ISLP International Relations and Diplomacy delegation: South Africa v. China

Last month I spent nearly two weeks traipsing around China as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program’s International Relations and Diplomacy delegation. For those who remember, last year I went on this same delegation, but to South Africa.

As I’ve previously written about my experiences in South Africa as part of the International Scholar Laureate Program, I thought it would be worth comparing the my experiences in both China and South Africa for any future scholars.

China

My goodness, the China delegation is so tightly packed that you will be exhausted by the end of it. But it is absolutely worth it. You get to explore three Chinese cities – Xi’an, Beijing and Shanghai – and see past, present and future China respectively.

We had some really interesting talks from NGOs, government officials, think tank researchers, university lecturers. We even visited the Polish Embassy in Beijing! As someone who wants to break into diplomacy, this provides valuable insight into the world of international affairs.

I do however recommend critically analysing the content that government officials say, as you would in any country. But keep in mind that China adopts the culture of “saving/keeping face” – so consider the language you use if you feel like voicing your opinions.

Then there was the fun stuff… we visited the Great Wall and took sweaty selfies, the terracotta warrior army of Xi’an (which is still being excavated!), we attended a cheesy kung fu show and intense acrobatic show in Shanghai. There are also multiple additional excursions that you can choose to opt into at an additional cost, which isn’t really touched upon in the pre-departure information.

A different angle of the Forbidden City 🇨🇳

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The Diplomacy delegation to China is one of the largest programs run by Envision. In 2017 we had approximately 80 scholars, with other delegations (nursing, engineering, business etc.) there were 210 of us in China at once. That means no time for dilly dallying or you’ll get left behind.

 

South Africa 

If you prefer a more relaxed approach to your study tours, the South African delegation is definitely the way to go. Fewer people choose to attend the South Africa delegation (there were about 20 of us in 2016), meaning that there is a greater chance of flexibility in the schedule. For example, I was super interested in visiting the International Criminal Court, where crimes committed under apartheid were trialed. This wasn’t in the original schedule, but I mentioned it to our guide and he arranged a visit – we just had to start the day half an hour earlier.

Constitutional Court, Johannesburg

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A large portion of this trip is focused on learning about the historical context of apartheid in South Africa, its implications and moving forward to seek justice and reconciliation. This is a really moving topic, and can really affect you if you’re empathetic to hearing about these stories. Visiting the apartheid museum puts things into perspective and will probably make you cry.

One thing I found really refreshing about South Africa is how aware everyone is of current affairs and the political climate. Everyone seems to be well-versed in these issues and have really interesting conversations and debates about them.

A big bonus if you choose to head to South Africa is the optional cultural extension – you’ll spend two days on safari searching for the “big five”:  the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros.

Our large friend at Kruger National Park #travelthrowback #safarisnaps

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The watering hole outside our rest stop to Kruger

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In short, both the China and South African International Relations and Diplomacy delegations are incredible experiences and they are what you choose to make of them. You’ll meet a lot of interesting and passionate people – whether they’re speakers, university students, members of the delegation or even people you meet on the street. Each delegation will teach you about a different area of international affairs and you’ll learn an incredible amount in such a short period of time through experiential learning. While no study abroad tour is 100% perfect, I would still absolutely recommend experiences such as these – textbooks and internet searches can only teach you so much.

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Lovebirds: exploring Chinese farmer painting in Xi’an

Nansuo Village in rural Xi’an is famous for Chinese farmer painting – a unique art form that utilises a calligraphy brush and ink to replicate natural images such as bamboo, peonies and lovebirds. As this artform doesn’t involve erasing any mistakes, each painting must be perfect from start to finish and takes artists many years to master.

Today, myself and 70 international scholars from the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Latin America have been invited to Nansuo Village to learn more about the intricate details involved in traditional Chinese painting.

An elderly farmer leads us down the dirt roads to his courtyard. This man is Mr Jiang, a Chinese farmer and renowned painter in the Chinese farmer painting circles.

As we walk the streets, we pass multiple colourful murals depicting smiling children and village life.

