GAF Story

Georgia McDonald

Griffith University
Bachelor of Government and International Relations & Bachelor of Asian Studies

Georgia McDonald, Griffith University Scholar. Young woman wearing a red top smiling and standing in front of a lake.

An internship in Japan, attending the International Diplomacy Forum in Thailand and studying abroad at National Taiwan University are only a few of the amazing overseas opportunities keeping Griffith University scholar Georgia McDonald busy. We caught up with Georgia to find out what she has been up to, her advice for scholars moving away from home and how overseas opportunities are paving the way for her career goals.

You moved away from your home town to study at Griffith University; any tips for scholars moving away from home?

I have always been a fiercely independent person and was eager to experience life outside of home when I moved to university, which made the transition to study at Griffith University much easier. I first moved into student accommodation and became friends with my five other flatmates. I knew that making friends would be the best way to feel confident in the new place I was living in so I made an effort to start conversations with anyone I would sit next to in a lecture.

I went to many of the O-week events and attended the clubs day, where I talked to the older students doing the same degree. Since I had shown an interest, many of the older students were eager to help me and took me under their wing. One girl, who I later discovered was also a George Alexander Foundation scholarship recipient, took me to an Australia-China Youth Association meeting in my first few weeks of university. They were electing their new executive committee and recommended me for a position which I received. The position placed me at the heart of a society within the first couple of weeks and ensured that I was surrounded by people who will help and support me.

While I was initially nervous about moving away from home, I realised that the best way of making a new place feel like home is to talk to people, make friends, be confident in yourself and never be afraid of pursuing an opportunity. I wholeheartedly believe that my friends and networks have been the pillar of all the successes I have achieved throughout university.

Why did you decide to study a Bachelor of Government and International Relations/Bachelor of Asian Studies?

Having been raised in the regional town of Yeppoon, my exposure to cultural diversity was limited to that which I received at my local public school. Learning about the social and cultural nuances of Japan through the Japanese language, significantly influenced my perspective of foreign nations and the people within them, which guided my interested in the Indo-Pacific region.

When I was 15, I had the opportunity to go to Japan with my school, where I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inside the museum, there was an image of a doctor standing powerless in a makeshift hospital tent, among rows of people laying on bare earth, some alive, some deceased, but all suffering the fatal effects of radiation exposure. Before then, I had never seen the atrocities of war displayed in such a brutal and candid light. At that moment, I realised the fundamental power of governments to devastate or protect humanity and the power of working at the macro-level to maintain peace. This experience motivated me to pursue a degree in international relations with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Since that time, I have aspired to contribute to the larger diplomatic profile of the Australian government, to protect innocents and prevent war.

You have completed many leadership projects, what inspires you?

I believe that those who are fortunate enough to be in a privileged position have the greatest responsibility to help those who are not graced with the same circumstances. I have a strong moral compass and am intrinsically motivated, which is why I pursued my current degree and why I have taken up opportunities to volunteer.

I believe that investing in personal development is integral to having the skills to make a difference in the world, and the lives of others, which has motivated me to attend conferences, engage with different perspectives, further the dialogue on major world issues and attempt to propose solutions that will have a positive impact. I believe that the future of the world is one of interconnectedness and that for peaceful coexistence to endure, we must invest time into understanding each other.

Tell us about your internship in Japan. What are your biggest takeaways?

I completed a six-month internship in Japan with Steelcase, a company driving change globally through their research into the psychological and physiological impact of the environment on business and translating this data into ergonomic furniture that promotes higher levels of productivity, creativity and workplace satisfaction. My role within the company was to collate market research, identify trends and social patterns and document my findings. My two main realisations while completing my internship were that I am a very goal-orientated person (I like to set objectives and see results) and I am intrinsically motivated and therefore feel the need to be devoting my time towards something that has a greater social impact.

My internship made me realise that I was passionate about working within the fast-paced environment of the private sector and that within this sector I was interested in working for social enterprises (businesses that improve the lives of people or the environment as a result of the products or services they offer). I am now interested in sustainability, more specifically, the challenge of helping emerging economies transition into more developed nations without causing irreparable environmental degradation and hope to work within this field.

How was your exchange at National Taiwan University?

My experience in Taiwan was unforgettable. I had the chance to becomes friends with some of the most interesting and fun people from around the world, and travel with them, not only within Taiwan but throughout Asia. While in Taiwan I had the chance to attend a lantern festival, go hiking in the mountains, swim in pristine waterfalls, visit impressive religious sites and regularly eat from street markets, all the while living in the city. National Taiwan University itself was beautiful, the campus was huge, and the professors were very knowledgeable. I also gained an insight into the complex political history of Taiwan and became more aware of the tense relationships between Taiwanese and Chinese students as a result of the current political climate, which was a valuable insight considering my degree and interest in international relations.

How has The George Alexander Foundation helped you?

The George Alexander Foundation has been fundamental in my professional growth as it has relieved a substantial financial burden from my shoulders and given me the freedom to pursue international experiences, which I otherwise would not have been able to pursue if working consistently.

The George Alexander Foundation Scholarship also gave me admittance into the Griffith University Honours college, which has not only provided me with a wealth of opportunities including volunteering abroad, attending the International Diplomacy Forum in Thailand and working with a Vietnamese social enterprise, but also connected me with an academic mentor and a vastly talented group of Griffith University alumni. The George Alexander Foundation alumni have also been a valued resource to me, and as previously mentioned, helped me to gain my footing when I first began university.

What’s next? What does the future hold?

In March 2020, I will be attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York alongside the Australian delegation, where I will have the opportunity to engage with seasoned diplomats and listen to national representatives propose solutions on how we can leverage the position of women in global society. In April, I will publish my policy proposal on how to improve the position of Indigenous women leaving incarceration, and in September, I will begin studying abroad at Seoul National University and commence Korean lessons. While studying, I aim to complete an internship within a social enterprise that is helping to transition developing economies, using carbon-neutral solutions sustainably.

Upon graduation (July 2021), I aim to gain employment within a social venture capital firm, which will allow me to develop the capacities of social enterprises operating within a variety of sectors within the Indo-Pacific region and promote sustainability. I am also considering pursuing my Masters in Economics so that I will be better qualified to assume a consultative role within an emerging business.