Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative

Turtle Conservation at the Conflicts

The Conflict Islands are a group of 20+ uninhabited islands, located in the middle of the Coral Sea in Alotau, Papua New Guinea. The coral atoll is home to a rich, biodiverse ecosystem of marine life, frequented by two particular species of sea turtles; the green and hawksbill turtle.

During the summer, I was given the opportunity through UTS and BUILD Abroad, to join 8 other volunteers, and a team of extremely motivated and inspirational staff, to take part in the CICI Turtle Tagging Internship. This program revolves around providing data to help develop an understanding of the turtle populations residing and nesting at the Conflict Islands.

CICI have successfully developed an internship that aims to protect and promote the populations of turtles that visit the islands during nesting season. As part of the program, we would partake in night patrols of the main islands, searching for females nesting to relocate her eggs back to the main island Panasesa to be buried in safely guarded turtle hatcheries. From there, all the healthy and able hatchlings would be released into the ocean to start their life journey, whilst those that looked like they needed a little extra love and attention would become residents in the islands turtle nursery, until they looked strong enough for release.

Not only are the turtles of the Conflicts subject to some of today’s environmental pressures, including climate change and plastic pollution, they are also extremely vulnerable to poaching by PNG locals, for food and egg harvesting, as well as use of their stunning shells for tourism trade. CICI’s work with the local communities in trying to raise awareness of these issues and the variety of threats facing their turtle populations is commendable.

The tagging of the turtles also creates a baseline dataset of the juveniles, which can be used for future study into the return of nesting females. When the tags are applied, their numbers are recorded and entered into a global monitoring database, along with other information about the individual, including carapace size, any existing tags from other studies, or any obvious injuries. The tags also carry the PO Box of the main island, which is useful information for travelling turtles who have been tracked using satellite tags, swimming all the way to Australia and other neighbouring countries.

My time at the Conflict Islands was incredible, inspiring, and eye-opening. It has firmly and unquestionably confirmed my passion for environmental conservation, and in particular, the importance of marine preservation. I’m also so grateful for being able to visit such a beautiful place, and have the opportunity to dive, and be submerged in the vibrant sea life that makes up the Conflicts. The amazing efforts of the CICI staff and my fellow volunteers made my experience unforgettable.

Nicole Dilernia, Bachelor of Marine Biology, UTS

Innsbruck: a month that’s changed my life

In January 2019, I packed my bags and headed to Europe. I was going to Innsbruck, Austria, to study their Engineering and Business Winter Program. The feeling was unnerving but exhilarating. As my travels started, the excitement grew, and as soon as I got to Innsbruck, I knew I could see myself living here.

Beautiful architecture, water ways and mountains, everywhere you look in Innsbruck.

Innsbruck is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The buildings are riddled with culture and history; the food is phenomenal and the people are lovely. Austrian culture is extremely friendly, yet professional; so it was very comforting as a young solo traveller to be welcomed into a culture that felt very safe and supportive.

Innsbruck itself is really small, but has literally everything you need; which gives a really intimate, safe and inclusive feeling. Everything is within walking distance and the scenery is phenomenal. I would have to allow an extra 15 minutes walking everywhere, because I always stopped to take photos of the mountains.

Standing at the top of one of the buildings in the main street, overlooking the main town and the views of the mountains.

Geographically speaking, Innsbruck is in an amazing location, where the other students and I were able to travel together to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the rest of Austria, on weekends. So not only was I able to experience living in a beautiful European town, but I was able to experience other cultures and countries; from villages in the mountains to major cities.

Studying at the Management Center Innsbruck

The study program was really well structured and a fantastic learning experience. There was a small group of us from around the world participating in this program, and the staff were really organised in making sure we were well acquainted. So we became very close, which has given me a global network now.

Each week we had a different subject, which worked really well with the structure of the program. One of my favourite things was that each subject was taught by a different expert from around the world; so you were taught by very knowledgeable and engaging staff with a lot of global experience.