We enter through the large traditional Chinese gates and line the path of his courtyard to watch as the local villagers put on a traditional welcoming ceremony.

First comes the crashing of symbols; a group of three women set the scene with great gusto. One woman steps into a dragon boat costume, pulling the straps up over her shoulders and makes her way down the path, swaying in time to the music.

Next, two smiling papier-mâché masked characters dance down the aisle, twirling and curtseying to the audience.

As the performance continues, I notice a group of villagers and their young children have gathered at the entrance to the courtyard and are clapping along to the familiar rhythm.

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Nansuo villagers perform a traditional dragon dance


The music ends and soon five young women dressed in the same green silk suits pick up the sticks of a five-metre-long dragon puppet, ready to impress their international guests. The symbols start up again, this time with the addition of a large hand drum. The women run up and down the aisle, twisting and turning the body of the dragon to give the illusion of flight. The red and gold dragon is restless, and snaps its jaws at the crowd. One girl in front of the dragon is startled, until she remembers that it’s being controlled by the five women, and laughs it off.

The drummer speeds up his tempo, the symbols crash together even louder, and the dragon moves faster and faster, doubling back on itself to create a red figure-of-eight.

Finally, the performance comes to an end, and the scholars are invited to the second floor of Mr Jiang’s house, which serves as his art studio and showroom.

“So, the performance just now we performed in my courtyard is for the big holidays, traditional Chinese holidays or the occasions when we are welcoming distinguished guests from far away,” Mr Jiang explains with the assistance of an interpreter.

“I feel very happy and honoured for you to come and visit my farm, the village, and my family,” he continues.

“Our village has a population of 900 people and the agricultural area is more than 1000 mu” (which equates to approximately 666 square kilometres).

“Our people grow a lot of wheat and corn. Some of the families grow fruit and vegetables. In the agricultural seasons, we all work in the farms but in our spare time we will go and work as the labourers.

Mr Jiang explains that Nansuo village was established during the Qing dynasty from 1644 to 1912.

“This area was the back garden of the Qing emperor and with the growing of the populations, more people moved to this area and we filled the pond so we could start to grow things in the farms.

“There are four villages surrounding the four sides of the garden. Our village is on the south side of the imperial gardens and we call it the South village.”

When asked how long he has lived in the village, Mr Jiang replies: “my family always lived in this village and for so many generations it is hard to remember”.

Mr Jiang begins to paint – dipping his calligraphy brush into pigmented ink and dabbing it on the page repeatedly; creating delicate pink flower petals.

As the calligraphy brush moves across the page, the pink flower petals receive stems and leaves.

Mr Jiang explains that he is painting peonies, as they are renowned in China as being the favourite flower of Chinese emperors because they symbolise prosperity and happiness.

china2.jpgMr Jiang’s first strokes

Mr Jiang sets down his calligraphy brush and explains how he got into the Chinese farmer painting movement.

“I’m just a local farmer and I have worked in the farms for a long time. I’m a farmer but also an artist. Painting is my hobby and since I was a child I loved painting so much.

“At that time, I had a big wish that I would go to college and have further education and become a professional artist.”

But Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 had severe consequences on Mr Jiang, and many other aspiring artists.

“When I graduated from junior high school, the Cultural Revolution burst out. As a kid of a low-ranked official in the national army I had no chance to further my education.”

The stated goal of the Cultural Revolution was to eliminate existing traditional influences and replace them with Mao-ist ideologies.

“At that time, the students needed to be recommended to continue their education. But as a kid from this background I had to drop out,” Mr Jiang explains.

Despite the Cultural Revolution, in 1973, Mr Jiang had the opportunity to join a farmer’s painting club and fulfilled his dream of creating traditional art.

“At that time, a lot of professors and painters from universities of Xi’an came to this village and I had a chance to study and learn from them.

“Through years of study I created so many different artworks and many of my works had won a lot of prizes in domestic and international awards and some of my paintings were collected by public exhibitions.

“Now I’m the vice chairman of the committee of the Pu Shen farmers painting and in my spare time I like to teach the students too.

