Editor's note: Ever wondered what it’s like to study abroad? ANU Law student ambassador Cherish Tay gives us the low-down on her adventures and experiences studying in Taiwan in her new blog series.
By Cherish Tay (student ambassador)
Every year, the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP) selects 125 scholars from Australian universities to live, study and work in the Indo-Pacific region.
With a plan to study abroad, learn the language and undertake an internship in one or more countries, young Australians are flung out to the continent with their rucksacks, wits and academic passions.
In so doing, they not only acquaint themselves with a different place and way of life, but also forge personal and professional ties across the region that last into the future.
I am a NCP scholar and this has led me to study in Taiwan.
Soon I will be studying democracy in East Asia at the intersection of queer studies, immigration and legal responsiveness.
Here are my top five tips for preparing your NCP application.
1. Know the NCP strategic objectives and outcomes
… and make sure you and your program deliver those outcomes.
Even two years on from writing my application, I can still remember the key phrases of some of the strategic goals – that’s how much I talked about them.
Phrases like, ‘people-to-people relationships’ and ‘lifting knowledge in the Indo-Pacific region’ may sound like bureaucratic buzzwords, but in reality using them demonstrates that you have actually read and engaged with the application guidelines and know what they are looking for.
However, it’s not enough to merely read the criteria that is freely available to anyone who looks on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website; you also have to show how you will personally deliver on them.
This means giving specific examples of things you will do in the future, as well as backing it up with past experiences that have equipped you to meet these goals.
This is the number one most important thing to think about and should be the underlying narrative throughout your written responses and interview. Ultimately, your application is decided along this criteria, so the more you talk about how you will meet those goals, the better.
2. Think about what you have to offer Australia
The NCP scholarship is an initiative of the Australian Government, and it makes sense that they are making this investment into bright, young Australians with the expectation that you’ll deliver something great in return. It’s therefore a good idea to think about your proposed program in terms of the bigger picture of Australia’s position in the Indo-Pacific. Ask yourself these questions:
Why should the Australian Government fund your project? Is it useful for Australia’s interests in the region?
What will you achieve while you are overseas? What knowledge will you bring back?
Upon your return to Australia, how will you share and make the most of that knowledge?
I know that it may seem far-fetched at the application stage to be jumping to conclusions about what you will learn overseas, but with detailed planning and a close understanding of your host location you can make your application seem much more tangible and compelling.
3. Find referees who know your interests
Don’t leave this to the last minute! Other people need time to write referee reports, so you should get in contact with who you want to recommend you as early as possible.
In the first instance, give them a succinct summary of your project and why you’re planning to go overseas in a timely manner. The referee report is not only about verifying academic ability; it should also affirm your passion for the region and your overall good character. Therefore, you and your referees should be on the same page about what you are doing overseas.
Finally, punctuality matters. You’re the one applying, so you need to make sure that their reports are submitted on time.
4. Use ‘NCP language’ in your application
Be mindful of the terms you use in your application. You may have noticed throughout this article I’ve been using specific NCP terminology, from ‘host location’ to ‘proposed project’. This may not seem that important, but even using ‘Indo-Pacific’ instead of ‘Asia-Pacific’ shows that you know how Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) refers to the region.
These types of phrases not only show that you have read the criteria and the DFAT website (a must!), but also that you are sensitive to the geo-political implications of the terminology you use.
This is important as DFAT is the diplomatic arm of the Australian Government and as a scholar your words and actions impact Australia’s reputation internationally.
5. Be passionate!
Last, and definitely not least, make sure you show how passionate you are about your project! Whether it’s through your past engagement with the issues at hand or any experience you’ve had in the location you are proposing to go to, let your own perspective come through.
This will let the panellists know that you have a genuine interest in the region and will follow through with what you are proposing to do - just by virtue of being so keen.
Also, don’t underestimate how energising and persuasive it is to see someone talk about something they are truly passionate about. Making sure to pursue a project that you really would do, regardless of whether you had this prestigious scholarship or not (funding allowing), is the best way to know whether you are doing something you are passionate about.
Be sure to let your enthusiasm shine through!