Maria Shumusti

Maria Shumusti.jpg
Maria Shumusti studied a Master of International Relations.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Maria Shumusti, and I moved to Canberra from Mumbai, India in 2018, to pursue a Master of International Relations at The Australian National University.

I think one of the turning points of my time in Australia would be the day I tried vegemite for the first time and loved it. Besides brunching away in Canberra, I love reading, writing and am incredibly passionate about mental health issues amongst the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community and students.

I am currently working in the humanitarian sector with the world’s largest humanitarian organisation- the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), also the Laureate of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

I am the Communications Officer of WFP’s Pacific Multi-Country Office based out of Suva, Fiji. We aim to improve the capacity of Pacific Island countries and territories to reduce the risk of, prepare for and respond to disasters with a view of building a resilient Pacific community, with a focus on partnerships and innovation.

I oversee the communications and media for WFP in the Pacific, and we are currently running the Donate Responsibly campaign that informs people about why during disasters, not all goodwill, does well and highlight effective and responsible ways to donate. With the Australian bushfires, a similar issue arose here locally where after a point, the donated goods were getting in the way of the disaster response.

I came to The Australian National University with a passion for international relations and hoped to work for a global organisation, but I wasn’t sure what I would do after graduating. Surprisingly, my first day as a student and my last day as a tutor at the Coral Bell School led me to apply for a job with WFP.

On day one of orientation for the Master of International Relations program, someone asked about the job prospects that came with the degree and the speaker mentioned many valuable routes. But what stuck with me was to ‘pick a humanitarian organisation that most aligned with your interests and values and to go for it’. I scribbled in my to-do diary, ‘World Food Programme - look for jobs.’

In 2020 and on the last day as a tutor for the Human Security course, Professor Bina D’Costa took me out for lunch. She asked me what topic I had enjoyed the most. It was food security and climate change. She said I should apply to the World Food Programme, and I did. It was a dream come true.

What was your experience like at the Coral Bell School?

I came from a non-IR academic background and was aware of the high reputation of ANU, which made me pick this course. However, I also knew I would be learning from and studying with the best of the best. So I was very intimidated at first.

But this quickly changed into feeling empowered instead. The professors were great, and the tutors were very helpful. The cultural and professional diversity of voices in the classroom was also one of my key learning experiences. Listening to my different classmates speak to other topics broadened my perspective of the world. I learned a lot from the books and from the people I met daily at the Bell School. It also helps that the Hedley Bull Building is quite beautiful. We practically never left.

My experience at the Bell School was well beyond my expectations! I expected there wouldn’t be much scope to dip my feet into different topics of interest. But I was definitely in for an exciting surprise and spoiled for choice with the diverse electives available. In those semesters where I was able to study varied subjects like Ethnic Conflict in Asia and International Relations Theory, did I truly milk my interests in all things IR and eventually found my niche interest. The holistic nature of the degree and the opportunity to learn from the best academic minds in the country provided a well-rounded experience.

And I had never expected to enjoy any course as much as I did with International Relations Theory. Dr Mathew Davies made me look forward to class, even on cold winter evenings.

Studying the MIR degree helped me polish the lens through which I viewed the world of international development and policy, think critically, and communicate complex ideas to audiences. All of these skills are at the heart of my humanitarian role with WFP.

Thanks to the deep-rooted understanding of the theoretical frameworks of IR, crisis, gender, the impact of climate change on societies or even the benefits of liberal institutionalism, I can apply that to the communication strategies that I work on. My learnings from the MIR degree are indispensable to the job I do now and the future I wish to pursue with WFP.

What advice would you give to those who are thinking about studying the Master of International Relations?

I would say soak up as much knowledge as you can! And not just from books or lectures but also from your peers in class. Talk to people, tutors, lecturers- you’d be surprised how much you could learn from informal chats or the value your perspectives can bring to others. In the process, you also make friends.

Also, look for internships or ways to get involved with clubs that align with your professional aspirations. If you have someone in the field you admire, write to them- who knows, you may even get a mentor! Put yourself out there and explore things outside of your comfort zone- it may be hard at first, but you’ll never regret it.