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Study abroad, exchange and field schools

Gain broad perspectives and an in-depth understanding of China’s economy, politics, and culture.

Funded by the Australian Government's New Colombo Plan, the Suzhou-Shanghai Field School is a three-week intensive program for undergraduate students of various disciplinary backgrounds.

Students visiting Meituan Shanghai office

2019 Field School group visiting e-commerce giant Meituan-Dianping Shanghai office


Our field school offers a rich China experience for students. Featuring language classes and academic lectures, complimented with visits to leading companies and cultural sites, this is an incredible learning opportunity for students of all disciplines.

In 2019, following a day of preparatory lectures in Sydney, students will spend six days in historic Suzhou, based at the University of Sydney’s Centre in China, combining language classes with site visits around the Suzhou Industrial Park, a historic silk factory, and GCL Energy Center - China’s largest automated solar panel factory. We then spend three days in Hangzhou, taking in the National Tea Museum in the picturesque ‘Dragon Well’ district, as well as the high profile IT and e-commerce companies and visits to the cashless concept stores, not to mention historic West Lake. Travelling by high-speed train to Shanghai, students begin with a lecture program in the School of International Affairs at our partner institution Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In Shanghai we will meet a range of government, business and social enterprises, including Australian Consulate General, Austrade, local and international corporations such as Rio Tinto, Baowu Steel Group, Johnson Controls, Meituan, MWE Lawyers, Baldwin Boyle Group and new 020 charity store Buy 42. Staying near the historic former French Concession area, we also explore cultural sites such as the Long Museum and the Powerstation of Art in the rapidly expanding West Bund precinct, and the thriving business district of Liujiazui.

Applications for 2019 field school closed on 22 April.


2019 Field School details


6 senior credit points - Arts elective or Asian Studies. No prerequisite for entry – any undergraduate student who has room for an Arts elective can apply.


All lectures are given in English, and no previous knowledge of Chinese language is required. Chinese language classes are planned based on student competence, usually with two levels, beginner’s and intermediate-advanced.

Fees and scholarships

New Colombo Plan Grant of AUD$3000 will be awarded to successful applicants (intended to support students, but not necessarily cover all costs). OS-HELP loans may be available to eligible students.

Places available

20 eligible students will be awarded the New Colombo Plan scholarships. 


Participation in program site visits and lecture; short oral presentation during the trip; plus a 2000-word research report on a topic relevant to the program, agreed with the field school convenor.

You need to

  • be an Australian citizen
  • have permission from your home faculty
  • have room in your degree for the credit specified
  • be between 18 and 28 years of age on 1 July 2019
  • be able to attend interviews and a day of preparatory lectures
  • have not previously received funding for short-term New Colombo Plan mobility project

Applications close - Monday 22 April 2019

Interviews - 16 and 26 April 2019

5 Jully 2019 - compulsory preparatory lectures on campus

7 July 2019 - travel to China

8 - 27 July 2019 - field school 

2018 Field School Student Experiences

If I were to describe my three-week experience on the Suzhou-Shanghai Field School in a single word, it would be ‘contrast(s)’. As I was lucky enough to learn time and again, inside the classroom and out, under the guidance of Li and Olivier, China was a land of many contrasts.

With the first leg of the trip kicking off in the prosperous commercial hub of Suzhou, we bore witness to the dizzying speed and scale with which the development project had unfolded all over China. While undertaking language and culture classes in the heart of the Suzhou Industrial Park, we learned about the power and promise of the Sino-Singaporean bilateral partnership and strove to forge international networks of our own with fellow university students from across the globe. At the more local level, we were given insights into the competitiveness of the Chinese education industry as we coached local schoolchildren, and courted history and heritage in the UNESCO-listed Tongli Town.

In leafy Hangzhou, we observed the tension between tradition and modernity which struck us as a recurring theme. A fascinating lecture on the history and cultivation of Pu’er and other teas amid undulating tea slopes was contrasted with a staggering testament to the transformative power of Chinese e-commerce in a visit to the Alibaba HQ.

More than any other, the Shanghai leg of the trip embodied ‘contrasts’, with much of the intellectual legwork being done at Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU). Shanghai gave us a candid opportunity to weigh the narratives we had so often heard about China, against our own observations and (short) lived experiences. Outside the classroom, we witnessed both ends of the experiential spectrum. At one end stood the commanding heights of Chinese neo-capitalism, accessed through site visits to Rio Tinto and venture capital firms; at the other end, grassroots social enterprises and barely-concealed poverty embodied in Buy42 and Jinze Town. While the former experiences enabled us to ponder the globalised business landscape in China, the latter allowed us glimpses of China’s lurking social conscience and the reality of widespread inequality to which it responds.

Though such experiences invited reflection, we sometimes found ourselves playing into the city’s seemingly endless contradictions, privileged students as we were. Meditations on the future of Chinese Communism and wealth inequality were un-ironically followed by a Michelin-starred dining experience on the Bund and forays into the heart of Shanghai’s shopping culture on Nanjing Road. Unsurprisingly, it was the more modest, local samplings which proved superior anyway – I found myself much more at home wolfing down freshly-steamed, family-made Baozi (包子) and Yang’s legendary Sheng Jian Bao (生煎包)!

