Interested in studying in Asia? Read this before applying for the $12,000 Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship

What is it?

The Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship is a $12,000 scholarship offered by Westpac Scholars to current undergraduate students looking to spend a semester abroad in Asia. It is made up of a $9,500 stipend, with the remainder going towards a week spent in Shanghai on a leadership development camp (discussed in more detail below).

Westpac Scholars is a gratuity fund of $100m, which is invested and used to fund 100 scholarships to Australians every year. Of these, about 40 scholarships are awarded to students from around Australia travelling to China, Singapore and Hong Kong on exchange.

An important component of the Scholarship is the Shanghai residential. It’s an intense, week-long program based in Shanghai that aims to give a crash course in leadership skills, innovation, Asia literacy and cultural awareness. Every day is packed with guest speaker sessions (with business leaders, journalists and academics), field events (out and about in Shanghai), and “Socratic hours”, where we reflect on our experiences, share our thoughts and sometimes our vulnerabilities. The evenings were spent attending dinners and networking events, including the grand opening of Westpac’s new office in Shanghai Tower.

The remaining $9,500 can be spent however you like, but you will need to outline how you intend to spend it in your application. In my case, I spent a good portion of it on accommodation in Singapore, and the remainder has allowed me to travel throughout South-East Asia during and after my exchange. It’s good to be both creative and specific when completing this part of your application.

The application process
There are really two applications to be made – one for your semester Exchange, submitted through your university and one for the scholarship, submitted through the Westpac Scholars website.

The Asian Exchange application will require you to demonstrate both your experience and your future potential. This scholarship is aimed at undergraduate students, the latter will presumably be given greater weight. However, a strong application would demonstrate a string of achievement and link this to the applicant’s capacity to perform in the future.

Typical interview questions will be about your interest in Asia, why you think Asia is important, and what you plan to do during and after your exchange. You might also be asked general questions about teamwork and resilience.

What the scholarship is about?
Westpac Scholars, though a separate entity from Westpac Banking Corporation, has specific, long-term aims that it wishes to further through its scholarships. Its focuses are Innovation and Technology, Social Entrepreneurship and Asia-Australia ties. It’s important to remember that a scholarship is an investment in you, and you will have to show how you are going to help the Westpac Scholars achieve these aims.

One thing I observed is that almost every scholar has a very specific passion, and often they are very good at explaining it when asked. More importantly, many of them are actively pursuing their interests through research or entrepreneurship. To use real examples, one scholar is developing a company that creates sustainable bioplastics from sugarcane byproduct in Queensland. Another co-founded a social enterprise that helps tackle youth homelessness, and a third scholar is looking at initiatives to increase female participation in STEM. A quick look at the Westpac Scholars website will show you many more of these stories: When completing your application, I would recommend focusing on the one thing you feel most strongly about, and explain how this contributes to the Westpac Scholars’ long term aims.

This scholarship is about potential. It’s not necessary to already have something in the works, but you want to demonstrate enthusiasm for a cause and the initiative to carry it out. The Shanghai residential is one small way of helping scholars realise their potential, and for many of us it was the first step into broadening our horizons and developing a global mindset.

This “global mindset” aspect of my exchange has probably had the most impact on me. When we use the phrase, “It’s a small world”, it’s usually because we find something familiar in a place we didn’t expect. But I think that truly understanding the meaning of the phrase is to embrace the differences everywhere you go, rather than just looking for the things you are familiar with. This scholarship is intended to help you look beyond the (physical and psychological) confines of Australia to see that maybe the countries closest to us aren’t so different after all.

Until meeting other Westpac scholars who live, work and study around the globe, it hadn’t seriously occurred to me that this was something I could do. As Australians, I think we are subject to geographical and cultural isolation from the rest of the world – especially in relation to our Asian neighbours. I think part of this can be attributed to an ‘island mentality’ where we are complacent with the familiar, and dismissive of the unfamiliar. To give an example, Indonesia is geographically one of the closest countries is Australia – closer even than New Zealand. It is one of our most important trading partners. But for most Australians, their experience in Indonesia doesn’t extend beyond Kuta Beach in Bali. Australia and Indonesia could hardly be more different, and I believe Australian engagement with Asian countries like Indonesia has a long way to come. I now look to a future where Australia embraces its Asian characteristics, opening up to its Asian neighbours not just through commerce, but through cultural and interpersonal ties. This is going to require engagement with Asia not just as a tourist or as a business partner, but as an equal and a companion. And for me, when I return home, as a storyteller. When you apply for this scholarship, it’s worth thinking about what you aspire the Asia-Australia relationship to be, and what your role will be in bringing this about.

I learned a lot in the Shanghai residential. But not all of this learning came from the experts we listened to. A lot of what I learned, and continue to learn, came from the other scholars in the W100, the network of Westpac scholars growing in number by 100 people every year. To me, this is probably the most valuable aspect of the Scholarship – having access to a growing group of talented people, from all around Australia, with similar interests to you. And everyone wants to help you – all you have to do is ask!

Because the Asian Exchange Scholarship works with only a few select partner universities, the pool of potential applicants is limited. What this means is that you have a decent chance of being a successful applicant just because of your interest in the region. If you want to travel and study in Asia, you should definitely apply for this scholarship.

Still curious?

For more information about the Scholarship, check out: and