You have to live it to really understand it

Westpac Scholars enjoy street food in Singapore

Written by Jacinta Keast, Westpac Scholar, 2017 Westpac Asian Exchange Scholar 


As an Australian, I realised it was key to develop my Asia-literacy during university. To understand Asia, and to understand China, is to understand Australia’s future in the region. Asia is dynamic and complex, and the only way you will ever grasp how it works is to spend an extended period of time there, learn the language, and befriend locals. The Westpac Asian Exchange scholarship allows you to do all three of these things.


Compared to traditional exchange destinations, studying abroad in Beijing was at times very challenging. Every day you’re dealing with state bureaucracy, very different rules and regulations, and cultural norms – and all in a foreign language environment, 100% of the time, no deferring to English. But the fact that it is challenging is why you should absolutely go there! Complete immersion is the only path to really understanding a culture and what makes people tick.


The Westpac scholarship helps fund your studies, but also your travel within Asia. It’s amazing to be able to break down the monolithic “China” and discover regional differences in food, language, culture and ethnicity. Travel is a very humanising experience and helped me appreciate the multicultural diversity of Australian society, and of international students at my own university, the University of Sydney.


Some highlights from my trip included staying in 1st century Buddhist temples 4000m in the clouds in Sichuan province; debating the merits of Medicare with a straight-talking Beijing taxi driver and riding a sturdy Mongolian war-horse through the rustbelt plains of Inner Mongolia.

The Westpac 100 Network was a great source of support during my exchange. There are groups in the major cities around Asia that provided me with friendship, career guidance, travel ideas and visa advice. Even after I finished my exchange, I’ve been able to meet up and connect with scholars in Sydney and abroad, and we all share our different regional interests and learn from each other– from quests to taste Taiwanese dessert and yum cha, to nights spent discussing Malaysian electoral politics and the future of the South China Sea.


My studies at Peking University allowed me to pass the top level of Mandarin Chinese proficiency, which has been instrumental in my career and my ability to make meaningful relationships with my Chinese peers. I’m currently working as a Research Assistant at an Australian public policy initiative, where I provide research support on economic and political aspects of Australia-China relations; I also frequently publish on Australia-Asia relations in the media. Next year, I’ll be heading back to China to pursue opportunities in the Chinese tech industry.


To find out more, visit Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarships


Published 27 September 2018 

Related articles

Understanding China, deciphering Asia

Westpac Scholar, 2019 Asian Exchange Scholar, Kenny Ng shares his expereince and learnings from the 2019 Westpac Scholars Shanghai Leadership Residential.

Westpac Scholarship Program strengthens ties with Asia

Westpac Scholars Trust is encouraging aspiring leaders who are passionate about strengthening ties with Asia to apply for the Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship.

Finding a family away from home

Returning from the 2022 Westpac Asian Exchange Leadership Residential held in Singapore last month, Jiah Pang reflects on his once in a lifetime experience, sharing program highlights and new learnings.