Berton Panjaitan

'It was a privilege for me to mix with other students with such a diverse range of disciplines...'

  • Berton Panjaitan

PhD in Hazard and Disaster Management

Deputy Director for Prevention, National Disaster Management Authority, Indonesia

Following an undergraduate degree on Public Health from North Sumatra University, Indonesia, and a master’s from the University of New England in Australia, Berton brought his family to New Zealand to study towards his PhD. 

'I was so fortunate to live in New Zealand,' he says. 'It is so beautiful and tranquil. The people are very friendly and polite and are very willing to help other people.'

At UC, he found the learning environment equally stimulating. 

'My PhD in Hazard and Disaster Management comes under the discipline of Geography. It was a privilege for me to mix with other students in the department with such a diverse range of disciplines; human behaviours, health development, cycling activities, Antarctica, and disasters. So, I learnt a lot from my colleagues.'

Berton's research concerns the risk of tsunamis for the Mentawai community of West Sumatra. 

'My focus was to understand the Mentawai community’s knowledge of tsunamis, and whether this knowledge was useful to prepare for the 2010 Mentawai tsunami, as well as the current and future community preparedness in the Mentawai Islands. Seismic experts believe that the Mentawai segments still trap huge energy and that this energy could be released at any time, causing more tsunamis that will hit the Mentawai coasts.'

Berton's study was supported by a New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAID) Scholarship. Having the responsibility of a family and limited finances, his first task on arriving in New Zealand was to find work. 

'My experience of finding a job was not difficult, but needed some bravery. I started by asking for jobs in a number of shops, and I then found one in one of the prestigious supermarkets. It was difficult in the beginning to adjust my time for study, work, and family, but after some time I got used to it, and I enjoyed it. Normally what I earned for 20 hours' work each week was enough for my family’s basic needs with my wife and two children.'

Berton also found time to relax and make the most of the New Zealand lifestyle.

'At UC you can spend as much time as you have in various clubs. Sport clubs, religious clubs, and so on,' he says. 

'Outside university, I never worried about my tight budget. "Bring your own" or "pot luck" is common here. It is important to note that New Zealand is a kid-friendly environment, and there are a lot of parks that are easy to find. For stress relief, I gardened in summer time. It's fun. I never had such a relaxing time in Indonesia as I did there. In my backyard, I could plant some veges – corn, potatoes, tomatoes, even strawberries. 

‘So I recommend that those who are seeking a place to study should come here. UC is one of the best!’

After completing his PhD, Berton returned to Indonesia with his family. He gained a role within the National Disaster Management Authority (BNPB), which sees him work towards disaster resilience and prevention in one of the most active earthquake and volcanic regions in the world.

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