All in all, the Field School was an incredibly rich, multifaceted and once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I credit my desire to one day work in China solely to this trip. I cannot recommend it enough!

The China Studies Centre Suzhou-Shanghai Field Trip was everything I wanted and more. I can’t recommend it enough for someone who wants to understand more about China, its nuances and the role that it will play in our global future.

On the field trip, every day was something new. We travelled to tech companies, law firms, startups and non-for profits discussing the roles that they played in modern China. We also went to historically significant sites where we learnt more about China’s thousands of years of recorded history. Suzhou was our first city; it was where we had our Mandarin lessons, cultural inductions and broached topics of China’s modern and historical Identity. We visited historical sites as well as companies that were pushing the limits of innovation. We experienced many firsts in Suzhou, and as a group we bonded, going out to KTV, the ancient gardens and familiarising ourselves with the local “Family Mart” convenience store. Talking to the Uyghur street food vendors outside our apartment complex and walking along Yangcheng Lake remain cherished memories.

Our stay in Hangzhou, was short but exciting. There we had - my personal favourite - a site visit to the headquarters of the Chinese tech giant Alibaba. The scale and speed that Alibaba is rolling out cutting edge technology across China, like AI and blockchain, is fascinating and astounding. Alibaba’s cash and cashier free stores contrasted the natural beauty of Hangzhou’s famous West Lake and the cultural trips to the tea plantations.

Shanghai was where we spent most of our time, a Chinese city with the allure of a modern international metropolis. There we undertook a course at one of Shanghai’s top universities, Shanghai Jiaotong. We discussed topics ranging from modern China’s economic growth to the recent revival of Confucianism and the government and community reactions to it. Out of the lecture theatre we were in even hotter demand, skyscraper site visits (or as the girls called them, photoshoots), never got tedious as we delved into big business, startup culture, investment opportunities as well as meeting key policy and decision makers from both sides of the South China Sea. We developed a particular routine: first, pick a destination; then proceed to wander through the streets aimlessly for about an hour or so, only to eventually regroup at a Family Mart—and, finally, make our way towards our intended destination. I will forever have memories of walking along the Bund at night, suiting up in the textile markets and enjoying the beautiful views of the city from rooftop bars.

Over the holidays, I was lucky enough to be part of the New Colombo Plan Field School to Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. I was one of a group of 12 students from diverse faculties including engineering, business and law. Over three weeks, our group became like a family, with Li and Olivier from the China Studies Centre becoming our surrogate parents! Not only were Li and Olivier an amazingly supportive presence on the trip, they also put together an itinerary filled with opportunities to experience the new China. We visited the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou and witnessed the development of E-commerce in China, and how it is bringing new opportunities to rural areas which had previously been isolated. We also heard presentations from two startups based in Naked Hub (Shanghai), which is a modern co-working space with locations all over China.

We were warmly welcomed by the University of Sydney Centre in China, located in Suzhou. We started there with intensive Chinese language classes and many of us are keen to continue studying the language after this trip. We also took in some of the sights in Suzhou, such as the historic Tongli Village and Pan Gate. After a two-day interlude in the beautiful city of Hangzhou, we took the high-speed train to Shanghai. We attended a summer program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University on China’s politics, diplomacy and economic development. The program included lectures and cultural activities such as calligraphy and dumpling making. We also enjoyed a visit to Jinze County, which is a small town outside of Shanghai that is undergoing a process of ecological renewal. On our last day we heard engaging talks from the Australian Consulate, the NSW Government office in Shanghai and the Austrade Landing Pad program for Australian businesses in China.

This Field School gave us the opportunity to develop goals and make connections for the future. I am immensely grateful to Li and Olivier and the businesses and other institutions that gave us their time, and of course Sydney University and the New Colombo Plan.

In today’s politically charged climate it is impossible not to have opinions and views on China. In this vein, my academic expectations for this program were focused on understanding many of the controversial geopolitical disputes involving China. Having never visited China before, my other expectations were rather broad, focused on experiencing a new culture.

During the trip, I gained an appreciation and a (very elementary) understanding of the Chinese language through language classes in Suzhou. Also, from the outset of the trip, I was able to indulge in various local cuisines across Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

More importantly, many of the prominent political issues – from Xi Jinping’s role in modern China, to China’s position in the legal disputes of the South China Sea – were tackled from a Chinese perspective. Understanding such perspectives as Australians can only help build rapport between our two countries.

However, it was the unexpected experiences which proved most impactful on my trip. Witnessing the revitalisation of traditional Chinese tea culture alongside the emergence of the new “bubble tea” phenomena helped me consider the diverse inter-generational cultural exchanges occurring in China. Visiting Alibaba and using the app WeChat allowed me to appreciate China’s technological advancements compared to the West and their battles against minor inconveniences – such as the wallet!

Looking forward, I hope these experiences on the NCP will have a significant bearing on the trajectory of my life and stimulate me to visit China again.