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Students in Focus

Connecting cultures in a global trade internship experience

Ljubinka ‘Ljubi’ Gallardo Petkovich is nearing the completion of her Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Canberra, full of excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

She is no stranger to living abroad – her father is currently stationed in Canberra as the Ambassador of Peru, which is how she came to pursue postgraduate studies at UC.

In an earlier overseas posting with her family, Ljubi studied at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

“At Rutgers, I completed an undergraduate in political science and human resource management with a minor in Latino and Caribbean studies,” Ljubi says.

“My focus was on what I could do to assist people from minority groups to advance in the corporate world, especially for people who haven't had access to professional training.”

Ljubi enrolled in the MBA at UC to “broaden her horizons”, but what she didn’t expect was how enriching her Canberra Business School postgraduate internship unit would be – a placement which requires students to be involved in the processes of planning and implementing management activities.

“It's a wonderful way to get to understand the demands of the workplace, how to build on your academic knowledge, and discover the ins and outs of the organisation you’re working for,” she says.

“It provides that initial real-world test of your capabilities, and potential interests to help you determine where you might take those first stages of your career.”

An opportunity with the Export Council of Australia (ECA), the peak body representing businesses involved in international trade, gave Ljubi a chance to apply her business studies and cross-cultural experiences to the work of the ECA.

“In August, I took on a part-time role with the ECA, which coincided with my internship, but I had been doing some work experience with the organisation since November last year,” she says.

Starting the internship meant Ljubi began “wearing many hats”, particularly during recent conferences and roundtable events, bringing together potential trade partners from all over the world. She worked with government departments, sourced businesses to attend discussions, and managed social media content.

“We hosted a group of about 20 women entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka, for the ECA’s Women Trading Globally initiative.  This involved training them on how to grow their businesses through exports, and connecting them to businesses here in Australia,” she says.

“I'm learning so much about how to communicate in a professional and business setting, how to do tasks more efficiently.”

Ljubi had also been immersed in other events involving delegates from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Philippines, and the US, for roundtable discussions on the benefits of emerging technologies for small businesses seeking to compete in international markets.

Another noteworthy moment from these activities was when she assisted in connecting a spinach farmer with the Department of Agriculture to clarify the protocols for producing and delivering their goods to customers.

“The farmer spoke directly to the government representative about how grocery stores only take spinach deliveries during a certain point in the day so that it could be fresh for consumers, but to make that deadline, farmers need to work overtime and pay overtime,” Ljubi explains.

“It made me see how important the ECA is in facilitating these conversations.”

Now her focus has turned to gaining hands-on experience in organising the NSW Premier’s Export Awards, which celebrates the achievements of outstanding exporters in the state of NSW. The winners will then compete in the national awards program.

“This is off the back of three major events, so it never gets boring, and I feel like I'm learning so much from the Export Council of Australia,” Ljubi says.

The experience so far has been transformative for Ljubi, who has previously had a lot more exposure to corporate culture and profit-driven organisations. Working in a not-for-profit environment – and, more specifically, in a global trade ecosystem – has challenged her perception of where she sees herself in a post-MBA career.

“Never in my life did I think I would be learning about tariffs and port politics and issues that can arise with importing and exporting certain products,” she says.

“I’ve had to develop an understanding of trade and business from all aspects of the equation – a well-rounded 360° view to see what common connections could exist for potential trade partnerships.”

Gaining experience through an internship has been a bonus and something Ljubi says she would highly recommend to other students, for its flexibility and real-world opportunities.

“While you're learning things in class, you can take those things and apply them directly to stuff that's happening within your internship organisation,” she says, “and I love making new connections!”

Words by Emma Larouche, photos by Tyler Cherry and supplied.

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