“I had two exhibitions in Minnesota in the United States in 2000 and 2009. My exhibitions there were very successful.

“I made a lot of friends with Americans and they love my paintings very much. I’m very happy to see my paintings collected by them and hung on the wall or given as a gift to their friends.

Mr Jiang picks up his calligraphy brush and paints two grey lovebirds perched on the peony branches. As he does so, Francis, our interpreter, provides us with some background on traditional Chinese painting.

“In China, there are four treasures for artists – the first is the brush. Normally it’s like a bamboo stake with the fur from a wolf or goat, or sometimes the whiskers of a mouse.

“The second is the rice paper. The Chinese invented paper – it’s one of the four greatest inventions invented by the Chinese. The best paper for paint and writing calligraphy is rice paper. The best rice paper can last for thousands of years, and the rice paper holds the ink very well – that’s why painters like to use the rice paper.

“The third and fourth things are the ink and the ink stone. Of course, we don’t use ink stones anymore – just liquid ink,” Francis explains.

Mr Jiang changes to black ink and leans over the rice paper, carefully writing the Chinese characters for ‘lovebirds’ in his elegant script, as Francis continues her explanation of traditional Chinese artwork.

“If you look at a Chinese painting there are four elements. Firstly, you need to look at the painting itself – the contents. Second, in the corner of the painting you will see a sentence written in Chinese calligraphy. This sentence tells you the meaning of the painting. A second sentence will tell you where and when it was painted. The last thing will be the artist’s seal.

“Chinese oil paintings try to paint a scene to replicate nature – just like taking a photograph. Chinese paintings try to absorb the feeling of the thing.

“The artist will observe the subject, for example bamboo, for many years so he starts to know the growth of bamboo in four different seasons. After so many years of observations, suddenly the artist will become enlightened and come back into the studio to finish the painting within five minutes with no corrections.

The students watch silently as Mr Jiang holds his stamp up to the light and rotates it to the perfect angle, before firmly pressing the seal onto the rice paper, leaving behind a perfect red character.

In less than 15 minutes, a scene of two love birds sitting on a peony bush has been recreated on rice paper.

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Mr Jiang’s final artwork

“Mr Jiang can finish the painting quickly now, but it took him many years to get to this point. He doesn’t like the sketch work where you can use erasers to remove your mistakes and repaint again. You don’t do that – you just finish the painting in one time,” Francis tells the awestruck group.

Mr Jiang’s self-discipline is evident in his artwork – each stroke is intentional and adds to the beauty of his work. It seems that years of perseverance and hard work has lead him to this point.

In the age of emerging digital artwork, there is something intrinsically simple and beautiful about this traditional approach to art.

If art is intended to replicate the complexities of life, perhaps we can learn something from Mr Jiang.

By carefully considering what is around us and learning to be intentional with our actions, we can create a beautiful life that we’re proud of.

Two weeks in South Africa

In May I travelled to South Africa as a part of the International Scholar Laureate Program Delegation on International Relations and Diplomacy (it’s not nearly as pretentious as it sounds!). Thanks to the generous donations from family, friends and the Mount Barker District Council, a partial scholarship from ISLP and utilising the OS-HELP loan system I was able to pay tuition fees and air fares.

I spent two incredible weeks visiting universities and organisations working towards making South Africa a better place. The trip included a number of visits, including: the Apartheid Museum; Constitutional Court (at my suggestion); The Valley of 1000 Hills; the US embassy in Pretoria; the Afro-Middle East Centre; and ACCORD. When the main program was complete we travelled to Kruger National Park and spent two days on safari – which has been on my bucket list for ages!

I thought I’d share a few things I learned while on my journey:

  • Australia is really behind in the equal rights movement.
    Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 1994 and no-one blinks an eye at it. We are twenty-two years behind South Africa in this area.
  • Some people are over Nelson Mandela.
    When we visited universities, we met students who claimed they were sick of the way that Mandela has been hailed as a messiah figure in media. At the end of the day, he was a very good politician who knew how to rally the people.
  • In SA it is acceptable to use the terms black, white and coloured…
    This felt really weird to hear on a regular basis.
  • Durban is beautiful, but the beaches are covered in debris.
    Litter is a big problem 😦
  • Bunny chow does not contain actual bunnies.
    It’s just a quirky name for a delicious curry-filled loaf of bread. Mmmm

If you’re interested in the International Scholar Laureate Program, click here.

