MBA student and CSU Global alumni
A mature age, distance education student with a young family isn’t the most likely candidate for a CSU Global experience, but Grant Kelson grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Studying a Bachelor of Business (Finance) and working as an agri-business banker at the time, Grant initially considered studying in China to accelerate his degree by undertaking five subjects in a semester rather than the usual two subjects. He also saw the experience as a good way to give his family an international holiday while learning about another culture and language, and felt that learning about business in Asia would be beneficial to his career.
Grant took leave without pay and he and his wife Rebecca packed up their two small children, aged five and three, and headed to Yangzhou – a city of 4.5 million people.
Here Grant shares more about this once in a lifetime experience.
I chose to study in China because, in my opinion, it’s where our future lies. I had done a bit of work within the bank trying to forge some relationships between the Riverina and China, and when I spotted this exchange I spoke to Rebecca and decided it was probably timely - from a commercial point of view, a family point of view, and in terms of the degree.
The response from family and friends was mixed. There were those that said, "Wow, what a great opportunity! Good on you for going!", others that scratched their head and asked "Why?", and a third lot that said, "Hang on a minute - you better reconsider - this is crazy!".
When I first inquired about it I was dissuaded because I have a wife and kids... but when I spoke with Louise Haberecht from CSU Global she grabbed it with both hands. I think I was the first person with a wife and kids to put my hand up for the exchange, and to CSU's credit they liked that.
Louise put me in touch with Tony Bush, who coordinates the Asian side of student exchanges and between Louise and Tony they did a great job. They could have easily said, "Listen, Grant, you are 36 - perhaps this money and the resources would be better used on the kids", and I would have probably understood that, but they didn't do that.
I received a $5000 scholarship, and CSU helped me organise a student loan for another $5000. We sold our two motor vehicles in Australia to fund it, and we came home to no motor vehicles, and no fixed address. We threw a bit to chance, but I was confident that the qualification meant it wouldn’t be hard to find employment.
The very first challenge was for us to decide we were going to go, but once we'd made that decision the Australian side of it came together fairly quickly. Once we arrived, a few things were tricky. Chinese bureaucracy takes a lot of getting used to, and you encounter that in everyday life and have to learn to roll with it. Food was also a challenge. It was easy once we got to Yangzhou, because we developed a relationship with the street vendors who knew what we liked. But when you're on the move around China it's difficult, but we could feed our family of four for RMB20, or about $3 Australian.
I hadn’t learned much Chinese before I left, so I became a very good pointer! About four months into it I learned to direct left and right, or if we wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before we’d write it out, or get a friend to write it out for us, and show a taxi driver. You learn to improvise, and if the person you're talking to doesn't know English, there'll be someone walking by who knows enough English to interpret. You always just seemed to be able to get by.
As an international student, they gave us a room to ourselves with running water, showers, toilets, heating and air conditioning. We really couldn't complain. The Chinese students’ rooms were not air conditioned, they didn’t have running water, and they had communal toilets. The Chinese students slept five or six to a room. Compared to our Chinese friends, we got the lap of luxury.
The best part of the exchange was the diversity of people and learning about different cultural perspectives. This can’t be taught from a text book. You'll never get a more enthralling conversation than the first time you meet someone from another country and we met students from China, Canada, Belgium, North and South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Iran, India, the US and the Caribbean. We formed some really strong friendships.
Having done a cultural exchange, I would almost think it's mandatory for all students. I can now be confident that I have wrung every last drop of worth out of my degree. I experienced Chinese culture, learned some Chinese, studied Chinese business, brought my family, gave them a holiday and a Chinese experience. If I had just picked out half a dozen electives and blundered through them, it would have been a great shame now that I know what else I have had the ability to do.
Original interview by Annette Jacobsen
Exchange programs are currently available to distance education undergraduate students who meet certain academic criteria. Visit www.csu.edu.au/csuglobal to learn more.