SOAS University of London

Helen Brunt

I would not have been given the role that I hold now if I could not communicate in the national language of Malaysia/Indonesia, which I learned while at SOAS.

Year graduated from SOAS
2003

Programme studied
BA South East Asian Studies

Current job title, name of organisation and country of work
Sabah Coordinator, Semporna Islands Project, Malaysia

What do you like about what you do?
The community work I do requires me to conduct grass-roots research, through socio-economic surveys, informal discussions and formal meetings and presentations. Communities are an essential part of conservation work, and it is vital that their voices are heard and messages are clearly conveyed. I am finding that the more of the language I master, the more I am able to understand the perspective of the community I am working with. Mutually intelligible languages also break down barriers which might otherwise be present due to cultural differences.

How has your time at SOAS helped you succeed in this role?
I feel comfortable operating in an international team and the friends I made at SOAS have been a source of inspiration and information for me to draw upon in my role as Coordinator for an environmental and community conservation project.

Can you give current students any tips on getting into this kind of work?
Be prepared to volunteer at first if you are determined to get into NGO or development work. Language skills are a big asset in any international work, especially those which aim to bridge different nationalities and cultures. Network as much as possible and follow up on introductions at the earliest opportunity. Always mention that you are a SOAS graduate and if people don't know what SOAS is, be sure to explain to them so they know why SOAS graduates are so special!

If you studied languages at SOAS, what were they and what was the value in doing so?
I studied Indonesian and Thai while at SOAS. I would not have been given the role that I hold now if I could not communicate in the national language of Malaysia/Indonesia, which I learned while at SOAS.