Rhys Gaylard - Exchange Alumni Testimonial

Rhys Gaylard, a 2022 New Colombo Plan Scholar, completed two semester exchange programs in the Indo-Pacific region: Yonsei University in Semester 2 2022 and National Taiwan University in Semester 2023.

Before commencing his exchange programs, Rhys was awarded a New Colombo Plan Scholarship to be an ambassador for the University of Adelaide and the Australian Government while enriching his studies overseas.


Rhys at Gyeongbokgung Palace

Rhys dressed in traditional South Korean hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace (2022)

What motivated you to participate in an overseas experience?

I loved travelling and I also love exploring other cultures. Seeing opportunities to go overseas and study, whether it be NCP (New Colombo Plan) or the Westpac Asian Exchange Scholarship, was always something I had my eye on. Then, when the opportunity came up to apply for the NCP Scholarship, I jumped at it because it was a funded means by which I could go overseas and travel. But honestly, even if I didn't get the NCP Scholarship, I would have found another way to go overseas (whether through working, another scholarship, OS-HELP loan, etc.). Overall, it was something that I always wanted to do.


Which study period did you go overseas in?

I actually went overseas ages ago, in Semester 2 2022. I kind of did my fourth year overseas over the course of 18 months. I had a semester exchange at Yonsei University in South Korea in Semester 2 2022, and a semester exchange at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taiwan in Semester 2 2023. Then, I also had six months of language training in South Korea at Sogang University, which was not an exchange with the University of Adelaide but was a part of my NCP Scholarship.


Rhys taking a selfie while skiing

A selfie of Rhys in the snowy mountains of South Korea (2022)

Why did you choose National Taiwan University?

I chose NTU for a number of reasons. Firstly, I lived in Taiwan for a little bit growing up, as a really young kid, so I always wanted to go back there in a more professional setting now that I'm a bit older and can properly explore the culture.

So, I've had my eye on Taiwan as a place of interest that I've wanted to go to. Then, doing my research, I found out that NTU is a really prestigious university, both within Taiwan and also the wide Indo-Pacific region. My goals aligned with NTU, in the sense that it's a prestigious university that offered some interesting courses in Law that was also in a place that I wanted to go to.

On top of that, the cherry on the cake was that I found out some of my friends were going to study there at the same time as me, and so the opportunity to go overseas and study with my friends was something I just couldn't pass up. Everything came together and made it a perfect opportunity!


Rhys at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Rhys standing in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taiwan (2023)

What are some of the benefits of going on exchange in the Indo-Pacific region?

I think that the Indo-Pacific region has so many opportunities for students, especially if you're going on exchange. It's home to some of Australia's largest trading partners and some of the world's leading tech firms. It's also a region that is growing massively economically. Therefore, it's a region that is not only important to Australia as a country but also to students who are future-minded and are looking to gain a competitive edge on their resume. It just offers so many benefits for your career, in that sense.

Also, it's a region that is culturally distinct from Australia, so it offers many chances to have these amazing cross-cultural exchanges and to learn so much more than you might when going to another region. So, I think it offers heaps of opportunities for students if they want to go study there!

I watched Korean dramas, and to a degree it represents what life is like there, but it's also so different. There are so many aspects to life in the Indo-Pacific region that you don't see represented in the media.

Really going there and immersing yourself in the culture helps to learn so many things that you can't learn being at home.


Rhys at an international conference

Rhys attending a conference as a New Colombo Scholar (2022)

What additional opportunities were you able to receive by being a New Colombo Plan scholar?

The biggest opportunity is being part of the NCP network. What I mean by that is, prior to my exchange I went to Canberra for a Pre-Departure Training program, and through that I was able to meet my NCP cohort of around 120 students. In particular, I got to spend a bit of time with the 10 to 11 students who were going to South Korea with me at the same time. This opened me up to the huge network of amazing people who all had an interest in the Indo-Pacific region and going to study there. I became really good friends with these people; and some of them, particularly those going to South Korea, became my closest friends. These are friends that I still remain in contact with to this day. So, this is a huge advantage in that sense.

There are also other networking opportunities while you're in-country. For example, the chance to go to the Australian Embassy and meet the ambassador in South Korea was an amazing opportunity. So, I'd say that the networking is the biggest opportunity, besides the funding which enables the entire program of course!

