Tokyo: An experience I’ll never forget

Asa Li

Over the winter I went on exchange to Senshu University in Japan and it’s a trip that I’ll never forget! From the friends that I made, to all the new challenges and experiences I faced, I learned so much from this opportunity to study abroad.

Night wanderings in Shinjuku and Harajuku

The first thing that struck me when I arrived alone in Tokyo, was how foreign everything was and how alienated I felt. Having never been overseas alone before, I’m not gonna lie, I definitely wanted to go home in the first couple of days. It was hard adjusting to not being able to understand or read anything, to not have anyone by my side that I could rely on, from being pushed so far out of my comfort zone.

However, the students at the dorm I was staying at were friendly and encouraging and I’d made some friends within the first few days. The way the dorm was structured was that an international student would room with a local student to encourage us to converse in Japanese and get to know the local students better.

Trip with friends to FUJI-Q Highland Amusement Park

The program that I attended was a 7-week intensive language course at Senshu University, Ikuta Campus in Kawasaki – about a 20-minute train trip from Shinjuku, Tokyo. The first thing I did was take a placement test, then we were placed into the appropriate class level and began our classes! With a small class of 5 people, we had classes every weekday from 9am-1pm with a 10-minute break every hour. In the afternoon, we were left to our own devices, to explore, eat, or study. It was challenging and fast-paced, however I enjoyed the teaching style and learnt so much in that immersive environment. At the end of the 7 weeks, we had to make a 6-minute presentation on a theme that we’d chosen ourselves, and I felt that my confidence and fluency in Japanese speaking had improved significantly.

Weekend trip to Kyoto

I enjoyed the lessons we had and the field trips that they took us to – to the Ghibli Museum, to Kamakura, to a tea ceremony and Kabuki performance, it was incredibly fun and eye-opening! These experiences furthered my understanding of Japanese culture and society, as well as exploring nearby neighbourhoods, night trips to Shinjuku, Shibuya, Kawasaki and so many other places, visiting temples and parks, riding public transport – it was all so overwhelming (in a positive way), and I wish I could have stayed longer. I gained so much more confidence from this experience abroad, from learning how to overcome challenges using my own initiative, communicating with a diverse range of people and continuing to challenge myself to venture outside of my comfort zone. It was a dream come true to have studied in Tokyo for those 7 weeks and I would recommend every student to take the opportunity to study abroad 🙂  

Class field trip to the Ghibli Museum!

It’s not all study! – Nepal Winter 2019

I participated in the global challenge by Unbound in Nepal, and the memories I have of my time will always be cherished. I was able to see historical sites, go on a safari, and see many spectacular views. What makes the experience so memorable is not the activities I did, but the people I met from other universities, the facilitators of the program and the Nepalese family I stayed with briefly.

I had the opportunity to work on a project focused on encouraging ethical tourism in the village of Dhulikhel. I was excited to work with like-minded individuals that were passionate about delivering meaningful value to the community we had been welcomed too. For the project, I was able to revise on existing skills I had with human-centered design and apply them to a project outside of the Australian context. Human-centered design is a series of methods that allow you to investigate problems and develop solutions. Some other team members also had pre-existing knowledge of human-centred design, which made the process of knowing how to conduct interviews, break down problems, and solve the challenge a familiar experience. As a team, we developed a strategy and proposed different project streams people could be invited to Dhulikhel to work with the community on. Our project did not have a physical outcome for a product as we developed a strategy, but we did get to visit other teams as they created bamboo prototypes to help people with farming and in schools of Dhulikhel. As it was super warm at the time we were in Nepal after long days of working on the project we got to experience swimming in the pool to relax for two of the nights.

There was still lots of time to explore the culture and sites of Nepal while working on the project. We often ate Dhal Bhat, a common household dish consisting of steamed rice and lentil soup. Some of us also had the opportunity to learn how to make momos. Being able to learn to cook momos was a highlight of my experience, even though my momos looked horrible, they tasted excellent.

Overall, the experience has taught me a lot about working on projects in a country very different to Australia and how to have fun while doing it.

