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After returning home from Phnom Penh, Diana says her approach to architecture and design is continuously evolving. The UNSW Bachelor of Interior Architecture (BIA) student collaborated with Sa Sa Arts Project, a non-for-profit artist-run space dedicated to supporting local Cambodian designers and artists. The internship, supported by an International Professional Placement Travel grant, involved supporting the curation of ‘Currents’, an arts, architecture and urbanism festival to be held later this year.

“I was thrilled to return to Cambodia for this placement, it felt free in terms of how we wanted to approach and participate with the project,” Ms Espiritu says. “The Sa Sa Arts Project manages artist and residency programs and I got to live and work in that environment while I was there, so the experience as a whole was incredibly immersive.”

Ms Espiritu worked with local graduates from Cambodian Royal University of Fine Arts and Sa Sa Arts Project to help organise the urbanism festival. The students were mentored by Sa Sa Art Projects’ Artistic Director Lyno Vuth and architect Pen Sereypagna. “The supervisors allowed us to contribute as much as we wanted, so I took on a lot of the festival’s branding, logos, posters and other design elements, and helped launch it," she explains. “The whole festival is an urban scale, city festival. I think the importance of knowing the cities, the built environment and the architecture represents who we are as designers.

“The festival has a mixture of exhibitions, contemporary dancing, lectures and workshops, so there was a range of elements involved to launch the festival. I supported the festival over the four weeks I was there, but as it’s a real-life project, I have the opportunity to continue working on it. I’ve been working on the design elements back here. It was a good experience to have local architecture and urbanism students involved in the projects as well. It was a collaborative approach."

The recently launched International Professional Placement Travel grant supports third- or fourth-year BIA students to undertake professional placements overseas. The program is a joint approach developed by both graduating students and staff members. The travel grant was funded by Sydney-based design firm Design Tribe Projects, a UNSW Built Environment industry partner who are engaged with the BIA through teaching, graduate positions and exhibition sponsorship. Ms Espiritu says the program has given her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience working in another country, which has opened new perspectives on her approach to architecture and design. 

Diana with students in Cambodia

Photo: Diana Espiritu.

“The experience really helps build awareness. I think doing placements like this and engaging with people over there makes you realise that there’s a lot more to design than just the well-off clients that you can design for back here in Australia,” she says. “I think architecture and interior design are quite broad research areas, and I don’t think people understand that they can do a whole lot more with their skills from studying these fields. It’s really important to take up these opportunities and see things in completely different contexts.”

For UNSW students looking to study aboard, Ms Espiritu says the best and most random opportunities come from having a good perspective. “My advice is to always be open-minded and be open to all the opportunities that follow.”