my dedication to learning, I am determined to make a meaningful impact in the field of international affairs and contribute to a more informed and interconnected global community.



What are the activities and objectives of the African Youth Alliance, and could you detail your role and responsibilities as a Facilitator in the organisation?


The African Youth Alliance (AYA) Inc. is dedicated to empowering young people and the African community, with a reach extending to over 3200 students across Victoria and spanning more than 30 schools. AYA's commitment to grassroots impact is evident through its comprehensive programs that go beyond classrooms, providing essential support to over 1500 young individuals seeking career development, access to opportunities, and comprehensive financial and health literacy. AYA's deep engagement with the African community and advocacy for youth voice have led to strategic consultations with government bodies and impactful collaborations with renowned entities, solidifying its position as a reliable force driving positive change.


As a Facilitator within AYA, I play a pivotal role in executing our organisation's objectives. My responsibilities include running various programs within schools and community events, such as anti-racism workshops, and leadership development sessions. At the moment, I am currently part of a team hosting weekly mentoring and growth sessions with young boys in years 6 – 8 at schools in Melbourne’s South East. Additionally, I provide crucial support and guidance to young individuals participating in AYA's programs, offering mentorship, advice, and resources to help them navigate educational and career pathways. My role also involves active engagement with the African community, where I facilitate discussions on important topics like race, racism, and cultural identity, striving to create safe and inclusive environments for dialogue and expression.


My passion for supporting African youth stems from my own experiences and challenges as a minority in Australia. Especially right now, it is difficult navigating society as an African Australian. Having faced similar obstacles in my youth, I am deeply committed to providing the necessary support and guidance to help African youth navigate and overcome the unique challenges they may encounter. Through my work with AYA, I have found a fulfilling opportunity to contribute positively to the community and empower young individuals to realise their full potential, making a meaningful difference in their lives and fostering a brighter future for generations to come.



What motivated you to join the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce, and what does your typical work day as a Communications Manager look like?


My journey with the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce began during a university internship in my fourth year, where I quickly became enamoured with the dynamic realm of international trade and business. The chamber provided a unique platform to not only facilitate trade between Australia and Africa but also to foster enduring partnerships that contributed to economic growth and development on both continents. Witnessing firsthand the tangible impact of our efforts in supporting African suppliers and Australian businesses thrive (and vice versa) was deeply rewarding and solidified my commitment to this field. Moreover, the opportunity to merge my passion for international affairs with my professional pursuits made my role at the chamber particularly fulfilling, as I found myself at the intersection of business, diplomacy, and global relations.

 

As the Communications Manager, my role encompasses a diverse range of responsibilities, each contributing to the overarching mission of the chamber. On any given day, I am tasked with managing our day-to-day communications, ensuring that our messages are effectively conveyed to our stakeholders and partners. This involves not only crafting compelling content but also maintaining open lines of communication internally, Australian businesses, African business, government agencies, international organisations, and diplomatic representatives to coordinate various initiatives and events. I’m also tasked with managing and updating our website to ensure it reflects current initiatives and developments, diligently checking and responding to emails, making strategic phone calls to stakeholders and partners, scheduling and attending meetings, and maintaining a strong presence on social media platforms to engage with our audience and promote our mission. Since our team is quite small, I also help with managing operations, I schedule, promote and manage events and also assists in the management of our interns. Furthermore, I am tasked with compiling detailed reports on international affairs, and international markets providing valuable insights to inform the strategic decision-making of our members. Through these multifaceted responsibilities, I am dedicated to advancing our chamber's objectives and strengthening diplomatic ties and commercial relations on a global scale.

 

With the upcoming Australia Africa Business Summit on the horizon, my workload has intensified as I take on additional responsibilities such as liaising with overseas counterparts, organisations and businesses who wish to attend, securing speakers and sponsors, creating promotional content, spearheading promotional efforts and liaising with speakers/sponsors to ensure the success of the summit.

 

The fast-paced nature of our work at the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce demands adaptability and agility, as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of international trade and relations. In this role, no two days are alike, presenting constant opportunities for growth and learning. Whether it's managing communications, organising events, or collaborating with diverse stakeholders, I am continually inspired by the impact of our collective efforts in fostering greater economic cooperation and understanding between Australia and Africa. As we forge ahead, I remain committed to driving positive change and contributing to the chamber's mission of building enduring partnerships that transcend borders and drive sustainable development.

 


Finally, what strategies do you use to balance your commitments across your jobs, studies, volunteering, and personal life?


To balance my commitments across my jobs, studies, volunteering, and personal life, I rely on a combination of strategies that keep me organised, motivated, and mentally healthy. Planning is key— I like to schedule tasks and plan my days, mentally. However, I’m also flexible, things can and will change, anticipating this and  being ready to move things around is one of my biggest strengths - do not reject change, embrace it!  Additionally, I make it a point to reward myself for staying on track, which serves as positive reinforcement and helps maintain my momentum. It gives me something to work towards amidst hectic weeks.


Motivation is another crucial factor in managing my busy schedule. Knowing that my efforts contribute to the well-being of my family, my desire to succeed, and my aspiration to make a positive impact on the world serve as powerful driving forces. Even during intense periods, these motivators remind me of the greater purpose behind my actions, enabling me to persevere and stay focused. 


Maintaining a strong connection to my faith also provides me with a sense of grounding and peace amidst the busyness of life. I am a Christian and trust in God, I believe that I am being watched over and that God has plans for my life, this helps alleviate stress and keeps me centred during challenging times.


Above all, I prioritise my health and well-being, as they form the foundation upon which I can effectively fulfill my various responsibilities. Spending quality time with loved ones, taking breaks when needed, and prioritising self-care activities contribute to my overall balance and fulfillment. Health is wealth and so my physical and mental health comes first, I make sure to do whatever is needed to maintain my physical and mental fitness. Such as taking breaks, spending time with my friends and loved ones, journaling, going to the gym and playing sports.


By keeping these strategies in mind and maintaining perspective on the bigger picture of life, I am able to navigate my commitments with resilience and joy. As long as you have motivating factors, a plan and you prioritise your health and wellbeing, you can too.



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