I studied entrepreneurship, innovation and start up subjects; which was an amazing opportunity to develop and further any ideas I have of my own. As well as develop my business knowledge. I also studied Biotech Product Operations, which was fantastic for me as a Biomedical Engineering student. At UTS, we learn about global processes and standards/regulations; but to be in Europe and seeing these processes first hand, was a very different, beneficial learning experience.

I enjoyed my experience at the Management Center of Innsbruck so much, and was sad to leave; but I know I will be back one day. I have developed so much as a person, and have a new appreciation of the world. If ever given this opportunity, I highly recommend you do it too!


Huawei’s ‘Seeds for the Future’ in China

New Opportunities Abroad

Never did I imagine that my first trip to China and first study abroad experience would be under Huawei’s awesome global initiative: Seeds for the Future (24 November – 13 December). With the support of the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan, it was an invaluable unique experience of Chinese culture, ICT education and fun — with 28 other selected students from 6 Australian universities, as well as 10 Finnish students.

As an Australian-born Chinese-Korean it was a great opportunity to engage with my Chinese culture and thus understand myself better while expanding my worldview. From the standpoint of a B. Science (Mathematics)/B. Creative Intelligence and Innovation student, I applied for this program online in order to network, gain insight into emerging ICT technologies and Huawei – one of China’s most successful international enterprises.

Climbing to Great Cultural Heights 

From climbing the Great Wall of China in Beijing on day 1, to sightseeing from the top of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong on the final day, we reached great heights of Chinese culture, immersed in foods, music, education, the language, and cultural heritage sites.  In the bulk of the first week of Seeds for the Future we studied Mandarin and calligraphy at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). But by night we visited Olympic Green and Tiananmen Square via the efficient subways. 

Our language studies were useful when it came to ordering food at the hectic BLCU cafeteria and haggling at the world’s greatest electronics markets in Shenzhen. Even the songs we learnt in class were practical, including ‘Péngyŏu’ (‘Friends’) which we sung at karaoke in Shenzhen and video recorded to send to our Mandarin teacher through WeChat.

Adapting to china and its technologies

Since Google and social media like Facebook are blocked in China unless you have a VPN, WeChat was our main form of online communication and came in handy for translating Chinese text in images like the app ‘Dear Translate’. China’s e-commerce is widespread such that some places are cashless — some vending machines only accept WeChat (pay) or Alipay. For future BUILD Abroad students, especially those interested in bargaining at shopping markets, I recommend downloading a currency converter calculator app.

Huawei Factory Tour

Another way we adapted to China was by drinking bottled water rather than tap water to avoid diarrhoea although Shenzhen particularly and Beijing were cleaner than expected. It was noted how ubiquitous security cameras with facial recognition technology were. We even saw their represented dots dispersed all over a map of Shenzhen at one of Huawei’s exhibition halls. At Huawei’s HQ we learnt more in lectures about emerging ICT technologies (i.e. 5G, Cloud, AI, IoT) from the second week onwards in Shenzhen.  By gaining VIP access to Huawei’s factories and R&D centres in addition to visiting BYD with informative tour guides, we were exposed to a snapshot of Huawei’s business and work environment, the production of technologies, and the future of public transport.

Highlights in Beijing & Shenzhen

Although we consumed much food for thought envisioning the future of Australia’s ICT industry, one thing I’m sure we all miss is the communal dining and buffets offering various authentic Chinese dishes while we got to know each other better. A favourite was a hot pot place in Shenzhen where we ordered noodles, plus an unexpected performance of a handmade noodle dance. Simultaneously, there was a costume clad performer that changed masks to the beat of instrumental music.  Another highlight was the Shenzhen Civic Light Show which was a spectacular colourful light show forming animations across buildings for 15 minutes, ending with the bright phoenix representing the innovative city. Other hotspots we explored included Forbidden City, Oct Bay and Splendid China Folk Village.

Yet what stands out are the small moments of kindness and friendly interactions with the Chinese locals and my fellow Seeds for the Future participants and staff: helping a Chinese woman with directions prior to the Melbourne debriefing although neither of us could speak the other’s language so we used a translating recording device; a couple of Asian-American exchange students showing me how to use a cashless vending machine and shouting me milk tea; the Mandarin teacher translating my given Chinese name to ‘Grace’/kindness/mercy; our group musical performance of ‘I still call Australia home’ at the closing ceremony; and at the hotel watching ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ as well as playing cards with peers whom I’ve befriended.

