Antonia’s Postcard from Shanghai

Antonia Gausachs completed her Bachelor of Arts degree and incorporated a semester of exchange at Fudan University in Shanghai, China supported through the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Grant. Antonia is currently studying a Masters in Public Policy and Management at Melbourne and shares her undergraduate exchange experience with us.

Why did you choose the institution and location of your overseas program?      

I have always been fascinated by Chinese history, food and culture. I have not only studied Mandarin Chinese since middle school but have also found China to be a reoccurring theme throughout my studies; always at the heart of all my interests. Ultimately, I chose to do a semester abroad in China to experience first-hand what all the buzz was about. For the institution, I gravitated towards Fudan University as I wanted to study in Shanghai and this institution is one of the most academically regarded in my areas of study. By choosing an institution of high regard, I hoped to study alongside students who are passionate and excited about their studies at Fudan University. This student eagerness to be on campus and to embrace the opportunity certainly rang true and made for a very refreshing university campus experience.

What was your experience when you first arrived at your overseas study program? Was this different to what you expected?             

It was quite different. I think I had this preconceived idea that exchange would be like a pre-organised school ‘field trip’. Instead, when I arrived at the airport, it instantly became clear that I was responsible for organising and directing my exchange experience. After the first few days of adjusting to this, I had a mental shift in attitude in which I no longer had expectations. Instead, I would just enjoy whatever came my way and lean into the excitement.

What was your biggest culture shock moment?

Food was a big culture shock. Beyond the excitement of going out to places and trying every kind of novelty food, like boiled chicken feet, it became very difficult to shop for groceries. At some point, I really wanted food I was familiar with rather than trying a novelty food all the time. Mundane eating became quite a challenge, and sometimes it was difficult to get fresh ingredients to fuel my busy days.

What was the highlight of your overseas program?        

It’s hard to just pick one as it was truly the best six months of my life. A definite highlight was the opportunity to travel, either with friends or solo, to every corner of one of the most diverse countries in the world. I was lucky enough to visit beautiful mountain ranges, rice fields and ride through ancient towns and remote villages on my bike. There were so many times where I had moments of “wow, this is living”. Travelling with friends was also extremely rewarding. We are still in regular contact and have visited each other in different countries.

What is the one piece of advice or tip you wish you had known before you went on your overseas program?        

To triple check your exchange credits and the subjects you are planning to take while on exchange. It was difficult to get subject information in English while I was still in Melbourne. I wish I had spent more time planning how exchange would fit into my degree before I left and communicating this information with the University of Melbourne.

How did your New Colombo Plan Grant support you to make the most of your time on exchange?

Receiving a New Colombo Plan grant provided me with a layer of reassurance that enabled me to say “yes” to more and ultimately get more out of my exchange experience. During my semester abroad at Fudan University in China, I encountered many opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone. These experiences led to the greatest highlights of my time abroad and were, to a large extent, made possible by the extra support provided by the New Colombo Plan grant. The added support made my exchange semester feel like an experience I had to make the most of, as there was no good reason not to!

What is next for you?

I am currently studying the Master of Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne. After such an overwhelmingly positive and enthralling experience in China, my future outlook and mindset have permanently shifted – I have a newfound appreciation for invaluable global opportunities, like exchange, which allow me to immerse myself in a new culture. Since my exchange, I have spent many months travelling overseas exploring other corners of the world, in the pursuit of similar experiences.