Essay winner puts theory into practice in China

16 April 2013

Government and International Relations student Sam Johnson has long held an interest in foreign relations. But when he entered an essay competition on China-Australia diplomacy, he had no idea how much of a leg-up it would give him in the so-called 'Asian Century'.

The second year student Arts student said he knew little about China when he first spotted the China Studies Centre's essay competition, 'Australia and China: Celebrating 40 Years of Diplomatic Relations', late last year.

"China had always intrigued me throughout my studies, but it was not until I entered the competition that my interest really grew," he says. "I found that China's history, culture and politics are incredibly interesting topics of study."

Sam became so enamoured with China that, when he found out he had won a prize in the essay competition, he used the cash to help fund a trip to the country.

"I wanted to do something significant with the money that would both consolidate my knowledge and provide a further opportunity to study China," says Sam.

Rather than fritter the prize money away on mundane student costs like coffee, textbooks, and transport, Sam departed for Beijing on a journey to experience first-hand the subjects he had investigated in his essay.

He explored the city's major tourist attractions, including Tiananmen Square, before travelling with a tour group to Xi'an and the tiny town of Yangshuo, perched among the mountains.

For Sam, the scenic highlight of the trip was the Great Wall of China. "It's simply astonishing, and seeing it wrap around the surrounding mountains and then disappear into the distance was breathtaking," he says.

Sam Johnson
Sam Johnson on his trip to China, part-funded by prize money from the China Studies Centre's essay competition.

But the spectacular scene was no match for Sam's everyday encounters with the Chinese people themselves, which he describes as the most "invaluable" part of his travels.

"I had many opportunities to discuss with locals the issues which I had addressed in my essay, such as the politics of China and its economy and Australia's place in the Asia-Pacific region," he explains.

Sam found the Chinese people equally willing to learn about Australian culture. "My tour leader, Evan, was from Xi'an and was mutually interested in our vastly different societies."

Through both the essay and his travels, Sam has realised that the economic interdependency between China and Australia is only just the beginning of the two countries' relationship.

"I think the knowledge and skills that I have taken away from this experience could help me in multiple career paths - be it business, media or perhaps public service," he says. "Australia is geographically positioned in a region that will be of substantial importance in the 21st Century."

The essay competition drew 63 entries in Chinese and 39 in English from across both Australia and China, with winners presented their awards at a special ceremony in November last year by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW and former Chancellor of the University of Sydney, as well as His Excellency Mr Duan Jielong, Consul-General of the People's Republic of China in Sydney.

The competition was generously sponsored by William Chiu, Chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, and supported by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Xinhua News Agency, Sydney Bureau and the Australian New Express Daily. The full list of essay competition winners is available on the China Studies Centre's website.

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Contact: Emily Jones

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