3rd April 2014 –
As I hurried down the hallways of Brisbane City Hall, I had no idea what exactly I was getting myself into. My make-up was incomplete and my Burmese outfit was hurriedly put on. But the moment I entered the event hall and saw the rest of the beautiful faces waiting eagerly in the line for what it seemed like a professional photo shoot setup, I knew I was embarking on a journey I would never be able to possibly experience again in my life.
Moments later, I was officially appointed by Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk as the 2014 Brisbane International Student Ambassador for both Burma (Myanmar) and Singapore.
Joining me were 35 other international students proudly representing 32 (and 34 in grand total) countries around the globe – brilliant, passionate, and excited individuals with biggest hopes and dreams. From Haiti to Japan, from foundation year graduates to PhD candidates from various universities, these diverse and vibrant ambassador family members never failed to fascinate and inspire me from that very day on.
What I perceived was another fun student experience turned out to be much bigger than what I could imagine. Apart from various press and social media publications in Brisbane, some of us made it to the newspapers back home. I was contacted by SBS Radio for an interview which was then broadcasted in Burmese language in Brisbane itself, and was also invited to attend a mini press conference for the journalists from Singapore, China, UK, and India, for the purpose of G20 Summit. The best part? We were protected from any political affiliation and thus we were able to promote the cause, that is to share our experiences in Brisbane, to all those we could reach out to without worries and fears, and just by focusing on the pure cultural, social, and academic elements of the experiences with our little personal touches.
We were invited to official ceremonies at the Brisbane City Hall, such as Refugee Welcome Ceremony. To witness Brisbane welcoming families who came with the shining hope of finding a new home was simply eye-opening and overwhelming.
On the promotional side of things, we were sponsored by Straddie Camping and Study Brisbane for an overnight stay at the North Stradbroke Island, where we were warmly welcomed by the elder lady of the Quandamooka Country’s traditional owners/families, as well as given the chance to see a glimpse of the aboriginal culture. This was followed by the local Aussie BBQ lunch, surfing, sand boarding, scrumptious seafood dinner at the loveliest restaurant called Seashells Cafe Amity, lawn bowling at the bowling club (where we were treated possibly the best fish and chips in Australia), and creating a masterpiece of sand art on the beach itself!
How about rugby? How about chilling in the VIP Corporate Box/Lounge before the rugby league match between Broncos and Titans, and then all of a sudden, having the amazing legendary player Sam Thaiday (Brisbane Broncos Captain 2012-2014, Back Rower) come down before the match, especially just to say hello to us? Brisbane Broncos sponsorship team generously made it all happen for us!
We were also given exclusive personal tours to the Newstead House, the oldest surviving home in Brisbane (where I was also given the chance to play the ancient piano!), and the historically famous Breakfast Creek Hotel which holds the official title of “The Best Steakhouse in Brisbane and Queensland!”
Way before the movie Interstellar came out, we were invited to watch Pale Blue Dot, a true blue Australian play at La Boîte Roundhouse Theatre, which challenged our minds with the mind boggling question: “What if we are only passengers travelling on the self-sustained spaceship called The Earth in the space of time?”
A definite highlight, and to this day, my personal favourite, was the evening where we cruised up and down the Brisbane river on Kookaburra River Queen II, where apart from enjoying the marvellous seafood and international buffet dinner, we ended up celebrating the 54th anniversary of the most loving pair of grandma and grandpa, several other anniversaries, birthdays, saw the most beautiful skyline of Brisbane city lights, and danced to the music of the most talented baby boomer band on board! It was indeed a night to remember!
EKKA: Royal Queensland Show was my next favourite!
We also cuddled with the cutest baby animals at the Paradise Country Gold Coast and did some serious Formula One, I mean, cool Kart racing at the Le Mans Kart Racing (where some of us, like myself, got a little too carried away, just because it was just so much fun!).
