It’s an amazing experience to find yourself an ambassador for your country in any circumstance, but short of me discovering a hitherto-concealed athletic talent before this year’s Olympics, being a part of the New Colombo Plan program has been one awesome way of doing it. Two weeks after landing in Hong Kong to begin my exchange semester at the University of Hong Kong, I and seven other newly-arrived New Colombo Plan scholars found ourselves at an Australia Day function listening to the Consulate-General talk about how we represented the future of Australia’s relationship with Hong Kong and with greater China. After eating the pavlova and the char siu clean, we got talking to trade representatives, diplomats and university professors who were all kind enough to pretend to be interested in us. NCP has opened many doors so far this year for myself and for the other scholars that wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the scholarship. This semester I’ve been lucky enough to hear directly from the experts in my research field in anthropology and development, and I’m currently finalising an internship for later in the year with an NGO that assists migrant women workers. I’m sure there will still be so many interesting conversations to be had ahead.
Some common myths that need to be cleared up. First, no, you don’t have to know everything about international relations and diplomacy in order to apply, and even if you do, that’s not necessarily going to make you the best candidate for the scholarship. They’re looking for students from literally all disciplines: in my cohort in Hong Kong we have a fashion design student, a policing student who is a representative cheerleader and a speech pathology student who is a champion at roller derby! Another 2016 scholar got one of his references for the scholarship from a renowned Canberra slam poet. Meeting the other scholars from all around Australia at the end of last year made me feel really honoured to be a part of such a genuinely diverse, fascinating and humble group of young people. What you do need to have is true passion and commitment to whichever field you want to pursue, and a desire for linking that future work within our region. Don’t worry too much if you’ve never been to Asia before and can’t speak an Asian language; what matters more is your dedication to growing as a person and contributing to our society.
Second, it is absolutely true that the scholarship opens up a lot of opportunities for you, but one thing I’ve learnt though is that while other people can hold the door open for you, only you can walk through it. The way I see it, the scholarship won’t do things for you automatically, but it does provide you with affirmation that some people believe you can achieve something, and sometimes knowing that others believe in you is all you need. If you are actively willing to make the most of it during your time abroad, by meeting as many people as possible, being open-minded, and creating possibilities for yourself; I say go for it—apply and you never know, you might just get it!