Love for research, writing rediscovered in farming communities of Timor-Leste

15 JANUARY 2024

Love for research, writing rediscovered in farming communities of Timor-Leste

From living on a boat off the coast of North Queensland to leading outdoor education camps, Ms Natalie Mullins’ latest adventure led her to Timor-Leste with Charles Sturt University.

Natalie was one of 13 Charles Sturt University students who travelled to the southeast Asian country as part of the Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock Education program funded by the New Columbo Plan.

During the two-week immersive program across August and September in 2023, students gained insights into agricultural production and sustainable living in the Asia-Pacific region by engaging with various industries and livelihood activities such as cropping, forestry, fisheries and livestock.

For Natalie, who lives at Buderim on the Sunshine Coast, exploring and understanding the natural environment has always been a big part of her life.

“Since leaving school I’ve done an array of work from outdoor education camps to working in the classroom with young students, to living out at sea on a boat,” she said.

“I began my Marine Biology degree in Townsville, deferred to complete my divemaster’s on Magnetic Island and afterwards worked at sea culling the Crown of Thorns Sea Star.

“After doing this I relocated to the Sunshine Coast and fell back into outdoor education and made the decision to study environmental science. I spent ages trying to find a degree that would fit my work-focused lifestyle, which meant being away Mondays to Fridays on camp programs.”

Charles Sturt University offered the flexibility Natalie needed, now enrolled in her third year of a Bachelor of Science majoring in Earth Science.

“Ever since studying environmental science in school, I’ve had my mind set on doing two things – one was becoming a Crown of Thorns Diver, which I have since done, and the second was working in mine rehabilitation,” she said.

“This goal, alongside my background in outdoor education and wanting our future generations to experience the outdoors as I have been fortunate enough to, are my main drivers for studying science.”

Since attending the Timor-Leste study program, Natalie’s career goals have shifted slightly. She and her peers at Charles Sturt collaborated with local agricultural students who provided access to key research projects and stakeholders unavailable to the average tourist.

“Going to Timor-Leste and completing my post trip report of climatic impacts on the sustainable livelihoods of the Timorese people reminded me of my love for research and report writing,” she said.

“I’m starting to focus on heading down an academia route now and being able to assist in communities where possible.”

Discovering new passions and exploring different cultures are just two of a long list of benefits to come from the study abroad program.

“As a distance education student, having the opportunity to connect in person with peers and hear about their journeys and aspirations was amazing,” Natalie said.

“The opportunity to explore Timor-Leste and learn about things you wouldn’t be able to as an everyday tourist, as well as being able to meet and discuss bigger-picture issues with likeminded people, was really beneficial and eye-opening for me.”

Senior Lecturer in Human Geography in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences Dr Jennifer Bond also attended the trip and encouraged everyone to apply for these types of opportunities.

“The Timor-Leste trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the students and myself as we were able to explore agriculture and rural development there in a way that no tourist can do,” Dr Bond said.

“The trip included high-level meetings in Dili and farm tours in the regions to explore agriculture at different scales.

“However, more critically, the trip included visits to key cultural and historical sites such as the Chega! Exhibition, the Timorese Resistance Archive Museum and Balibo, so that students could see the current agricultural context holistically in terms of Timor-Leste’s past.”

Natalie has taken the advice to ‘just apply’ and see where it leads, now ready to embark on another overseas study journey.

“I am heading to Cambodia in February for another study tour where I’m really excited to explore a new destination and refine my writing skills,” she said.

“While in Timor-Leste, I was also in the process of applying for a New Colombo Plan scholarship, and upon my return I had an interview and was successful.

“I will be moving to Malaysia later this year to complete language training, study and intern for 12 to 18 months.”

Charles Sturt Global programs give students an international experience as part of their degree. From a six to 12-month exchange at an overseas university, to short-term study, faculty-led programs, internships or work placements, there are overseas opportunities to suit every student. 

For more information, visit the Charles Sturt website here or find us on Instagram and Facebook @charlessturtglobal  


Media Note:

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Jessica McLaughlin at Charles Sturt Media on 0430 510 538 or via

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