For Australian student Chloe Dempsey, a trip to China in 2012 to work as a volunteer English teacher in rural Sichuan sparked a deep curiosity for the country and its people that would eventually lead her to becoming involved with the Foundation for Australian Studies in China (FASIC), and return to China on a regular basis.
Over the past couple of years, Chloe has assisted with the Australian Studies course at Peking University, working alongside the BHP Chair of Australian Studies, and has also assisted with FASIC’s international conference held in China.
‘Being involved with the Australian Studies program has been an incredibly rich experience, what has been of most value is the unique insight I’ve been able to observe when China’s best and brightest youth put their minds to Australia,’ says Chloe.
‘Seeing students grapple with concepts like multiculturalism, female leadership in politics and the legacy of the Stolen Generation with a uniquely Chinese perspective has lead me to also consider these issues differently.’
Chloe has spent the last 18 months studying in Beijing on exchange from the University Western Australia while undertaking a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, Westpac scholarship and Chinese government funded language program.
Chloe says that it’s hard to pick out a single highlight of the journey so far because she is constantly finding herself in new and challenging situations to learn from. She has recently been involved in the Australia China Youth Dialogue and is also involved with the Australia China Youth Association, programs that have allowed her to build relationships and take part in conversations about the future of Australia-China relations.
There is also the irreplaceable cultural experience and knowledge to come simply from living within a Chinese community and getting to know the people of that community face-to-face.
‘I have spent the last six months living in a traditional Beijing house, which meant my bathroom was shared and public. That was a change that took some time to adjust to, but ended up being an opportunity to engage with a different side of the city,’ says Chloe.
‘I find my expectations and understanding of this country have constantly been changing, not only because of my own preconceptions but also because of the staggering rate of change in China itself.’
While Chloe’s time and experiences in China have been spread across a variety of regions, living environments and occupations, she says she has found that young Chinese people are very open to friendship with their international peers and that the personal relationships she’s developed in China are the most valuable part of her experience so far.
‘I’ve found my time in China has also brought me closer to my Chinese friends in Australia that I met through the Australia China Youth Association, we now have a shared experience of each other’s culture that connects us beyond the surface,’ says Chloe.
As well as providing opportunities for Australian students and academics to study, research and teach in China, and for Chinese students to undertake Australian studies in China at one of the growing number of Australian Studies Centres, FASIC creates opportunities through funding grants for Chinese students and scholars to travel to Australia to conduct research or and complete their PHD and Master’s education.
Chinese researcher and academic, Diane Hu, first joined the Australian Studies Centre at Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2005 and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Centre.
Diane travelled to Australia in 2017 to begin research funded by FASIC into the Australian wine export to China while completing her PHD thesis on mergers and acquisition. Diane believes that FASIC’s programs plays a role in breaking down cultural misconceptions and raising awareness on the increasingly important economic and strategic connections emerging in the Australia-China space.
‘The general public in China should know Australia is a country with many important connections with China, this is where the Australian Studies in China program is very important, we are now slowly seeing its influence make its way to the policy circles in China,’ says Diane.
Diane also points out the significance of both the biannual Australian Studies conferences and the annual FASIC conference that allow Chinese and Australiana scholars to meet face-to-face and consolidate their research.
‘Through these conferences a lot of scholars have formed very strong friendships and also some partnerships between universities have emerged,’ explains Diane.
‘There should be more effort made to do this because at this time Australian and Chinese relations affect both nations strategic and economic interests, so more work has to be done.’
The Australian Studies Program in China has been in place for over 30 years and there are approximately 35 Australian Studies Centres in China. The BHP Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University is a full-time multi-year academic role for a senior Australian Professor to promote Australian Studies in China.
‘If someone in China is interested in learning more about Australia, as Australians, we should do everything that we can to help,’ says FASIC Chairman, Kevin Hobgood-Brown.
‘Throughout my 10 years of involvement, I’ve met many young Chinese scholars who have discovered a whole new world though their study of Australia. Many of these young scholars decide to focus on Australia as a long-term academic focus, or take their appreciation of Australia into their professional lives outside of Academia.’
The Australia Studies in China program is supported by the Australia China Council (ACC). The Australia-China Council was established by the Australian Government in 1978 to promote mutual understanding and foster people-to-people relations between Australia and China.