Meet Milica Mihajlovic – Prime minister’s scholarship recipient and NEXSTEP alumna

At NEXSTEP, we offer experiential learning programs across Asia. Catering to university students and working professionals. We prioritize on-the-ground learning, helping people from all over the world participate in transformative overseas experiences.

Participants can choose from remote or in-person internships or customized learning experiences. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to form global connections and experience new places. Working or studying abroad helps students and interns launch from their comfort zones into exciting, global careers. No matter their particular program, NEXSTEP alums consistently testify that their experience was transformative in every way.

Recently, we had the chance to speak with Milica Mihajlovic, a NEXSTEP alumna who also received the Prime Minister’s Scholarship in New Zealand. In tandem with NEXSTEP, Milica participated in a support engineer position as an intern in Bangkok, Thailand. Her internship was with Constant Energy, where she worked to support the senior engineering staff with projects surrounding the design and manufacturing of solar cell systems.

Funded by the New Zealand Government, the Prime Minister’s Scholarships support New Zealanders at the University of Auckland in their studies in Asia and Latin America, covering the entire cost of the educational exchange. They are open to funding individual applicants or group programs with education institutions and providers. Alongside self-growth and a new perspective on the world, the University of Auckland hopes that the financial support program will allow students to specifically:

  • “Learn a new language, or improve existing skills
  • Become a global citizen
  • Develop intercultural competencies
  • Grow [their] network and connections overseas
  • Discover new cultures
  • Enhance [their] employability”

Originally from Serbia, Milica moved to New Zealand with her family, attending the University of Auckland for her Bachelor of Engineering. While at the university, she applied for the Prime Minister’s Scholarship and was awarded the scholarship with nine other students. From there, Milica applied for a program in Thailand, which was organized by NEXSTEP.

The whole experience was “life changing,” says Milica. “That’s so cheesy. But it definitely was because I feel I grew a lot more as a person, and as an aspiring engineer.”

“I feel like it was definitely valuable to gain a lot of experience overseas,” she continues, “And so I’m very thankful that I got this opportunity to kind of meet a lot of people that were also in the same field as me. It was also really cool that Bangkok was such a culturally diverse environment, so I got to not only meet people that were from Bangkok, but also from all over the world.”

Currently, Milica specializes in chemical and materials engineering, “But when she was in her internship, in Bangkok was more based on the electrical engineering field. I did a lot more general engineering, which was still interesting because I got to expand my knowledge outside of my own field.”

Before attending the internship with NEXSTEP, Milica says, “I didn’t know what to expect when I first applied because it wasn’t something that I’ve ever done before. It was very new to me.”

“The one thing that I really wanted to do was to kind of expand my global network and meet people that are also interested in traveling and exploring new cultures. So that was kind of my main goal, and my main hope to gain from this.”

Milica Mihajlovic University of Auckland NEXSTEP

“I wanted to gain professional experience” as well, she continues, “because for engineering, it’s very important for me to have work hours, and experience in the field. Having an opportunity to apply the skills that I’ve learned in the classroom into an actual work environment [was extremely valuable].”

“But I think one of my biggest fears was just the fear of being able to adapt to the new culture, because I’ve never really lived in a new country by myself. I was very scared of how I would adapt to the new culture, and how I would deal with the ups and downs of everything that comes along with that.”

And while Milica had undertaken internships within New Zealand, it was “Nothing like this.”

“I’ve never had any work experience outside of New Zealand. So that was really cool to gain experience internationally.”

In terms of how the internship lived up to her expectations, “It’s an experience you will never forget, because it’s something that is very memorable. You have to keep an open mind, because everybody’s experience is not going to be the same. There’s always going to be ups and downs in this kind of program, but it’s about how you deal with those ups and downs, how you deal with the challenges that come along.”

“All the stress and all the anxiety will become worth it once you actually do it; when you come out of a program like this, you are more mature and more developed as a person.”

Milica says that the support from NEXSTEP was fantastic. “They were amazing. I feel like the team – my advisor, Aaron and his team –were some of the best people that I met on this program. It was nice to have someone to lean on, and I feel like the whole team created an environment where any one of us could ask them for help and know that they would help us. We felt very supported by them, and they really made the transition into the new culture a lot easier for us.”

“I was quite surprised how involved they were in terms of our expeditions, outside of networking events. We had a lot of cultural excursions, which was really nice. I really enjoyed those. I would have liked to have more, maybe, but it was quite nice to see how much they cared about introducing and balancing us into Thai culture.”

“There was a lot of communication in terms of messaging. Every other week Aaron would text us and check in and see how we’re doing. If we’re okay, if we need anything to help us feel supported.”

Milica believes the program “definitely made [her] more independent.” “I think, as I mentioned before, I’ve never really lived in a new country by myself before for that long, and so having to kind of plan out my days, and be more independent with something new [helped], and now I feel more grown up now. I feel more professional, and I feel like I’m more confident to take on more leadership roles.”

Adjusting to a new place had its own share of surprises. “One of the biggest culture shocks was just how busy it was because New Zealand is a very calm country,” shares Milica. “It’s very very small, but I feel like in Bangkok just as soon as we landed, everything kind of magnified.”

Milica Mihajlovic University of Auckland NEXSTEP

She also found certain aspects of her host culture surprising but welcoming. “The respect that everybody has for their culture and their religion was really interesting. It was very nice to see that with every person that you talk to you can clearly tell how much they love their country,” she shares. “The food was amazing. It’s so good, it’s so authentic. It’s so cheap.”

And in terms of the professional value of the experience, Mihajlovic says she thinks “it’s really important to be able to apply the skills that you learn in the classroom. It’s very different when you go into the real world than when you’re in school. Taking the skills that you learn in school, and then being able to apply those skills into a real life scenario is very important, and programs like these do kind of challenge you [in that]. They put you into an environment where you do have to take the initiative and actually apply the skills that you learn in the classroom and that’s really good practice for when you do leave school, and when you do actually become independent; it prepares you for that.”

One of her biggest goals has always been to “go outside of New Zealand and gain experience outside of New Zealand.” “Now that I’ve actually done that,” says Milica, “I’ve had a glimpse of what that would look like. I would definitely want to go outside and gain more years of experience outside.”

“Having an opportunity to work in Thailand was even better, because I got to see what type of work environment Southeast Asia would offer me after I graduate. I feel like I definitely now have my eye on Southeast Asia after I graduate.”

Before the program, she was mainly looking at “Australia, just because it was so close to New Zealand. Now I have my eye on Thailand and Singapore.” 

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