Applied Social Psychology graduate Garry Watts created an enduring legacy for hundreds of Eastern European graduates. He shares the joy, friendships and impact of his years working with the Australian Program of Training for Eurasia (APTEA).
"I was always fascinated with how people interact and the nature of motivation. Studying psychology at Swinburne, I relished the opportunity to understand people and personalities. The teaching staff were a huge influence on me - we had fantastic arguments that shaped the way I engaged with people throughout the rest of my life.
1991 was a time of global political and economic change. Australia was grappling with its identity after celebrating its bicentennial year, and Communism was the controlling ideology for many Eastern European countries.
When travelling on the Trans-Siberian railway in 1969, I passed through many Eastern European countries and was intrigued by their significant cultural differences. Individual freedom was frowned upon and a focus on customer needs was not a commonly held attitude. Consequently, local economies were poor and run-down. I remember one fellow saying of his government, ‘they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.’
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 changed everything, and was the catalyst for the establishment of APTEA, an Australian Government Fellowship. When the opportunity came, I was highly motivated to be part of this change.
There was a huge opportunity to educate young professionals from central and eastern Europe and make a difference in their transition to the market economy. Professor Murray Frazer saw Swinburne's involvement as a strategic move towards internationalisation, and he was a strong supporter of mine. I can’t thank him enough for his support.
The students were remarkable. Representatives from Hungary, Czech Republic, Russia, Poland, the Baltic States and Central Asia, were among those ambitious enough to leave their jobs, family and friends to travel across the world and create better opportunities for themselves. Most had young families, so to ask them to leave everything and come to Australia for 12 months was a huge commitment.