Cheers to hot pot!

Connections make the world go round

Throughout the program I formed new valuable friendships and fond memories with like-minded passionate people I’m glad to have met. Through my cultural and study experiences in China and exposure to Huawei’s business and innovative ICT technologies I have developed skills that I can apply to my university studies and gained insight into the nuances in Chinese culture and capabilities of the ICT industry. Thanks again to Huawei for this amazing unforgettable journey that has opened up more opportunities for me and encouraged me to continue to challenge myself and expand my worldview.

Cassandra Phoon

B. Science (Mathematics)/B. Creative Intelligence and Innovation

A Village Amongst Mountains

Incredible India. The slogan of a nation. But why is that descriptor globally accepted as means to define such a diverse society of people? In the month leading up to my BUILD Abroad experience, I travelled across four different states of India, in constant awe of the changing landscape, culture and people.

Being the child of new immigrant parents in Australia, I always struggled to correlate my identity with the view of my birth country, and my place in the world. I am Fiji-Indian, neither Fijian or Indian -nor Australian in a whole- but rather crescents of each fitted to make a circle. Without getting too philosophical, I was disorientated about who I am, and what that meant for who I want to be.

In some ways I saw my first ever trip to India as a salvation, an opportunity to discover some underlying truth left by my ancestors. Yet what I was met with was so many different Indian people identifying within their states, alongside their heritage.

It slowly dawned on me that the question I’ve been trying to answer was inside me all along. The revelation that I could create my own private, personal traditions was alleviating. That the dhal bhat in me could coexist alongside the sausage sizzle (a weird analogy, I know).

This understanding can be encapsulated no better than during my time in a rural Maharastran village, a place surrounded by mountains that held stories of roaming tigers and leopards, Sonoshi.

Sonoshi is a tribal village with some of the most extraordinary people I will ever meet. I can’t think of how to describe them but strong. Intrinsically and extrinsically, true strength was shown within every single family in countless forms.

A grandmother carrying a pail of water even as her walking stick falters, a mother carrying her child up and down a mountain, a father working from dusk to dawn farming, a teenager travelling for two hours by foot just to get to school or a child learning schoolwork in Marathi and English.

In every aspect of their corner of the world I was met with an inspiring resilience that I never could have expected.

My preconceptions about what a rural village would be like was absolutely blown away by the women of Sonoshi. With agriculture being the predominant profession for livelihood, the women raised entire families whilst working hard in the farming months, conducting their own businesses or even studying for a higher education.

Their roles as mother, wife, sister and daughter impacted me greatly, and I was touched by the close relationships found between neighbours. I observed a keen sense of inherent womanhood at the forefront of their identity, showing itself through constant laughter and love, flowing through these women to each other.

The people of Sonoshi have a firm belief in their tribal customs and culture, with a connection to the land that has religious ties. Exploring their tribal Hinduism was intensely interesting, and we were lucky enough to be in the village for the festival, Makar Sankranti, which with colours, sweets and many nights of singing, gave us a glimpse into their wonderful sense of community.

It was fulfilling to be amongst people who held their religion and culture so dear to them, and their openness to sharing their stories and knowledge with hospitality has genuinely taught me to be a better person.

I will always consider my time in Sonoshi to be a privilege, and I still don’t feel quite right about leaving it behind. I was exposed to such a different way of life, and was taught how to be empathetic and open to each new experience and connection with the Drishtee Immersion program.

As part of an ongoing initiative, I worked on an education program around water safety, that touched close to home for me. I remember a poignant moment where I was delivering the presentation that we had been culminating over the prior days, to a family and their children. These were the kids that had come to our home every day and made origami with me. Had put up with my broken Hindi and even worse Marathi to ask me questions and get to know me. We had played musical chairs, helped them with homework and braided each other’s hair.

