Volunteering with the Australia China Youth Association

australia china youth association
Olly during the filming of the Nanjing ACYA video at Confucius Temple, Nicola Boyle


From its humble beginnings at the Australian National University in Canberra to a dynamic network of chapters spanning two diverse countries and an annual bilateral dialogue sponsored by DFAT, the Australia China Youth Association (ACYA) has emerged to play a vital role in developing Australia China relations.

I joined the ACYA network in 2011 as a co-founder of the RMIT Chapter. Before I joined ACYA I was disappointed by the lack of social interaction among local and Chinese students on campus at RMIT University. Offering social events such as dumplings nights in Chinatown emerged as an easy answer to bring students together and which was made possible under the banner of ACYA.

After graduating from my Bachelor degree at RMIT I relocated to Nanjing and helped establish a chapter alongside Chapter President Steve Carton. Establishing a city chapter presence in China was more complicated; due to the lack of university student union funding (as found in Australia) and the block on western social media. The structural challenges unique to China though were offset by the proactive and energetic nature of ACYA volunteers and members in Nanjing. I observed that young people, both Chinese and Australian, were enthusiastic to be involved and there was an even closer Australia-China community spirit than I observed back in Melbourne. Australian students, for example, have far more free time in China without family, work and other commitments and the ACYA spirit of cross-cultural engagement lines in perfectly with their immersion in China.

As a grassroots and non-for-profit organisation, ACYA also has enormous potential to develop external cooperation and to develop your professional connections. The RMIT Chapter successfully cooperated with CRCC Asia to provide an information session on internships in China and the Melbourne Football Club donated 20 admissions tickets, scarves and tickets to the AFL Museum at the Melbourne Football Club to ACYA members. In China, the Nanjing Chapter teamed up with the Australia China Alumni Association to host events while also cooperating with the Victorian Government.

Despite hopping from city to city over the last 18 months, the ACYA community has also been a common denominator and a valuable support network for me. From Melbourne to Canberra, to Nanjing and Beijing, the ACYA community has always offered opportunities to learn and network.

In 2012 I jumped on a bullet train to Beijing to attend an ACYA Q&A session with Stephen Joske from Australian Super. Despite only knowing one other person there, I was immediately welcomed into the local ACYA community and was invited out afterwards for a feast of Chinese Muslim cuisine. At dinner, I sat next to ACYA Publications Officer, Neil Thomas. A few months later, through Facebook, we teamed up to organise an apartment together in Beijing. We then later found our third roommate, Michael McGregor, through the ACYA Facebook page.

More recently, I was lucky enough to represent ACYA as a guest speaker at the ‘Australia’s China, China’s Australia: Past, Present & Future’ conference held by the Australian Studies Centre at Peking University.

I thoroughly recommend all students with an interest to subscribe to ACYA’s mailing lists and social media and to get directly involved with your local chapter or apply for the national executive. The national elections are typically held in December and positions are held for 12 months. Individual Chapters also hold elections at the end of the academic year but they typically take on new executive members on a rolling basis. If your university in Australia or city in China does not yet have an ACYA presence and you are keen to set up a Chapter, you should first content the national ACYA body. Establishing a new Chapter is not easy but with the right team of like-minded individuals, it can be a hugely rewarding and enjoyable experience.

Find out more about how to get involved with the Australia China Youth Association (ACYA)


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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.

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