~By Sophie Hawkins

International Legal Internship: Hui Ye in Shanghai

July 2019 – one of the most riveting months of my entire life so far… was spent doing a legal internship in Shanghai! I certainly didn’t expect to feel this way when I first started my program.

On the night of Thursday 27 June 2019, I arrived in Shanghai after a 10.5 hour flight from Sydney. As I lugged my huge suitcase into my single-bed hostel room, it really dawned on me that I would be spending an entire month in a foreign city with no one by my side. One reason that I chose a hostel to stay in was so that I could meet other travelers like me – so I could feel a sense of familiarity in what was a month of anything but familiar.

Although I had a decent grasp of Mandarin thanks to my parents, I saw it more a curse rather than a blessing. I wasn’t able to express complex thoughts or string together long sentences. Although I was able to ask for directions or order food at restaurants without issue, ‘Add me on WeChat’ and ‘I want to open a bank account with a debit card’ were slightly outside my vocabulary bank. I also felt distinctly like a ‘foreigner’ – I couldn’t even order KFC at one particular restaurant because I didn’t have WeChat Pay, which unfortunately required a Chinese bank account. Paying for things in cash just wasn’t a thing in Shanghai!

As I started with the internship the following week, I slowly but surely began to find my feet. By that point I had secured a Chinese bank account and was living and paying like a local! At Hui Ye Law Firm, I was introduced to the craze that is ordering milk tea (or bubble tea) using delivery services straight to the office. Can you imagine using UberEats or Deliveroo to send a coffee up to your office! I discovered that napping at work was entirely appropriate given Chinese business culture and the expectation to work long hours.

Progressing with the internship, I began to appreciate Chinese cultural values such as ‘guanxi‘ (the relationship) and ‘mianzi‘ (the concept of ‘face’). This meant not approaching shy colleagues for a conversation until they were ready on their own terms to have a meet-and-greet. It similarly meant not bothering my supervisors for more work until they were ready to provide it. Overcoming these initial barriers in understanding a foreign culture was one of the major successes of this internship.

Substantively, I was tasked with drafting various research papers, presenting on ‘Investing in Australian Real Property‘ to my Chinese colleagues and visiting both the Shanghai People’s Basic Court and the Shanghai Commercial Mediation Centre. In the final week, there was a brief change of scenery with a visit to the Nanjing office! None of it felt like I was doing things for the sake of an internship – it truly felt like each task was provided so that I would better understand Chinese culture, Chinese commercial law and Chinese working habits.

Having stayed in a hostel, I looked forward to chilling out in the rooftop bar every evening after finishing work. Unwinding after a long day with a beer and some international friends – I couldn’t have asked for more! In my spare time, I visited the nearby city Suzhou (the ‘Venice of the East’), did tourist-y things around Shanghai and even sat down for a dumpling class! An honourable mention definitely goes to the unforgettable KTV (karaoke) nights!

Striking a balance between work and play was perhaps one of the most enriching aspects of the internship. In some ways, I felt like I was truly an adult managing my own time, relationships, work and travels. Navigating the challenges, highs and lows of Shanghai, I feel like I have taken positive steps to becoming a Global Leader. I have found mentors from Hui Ye and friends across the world that I no doubt will keep for life.

Jason Wang

Memories of the Alhambra. Universidad de Granada

You know that feeling when you just know that in that moment, you were supposed to be at that certain place at that specific time? Well that’s how I felt after a week in Spain.

Prior to my abroad experience I kept thinking “I shouldn’t be going on another holiday, it’s irresponsible… I need to start saving more money”  and “What if something happens to me while I’m overseas?!”. Of course I knew I was just being paranoid, but I couldn’t help how I was feeling. The day of my departure, I almost didn’t even make my flight as I was running late, maybe unconsciously on purpose.

All this was put to rest as soon as I landed in Spain. Everything started falling into place. I smiled when I thought about how overly anxious I was just a few days earlier. My trip turned out to be one of the greatest summers and one that I will always cherish (lame & generic sentence, I know)!

