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8000 miles to Malta

Cite Magazine

What began as an interest in history, politics and travelling has seen Curtin international relations graduate Natasha Howells travel to the other side of the world, working as an executive assistant and public affairs officer for the Australian High Commission in Malta. Her role ranges from political and economic reporting and research analysis, to public and economic diplomacy and aid programs.

“A long-time dream of mine has been to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and this has been a fantastic start to that dream,” Howells says. She lists her move to Malta to start her job at the Australian High Commission as one of her greatest life achievements.

Lying 80 kilometres off southern Italy, Malta is only 316 square kilometres and has a population of 450,000, making it the eighth most densely populated country in the world.

“Although the initial move was difficult, it was also exciting, and I love living and working in my new home in the Mediterranean,” Howells says. “I have absolutely no regrets and am glad that I took the opportunity offered to me.”

Howells is not one to let an opportunity pass her by. In her last year of her undergraduate international relations and Asian studies degree, she founded the Curtin International Affairs Association (CIAA).

“During my time at Curtin, I had always wished that there had been an International Relations club to be involved with – until in my third year, I thought: why not start one myself?” Howells says.

“I wanted to create an organisation that engages students with international relations outside of the classroom, provides them with networking opportunities and teaches them transferable skills.”

Now in its second year, the CIAA hosts educational events for any student, staff of member of the public who has an interest in current and international affairs. They regularly run events, many of which feature high-level guest speakers such as diplomats, academics, NGO and think tank directors.

The experience taught her a lot about leadership and how to build an association from the ground up – skills that continue to serve her to this day – especially when it comes to working with the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program for Tunisia. The program issues small grants to local non-government organisations with projects focused on community, environment and poverty alleviation.

“It is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job,” Howells says. “As Secretariat of our Direct Aid Program Committee I am responsible for managing our applications, communicating with applicants and bringing them to the committee for assessment.

“Being involved in this project is exciting as we get to see real benefits within the community from the money that we donate. Seeing projects proposed flourish, and the community benefit, has personally been very fulfilling.”

Howells is also in her final year of a Master of International Relations and National Security and has been balancing her study around her work with the Australian High Commission.

“Although at times things have been stressful, I am lucky enough to have a strong support base including my partner, family and friends, and even the staff at Curtin – my master’s supervisors have been amazing in accommodating me whilst I undertake my thesis overseas. Where would we be without skype?” she says.

In the future, she hopes to continue working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“But, I could also see myself enjoying work at a think tank or an NGO, or at an international organisation like the United Nations. I’m open to new ideas and pursuing different paths,” Howells says.

For now, she’s content to soak it all in – along with the Mediterranean sun.