Luke Arnold, Aid Worker

Posted on 5 September, 2012

Luke – born and bred in Melbourne – first came to live in Indonesia as a 19 year old studying at university in Yogyakarta. After this experience, Luke developed a bad case of wanderlust and has since worked or studied in Shanghai, Jakarta, Beijing, London and Canberra. Luke has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Melbourne as well as a Masters in Law, Development and Governance from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Luke has previously worked as a consultant for the International Labour Organization’s Indonesia and Timor Leste Program and as a lawyer for Minter Ellison. He is currently working for the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) in Canberra. Luke kindly sat down to answer some questions from the AIYA team.

Tell us a little about your Indonesia experiences?

The first time I visited Indonesia was on a high-school study trip to Yogyakarta and Ubud in 1995. I loved the experience so much that I persuaded my parents to take the whole family backpacking across Java, Bali and Lombok the following year. I then went on to study Indonesian at university, mainly motivated by the amazing travel opportunities that would present themselves to an Indonesian speaker – for example, the chance to get off the beaten track in a country with 17,000 islands of rainforests, beaches, coral reefs, volcanoes, and fascinating cultures. I was not initially motivated by the career opportunities that speaking Indonesian would bring, but they have made it even more worthwhile.

I will soon be moving back to Indonesia on a diplomatic posting with AusAID for a three year period. My role will involve managing the Australian Government’s justice sector and democratic governance in Indonesia. In terms of everyday work communication while there, although my Indonesian colleagues and counterparts in Indonesia’s national government agencies and Jakarta-based NGOs generally speak reasonable English, being able to speak Indonesian builds relationships, opens doors and is invaluable in understanding what is happening between the lines. It is also still an absolute necessity outside Jakarta.

How have you found the experience of working in Indonesia?

The thing I probably enjoy the most about working and living in Indonesia is the wit and humour of my Indonesian friends — Indonesian language and culture lends itself to lots of jokes and laughing! I’m also constantly impressed with the level of commitment I see in those striving to make Indonesia a better place for the next generation. The things I like least are the traffic, pollution, inequality and shopping malls — all of which seem to be most severe in Jakarta!

Any practical advice for young Australians interested in getting a start in Indonesia?

I would encourage all university students of Indonesian to spend as much time in Indonesia as possible. Try organising an internship with an organisation that interests you and/or take advantage of programs like, ACICIS, AIYEP and AVID. It’s also worth doing as much independent travel in Indonesia as possible — explore the many islands, listen to people’s stories and make some lifelong friends. All this will somehow, in some way, be useful for the career you eventually chose. Moreover, it will be fun and fulfilling.

One of my university Indonesian teachers would often tell me not to get too hung up on learning Indonesian purely to build a career; he would say that the best possible outcome for Australians from learning about Indonesia — a country which has more differences with Australia than any other two neighbouring countries — was self-understanding. Ironically, in addition to your understanding of Indonesia and fluency in Indonesian, that self-understanding will be a big asset for your career.

Dream 4-week holiday in Indonesia?

Probably my ideal itinerary would be:

  • start off with some diving at Bunaken in North Sulawesi, followed by a couple of days in the mountains behind Manado;
  • fly to Lampung for the Way Kambas National Park, Anak Krakatau volcano, fantastic beaches and hidden waterfalls;
  • catch the ferry from Lampung to Merak on Java, then take a short bus ride into Jakarta for a few days in the Big Durian;
  • catch the train to Yogyakarta to visit Borobudur, see the Ramayana dance at Prambanan by night, check out the Sultan’s Kraton, stroll down Malioboro and climb Mount Merapi for unforgettable views of sunrise over Java;
  • fly to Bali then catch a bus up to Amed in the northeast for a few days of chilling out in a beautiful but quiet part of this special island.

Got any questions for Luke? Write him an email at luke.arnold@ausaid.gov.au.