Rhys at a tea house

Rhys with a cloudy view of Taipei (2023)

I'd say another big opportunity is the flexibility offered by the scholarship. The scholarship is really flexible, so it give you the opportunity to tailor it to suit your own personal development goals. For me, that meant studying the Korean language for 6-months because that's what I really wanted to do, but for others it meant doing internships, like working at the UN, etc. The chance to craft your program to suit your own needs is an opportunity that doesn't come with a normal exchange program.


What was the highlight of your exchange program?

Definitely making friends. Getting the opportunity to meet so many people from all over the world. Of course, on exchange you get to meet local students, but also you often spend a lot of time with exchange students. My dorm was just filled with exchange students from all over the world. Just having the chance to be involved in the melting pot of different cultures and to be able to learn from them about their cultures and their perspectives while sharing Australian culture, including sharing Vegemite and Pizza Shapes, was really fun.


Rhys at a palace in Seoul

Rhys visiting a historical palace in Seoul (2022)

What was your biggest takeaway from your experience?

I think it's the importance of language. Before I went to South Korea and Taiwan, I got the opportunity to learn a little bit of Korean and Chinese which made my life so much easier when I was there. Being able to do basic things like order food, ask for directions, introduce myself, etc., made my life so much easier compared to people who didn't have the opportunity to study the language before they went.

Even though I was able to do those things, I still felt like my lack of language held me back a little bit; in the sense that I felt somewhat restricted in who I could make friends with, particularly with local students and lecturers. There were a few times when I was a part of the soccer team in South Korea, and we'd be having a team dinner and I would have to only speak to the English speakers because once it got to that point, it went beyond my level of comprehension. Only when I received the opportunity to study Korean properly did I get to make local friends using Korean and properly immerse myself into the culture in a way that wasn't accessible to me before as an English-only speaker. It's definitely something I've taken with me, and I'm still studying Korean now that I've come back.

Rhys hiking on a sunny day

Rhys going for a hike (2023)

Language is so important. Even though you can do something in English, just the ability to do it in the local language allows you to learn so much more about the culture. Especially for Korea, there are so many cultural elements embedded into the language; in the way that you speak, the formalities you have to use, etc. You just wouldn't know those things unless you study the language, I think [learning a language] opens up so many opportunities, even if you can speak English.

Being an English speaker is a double-edged sword. When you're overseas, everyone can speak English, so it's great when you're travelling because you can do everything and survive. At the same time, trying to learn a language is so hard!


What is something you wish you knew before going overseas?

This was a hard one for me to think about because I did get a lot of support from Study Overseas, and also their information sessions were really good in terms of the breadth of information they gave you. I did feel fairly prepared. I had been overseas to South Korea before, so that helps. I suppose it wasn't that big of a culture shock. I think one thing I really wish I had known before heading overseas is that there are so many opportunities to meet people outside of just your exchange.

Lanterns in Taipei

Lanterns lit at night in Taipei (2023)

I think in South Korea, in particular, when I first got there, I let the exchange do the work for me and would try to meet people through my classes and on campus which is a really good way to make friends, of course. But I feel like it was only towards the end of my time in South Korea that I really discovered there were other options. For example, going and doing weekly language exchanges where Korean and English speakers come together and converse in both languages. It was a great way to make local friends, which I thought was tough on exchange because I was in my exchange bubble sometimes.

There are so many ways to branch out and not limit myself to the exchange opportunity but seek more opportunities outside of it. That's probably the biggest thing I wish I had done more of earlier into my exchange.


Do you have one piece of advice you would tell other people who are going on exchange?

Take as many opportunities as you can! The more often you're out and about, the more often you're doing things, the more likely you're going to meet people. Making friends is the whole point of the exchange, building those people-to-people connections, that's why you're going overseas. The more often you're out engaging in activities, the more likely you are to make friends. For me, I made friends playing sports, through classes, doing cultural events, through random interactions in the elevator, and even riding a bike once! There are so many opportunities to make friends, but you just need to get out there. It can be a little bit draining at times because you are meeting so many new people, and have those get-to-know-you conversations with so many different people, but once you get past that it's really worthwhile. You make so many friends you just wouldn't be able to make at home, and it makes your whole experience more fulfilling.


Interested in learning more about how to apply for exchange? Visit our Semester Programs webpage.

Keen to learn more about the New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program? Visit our Funding webpage.
Applications for the 2025 New Colombo Scholarship are open until 3 June 2024.

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