How to fund your study overseas despite being a broke uni student

So you’re a broke uni student dreaming of travelling overseas, but don’t have the funds? I’ve applied for multiple scholarships, loans and grants for my trips to Japan (and soon South Africa). I guess you could say I’m somewhat of an expert at finding money (or just stubborn) to pay for my travels. Here’s a list I’ve compiled of ways to get your vital funds…

OS-HELP loans

As a university student you are eligible to receive two OS-HELP loans that gets added to your HECS-HELP debt. Remember, this is a LOAN, so you are required to pay it back later through the tax system. However, you don’t get charged interest on this like you would if you took out a bank loan.

The maximum amount you can borrow in 2016 for a six-month study period is:

  • $6,470 (if you will not be studying in Asia); or
  • $7,764 if you will be studying in Asia; and
  • an additional $1,035 if you will be undertaking Asian language study in preparation for study in Asia.

Since each student can only take out two loans (regardless of the amount), I chose to borrow the full amount I was able to each time. Be sure to choose what amount works best for your financial needs.

Travel grants and scholarship opportunities

Many universities offer travel grants to students planning to complete part of their studies with a partner university overseas. My university has travel grants for full semester exchanges, short term exchanges and study tours. Check with your financial and/or student exchange services administrators what you are eligible for.

If you are member of the Golden Key Honour Society you can apply for certain scholarships on their website. These are very competetive and are open to university students from around the world, so I would recommend a back-up plan.

New Colombo Plan (study in Asian countries)

The New Colombo Plan is an initiative of the Australian government to send students to Asian countries as part of their tertiary studies. If you wish to study or take part in a Hawke Ambassador project in an Asian country the Australian government may subsidise some of your costs. Ask your student exchange coordinator for more information.

I received a $7000 scholarship to study in Japan and one of my classmates received a $5000 scholarship to undertake a Hawke Ambassador Project in Indonesia as part of the New Colombo Plan.

JASSO scholarship (Japan)

If you apply to study a Japanese language program in Japan you may be eligible for the JASSO scholarship awarded to high achieving students. JASSO scholarship recipients receive 80,000 yen each month, paid by the Japanese government.

As far as I’m aware recipients do not need to apply directly for this, your eligibility is determined when you apply for your studies at the host university.

It is possible to receive both the JASSO scholarship and New Colombo Plan scholarship at the same time as they are initiatives of the Japanese and Australian governments, respectively.

Crowdfunding

If you have really supportive friends and family you can try launching a crowdfunding campaign on websites like OzCrowd, Patreon or Go Fund Me and ask them to donate.

Be aware that a lot of people you know may be in a similiar financial situation to you and can’t donate, regardless of how much they want to help you.

Good luck with funding your study abroad ventures! 

South Africa update

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In February I asked for support from friends and family to help me raise funds to pay the deposit for an International Relations and Diplomacy Delegation to South Africa as part of the International Scholar Laureate. My goal was $900.

An unbelievable $1000 was pledged to my campaign – thank you to Ally, Kay, Dee, Pauline, Blake, Andrew and Nick … for donating.

I have successfully registered my application and paid for the trip deposit. I could not have done this without the support of these generous people.

I am currently raising funds to help cover the cost of the rest of the trip – broken down into:

  • Tuition: USD $3395 /AUD $4750
  • Air fare: approx. AUD $1500

I understand that it is not fair to expect to receive financial support from others. That is why I only ask you to consider donating if you are able to financially. I plan to approach organisations in my area to request sponsorships, apply for travel grants and sponsorships and, as a last resort, take out a personal loan to cover the rest of the expenses.

I truly am so grateful to the people who have helped me with this fundraising campaign, or shown me support even when they are unable to contribute financially.

