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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, 17 students spent three-week field school in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

The trip began with six days in historic Suzhou at the University of Sydney’s Centre in China, where the students combined Chinese language classes with visits to cultural sites such as Suzhou Museum, businesses like tourism giant Tongcheng and GCL Energy Center (one of China’s largest solar panel manufacturers), as well as traditional opera in the UNESCO heritage-listed Master of the Nets gardens.

The group then headed to Hangzhou to sip tea and discuss Buddhism with the generous monks at Lingyin Temple, visit a high-profile e-commerce company, NetEase, and enjoy stunning views around the historic West Lake.

Travelling by high-speed train to Shanghai, the students undertook a five-day program with the School of International Affairs at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. We also made many site visits to get a better sense of the full spectrum of contemporary Chinese business and culture in Shanghai, as well as a look into the China-Australia bilateral relationship. The site visits included Austrade, the Australian Consulate, Rio Tinto, Baowu Steel Group, Johnson Controls, e-commerce innovators Meituan-Dianping, MWE Lawyers, Baldwin Boyle Group, and the new O2O charity store Buy 42.

The group also met with an Australian journalist and a long-term expat restaurateur, to hear personal informed perspectives; as well as catching up with the new face of Shanghai along the West Bund arts precinct and in the thriving business district of Liujiazui.

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 

2019 Field School Student Experiences

China: a dichotomous fusion of modernity and tradition.

The chaos of the overpopulated cities, neon lights, and interesting smells reflect the differing culture between this Eastern country and our Australian homes. 

The Shanghai-Suzhou field school was one where I was able to grasp the extraordinary history, present and future of a nation that preserves. It is easy to get caught up in the narrative of the mainstream Western media, but it is not until you travel to China and experience the country firsthand that you realise the nuance and thought that you need to apply to every waking moment. 

We started off the trip in Suzhou where the group either began their Chinese language journey, or built upon their pre-existing knowledge. Travelling to Hangzhou with our newfound Chinese skills, we explored the gorgeous lakeside city that is the subject of many poems and artworks, and for good reason! 

In Shanghai, we were lucky enough to study at Jiao Tong University where we attended lectures on Chinese history, politics, and culture. The classroom lessons supplemented our real world learning perfectly. We were able to contextualise our visits to cultural sites, understand the role of the government in Chinese and foreign companies, and learn more about Australia’s relationship with China during our visit to the Australian Embassy. 

The cultural activities were an absolute highlight, from visits to art galleries to dining in a Michelin star restaurant, our fan painting skills even managed to make its way into a local Chinese newspaper. 

The group became our family as we embarked on this adventure together, with Li and Olivier being an endless source of knowledge as well as providing the support we needed. 

This trip was a once in a life time experience that allowed me to understand China in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the myriad of experiences we were afforded. 

If you get the chance, be sure to go on the Shanghai-Suzhou field school, you definitely won’t regret it. 

It was a late afternoon in Suzhou. I was mesmerised by the historic canals, where boats lazily cruised its turbid, slow-moving waters. It was a brief moment of tranquillity before I was quickly swept back up into the roaring energy of the street markets where the movement of tourists was constant, and the voice of shopkeepers amplified on crackly microphones.

The scene was a total contrast to the industrial zones we had toured earlier in the day, for example the facility where we learned how Tongcheng Tourism is harnessing machine-learning technologies to manage the travel itineraries of up to three million customers at any one time.

In Hangzhou, we had the opportunity to learn about China from a social perspective. For example, at Lingyin Temple we met with Buddhist monks and discussed how the tradition of Chan Buddhism is being affected by the forces of rapid change. It was intriguing to see the pragmatic way in which the spiritual leaders are accepting and responding to their religious site’s popularisation among tourists. Likewise, at the major internet technology company, NetEase, I was fascinated to discover how e-commerce was transforming social life, through a discussion with web designers about the effects that e-commerce expansion is having on rural China.

After Suzhou and Hangzhou, Shanghai felt like a rupture – a buzzing vortex of shiny, modern and unapologetic consumerism. It appeared familiar in many ways: the Manhattan-esque city was aesthetically Western; the streetscape of Jiao Tong University was recognisably modern; and the commercial sightseeing we undertook was all comprehensible.

But there were definitely some common threads that connected Shanghai to the cities we visited earlier, such as the mini revolutions sweeping most spheres of activity. At the state-owned enterprise, Baowu Steel Group, established in the Deng Xiaoping era, I was intrigued to learn how the steel-producing giant was now gradually nudging its capital towards the start-up and innovation realms.

Overall, the field school offered a new lens for understanding China, challenging stereotypes and popular imaginations. This undoubtedly made it one of the most important experiences of my undergraduate education.

They often say that you do not really learn until you are out of your comfort zone. That was certainly the case for me with the Suzhou-Shanghai Field School. The field trip was challenging but also one of the most rewarding units of study I have done. Here is an assortment of fond memories:

− Strolling around the Bund area in Shanghai on two balmy summer nights, when all the colonial buildings and modern architecture across the water were lit up with colourful lights. Truly beautiful!

− Putting my rudimentary Mandarin into practice while ordering food at various places and picking up new phrases from locals.

− An entertaining and captivating lecture from a British political history professor in Suzhou about contemporary Chinese political history.

− Visiting Buddhist temples. Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou was so fun to explore – it was nestled in leafy mountains, with Buddhist statues semi‑hidden everywhere. The temple was fascinating and the Buddhist monks’ talk with us was so informative.

− Talks from a journalist, a chef and a diplomat, among many others. I enjoyed hearing how they deal with differences between Chinese and Australian cultures, and their opinions on Chinese politics.

Being thoroughly immersed in China for three weeks was an unparalleled learning experience. I would highly recommend the field trip if you are craving some adventure and/or high-quality bubble tea!

I want to acknowledge the University of Sydney and the generous New Colombo Plan scholarships that made this experience possible.

I consider myself privileged to have been a part of the 2019 New Colombo Plan Suzhou-Shanghai Field School, which was, without a doubt, the best trip I have ever been on. As a combination of rigorous academic study and free exploration of Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai, it could not have been more fulfilling.

Our stay in Suzhou Industrial Park began with three days of intensive Chinese language lessons. This was a great way for advanced speakers to pick up new skills (including mahjong!) and for beginner speakers to be introduced to the language. Our lăoshī (teacher) was so friendly and willing to share her knowledge. This was a priceless opportunity to start learning the language and practise what we would later use on a daily basis.

The other learning component were the lectures (three before the field school and 13 during) given by several professors and postdoctoral researchers, mostly at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Our minds were challenged and we were encouraged to question and discuss pertinent issues, such as the relationship between China and Taiwan.

We visited many sites of cultural, governmental and commercial significance, including Soochow University, GCL Energy Centre, NetEase, China National Tea Museum, MWE China Law Offices, DFAT, Austrade, Tongli Town, West Lake, Lion Grove Garden and Lingyin Temple. We also participated in a variety of cultural activities: fan-painting, calligraphy and dumpling-making.

A significant part of the field school was free time. We ate out at restaurants (Xinjiang noodles!), walked countless streets, shopped, and visited FamilyMart too many times. Some memorable things were the taxi conversations, karaoke in Shanghai and nightlife on the Bund.

I found the field school so immersive and eye-opening that I decided to change one of my majors to Chinese Studies. I also loved making great friends along the way.

Fēichang găn xie!

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.