I did some solo travelling before I arrived in Granada to study Spanish. Hostels played a major role in helping me to socialise. Some are really social while still providing a certain level of privacy, such as curtains, and same sex dorms.

I slowly made my way to Granada, passing through Albufeira and Seville on the way. For two weeks, we studied four hours a day from Monday to Friday. The beginners language course was harder than I expected. Our teachers started speaking in Spanish from Day 1 and pushed us to use as little English in class as possible. They were hard on us but I guess it worked. I picked up so much in such a short amount of time.

What I also love about Spain in summer is the amount of daylight that you get as the sun didn’t set until 9.30 pm. Every day, we would wake up and go to class in the morning, finish at 1 pm, and then go home to either study or have a siesta (nap). When the sun wasn’t as strong, we would start leaving the house again and meet up with our friends to go sightseeing or have some tapas. Here in Granada, they serve you free tapas when you buy alcohol. Needless to say we drank sangrias and beers everyday to get free food!

The city is even more famous for its medieval architectural masterpiece – The Alhambra. In busy months, this Moorish wonder is booked out for weeks in advance. The fortress turned palace is also just as beautiful from the outside as it is from the inside. Every other day, we would climb up the hill to a lookout, to view the iconic palace from afar and watch the sunset. Every time I saw the grand structure, I was just as impressed as the time before. Granada is honestly the most beautiful city I’ve been to so far in Europe. And I am so glad that I chose to spend the two weeks here.

Although everything worked out for me, it was not always smooth sailing. Fires broke out frequently as it was one of the hottest summers in Europe on record. I almost got pick-pocketed and indecently grabbed by an old man (both situations happening within 24 hours passing through Cordoba). Many other people had similar experiences. Some of my friends got pick-pocketed on busy subways, food courts, one even unfortunately got physically robbed and assaulted late at night, however this is a rare occurrence.

As my trip drew to an end, I looked back at my old self, just a few weeks earlier. Although everything didn’t always go as planned, I smiled again, as I knew that this trip was meant to be.

Housing in Portugal

Where do I begin? I’ll start by giving you some context to understand the purpose of this. I am currently studying my masters of Architecture and was taking a studio called Housing in Portugal, in this studio we are to study the existing Bouca Social Housing in Porto, Potugal designed by the noted Portuguese Architect Alvaro Siza and redesign it ourselves.

A group of 16 students, accompanied by our tutor Angelo Candalepas, buzzing in Portugal, Spain and Greece to see everything on our jampacked itinerary in under just 10 days.

We started off in Lisbon. This city blew me away. It was so beautiful, the locals were so welcoming and humble. The streets were paved with white marble pavers over the entire city.

On our first day out we paid a visit to Lisbon Cathedral where we sat and sketched the floor plan, from here we went to the Portugese Pavilion designed by Alvaro siza where we sketched again, this time observing shade and shadow and how it works. We went on from there to the Chiado District Alvaro Siza Housing and ended the day by visiting the Carmo Convent which had an incredible view to the city.

Sketching in the Lisbon Cathedral

Portuguese Pavilion

Portuguese Pavilion

The group at the Portuguese Pavilion

Day two in Lisbon we paid a visit to the Aires Mateus officce where we were lucky enough to meet Manuel Aires Mateus himself and understand how his practice works and how he works. It was quite surprising that he does not use any technology himself and does not even have an email!

From here we went to see Jeronimos Monestary where we did some detail sketching. Then we walked to the National Coach Museum designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha and lastly we stopped at the EDP Head Office designed by Aires Mateus.

Deep in conversation with Manuel

The standard group photo

Aires Mateus Office

On the third day we took a bus to see The Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Cabo Espichel where some more sketching happened. This was a historic building studied as a precedent by Alvaro Siza when he designed the Teacher’s Training College in Setubul.  A pit stop was made at the Home for the Elderly designed by Aires Mateus. Lastly we rocked up at the beautiful Cascais which is the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Portugal, here we visited the Paula Rego Museum designed by the Portuguese Architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, this builing was by far my favourite (you can tell by the smile on my face).Capture2

Teacher’s Training College

Paula Rego Museum

Paula Rego Museum

Amongst all of the amazing food we had in Lisbon, Portuguese tarts were up there! And by up there I mean the best tarts any of us had ever tried! They were mouth watering and sent taste buds into a frenzy.