So seeing them in front of me at that moment, showing them the diseases existing within the water that they were drinking everyday, and being able to provide a real, safe alternative was monumental.

The Drishtee Immersion covered so much ground with the three week program, I simply cannot do it any form of justice. The team makes real efforts to understand perspectives and use that create improvements for the quality of life of thousands of people. Being a part of that has truly enhanced my worldview for good, and I will be forever grateful for it.

So thank you to the Drishtee Immersion, and the people of Sonoshi, you are all who make India incredible.

By Jenivy Sewak.


Holding on for dear life whilst hiking in South Korea

Over the summer holidays I studied abroad at Korea University. I really enjoyed my time there for anyone who is thinking about doing a summer abroad trip…

If you would like more information on my summer abroad at Korea University, or to ask any questions, check out my blog at

5 am…

We woke up, grabbed some food at the convenience store, and made our way to the beginning of the trail by 8 am. We were going to take the most popular trail until one of us suggested another hike that was more scenic and took us to multiple peaks. We agreed to take this trail since it leads to Baegundae Peak, the highest point in Bukhansan. The path ended up taking us to temples, gates, the fortress wall, and four other peaks.

J: There’s a hike that’s more scenic, and it takes you to many peaks.
B: Sure, how long does it take?
J: 4 hours.

“4 hours,” he said…

It took us 7 hours to reach the last and most well-known peak and then another 2 hours to get back down. What was supposed to be a 4-hour hike turned out to be 9 hours on the mountain. Not sure if the quoted time was for expert hikers with no breaks in between or if we didn’t stick to the designated hiking route. With that being said…

LESSON 1: Familiarise yourself with the hiking route and download or bring a map with you.

We had maps on our phone, so we kind of knew where we were. Although, most of the time it just felt like we were hoping for the best and walked spontaneously in the direction of the intended landmarks.

We started from the Gugi ticket booth area and walked uphills tirelessly for a good hour or two until we reached Bibong Peak. Ascending to the peak was the hardest part of the entire hike. The slopes were as steep as it gets without needing to crawl up the mountain. Every time we turned a corner and thought there would be some flat ground, there were more slopes. When we finally reached some flat ground, we were again presented with more slopes. It was relatively flat once we reached the peak with a few sharp inclines here and there where you had to pull yourself up with a rope.

Bibong Peak, Bukhansan National Park, Seoul.
Looking out into the distance, moments before one of us slipped.

10 am…

On the way to the second peak, one of us slipped and started sliding down the mountain for a good two seconds. Now I know that doesn’t sound long, but when you are at the summit of a national park with only amateur hiking experience and no clue what to do if your friend dies, that is two seconds too long. Time felt like it slowed down. The incident unfolded in front of me in slow motion. Loose rocks were rolling down with him as he was sliding. Interestingly, just moments earlier I saw a sign that read “beware of falling rocks”, so I knew to be cautious. I guess my friend didn’t get the memo. Luckily, he managed to stop sliding and got back on his feet.

LESSON 2: Wear proper hiking shoes.

We then ventured deeper into the national park and walked past a few more landmarks. Since we only planned for it to be a four-hour hike, we stupidly realised in the fourth hour that it was going to take a lot longer than previously anticipated, and that we didn’t bring enough water.

LESSON 3: Always bring a lot more water than you need.

2 pm…

We ran out of water on our way to the last peak. Luckily there was a medic located just before the incline to Baegundae Peak. We asked the medic for water. By this time we were getting desperate. We even considered to abandon the climb up to the last peak, and instead make our way off the mountain. They gave us a small cup to share between three since they only had limited supplies (we weren’t complaining, there was even ice!). Not wanting to miss out on the highest peak in the mountain, we started climbing up to the summit. The climb to the peak took us twenty-five minutes. On our way down, we walked past the medic again. I overheard the staff telling another hiker (who also ran out of water) that there was a convenience store five minutes walk down the trail. I excitedly told my friends the good news.

Nevertheless, don’t take any chances and bring more water than necessary. The climb back down wasn’t bad, but it still took longer than we expected. We started hiking at 8 am and got down at 5 pm. Looking back, if we didn’t find the medic or the convenience store, it would have been really unpleasant and possibly dangerous.

