Canberra: A Lesson in Diplomacy


        Students at the top of Mt Ainslie

Fast tracked friendship. Fun. Interesting. Diplomacy. Professionalism. History. Culture. National Art Gallery. National Portrait Gallery. These are just some of the words and activities I could use to describe the Canberra leadership symposium that took place on 26th – 29th March 2015. Of particular interest to me during my time in Canberra were the meetings with diplomats from the US and Pakistan missions.

United States of America Embassy:

Security check one – passports and a heavy door. Security check two – pretty much airport security and another heavy door. Heavy door number 3 – front door to the US embassy. Finally, heavy door number four – we have arrived into the meeting place of the US diplomats. There were three diplomats, from different field’s including Public Affairs, Economic Development and Military and Security.

The group of 24 (including myself) and our three leaders Tara, Emily and Anneke sat down in the meeting room. As we sat down, the three diplomats walked out and began to introduce themselves and their roles. Their conversational tone, posture and presence within the room, made for quite a relaxed yet still formal setting. After their introduction, Q&A began immediately. The questions covered by some of the Macquarie students were both specific and broad and covered topics such as health, military presence within the Middle East, financial aid and economic development. The responses given were very professional, well thought out but at times also vague.. Given the sensitivity of some of the topics raised and the speaker’s roles as ambassadors for their countries government, to me this was completely understandable. However, there did thoroughly address items such as the United States’ place in international history, their future directions, and the current economic climate.

Overall, the meeting was positive, informative and interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the diplomats and the opportunity for an intimate Q&A session.

Pakistan High Commission:

The Macquarie delegation visited the residence of the High Commissioner for Pakistan and her family. This experience stood in stark difference to that of the US with our visit to the residence including a luncheon of traditional Pakistani cuisine – which was amazing I might add.

The conversation at the luncheon varied from being rather formal at times and more relaxed and informal at other times, but overall had an intimate feeling given that we had kindly been invited into the High Commissioner’s home. Much of the discussion centered on the relationship between Australia and Pakistan both from a historical perspective and with regards to its present and its future directions. Whilst discussing the process of becoming a diplomat in Pakistan, Madam Commissioner told her personal story, including how she had spent the better part of 20 years working for her government in various fields of foreign affairs before becoming a diplomat; how she had competed nationally against 23,000 other applicants and was tested in a combination of arts, history geography, mathematics, English and science, coming in second overall out of those 23,000. We were impressed to discover that her family can speak seven languages fluently including French, Russian and Mandarin.

Group at Pakistan High Commission

Students at the front of the High Commissioner of  Pakistan’s Private Residence

Interestingly, many of the issues we discussed centered on economic development and the up and coming presence of women within politics and business in Pakistan. Trade was discussed with respect to the geopolitical significance of Pakistan’s location on the Asian continent as well as other intriguing topics. As I have come to expect in conversation with diplomats, some questions could not be answered specifically, but that was completely understandable considering the nature of the questions asked and the audience present.

Overall, Canberra Leadership Symposium was a great experience for me and the other students who made up the delegation. It was a great way to meet people, learn about different cultures, explore new ideas and get a better grasp of the dynamics of international relationships. We really had the opportunity to get to know our peers very well by the end of just four days together. Particularly as together we had discussed some very contentious, significant and often personal topics.

The two things I took away from this experience were a heightened understanding of how complex the world we live in is, and a developed understanding of the sensitivities of relationships.

By Joshua De Botton

Joshua is an Undergraduate student in his last year, studying a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Science.

*Please note that the Global Leadership Program runs the Symposium to Canberra every semester. Keep an eye on the Facebook page and Upcoming Op’s for application details.