Laura Stoddart believes overcoming and understanding the challenges of learning another language allows individuals to see the world from different perspectives and opens new opportunities.
Since leaving MGGS in 2008, Laura has studied in France, the Netherlands, China and Scotland. In that time, she has completed a Diploma of Language (Mandarin), Certificat des Etudes Politiques (Political Science and Government), Master of Laws (Law and Politics of International Security), and a Master of Arts (French and Politics). She has also worked in China. She is now based in Melbourne, working for the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
In this edition of Alumnae Spotlight, Laura delves into her current job, her experiences working in a foreign country and the advantages of learning a language.
Your current role is a Senior Policy Officer, Anti-Dumping Commission. What does that entail, and what do you do day-to-day?
The Anti-Dumping Commission investigates allegations of unfair trade by Australian industry. It is a really complex and challenging area of policy and every day looks a little different. I work in the operational policy area so, in general terms, I work to ensure that we fulfil our duties in the best way. I balance that with ensuring we adhere to all Australian legislative and World Trade Organization obligations. I work closely with investigators, the legal team and industry stakeholders to understand their challenges and how to best remedy them.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the complexity of the policy area and the need to balance domestic and international legislative obligations. Understanding all the different areas and making them work together for the best outcome is a bit of a puzzle, and I love the challenge. It is also a very niche area of trade policy, so there is a concentrated level of expertise within the Commission. I love getting to learn from these really passionate experts.
Tell us about your experience working and studying in China. Any advice for people wanting to do the same?
China is especially accessible for Australians looking to study there. There are tonnes of scholarships and grants available for a range of courses. I have some Australian friends who have done their entire Bachelor degrees in China on a scholarship. There is a great appreciation for Australia, and my experience was great, they were very welcoming. I met so many interesting people working on interesting projects from around the world; It is a really inspiring place. It may feel daunting — some days it was overwhelming — but it felt like an adventure every day. Originally I had signed up for a one-semester course, but within two weeks, I had extended it to a year.
How has learning languages helped in your personal and/or professional life?
Learning and knowing languages has helped me in very surprising ways, both personally and professionally. A few years ago, at a part-time job, I was working with a client based in Beijing who didn’t speak any English. At the time, I didn’t speak any Mandarin, and we were at a bit of an impasse until she asked, “How about French?”. We then went about our work speaking and writing in French — much to the surprise of the rest of the office! They ended up being one of our most important clients. There is also a camaraderie about learning a language. It’s no easy feat, so when you encounter someone speaking a second language, you automatically have this experience connecting you.
By understanding the challenges of learning another language, you can really start to see the world from different perspectives.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to continue studying languages after graduating?
Learning a language opens you up to so many more opportunities. This isn’t only because of the language and critical skills you learn and because you begin to consider possibilities beyond your original expectations. Suddenly, living, working, and studying in a country where the main language isn’t as scary, you have a whole new (very large) catalogue of options for yourself. My best advice would be to live in a place where that language is native. If you have to learn words and practice in order to eat, drink and find shelter, you will be shocked at how quickly your skills develop. I would also say don’t be scared to practice. This is a hard one, even for me. Grammar seems the most important thing when you learn a language in a formal setting, but in the real world, communication is. And you will find that, for the most part, people are so encouraging when they see you’re making an effort. They won’t think less of you if you conjugate incorrectly here or there.
What do you know now that you wish you knew during your time at MGGS?
I wish I had gone into the world with this: if an opportunity seems scary, challenging or a bit beyond your capabilities, that’s not a reason to say no to it. In fact, I would argue it’s precisely those opportunities that you should say yes to. Because they are the ones that teach you something that will make you grow and lead to even bigger and better opportunities.