On tour with the Melbourne Confucius Institute – China Study Tour 2016

Confucius Institute Student and Young Professionals Study Tour
The Study Tour touches down in the Forbidden City


China is big – where do you start?

If you want to get a perfectly prepared entree to China, the Confucius Institute at the University of Melbourne (CI) has wrapped one up nicely for you in the Student and Young Professionals Study Tour. Join us as we break down the tour, and hear from Ausseela Thanaphongsakorn, a 2016 touree, as she shares her experience with Asia Options.

The Confucius Institute Student and Young Professionals Study Tour (‘the Tour’) is pitched at students and professionals, aged between 18 and 30, looking for a neatly packaged Chinese language immersion and study tour.

In 2016 the tour ran from November 26 to December 9 and packed in a rich cultural program, an intensive language course at one of China’s leading universities, Nanjing University and a professional development program which included talks by academics and business leaders, and a number of site visits.

The program fee, subsidised by the Confucius Institute (CI), came to AUD$2,900 and included flights, accommodation, visa application processing, tuition, most meals, all activity fees, in-country transportation and a dedicated tour leader.

Applying for a short study program to China (or even a short trip) on your own can be daunting at the best of times, so the CI program fee not only covers a lot of content, but also a lot of the of fiddly administrative costs you may not want to deal with yourself.

Asia Options heard from Ausseela after she returned from jet-setting across Asia and North America, and asked her what she got out of the CI Study Tour.


What is your educational and work background? What about China interests you?

I joined the tour as a young professional having worked in a wide range of roles from state and federal government roles in policy and communication roles to a recycling startup. I’m currently a postgraduate Juris Doctor Law student at the University of Technology, Sydney.

I have always been interested in Chinese culture and the Australia-China relationship since I attended Burwood Girls’ High School in Burwood – in Sydney’s inner west – which has a large Chinese population.

The Australia-China relationship is one that many Australians come across in their working lives, and I was exposed to the Chinese community through local festivals, friends, and cuisine. So I wanted to gain deeper insight into regional issues including the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, sustainability, and Chinese startup culture, to Chinese history and language.


How did you find out about the Tour? What attracted you to it?

I came across the tour via a newsletter sent out by the Confucius Institute at the University of Melbourne as I knew about their engagement programs and efforts in cultivating Australia-China relations. This tour definitely caught my eye as I’d never been to China before and because it was open to students and professionals who are non-Chinese nationals.

I spoke to the organiser Thomas Day to learn more about the program and he provided a lot of information about the tour. It sounded like a valuable learning experience to not only visit China but also to learn from local experts and academics. I feel it’s valuable for young Australians to see first-hand how Australia is increasing its China capability – and the program is packed with interesting cultural activities, briefings, and talks from officials which help young Australians to get a start.

Highlights from the tour included meeting Dr Peng Tao, a University of Melbourne alumni and now founder and CEO of Bread Trip, a social application where users record and share their travelogues with their friends. We also had very insightful briefings from the Victorian Government Business Office in Shanghai and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

While the sight-seeing opportunities in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai were definitely a selling point, what attracted me to join, was that it was accessible, and subsidised by the University of Melbourne Confucius Institute. The Institute offers in-country professional learning programs to China, in partnership with Nanjing University and the Hanban Confucius Institute Headquarters. In fact, we paid a short visit and were welcomed to the Hanban HQ which had a well-equipped language center and interactive resources to learn Chinese culture.


What was the most surprising thing you learnt while on the Tour? Why?

What surprised me the most while I was on the tour was the role of technology in everyday day life, and a shift from a ‘Made in China’ manufacturing economy to a consumer economy and its growing entrepreneurial startup scene. I was impressed by the scale of mobile and web applications like WeChat, and bicycle-sharing Mobike Technology and how they’re now sweeping across the streets of China’s major cities.

In Nanjing, we lived on campus and were given a taste of living like a local student! We stood in long lines at hawker style stalls on the side of the street to grab a savoury pancake each morning. I was very surprised when the vendor asked me “Would you like to pay via Apple Pay or WeChat?”.

Ausseela at Nanjing University main gate
Ausseela at the Nanjing University Main Gate

The Mobikes are another great example. There are a number of GPS-tracked bikes readily available all over town – you just need to book one on the app and drop it off where you wish for the next customer to use!

I did experience some shock, particularly the visible pollution and haze in cities like Shanghai, where I religiously checked the China air quality app. I also think aspects of the ‘old and the new city’ – contemporary China contrasted against the backdrop of ancient culture and language – truly surprised me (as well as how vast and impressive the Great Wall is!).


What is the most important thing you will take from the Tour? Has it changed your vision on career or personal development since returning, and if so, how?

A key take away from the tour was learning the Chinese language locally. Whether you’ve learned Chinese in high school, or if you’re fairly advanced, the intensive course at Nanjing University is very valuable with lectures and smaller classes, not to mention the fun stuff like calligraphy, dumpling making classes and one-on-one language exchange with Nanjing University students. I was in a beginners’ class and made lifelong friends from it!

Our laoshi (teacher) was very patient and willing to teach us the basics such as tones and useful business and social phrases. The week long intensive was at first challenging but on our final day, we were able to sing a Chinese classic song Tian Mimi by Teresa Teng, which we performed for our teacher and which made her very happy.

I believe the tour increases my options and opportunities as a first step to immersing myself in Chinese language and culture. There are a number of scholarships available that encourage young Australians who wish to work or study in China for longer, which is great to consider down the track.

Other young Australians such as the Program Manager at the CI Thomas Day who organised the trip, and others we met on the tour working in DFAT and the Victorian Government have really immersed themselves in the Chinese language and it was inspiring to see how that has enriched and impacted their career paths.

Other than a newly learnt language skill, and being inspired to learn more, the most important thing however from the tour are the friends I made. I loved the diversity of the group from PhD students, private sector professionals, science students and government department staff in fields such as sustainability and finance.

The group was a great mix with a curious attitude and open-minded outlook which made the learning adventure both fun and worthwhile.

Confucius Institute Study Tour
The Tour winding its way up the Great Wall of China

2017 Study Tour

The 2017 Study Tour is scheduled to run from November 25-December 7. If you’d like to learn more, please visit the CI website, or express your interest directly to thomas.day[at]unimelb.edu.au


Get Started on a Life in China With the Following Resources:

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Will Breedon

Will graduated from Monash University with degrees in Economics and Arts (Mandarin) and studied at Soochow University as a Hamer Scholar.

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