Student experience - Sophie Eather

Sophie in front of building

In August, we sat down with NCP Scholar Sophie Eather when she returned to Adelaide for a short visit after her exchange to Fudan University. Sophie told us all about her time at Fudan, and what her upcoming plans are now that she’s finished her degree.

While at Fudan University, Sophie studied intensive Chinese language for approximately four hours a day, five days a week.

“We covered speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I got to meet people from all over the world – Russia, America, Japan, Korea, and Australia – that in itself was amazing, to meet all these people and have one thing in common, a passion for China.”

“It was really good for building my vocabulary. I learnt a lot and my listening improved. In terms of speaking, I probably haven’t improved as much, which is why I combined my classes with extra language training through the New Colombo Plan and by making friends with Chinese locals. We were learning like 100 words a week! I thought my Chinese was okay before coming to Fudan, but then in class I would realise things like ‘Wow, I didn’t actually know the word for matchstick in Chinese!’ So it was really good for that, but outside of class I really needed to combine it with talking to locals.”


Sophie with friends

“I also joined the Fudan University Wine Club. At any university, it’s really easy to get into that expat bubble and not make friends with locals. We got to do wine tastings, which were all in Chinese because the club was meant for local students, so I just kind of tagged along and tried wine with them!”

“In terms of what the locals think, any Chinese is good Chinese, so they’re happy as long as you give it a go. If you speak to the locals in their own language anywhere, you’re going to have a better experience. And in the wine club it helped too, because they’d ask ‘How does the wine taste?’ and ‘What sort of fruits, what sort of notes are you getting?’ and they’d be asking me all of this in Chinese, so it was good to try and learn those words."


Sophie Fudan 1

“We had to do a placement test when we first got there, to determine which level of Chinese we were at. I just did a bit of speaking with one of the teachers, and he was like ‘Would you like to be one of the student representatives at this year’s opening ceremony?’ and me, not really knowing what that means at all, just went ‘Yeah okay, sounds great!’ and then he said ‘This Sunday we have an opening ceremony at 9am, would you like to do a speech there?’ Again I just said ‘Okay!’ bearing in mind this is all on a Friday afternoon. Then the whole Saturday I was just stressing about writing the speech. But I did it, and before any of my classes had started too, and it was amazing.”

While in China, Sophie has also participated in other wine-related activities, such as a wine course delivered in Chinese run by the Barossa Grape and Wine Association, and participation in the China Food and Drinks Fair in Chengdu:


Sophie Chengdu fair

“I wanted to do an internship at Wine Australia in their Shanghai office. As soon as I arrived in Shanghai I reached out to them and asked if I could do an internship, and they said ‘Sure! Oh by the way, we also have a wine trade show in Chengdu.’ It was China’s largest and oldest wine trade fair. I said yes. I stayed in Chengdu for two nights and three days, and it was very jam-packed. I was basically a bridge between the Australian and the Chinese workers. So I received English instructions from Wine Australia about all sorts of stuff like cleaning glasses, handing out brochures, giving people crackers, and then I’d have to organise the group of Chinese employees. And by the end of the two days, people would just be like ‘We need a Chinese translator’, and I would translate between Australian winery owners and Chinese customers. It was amazing.”


Sophie Shanghai 1

Sophie enjoyed being immersed in the wine industry in China as it allowed her to learn new Chinese vocabulary for her future career in promoting Australian wine. While she has learnt a lot, she still feels she has some progress to make:

“Yesterday, I was on the Wine Australia website, reading it in Chinese and thinking ‘Oh, I need to know what that word is!’ I’m always focusing on what I don’t know, and that helps me get better. Celebrate your past achievements, but also focus on what you need to know next. I find it fun as well, learning Chinese is just something I like doing!”

On living in Shanghai and studying at Fudan, Sophie told us what her typical day at Fudan looked like:

“The campus is massive. It’s probably about a twenty minute walk to class, which doesn’t sound that far, but it is a very big campus. There’s a gym, but I usually just ran around campus or went for walks, or went cycling – there’s free rental bikes that you can use. I would just cycle around to get to know the campus and get some fresh air.”


Sophie Shanghai 2

“One thing exchange students should know is that applying for housing in Fudan is really hard. I had to apply online, and I was ready on the dot to get into the main building, and I missed out on all the rooms in the main building. I had to go into the sub-building. I would encourage students going to Fudan to consider other accommodation options as well, just in case they can’t get into the main or sub-building on campus. I had my own room in the sub-building, with three housemates. You have your own room, with a shared living area and two bathrooms. My housemates were really lovely, and even though it was a bit small, the people you live with really make it worth it.”


Sophie mountains

“They also have a canteen at Fudan, which is amazing, and so cheap! It’s about AUD$2 for a full meal. I did get a bit sick of it, but they had lots of options. I think I got a bit too carried away at the start, thinking ‘Wow, cheap food! I’m going to eat here all the time and save heaps of money!’ But you do get sick of it after a while.”

Now that she’s completed her University of Adelaide degree, Sophie has decided to go back to Fudan to study in the Professional Chinese Business Immersion Program (PCI).

“It involves business Chinese language courses, an internship, and one English-speaking seminar a week. So I’ll be back there! I won’t be staying on-campus anymore, I’ve got my own apartment. Actually, I’m living with one of the other NCP Scholars now – Maria!”

“Next month, I’ve been selected as a delegate for the Australia-China Youth Dialogue. It’s for young business professionals from Australia and China, and I’ve been invited to be a speaker. That’s at the end of September and it’ll be really interesting!”

We wish Sophie the best of luck with her future endeavours, and we’re sure this won’t be the last we hear of her achievements in pursuing her career of promoting Australian wine in China.

Tagged in Fudan University, China, New Colombo Plan, New Colombo Plan Scholars, Scholarships