LINKS TO INFORMATION

Current fundraising campaign

Information on the Delegation to SA

Previous campaign

Help a stubborn student travel to SA?

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Earlier this month I was invited to attend an International Relations and Diplomacy Delegation in South Africa as part of the Scholar Laureate program. The delegation takes place in May 2016, and participants fund their own way there.

Unfortunately my current financial situation makes this impossible for me to do unassisted at the present time.

Through stubbornness and sheer determination I’ve not given up on this dream just yet…

I’ve started a crowdfunding page through OzCrowd to help raise funds for my deposit ($549 USD/$775 AUD). I plan for the rest of my tuition for this will come from future employment, loans or additional crowdfunding once I get approval.

If you would like information on how to help by donating, please click here.

If you would like information on the delegation I’ve been invited to be part of, please click here.

Donations close on March 1st, 2016. If the target of $900 AUD is not met, the money will be returned to those who donated. Thank you in advance to anyone who has chosen to help me.

Throwback Travels: India and the ugly topic of sexual harassment

This post was originally published on my previous blog this pink is the new black on Sunday, June 24, 2012

India: the ugly topic of sexual harassment

Oh my goodness – I’ve just come from Delhi to Adelaide, resulting in a four hour time difference, and a forty degree temperature difference. I’ve gone from 45 to 5 degrees Celsius and my body is not liking it!

In this blog post I’ll be addressing the serious issue of sexual harassment in what I would potentially call the “ugly” side of Indian society. Being a young, white female I am perceived by a lot of men in India as “easy”. I blame Hollywood film culture for this portrayal, but that’s probably just my prejudiced nature towards the American film industry. Of course, not all men are like this, I have met a number of lovely males, but the number of occasions that myself and other volunteers were harassed by locals was phenomenal, and I believe that this issue needs addressing.

Main cities were the major locations of harassment. A number of men would grab their crotch as we’d walk past, raise an eyebrow, make kissy noises in our direction or just make an offensive comment. Some of the other girls would be subjected to groping (I myself got felt up on the Delhi metro), and in one instance a girl was kissed in the street by a random passerby! It would seem that there are no boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

I’d like to draw attention to two personal examples (of the many incidents) of sexual harassment that happened to me, which really could have turned out worse.

1. In Manali a group of us were staying in a hotel together. Everyone else had gone out for celebratory birthday drinks, and I stayed back at our room because I was ill. We had arranged to sort out all the paperwork the next morning. When I am ill, I tend to be a very sound sleeper, I generally won’t wake up for anything. Knowing this, I naively left the door unlocked with the intention of the girls being able to let themselves in, so they wouldn’t be locked out as I slept through their knocking. In the early morning hours (I’m guessing around one or two) a man let himself into my bedroom, turned on the light and sat on the edge of my bed. Knowing something was wrong, I begrudgingly woke up and found myself face-to-face with a man I had never seen before, claiming to be one of the owners of the hotel (he actually was, but that wasn’t the point). As he introduced himself I could smell beer on him. I explained that we’d spoken to someone who  said we could sort out the paperwork tomorrow. He continued talking to me and helped himself to my kindle, which he looked through without asking. He then turned to me and asked if I’d like him to leave, or if I’d like his company (I later figured out what he really meant). I politely explained that he let himself into my room while I was sleeping and woke me up and asked that he’d leave. Before doing so he took the liberty of kissing me on the cheek, leaving me in shock for the next few minutes as I tried to comprehend what had just happened.

2. Whilst we were in Amritsar (location of the Golden Temple) we visited the communal kitchen, or the Guru-Ka-Langar for dinner. This dining hall feeds between 60,000 and 80,000 pilgrims per day, and with our luck ended up there at peak dinner hour. We were in a crowd in literally about a thousand people (luckily we  were near the front) all waiting to be fed. We were all packed in tightly. Behind me was one man who thought that it was okay to rub up against me from behind and readjust himself. He also tried to get pretty close, attempting to wrap his legs around mine – he recoiled when I stamped on his foot. Then with his metal plate started fanning himself, hitting me on the head with it at the same time. When I turned around to scold him, he looked at me as if to say “well, what do you want?”

