I applied for the Hamer Scholarship whilst in Melbourne – I had majored in Mandarin at Monash University, studied for 6 months in Shanghai and worked for 8 months in Beijing. Despite all this study I was only satisfied with my oral Chinese and frankly, quite embarrassed about my written and reading. When I found out about the Hamer Scholarship through the Australia China Youth Association (if you aren’t involved with ACYA yet, fix that then continue reading) I leapt at the chance to whip my lagging skills into shape. The Hamer panel appreciates a keen learner with a sound study plan.
The Application Process
The selection process for this round consisted of 6 detailed written responses ranging from cultural sensitivity, career plans to what benefits you will bring to the Jiangsu/Victoria relationship. The application panel takes into strong consideration your career plans within the region. Following the written application the panel will arrange a 30-minute call or Skype interview (use a reliable phone line! Don’t make the same mistake I did of providing them a mobile number with shoddy reception). Applying for the visa was simple enough – at the time of applying for study periods of fewer than 180 days the only document required was a Letter of Acceptance from the university. The Autumn/Winter study semester at Soochow university begins in September and ends in January, so 180 days should cover the period. Should you wish to stay longer an additional document with the explicitly stated study dates need to be provided. The $10,000 AUD scholarship is generous and will adequately cover flights, tuition, accommodation and comfortable living expenses.
Living on campus was cheap and convenient, 4,000 RMB for a shared dorm a brisk 10 minute walk from the East Campus to the Main Campus across a broad canal then wending through the old Dongwu Daxue buildings. Accommodation off-campus is also simple enough to find and if you take the time to shop around it’s possible to snap up a cosy room for prices approaching private dorm rates.
Soochow University has plenty to recommend – the quality of education is comparable to (and in some cases better than) my study in Melbourne. The language placement test is thorough but essentially just a guide, as there is great freedom (with teacher approval) to sit a higher or lower class. Pushing yourself just that little bit further pays off, especially to reach a higher level in which Chinese is the sole medium of education as opposed to a mix of English/Mandarin. The most benefit I found was taking the recommended core classes (8.30 – 12.30) and all of the advanced elective classes (1.30 – 3.00) which this semester were Advanced Listening, Advanced Reading and Business Chinese. To inject a bit of fun into my study schedule I also signed up for Cultural Experience Class, Taichi Club and Karaoke Club.
Though I can’t spruik Suzhou as well as a quick Google search of its picturesque canals and tranquil gardens will, I can attest that it is a superb city for a conscientious scholar. Putonghua is standard as Suzhounese is spoken only by a portion of the local population – don’t let anybody convince you that you’ll be learning ‘bad Mandarin’ by studying in Suzhou. Shiquan Jie, a thriving bar and cafe street, lies just at the South of Soochow Uni. There are countless quiet cafes that pass muster for a Melbournian in which to while away an afternoon. Last but not least, Shanghai is a breezy 20 minute trip by high-speed rail. Nice.
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