COVID Update: Where to next for student exchange in Asia for Australian students?

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Studying abroad has always been an exciting option for Australian students because it offers them the chance to see the world and also exciting opportunities such as agriculture in Indonesia or volunteering in Japan. Asia is always a popular destination because it is affordable and has rich heritage and history, making it an appealing place for students, particularly those with wanderlust. The same worked both ways, with many Asian students choosing to study in Australia because of the ample opportunities and ample pathways one could take, most starting with online English courses before going on to studying whatever course they intended to.

However, after the pandemic struck, the world shrunk and tourism is no longer as appealing. The first wave recalled many exchange students back to their homeland, leaving many more stuck in isolation, away from their families. Those that managed to get out have no further plans to return to the respective countries they were studying in. While this has affected the education economy, much like how many other economies have taken a hit, the evacuation of Australian students on ACICIS programs have hit the educational consortium the hardest, draining them of all revenue and funds they have worked so hard to procure in the past seven years.

Why are student exchange programs important?

Barring the growth and exposure one gets from an exchange program, there are plenty of benefits that come with studying abroad. Having overseas exposure doesn’t just make your resume look prettier, it’s proven that you become more eligible for employment after pursuing your education overseas because having completed a course overseas speaks volumes about a person’s character. It shows grit and determination. There’s also a level of perseverance that quite frankly, those who have never extended their world past their parent’s backyards will never understand. Studying abroad requires assimilating oneself to a whole new culture as well as taking independence to a whole new level, especially if you’ve moved somewhere where they speak a whole different language. Being able to navigate in such a landscape is a true testament to one’s character.

Where can we go from here?

While we wait for the resumption of international travel or a more robust virtual exchange platform, it’s important to keep your passion for Asia alive by tapping into your local community – be it by joining a Melbourne-based Yosakoi dance group, attending AIYA language exchanges or interning for one of many Asia-focused organizations in Australia.

Online exchange programs, while not the same when it’s being undertaken in a foreign country, can help recuperate some of the lost funds and continue to help the industry grow in unprecedented ways. Gaining insight into another country’s education system provides valuable experiences that one cannot gain from books or anywhere else.

It is with a hopeful heart and positive attitude that encourages education institutions to look towards the digital world for answers. Also, it doesn’t hurt that students are also calling for such measures. Perhaps having been locked inside for a better part of 2020 has people and students clamouring for a breath of culture outside of their own. There are talks of launching such an initiative, but with the current state of the world, there’s no telling when it would be ready for the public.

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Anton Lucanus is a New Colombo Plan Scholar who has lived, studied and worked in Indonesia and Singapore since 2014. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Neliti, a software platform that helps Indonesian universities create digital libraries.

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