We continued from here to Porto where we visited the site of the project, went to Santiago in Chile to see the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, flew out to Athens and saw the monumental Acropolis and Agora.

It was a very rich experience and I have learnt so much by visiting the projects and studying them which is such a different experience to studying them from a book.

Berlin In-Country Contemporary study

Tobias Evans

This picture was taken on the last night of my program with a group of people that had been strangers 4 weeks earlier but now became some of my best friends. I went to Berlin not knowing anyone, so being able to leave with friends from all around the world is invaluable, and highlights what a truly amazing experience it was. The social aspect of the trip was incredible, I was never without people to explore the city with during the day and grab many quality German beers with at night, with the University there setting up many events and excursions for students to meet each other. The only downside of hanging out with a group of foreigners was that I left Berlin having learnt more Italian than German, as many of the people I became friends with spoke Italian.

The classes in Berlin were also incredible, with our professor being very against the use of powerpoint in teaching, each class was entirely discussion based which meant that everyone contributed and learnt from one another. We were also made to do multiple presentations, individually and in groups, which helped everyone come out of their shells.

Berlin has many amazing sites, and strangely enough I don’t have photos of everything I saw and went to even though I was sure I took photos. So my tip for people considering this program is to firstly, definitely sign up!!! But also to take lots of photos, as this is an experience you’ll want to remember for years to come.

Goooood morning, Vietnam!

July, 2019.

If it wasn’t for my 30-day visa, I would have stayed in Vietnam for much much longer. My month in this country was one of the most rewarding and enriching cultural experiences in my LIFE!

As a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian, I grew up in a household which embraced our traditions but never have I felt so connected to my cultural heritage until this month. Initially, I had my doubts about travelling alone to Vietnam for the first time without my family but in the end, it proved to be such an enlightening experience!

Old Quarter of Hanoi on film

This July, I was lucky enough to work with the Institute for Legislative Studies (ILS) in Hanoi. VILS is a legislative research agency that assists the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam in its oversight and representative functions. My internship involved assisting in research reports focusing on particular policy issues that were on the agenda for the next session of the National Assembly.

This internship was organised through the Faculty of Law at UTS and was such a rewarding and invaluable opportunity to gain work experience in a global context. It provided me with diverse cross-cultural experiences which crystallised my aspirations to work in an international environment where I can contribute as a global citizen.

Throughout my internship, I was supported by senior staff who provided guidance in my work as well as travels. They encouraged me to balance my work so that I would have ample time to explore Hanoi and more broadly, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay – Phong Nha – Hoi An

I am grateful that ILS has shown me with nothing but generosity and kindness in the workplace and outside. Honestly, to all the UTS students who happen to read this, you should definitely look into BUILD and the many programs that they offer!! You will not regret it!!

This truly has been an unforgettable learning and cultural experience.

Katherine Ho – Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Arts in International Studies

Warsaw in Poland

Old town market square

On 2 July, my second day in Warsaw, I went for a single walking tour to have a browse of the place I was going to live in for the next 2 weeks. And honestly, I was shocked by this ‘re-constructed’ city, it did not wipe out the historical breath of the city, but added more to it.

Beef tartar

After a little walk around, I had a fine lunch at Old town square, where this ‘beef tartar’ is one of Warsaw’s signature dish. Quite fresh to me, as this was the first time I ever had a raw beef experience lol


On 13 July, almost the end of the program, SGH took us to Krakow for a 3 day trip. This photo was taken from Auschwitz, the concentration camp. I guess the photo can show the color of our feelings on the day. 

To be living now in a somewhat more peaceful world and holding great opportunities for a better future is a blessing.

After this 2 week program, I gained not only the experiences from this overseas adventure, but also knowledge and friendships.