The most unique experience for myself though was this one time when I was chosen to act for a video production under Brisbane City Council Community Safety Promotional Project, together with a few of my fellow ambassadors. With the microphone strapped onto my dress under my jacket, I had to memorise the the lines from the script and deliver them in the middle of a crowded Fortitude Valley Mall street. Camera and lights attracted many passersby, and despite them stopping, staring, approaching, taking pictures…etc, the whole evening was made super fun by the awesome crew from Khemistry, lovely Kirstin from City Council, Anna from Brisbane Marketing, Ben from Fortitude Valley Police Station (who was dragged in to act alongside me for one scene), and of course my wonderful fellow ambassadors!
At the same time, we also carried out our super fun ambassador volunteering duties at Lord Mayor’s Friendship Ceremonies and Study Brisbane Stalls at respective universities’ Open House days.
This set of volunteering opportunities included the special time when President Obama came to the University of Queensland (UQ), and a few of us were invited by the US Embassy to receive the White House staff and Press from the airport, and accompany them to the speech venue! (Yeap, I managed to strike up a cheeky conversation with one of the secret service agents 😉 ) The speech itself, a rare opportunity, will be posted in a separate entry. 🙂
Then came the G20 Global Youth Challenge, which was one event where the power of youth blew our minds. Selected student winners from 20 countries around the world (including Myanmar), and Brisbane high school students came together to tackle the issues of Corporate Social Responsibility, Global Warming, and Global Epidemics in an extremely intense and challenging Grand Final, where in front of more than 300 people, these young citizens of the world had to run “governments” and “businesses”. As ambassadors, we were assigned to the governments as facilitators, and as we helped out and observed the competition, we couldn’t believe the supreme level of intelligence and maturity these young adults possessed (when we were 15-16, our lives pretty much revolved around studying for national exams and studying for national exams only). Personally, I was extremely proud of the loveliest young ladies of Lourdes Hill College from my Peru team, and the student finalist from Myanmar, Nyi Min (Kelvin)!
But that was not the only time we were able to discuss and take on the social/global issues as ambassadors. In October, we were invited to attend the Youth Leaders dinner for National Mental Health Awareness week organised by Youth Voice Brisbane, where we brainstormed and suggested solutions for the pressing issue of mental health in our daily lives.
Last but not least, our amazing year ended off with the red carpet (or black carpet, in an unique Brisbane way) experience when we attended the 8th Annual Asia Pacific Screen Award (APSA) 2014! Yes, we managed to rub shoulders with international movie stars, directors, artists, and producers. Not forgetting to mention, we posed for the cameras as if we were the superstars too! ;D
How did I manage to grab this priceless opportunity and wonderful experiences then? All it took for me was to check my emails during my university summer holidays and come across one UQ Advantage Award program newsletter which featured the Brisbane International Student Ambassador program as one of the award activities! I was indeed very lucky to have been selected from 250 applicants (record number in 2014) after the written application and the interview process. What I am more thankful though is to have worked with the most generous sponsors, wonderful Anna, Chrissy, and the rest of Study Brisbane team, as well as to have met all the amazing ambassadors and friends from all over the world.
So my dear fellow international friends studying in Brisbane universities and institutions, this is one opportunity you do not want to miss! If you are staying in Brisbane for the entire year of 2015, the application for 2015 Brisbane International Student Ambassador role (please click here for the link) closes on 23rd January 2015!
Don’t worry if you can’t make it this year too, because the program has been running since 2009 and will be so for many years to come. So do look out for the application at the beginning of every year!
And if you are an international student who has yet to choose where you want to go for your overseas study experience, well, Bris-Vegas has it all. 😉
Good luck, all the best, and as cheesy as it sounds, follow your heart/guts/instincts! At least, they have brought me to Brisbane – the beautiful city of perfect study/work-life balance and infinite opportunities!
Last but not least, thank you so, so much Study Brisbane for this greatest honour and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! ^-^
Soe San Htike (PiPi)
Brisbane International Student Ambassador for Myanmar (Burma) and Singapore 2014