STUDENTS at Stawell Secondary College are embracing their relationship with China through a series of exchange programs and language competitions.
The students study Chinese language and culture with teacher Ling Zhao, who is helping them reach new heights in their studies.
The Victorian education department recently awarded Year 12 student Elisha Baulch a full scholarship to study Chinese language and literature in 2020 at Fudan University in Shanghai. Fudan is one of the top universities in China.
"Elisha is a very dedicated student who has been studying Chinese with me for the last 6 years," Ms Zhao said.
"She has also visited China twice with school-organised China tours and the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program.
"She has been a positive role model for all our students who are learning languages in this community. I am really happy for Elisha to have achieved such as prestigious scholarship to go to China.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for her to further her Chinese skills."
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Elisha said she will use the time studying in China to help forge a career path as a Chinese-speaking lawyer.
"I think Chinese is very important in Australia's multicultural society and I want to be a lawyer so it will help me in that sense, because there's lots of unrepresented Chinese-speaking citizens who don't have access to the legal system as we do," she said.
"I really like learning about the law and I really like learning Chinese and I can't see eliminating one of them to pursue the other, so putting them together works well."
Year 10 student Melissa Sanders' success has also been highlighted recently.
She won first prize at the Global Village Chinese bilingual competition earlier this year and was subsequently invited to the20th China Annual Conference for International Education and Expo - Global Village Youth Bilingual Speech Conference Roundtable held in China last month.
Watch Melissa introduce herself in Chinese:
Translation: Hello everyone, my name is Melissa, I'm 16 and I am in year 10 this year. I love studying Chinese and until now I've been learning Chinese for 11 years.
My hobbies are dancing, singing, and learning Chinese and I think learning Chiense is important because it has a lot of meaning and it's really useful. In my eyes, Chinese to me is a lot like the Chinese opera world - it's very bright and colourful. Melissa advises the rest is difficult to translate directly as it's very idiomatic.
She was one of only two students invited to represent Australia at this event. Melissa presented a five minute speech at the forum with her Chinese partner Jiaqi, who is from YK Pao School in Shanghai.
This is the third time Melissa has visited China, after participating in the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program last year.
Melissa is also hoping to apply for a scholarship so she can do her university studies in China.
"I'm thinking of studying Chinese and also doing global relationships between Australia and China," she said.
"(I'd like) to be a spokesperson and maintain the positive relationship between Australia and China, and further develop the bridge we have together."
Year nine students are also getting involved in programs.
Seven of them, with teacher Zoe Jones, departed for China on November 2 as part of this year's Victoria Young Leaders to China Program.
The program is a six week in-country immersion program for year nine students, designed to prepare them to live and work as citizens and future leaders in an interconnected global community.
Stawell Secondary College participated in the program in 2016 and 2018 and Ms Zhao said and all of the participants benefited enormously from the opportunity.
For Chinese language students, the immersive nature of the program accelerates their Chinese language proficiency. The culturally rich program can have a transformative impact on their learning at home, and broaden their minds to a future career with an international focus.
Participants will travel with students from other schools as well.
"They will be doing classes and going on excursions ... and the most important thing I think for them is because it's a Shanghai school, they will be in a student-focused program and they can learn a lot from the school's students, who speak really good English," Ms Zhao said.
Prior to leaving, participant Dacheal said he had some strong reasons for wanting to go on the trip.
"I really like learning languages and at home I'm trying to teach myself Russian, but I know Chinese has a good amount of influence on Japanese and Korean, so hopefully it could lean into that at some point," he said.
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Another participant, Grace, said she was fueled by a growing interest in the region and it's culture.
"I really like the east Asian area," she said. "I just find it really different and interesting. A few of my friends went on the same trip last year and they said it was amazing and they built their confidence, met a lot of friends there and built their language skills as well."
Prior to this trip was another one in which three staff members and 17 students traveled to China.
They went to through Beijing, Nanjing, Yancheng and Shanghai. They visited many historical places of interest, such as the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Great Wall.
They also went to their sister school, Yancheng Middle School, as a reciprocal visit after Yancheng staff and students had visited Stawell in July.
While in China, the students had the opportunity to experience first-hand what life as a Chinese student might be like by attending school and living with their host families.
This was the first occasion each student had visited China, yet they quickly embraced the culture and Chinese way of life with great enthusiasm.
Throughout the two week tour, they expanded their knowledge of Chinese culture and history and were inspired to further their Chinese studies.
Ms Zhao said many of them wish to go back to China again and hope to take part in the Victoria Young Leaders to China program in the future.
Students told the Stawell Times-News about their experiences.
"Going through Chinese customs - everyone was really surprised at how different it was from Australian customs, and it took a really long time," Millie said. "It was more strict and a lot of places we went to in China, like tourist attractions, we had to be checked by security before we went in, so it was very different to Australia where you just kind of walk in and walk out."
Food was a prominent experience for the students, including Jade.
"There was a lot of different types of food but for myself, and pretty much everyone, we gave everything a go and tried everything," she said. "I think now that I've had an experience with the food I've expanded my taste buds."
Bella said a lot of the students found it was "very different to the Chinese food you get in Australia or in Stawell."
Since 2011 approximately 60 students from Stawell Secondary College have taken part in visits to China.
Beyond study, students get to explore the sights and sounds of China, encompassing both traditional and contemporary culture. The educational programs provide participants with an international perspective and global awareness.
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