My point is, to many men Western women are merely sexual idols – simply objects for their enjoyment; hence the rude language and unwanted advances. Compared to others, I didn’t have it too badly, but I won’t go into that. Some men are prone to sexual harassment also – one of the boys I met was felt up on a train. Unfortunately there are many instances of sexual harassment that a lot of people get away with; and not just foreigners travelling in India. Sexual harassment is a serious issue that happens under a number of circumstances worldwide. Sometimes it happens too quickly for you to react.

The unfortunate part about sexual harassment in India is that the victim is often the one shamed, not the culprit. India needs to reverse this concept of victim-blaming, and instill the idea that sexual harassment is not acceptable under any circumstances, and should not be taken lightheartedly.

Down with sexual harassment, and down with victim blaming!

Throwback travels: India faux pas

This was originally posted on my previous blog this pink is the new black on Monday, June 25, 2012.

India: Faux pas

My time in India was characterized by a large number of misunderstandings. Having not learned Hindi, I was at a disadvantage. Whilst the schools I taught at were English medium schools – I could usually have proper conversations with my students, when I stepped out of the campus and into the village I was at a loss. Shivpuri, the location of my first teaching placement was in a sense fairly rural. The nearest big town Gwalior was a two hour bus ride away. The locals all spoke Hindi, with a very limited English vocabulary in most cases.

I’d like to share with you a story that I refer to as the infamous 15 loaves incident – Whilst Liv was still at our placement, she and I decided to attempt braving the street stalls of Shivpuri to do our food shopping. We visited one shop where we bought most of the food that we needed (butter, bread, juice etc.) The shop owner (who didn’t speak enough English to formulate a full sentence) announced “15” when we asked for some bread, which we assumed to be the price in Indian rupees. What he actually meant was that he wanted to sell us 15 loaves of bread, which he didn’t bring out until later. We paid for our groceries, which the shop owner insisted that we were to leave at the shop while we bought fruit across the road. Our driver had organised a rickshaw to take us back to the school, and had put our shopping into the rickshaw. As the rickshaw drove off I noticed a large box of bread sitting beside me and then it hit me – the shopkeeper meant 15 loaves, not 15 rupees! Too hot and tired from our endeavor to return (It was about 42 degrees) we took the bread home, laughing at our misunderstanding. It cost us just over $3 AUD, and we did make our way through most of loaves, or gave them away.

Another problem that we encountered was to comply with the social etiquette and customs that apply in Indian culture.

In India it is common practice to refrain from using your left hand to eat food, as in the lower castes the left is used for toilet purposes and any similar dirty jobs. For this reason when a severe crime or theft was committed the culprit would have their right hand cut off so that they were forced to eat with their “toilet hand”. During my time in India I made it a habit to use my right hand when eating in public, whereas in our room I would eat however I pleased. At La Montessori School in Kullu I would occasionally be required to assist in tutoring some of the students. In my free time I bought some chocolate, which got on my left hand. Not noticing, I went down for the tutoring session. It wasn’t until one of the students pointed out that I had something on my hand that I realised, and spent the next five minutes reassuring them that it actually was chocolate.

I am the primary source of my own embarrassment.

Musings from Japan: student exchange

For those who don’t know I’ve been living and studying in Japan since March, and I’ll be here until December. I’ve made some great friends, and had some incredible experiences. My anxiety and depression levels have decreased significantly since being here, and as a result I have been able to successfully halve my antidepressant intake. I have passed all of my Japanese classes and completed an online course that gave me a TESOL qualification. I finally have some idea of who I am and what I want to do in life.

At Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto with Anais

Continue reading “Musings from Japan: student exchange”

I climbed a volcano (and then got rained on!)

Author’s note: this post was originally written in March 2015 and has been sitting in my drafts since then. Apologies to those who enjoy timeliness to their stories.

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It’s not everyday that you experience a perfect metaphor for your life, but when I was in Bali last month that very thing happened to me.

Continue reading “I climbed a volcano (and then got rained on!)”