FOR A MOMENT, as my plane finally descended into Canberra at the end of the long trip from Germany, I thought it must be making an emergency landing. I could see no trace of human life below. This seemingly uninhabited landscape was where I was to take up an Australian Government merit-based Endeavour Scholarship in 2006 to complete a PhD. I had no intention of staying in Australia for long, and definitely not forever. I spent the best part of the next four years writing my dissertation on the long-distance politics of the Acehnese diaspora at the Australian National University. It was a formative period in my life; I enjoyed it to a certain extent but did not want to stay a single day more than was absolutely necessary, and returned to Germany in March 2010 on completion of my thesis.
After a postdoctoral fellowship in Berlin, I landed a teaching position at the university in Heidelberg, which was no great improvement on my years in Canberra in terms of excitement beyond my academic pursuits. Thus, when the opportunity of a three-year research-only fellowship at the Melbourne Law School arose I jumped at the chance, and in June 2011 I travelled Down Under once again. For three years I studied the irregular movements of asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia, spending a lot of time doing fieldwork in Indonesia, publishing my insights, writing op-eds, giving radio interviews – doing everything I could to share my findings within academia and beyond. When the three years of my fellowship were up, I boldly applied for a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council (ARC). These sought-after grants are hard to get but, given the topicality of my research, I thought I should give it a try. The success of my application was topped off by the offer of a job at Monash University, putting me in the wonderful position of being able to continue my work – reading, writing and carrying out long stretches of fieldwork (as anthropologists do). By this time my focus had shifted to exploring people-smuggling networks in Indonesia.
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