Meet Sanjoli Banerjee
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Tell us about yourself
I am 22 years old, born and brought up in India. I have been into social activism since the age of five. Both my parents are prominent educators in my home city. I completed a Bachelor of International Security Studies (BINSS) at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University in 2020. Currently, I am a final year student of Master of Social Work at CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore. I am also the Director of NGO Sarthi currently that I run here in India.
Regarding my interests, I love volunteering and contributing in some manner to influence change to build better societies. I have volunteered across three countries: India, UK and Australia. I recently received the prestigious Diana Award for my social actions and humanitarian work, and have been shortlisted for the Young Global Changemakers Award. I believe that I was born to be a ‘Happiness Ambassador’, so I am pursuing it through a personal revolution with meditation, spirituality, meeting new people, being close to nature and spreading joy with others through social service.
Tell us about the work you are currently doing campaigning against sex-selective abortion and to raise awareness of environmental degradation.
In 2003, I witnessed my mother being pressured by other people to abort my younger sister because two daughters would be a burden on the parents. But then my mother fought back and my father initiated a movement against the malpractice of sex-selective abortion. I was just five years old, and I used to be the youngest protestor participating in demonstrations, street and role-plays, reciting poems and sensitising masses towards the cause. Following that, at 10, we picked up the cause of environmental degradation and made a short documentary film called ‘Earth in Flames’ with my dad’s guidance. Thereafter, I went on a 4500-kilometre long road expedition across seven states of India, spreading the message ‘Save Daughters, Save Earth’. We also organised plantation drives, cycle rallies, marches, awareness sessions, seminars at schools and colleges to spread the word about the global challenge. At 20, while at the Australian National University (ANU), I founded a free mobile school with a holistic development model for marginalised students focusing on social literacy and learning that takes place through recreational activities and broad exposure. Additionally, my organisation has recently also started working on mental health, skill development and menstrual hygiene. I am proud of the impact we have made but aim to reach a national level in coming years.
What was your experience studying at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at The Australian National University?
I studied a Bachelor of International Security Studies (BINSS) at the ANU. The program provided robust academic experience with the quality of teaching, course content and assessments and a wide array of opportunities such as internships, volunteering, international conferences and peer discussions. Further, the courses helped me develop some strong research skills, which have given me an advantage in my Master degree and writing papers for think tanks. The blend of these made learning fun and enriching. From the mock United Nations sessions in the Diplomacy class to the energy-driven tutorial discussions, it all contributed towards a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the evolving Asia-Pacific region and its various forces around it. In hindsight, I have realized that the pedagogy and the courses are designed to shape us into leaders of today with pragmatic skills and values.
I am grateful to have studied at the prestigious Coral Bell School, which played an essential role in shaping me.
How did you decide to study the Bachelor of International Security Studies and why?
I had wanted to study Law for the longest time and so chose Humanities in my high school. It was then that I came across the concept of Security; it immediately fascinated me!. I started looking into universities to study at and learnt that the ANU was one of the top-ranking universities in the world that offered a degree in Security. Upon reading the description of the degree, I knew this was something I wanted to study.
It was during the same time that Modi had been elected to be the Prime Minister of India and the media was flooded with news of how he was working towards stronger foreign relations, which further grew my interest. I wanted to explore India’s place in the region and its relations with other countries. During the course I got to learn in much detail about other influential players in the arena such as Australia, China and the US.
Apart from that, I had been into activism and wanted to explore the relationship between social work and international security and understand it through the lens of human security and social policy.
Finally, it was not an easy decision to study at a foreign university, being the first person to do so in the family. Still the number of opportunities that lay ahead attracted me and I decided to study at the ANU.
What were your expectations before starting the Bachelor of International Security Studies and how did they differ from your actual experience?
Honestly, I hardly had any expectations from the course since I did not know much about the field. I had just come with an open mind, with curiosity to learn something new and different. My only wish was to see myself at the United Nations following the completion of the course, which is yet to happen.
BINSS exceeded my expectations and surprised me in a lot of ways. I had not foreseen the leader I would become by the end of the degree. I will admit, it sometimes got stressful with the number of readings, assessments and other extracurricular activities. Besides that, being an international student, I felt I did not have as many opportunities, especially in terms of internships and employment which proved to be a disadvantage. I wanted to be in the policymaking space but being an international student, I was limited with my options.
Succinctly, I can safely say that the actual experience was worth all the stress, homesickness and other issues. The skillset I gained at the ANU Coral Bell School, whether interpersonal, communication, research, analytical and critical thinking skills or life skills, the meticulously designed course certainly has given me an advantage in my interest in social activism, leading my non for profit organisation, in my postgraduate studies and who I am.
What advice would you give to those who are thinking about studying the Bachelor of International Security Studies?
To all prospective students considering studying BINSS, I’d say go for it! It is one incredible course that you shall thoroughly enjoy in every aspect: academic, professional, extracurricular opportunities, etc. However, be sure to read about the course in advance and know if that fascinates you since passion and purpose are essential for you to enjoy the degree.
Moreover, reading about the program will help you plan and decide which courses to choose, internships, work experience, area of research, etc. Apart from the academic side, I would strongly recommend taking care of yourself and not neglect self-care because we tend to ignore our health for grades. Finally, grab as many opportunities as you can. ANU, more specifically the Coral Bell School and the College of Asia and the Pacific have a plethora of opportunities right from learning new languages to participating in international conferences, going on semester exchange, etc. In the end, what matters is how enriched you are with experiences. This degree is sure to make you fall in love with the Asia-Pacific region and its dynamics and engross you so profoundly.