"I have had experiences my parents could only dream of"
Mimi Zou came to Australia from China as a six year old and went on to fulfil a family dream: a university education at Sydney. Now a lawyer, she is currently completing a doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. She reflects on her experiences and how a travelling scholarship from the University of Sydney supported her education.
I first learned of the University of Sydney as a young child growing up in China. My parents were Chinese students who migrated to Australia in the late 1980s to seek freedom and opportunities in a new country.
I was separated from my parents at the age of three, and left in the care of my paternal grandmother in China. My grandmother looked after me for four years while my parents struggled to build their new lives, or more accurately, the lives of their children, nearly 8000km away from our hometown of Guangzhou. I did not see my parents for four years, and the only contact we had was weekly phone calls where I would sob to my mother about the strict disciplinary ways of my ‘tiger grandmother’.
Like many other migrants, my mother’s engineering degree from a top Chinese university was not recognised in Australia at the time. One of the first jobs she took up in her new country was working for a contract cleaning company. One of her client sites was at the University of Sydney.
My mother instantly fell in love with the University’s dreamy spires, cloisters, gargoyles and courtyards. This sandstone wonderland was a world away from the Communist China she grew up in. She sent me letters with the most beautiful photos of the campus, and I have still kept the letter she once wrote to me: “One day, my dear daughter, you will be studying at this university.”
During the first week of my arrival in Australia at the age of six, my mum took me and my newly born younger sister on my first visit to the University. I still remember being scolded by my mother when I accidentally stepped onto a part of the lawns in the main quad that was out of bounds.
Ten years later, I was very fortunate to receive a full scholarship to study economic and social sciences and law combined degrees at the University, fulfilling my mother’s dream.
Without the University’s financial support throughout and beyond my six years of studies, I genuinely believe I would not be where I am today. My various scholarships from the University meant that I did not require any financial support from my family for the entire period of my studies, and that I did not have a hefty debt at the end of my degrees.
Importantly, the financial support enabled me to pursue a diversity of extracurricular activities and volunteer work that not only enriched my academic and personal development, but also allowed me to give something back to the University and the wider community.
I have had experiences which my parents could only dream of, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for giving up everything, leaving their home country and sacrificing so much to give me a world of possibilities.
The biggest impact of a University of Sydney education on my life has come from the incredibly talented people I met there and who I have learned so much from: my professors and mentors, my peers, my friends and my students.
MIMI ZOU BEc SocSc 2006 (Hons) 2008, LLB (Hons) 2009
This is an adapted version of a speech written by Mimi Zou published in the University of Sydney UK Alumni Association newsletter in 2012.