New Colombo Plan
Before I began my New Colombo Plan program in China, those around me expressed both excitement and apprehension at my plans to spend the next 18 months studying and working here. Now having past the halfway point I am completely in agreement with those who said it would be an experience of a lifetime and have even started dreaming about different ways I can come back.
An exchange in China under the New Colombo Plan is so much more than what one typically thinks of when hearing that someone is going on “exchange”.
(Beihang University and the University of Wollongong signed an exchange agreement in 2014, and I’m the first student from Wollongong to come on exchange here.)
I find that China is brimming with opportunities and experiences especially if you are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Some of the highlights of my journey so far include studying mandarin intensively for a month, sleeping overnight on the Great Wall, hiking up Taishan, bungee jumping and skiing near Beijing and being a delegate at the Australia China Emerging Leaders Summit.
There have also been many challenges and experiences which have taken me out of my comfort zone and I am so thankful for these pointers to the many aspects where I need to improve as a person.
Living here has made me realize the importance of being multilingual, as growing up in Australia, whilst surrounded by different cultures it is expected that everyone can speak English. I am not yet fluent in Chinese however taken at face value I am assumed to be native Chinese and I really appreciate that Beijingers are quite understanding of the fact that I was raised in a non-Chinese speaking household when I ask for help.
I am now never scared of asking for help, not only with language issues but day to day logistics, something I learnt after breaking my ankle while skiing in Beijing, which has been an adventure in the aftermath. Beijing is very fast paced however, I’ve been touched when someone takes an extra few seconds or minutes out of their day to hold the door open or give me a ride on the back of their cart, where at times I am scared I will break my other leg whilst seemingly flying down the wrong side of the road. Whilst a broken bone is not an experience I wish upon anyone else, I am still grateful for the friends who have had my back, the strangers who make my day just that little bit easier and the learning experience that comes from this.
China is a challenging place for locals too, and many of those I’ve met, connected with and gotten to know have an impressively international outlook whilst also appreciating the value of their home country with patriotic pride.
Another thing I love about Beijing is the international community. Most of the people you meet are here for a purpose, and it’s inspiring to hear about people’s dreams and passions.
When I look back on the person I was before I left, I realise how much more open to, and interested in other cultures I’ve become. Not only have I been immersed in Chinese culture, I have been exposed to the multiple cultures they welcome here. I wish I had engaged with more international Chinese students back in Australia and I plan to make a conscious effort to do so when I return.
I hope to take back an appreciation of China, and actively encourage more Australians to seek this experience.
I am grateful to the Australian Government which funds the New Colombo Plan, under which I am able to live, study and work in China, and my employer, BlueScope for organizing an internship in their Suzhou plant.
As part of a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, an internship of up to six months is encouraged.
My current placement is at Bluescope’s coating plant in Suzhou, within the engineering projects team as the electrical engineering intern. The team is responsible for implementing upgrades to the plant, working right now on adding a second pot which will hold the coating material. My team is made up of Chinese nationals with an Australian Project manager which has been an interesting dynamic to be part of. This environment has been instrumental in the development of my language skills; I am working hard on my technical Chinese, which is necessary for me to communicate clearly with fellow engineers and trades, my colleagues have been so warm and helpful, finding it amusing to work out what I say every time I speak.
Through this placement I am enjoying the challenge of working in a foreign environment with a foreign team and envision that it will further my understanding of Bluescope’s operations in Asia and working amongst differing cultural customs. I am very thankful to Bluescope for allowing me to take a placement here as part of the New Colombo Plan scholarship.
Suzhou is one of China’s second tier cities, 20 minutes from Shanghai by high speed rail and quiet in contrast to the bustling hub of Beijing.
*I was able to intern at the Bluescope Suzhou plant due to my employment as a Electrical Cadet at the Port Kembla Steelworks.