From the Big Band competition to working at Asialink, Will McCallum’s story

Will McCallum
Will making a penpal at the DMZ in South Korea, Will McCallum

Will McCallum’s exposure to Asia began in 2002 after being part of the winning band in the Australian Schools Jazz Band competition. To make the most of the achievement, Will and 18 of his Wesley College classmates devised a three-week tour of China’s jazz institutions.

When not playing in venues, Will and his fellow school leavers used the opportunity to discover a country they previously knew very little about. And so the journey with China began.

After the passing of summer and his adventure to China, Will commenced undergraduate studies at Melbourne University with a major in international relations. He also continued studying French—having learnt the language in high school—until he decided to pick up Mandarin half way through his second year.

Learning Chinese suddenly opened up new opportunities including a Universitas 21 program scholarship to study on exchange at Peking University in Beijing. Will thoroughly enjoyed his time studying at Peking University, enjoying the local music scene and on return to Australia he completed an Honours thesis focusing on the role of Chinese soft power and nationalism in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Upon graduating Will took up an internship at Asialink, where he supported the events and public programs team for six months.

Will’s next adventure was further study and a return to greater China where he enrolled in a Masters of Journalism at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Will sums up as his experience at HKU as the ‘best study experience’ of his life. The HKU program offered an intensive program with a diverse group of students from all corners of the world, including journalists from mainland China, many of whom remain great friends today.

The one-year Masters program kick-started with a four week practical boot camp and a strong focus on website design, video production and photography. From that point on students were expected to go out and gain their own experience while completing the coursework.

The flexible visa system in Hong Kong also entitled Will to stay on for 12 months after completing his Masters program (this visa extension is available to students who complete a Masters in Hong Kong but does not apply to the Mainland). The visa exemption rule allowed Will to intern with Ogilvy’s Thomas Crampton and also the production company Asia Pacific Vision, where he further developed video editing skills and an understanding of what made a successful social media strategy.

Will returned to Melbourne after nine months and soon took up another position with Asialink, this time focusing on Communications.

After four years focusing on Asialink’s digital presence and media relations, which gave him opportunities to travel across the region, Will was once again interested in engaging directly with China. Finding these opportunities from Melbourne was not simple.

The recent launch of the Victorian Government’s Hamer scholarship created the perfect springboard. The scholarship provided generous funding and joined him with a cohort of young Victorians who were passionate about China – and not afraid to challenge themselves.

While studying at Nanjing University, Will focused on improving his Mandarin (with the help of an intensive 30 hours of class time per week), whilst also exploring job roles in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Job opportunities opened up both in Shanghai with a public relations company and Hong Kong with the investment bank JP Morgan. Will found out about the latter through an alumni email notification from HKU, and was required to make numerous trips to Hong Kong to complete exams and interviews as part of the application process. The allure of returning to Hong Kong and his old friends aided the decision to accept the JP Morgan position.

Will’s job application experience highlights the power of alumni networks and also the importance of being persistent, especially in regards to internships. Will explains that in most cases big organisations are always under the pump to get tasks done and they usually react positively to potential interns who are keen and can take up a role to lessen the workload. Persistent but polite emailing is then sometimes the key to getting your foot in the door.

Will is excited to be working in Hong Kong and Asia Options expects big things from Will in the coming years.


The following two tabs change content below.

Olly Theobald

Director at Asia Options.
Olly works in Hangzhou China and is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship, e-commerce, Asia education, data science, and foreign languages. Olly is a graduate from RMIT University and the Hopkins Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies. Olly speaks Mandarin and Korean.

Leave a Comment