Two guys from my summer exchange program hiked it a few days later and also decided to do a spontaneous hike. They ended up getting lost in the national park with no water left and zero battery.

LESSON 4: Make sure your phone is charged and bring a battery pack if necessary.

The two thought it would be a good idea to watch the sunset on the highest peak in the mountain. They ended up trying to make their way down in the dark with just the torchlight on their phones. The two went down rocks that weren’t part of the trail and stayed on the mountain for 13 hours. They, like us, also did not bring enough water. Luckily they came across a local professional hiker who drove them back home.

LESSON 5: Stick to mountain rules. Hiking at night is prohibited. There is no hiking after dark or 2 hours before sunrise!

Overall, hiking Bukhansan has been one of the highlights of my Seoul trip thus far. It is suitable for beginners as long as you take some precautions.

This story has also been uploaded onto my blog.



BUiLD Thailand

Thailand is a weird and wonderful place. I have heard many stories from many people about how this unique country can exist in today’s stringent society. My experiences in Thailand did not counter these stories, however I was fortunate enough to see the other side of Thai society.
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, with a population of almost 6.5 million people. As a tourist you only really see one side of the city. Thanks to the BUiLD program I was able to see Thailand from a completely different angle. As a student studying at KMUTT (one of Thailand’s top universities) I had a better insight into the daily lives of the modern Thai people, not just what you see on international advertisements. It was interesting to discover that their lives don’t differ all that much from mine. My Thai buddy moved closer to his university to cut on travel time, like I did. He walks or rides his bike to uni and has a very active social life, like my own. Not only that but he also enjoys everything he’s doing and takes everything as a new experience from which he may learn.
While it might seem ignorant to say that I didn’t expect this from student of other nations I feel as though not many people actually believe this of other nations. This trip helped me learn more about Science and Engineering, but more importantly fully opened my eyes to the way the world works. Everyone is more or less the same, we have the same goals and ambitions, the same drives and the same enjoyment of what we do. The only difference is WHERE we are doing it. If my Thai buddies were to pack up and move to Sydney, they would not be any different to any of us.
I made many friends on this trip, both Australian and Thai and I learnt a lot about both our cultures. To say that this trip to Thailand was invaluable to me is a complete understatement. Words cannot describe my experiences and what I learnt, although I will say that the friends I made, and the things I discovered, I will carry with me for life.

Robert Fleck 11702988

Wuhan: The old and the new

My time spent in Wuhan at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) was a great experience. Wuhan is one of the major cities within Central China. Because of this, less foreigners frequent the city as they would Beijing or Shanghai. This means what I was exposed to was a very traditional Chinese culture, free from many more Westernised influences.

Henry Birtwistle - China (11707243) Image 1
The Chinese themselves were very friendly. Perhaps it was due to the fact that there were not too many foreigners in their city. Regardless, the citizens were always patient to listen to my broken Chinese and were very generous and welcoming in restaurants and bars.

Plenty of train lines intersect in Wuhan because of it’s location in Central China. Due to this they say that Wuhan is the best city for catching long distance trains. A great place which was only about 1 hour away by train was the Three Gorges Dam, the biggest dam in the world.

Henry Birtwistle - China (11707243)  Image 2

If any other student does come to Wuhan it is important to know that there are not many native English speakers there. And by not many I mean during my whole 5 months on Wuhan I only met 2 Americans – they were the only native English speakers I had seen. The rest of the students in my class at least we’re South American, French, Russian and German. For me this was great as I was able to practice my Spanish a lot and a little Portuguese with my South American friends. So if you want to practice a European language whilst also learning some Chinese then I highly recommend Wuhan for that purpose.

Henry Birtwistle - China (11707243) Image 3

And also if you do study Chinese language at HUST then be prepared that the course is pretty intense. By the end you will have achieved HSK 3 (The Chinese language proficiency test.

All in all I had a very fun experience in Wuhan and I highly recommend others to interested in language and culture to visit there.

By Henry Birtwistle (11707243)