Leon Braun is an alumnus of The Australian National University (ANU), now working at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Leon studied the Master of Asia-Pacific Studies, a predecessor of the Master of Asian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. We asked him to share his highlights of the program and how it’s benefitted his career.
1. Why did you choose to study at ANU and why did you choose the Master of Asia-Pacific Studies?
I spent a year in Thailand after high school and, ever since, I have wanted to master the Thai language. I knew ANU was the only university in Australia that taught Thai and I knew having an ANU degree would open doors to interesting careers in government and research. I chose the Master of Asia-Pacific Studies because it allowed me to focus on the language and country I was interested in, whilst still being broad enough to give me options when I graduated.
2. What is your current position and organisation?
I'm a foreign service officer with DFAT. Right now I'm serving as the Second Secretary (Political) at the Australian High Commission in Nuku'alofa, Tonga.
3. What have been some key moments or experiences in your career?
One of the best things about my job is the variety. I have found myself unexpectedly interpreting for the Deputy Prime Minister of Laos, judging a transgender beauty pageant in Tonga and staying up all night to draft a condolence speech for former Prime Minister Turnbull following the death of the Thai King. I'm proud to have been a part of Australia's successful Human Rights Council campaign and to have answered the consular hotlines following terrorist attacks and natural disasters. I get to travel to some amazing places and I love having my family along on my adventures and seeing my children learn from and adapt to new cultures.
4. What was a highlight of your time at ANU?
The Southeast Asian Frontiers Course was a standout experience, both inspiring and exhausting: four weeks of intensive fieldwork on the Thai-Burma border, meeting political activists, refugees, provincial governors, soldiers and paramilitaries, philanthropists and former warlords. But the greatest highlight of my time at ANU was the many hours I spent conversing and arguing in Thai with my lecturer, a woman of voluminous knowledge, deep moral convictions and boundless energy, Ajarn Chintana Sandilands.
5. How would you describe your career so far?
Amazing! The foreign service offers a combination of interesting work, a secure career, the chance to live overseas and the opportunity to make a positive contribution to Australia's foreign policy. You also get to work with a lot of smart and talented people. Like any job it has its challenges and drudgery, but there isn't a single day I don't feel grateful to be doing what I'm doing.
6. How has your ANU experience helped you achieve your aspirations and career goals? What skills did you develop?
My ANU degree, and especially my experience on the Southeast Asian Frontiers course, helped get me selected for the DFAT graduate program. In addition to learning a language, I developed skills in research, analysis and negotiation. I gained a more sophisticated worldview and grew more confident in presenting my ideas and defending my principles. I also developed a world-class network of contacts with Asia-Pacific expertise. I think it's that connectedness that has been the single greatest benefit of my ANU degree.