- New Colombo Plan
"It was some of the most challenging study I have ever done, not only because of the language barrier. But the payoff was something special, and it kept me humble about how much more I have to learn."
2019 New Colombo Plan scholar Cherry Zheng was driven to apply for an NCP scholarship as the program aligned strongly with her own pursuit of intellectual exploration.
Through studying a Bachelor of Philosophy in Asian Studies at the Australian National University, Cherry has had flexibility to study across a range of disciplines and undertake self-directed research. Besides her focus on international affairs, Cherry has dabbled in a number of subject areas and pursued her goal of becoming fluent in Mandarin. This made Beijing, as the political, intellectual and cultural capital of China, a natural choice of host location.
“I knew I would apply for the NCP since finding out about it in my first year,” she said. “The ambition of the program and the freedom it affords its scholars resonates with my own approach to intellectual exploration – one without boundaries.”
Cherry started her NCP journey with two months of Mandarin study at Princeton in Beijing and explains this as, “perhaps the most intensive Chinese language program ever.”
She then completed a semester exchange at Peking University and explains that “one of the best things about being an exchange student is the freedom to curate your classes from across an entirely new campus.” Cherry joined the first cohort of students to complete a new national security course, studied the basics of Go under a former champion, learned calligraphy dating back to the Tang dynasty, and recited Sun Tzu with military scholars.
“I threw myself into the deep end by taking a course load taught fully in Chinese, and it rewarded me with experiences far beyond the English curriculum. It was some of the most challenging study I have ever done, not only because of the language barrier. But the payoff was something special, and it kept me humble about how much more I have to learn.”
Cherry knows that her one semester at Peking was only long enough to gain a glimpse into its vast ecosystem, but she made the most of this time to embrace the student clubs and opportunities for international students.
“I joined the English news team, which unlocked access to events such as the Beijing Forum. I represented Australia at campus events and helped out at ANU’s in-country Liaison Office,” she said.
“I also helped organise the Australia China Youth Association’s (ACYA) EGRC MyLead program, connecting young women from Australia and rural China. That led to my participation in the Australia-China Emerging Leaders Summit in Guangzhou, where I was able to put my bilingualism to good use, building ties with delegates deeply connected to both countries. I am now translating from English to Chinese for ACYA National.”
Cherry is passionate about encouraging Australian undergraduate students from all walks of life to consider applying for their own NCP experience. “The NCP basically asks you to tailor your own dream program and then you are unleashed into the Indo-Pacific region, free to spend months at a time in alternate realities and futures,” she notes.
But before embarking on an NCP journey, Cherry believes it’s important to “know who you are and dig deep into your values and goals. You have to believe in yourself before you can convince anyone else.”
Cherry plans to return to the region to complete internships with a focus on research and analysis in the international relations field.
“Through the NCP, we are able to go on a journey – by no means easy, but enabled by funding, networks and vision. The lessons might not be clear immediately, but the seeds are being sown with every person you meet, every word you add to your vocabulary.”