Also it provided a great chance to look over myself, to walk out of my comfort zone. Everybody knows it is always easy to stick to a life where everything is repetitively same. Is it the life I wanted?

Seriously, life is more than just living.

Shanghai Adventures

This UTS BUILD short-term program at Shanghai University was definitely an unforgettable experience. The whole trip was a mixture of feelings as I was challenged to become more independent, but also experienced the amazing culture, people and food of Shanghai. Through this trip I was able to meet and create lasting friendships with different people from not only UTS but also from other countries.

My two week experience in Shanghai was filled with spontaneous trips, eating street food, shopping and lots and lots of walking. Our days usually started off with Chinese class in the morning where I was able to learn basic mandarin which came to be useful during my stay. We would then have our business class where we were taught about the Chinese economy; incubator tours were provided in the city vicinity to further our understanding of how business was done in China. This was an eye-opening experience as we were able to understand the differences in dynamics of doing business. After our tours was when we would be let off on our own to tour the city ourselves. This challenged our skills of language, navigation and planning of what to do each day, where although it was definitely tiring, it was not something I regretted.

Each day after our tours we visited various places which required a lot of walking. With the help of our buddies in Shanghai, we went to the infamous Bund, went up Shanghai tower where we saw the beautiful city and its water and infrastructure from up high. We also went to both East and West Nanjing Road to enjoy the shopping especially at H&M and Zara and also various markets to enjoy the cheap but delicious street food.

With the program we were able to also visit the Yu Gardens and also experience lunch inside a Shanghai family home where we also visited the neighbourhood. We got to see a tea ceremony performance and also try out Chinese calligraphy and watch Chinese opera.

Overall, Shanghai has been an amazing experience! Especially its culture and food, I definitely would love to come back and visit.

Suugloria Tun

Thank you Cambodia

For two weeks I was lucky enough to be a part of the Engineers Without Borders Design Summit trip to Cambodia in July 2019.  We flew into Phnom Penh and learnt all about the history, language, culture and customs of the Cambodian people for the first week of our trip.  This included workshops with a language teacher, a cultural lesson, learning about human centred design and visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and S21 Genocide museum.  The second week of our trip we stayed in remote communities in the Kratie Province to fully immerse ourselves by doing homestays and living with the families.  We formed groups and interviewed people within the community to understand how they live and work.  At the end of the homestay we created an idea to better the community and presented these to the community leaders. 

Before my trip I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to think of what it would be like just in case I would get scared or nervous.  I really wanted to be able to learn something about myself, but I was unsure how I would be able to do this as I didn’t have an itinerary. Looking back now, I am glad that I didn’t have any expectations before the trip as it meant that I was living in the moment and took each day at a time.  I really enjoyed working with lots of different students from all over Australia.

Figure 1: My Group ‘Giant Ibis’ wearing matching Cambodian tops at our Graduation Night

Doing the workshops in Phnom Penh were helpful to be able to understand the country and the Cambodian people as the lessons gave us background to the country. We did workshops with a few Cambodian’s including a language lesson, learning about how to speak the native Cambodian language called Khmer.  This became helpful when we did homestays as the families are not able to speak English.  A second workshop we had was a cultural lesson with a young woman called Lea Phea who taught us the “Do’s and Don’t’s” of Cambodian culture.  She emphasised the importance of family in Cambodian culture and how it is the centre of their lives.  Lea Phea also talked about her life and the impact of the Khmer Rouge on her family and she started crying when she talked about how she doesn’t have any grandparents as they were killed during the genocide and she will never be able to meet them.  I was really upset when I saw her crying in front of us when she was describing how she wants to meet them but never will. 

Figure 2: My group with Lea Phea (in the left corner) after her cultural workshop

An amazing Cambodian woman I met was at the Russian Markets while we were doing an empathetic workshop which involved us talking to strangers and asking them about their lives.  She was running a bag stall at the markets and was very friendly and approachable and talked to us about how she runs her family’s stall every day from 6am to 5pm.  We were astonished and asked her if she has ever thought about going on a holiday and she said no.  Her siblings are all older and married, so she left school at 15 to work at the shop and has been doing so for the past 8 years of her life.  Her aspiration is to study English as her friends are studying at university and don’t have to work every day like her.  Her smile and laugh were so contagious and made me realise that you don’t need to have money to be happy. 

