Soldier, Student, Scholar: Matthew’s journey to Hong Kong and Jakarta

6 September 2016

New Colombo Plan Hong Kong Scholar Matthew Sharp served Australia as a soldier in Timor Leste and Afghanistan, now he’s ready to show other student veterans how much they can achieve.

As one of Griffith University’s highest-achieving students in a competitive Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Matthew credits his army training with equipping him with the skills and discipline needed for academic excellence and helping him secure a prestigious New Colombo Plan Scholarship, despite never having completed high school. 

 “I have applied many of the skills learned through my army training, such as discipline and initiative, to my university experience,” Matthew says.

However, he says his intensive semester of Law subjects at the University of Hong Kong was still a challenge: “now that I have successfully completed the semester at the University of Hong Kong (with quite good grades) I am confident that I will be able to return to my studies in Australia and be able to manage my time much more efficiently”.

Matthew also managed to secure an internship with international legal firm King & Wood Mallesons in Hong Kong: “I learnt a great deal about the structure, strategy, and business culture at King & Wood Mallesons. My internship has made me realise just how much I would like to become a lawyer. I found it to be incredibly exciting and rewarding.”

As well as his semester in Hong Kong, Matthew travelled to Indonesia for a five-month internship with the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime in Jakarta. He was able to learn how his criminology studies applied to major global issues like transnational crime, participating in capacity building training on disarmament and non-proliferation with the Indonesian Customs and Police.

“I spent six years in the Australian Army and had never worked in an office environment. As such, I wasn't quite sure what to expect and I did not know how long it was going to take me to adjust. It was quite daunting knowing that my first ever office jobs were going to be King & Wood Mallesons in Hong Kong, one of the world’s highest ranking law firms, and UNODC which is the global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime. Despite this, however, I adjusted very quickly to my new roles and responsibilities, and ended up doing quite well. Now that I have worked for one of the most well respected law firms in the world and a leading global organisation, working for any other company or organisation seems far less intimidating.”

Matthew’s New Colombo Plan scholarship has been both personally and professionally rewarding, and he is already planning to return to Hong Kong once he graduates. “This past year has been one of the most amazing years that I have ever had.  Studying, living and working in Hong Kong and Jakarta has been an enlightening experience, and I have developed exponentially on both a personal and professional level,” Matthew says.

Matthew hopes that his positive experiences will inspire other young veterans to consider university. “Many young veterans return from operations like Afghanistan and Iraq, are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and are medically discharged. For many, the military is all they have ever known. If I can be awarded a NCP scholarship, and get the opportunity to live, study and work abroad, why shouldn’t they be able to do the same thing?”

Matthew also recognises the unique challenges that the transition to study presents for Australian veterans. “The transition from military to student life is not an easy one. As non-traditional students, ex-ADF personnel have a lot to add to classroom discussions and can offer unique perspectives. Yet, these differences can also be quite challenging.”

To respond to this need, Matthew has joined up with other veterans and fellow students to establish Australia’s first ever on-campus student veterans association at Griffith University, with plans for similar groups at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, University of Newcastle, Queensland University of Technology, University of Queensland, University of South Australia and Deakin University. The Australian Student Veterans Association aims to encourage and support student veterans through their university studies, as well as advocating on their behalf.

“It would be great to see more ADF personnel awarded NCP scholarships, so I am more than happy to provide advice/mentoring to any student veterans throughout Australia who are thinking about applying for the NCP scholarship in the future. They can contact me via Facebook or on

Matthew Sharp and Michelle Gunawan
Visiting the Temple of Heaven in Beijing whilst on mid-semester break with fellow Griffith student and NCP scholar Michelle Gunawan. Photo credit: Matthew Sharp

Last Updated: 6 September 2016