Other workshops we did were on human centred design and taking a strengths-based approach that are helpful when working on an engineering project.  The most impactful part was when we visited the Genocide Museum which was solemn and despairing.  Seeing the torture and death that occurred only 40 years ago was confronting and made me empathise with the Cambodian people. It made me realise that I didn’t know a lot about their history and their culture, but I now have a new appreciation for the country and people.

I stayed at Koh Pdao, a small village on an island along the Mekong River and we stayed with different families within the community and interviewed people to understand their values, strengths and issues in the village to create teams.  It was interesting to be able to talk to the doctor, who was the most well off in the village as he had a flatscreen tv and sent all his children to University.  In comparison, I was staying at the village chief’s home and he had one light bulb and his children were farmers helping him on the rice patty fields.  It was also very intriguing to talk to people who weren’t involved in tourism as they were poorer and unable to send their children to high school as they couldn’t afford buying a bike for them to travel.  My group aimed at getting more of the villagers involved in tourism that are not currently involved.  We created a three day itinerary package for tourists to spend more time and money in the Koh Pdao community with the inclusion of new activities such as ploughing in the rice fields and cooking classes which are aimed to get families who are not currently involved in homestays to participate in tourism to receive another form of income.

Figure 3: My home stay family with myself and my roommate at the front

I learnt a lot about myself, engineering processes and Cambodian culture.  Immersing ourselves within the community proved an invaluable experience as it allowed us to fully understand their needs and lives by sleeping in their homes, ploughing in the rice fields and eating with them. 

I learnt how to take a strengths-based approach which means focusing on the positives of the systems that are currently in place and concentrating on making these better rather than fixing on what it is missing.  Taking this approach allowed us to create a solution that the community would implement, as it is culturally appropriate and builds upon an already existing system.  We realised that tourism has significantly increased the community’s standard of living, but there are still a few families who are not involved, so we wanted to work on this strength so that more people are involved. 

Figure 4: My group after ploughing in the mother and grandfather’s (in the centre) rice patty fields

I have previously taken a human centred approach to engineering projects at university, but not like how we did in Cambodia which was an incredible insight into the importance of talking to all stakeholders rather than focusing on design and ideation.  I learnt the importance of focusing on stakeholders and understanding their needs, wants and concerns.  This proved important as we were able to understand what they wanted rather than what we thought they wanted to change.

The most important key learning experience was understanding and appreciating another culture. Before the trip I didn’t think much of Cambodia as I had not heard of it much.  Living with a Cambodian family and talking to lots of different people allowed me to appreciate their way of living.  I want to be able to apply this when working as an engineer so that I can be more understanding and empathetic with stakeholders.

Figure 5: Me at the front of a temple with offerings of flowers and incense

My plans are still the same, but my motivation, mindset and attitude have changed.  I want to be able to make an impact on the lives of others using biomedical engineering, but I want to impact those that are less fortunate and living in third world countries.  I want to be able to use the humanitarian engineering that I learnt on my trip and apply it to my degree and career to help others.  I want to take a strength-based and human centred approach to my work and personal life as it allows me to understand the stakeholders and their needs much better.  I want to do more travelling and homestays to immerse in different cultures and become empathetic to other cultures and appreciate what I have at home in Australia.

P.S. If you ever have the opportunity to go on a BUILD trip – definitely go for it and apply! Going to Cambodia has to be the most life changing experience I have ever had and I highly recommend everyone to at least apply. You’ll never know what it’s like until you’re there 🙂

Georgia Kirkpatrick-Jones
Bachelor of Engineering (Biomedical)/Diploma of Professional Practice

Applications for the Summer 2019/2020 Engineers Without Borders Cambodia close September 1st 2019. See our database for more information: