Joining a rock band in China and surveying cyclone damage in Tonga – Perth scholar’s NCP experience
The Curtin University Electrical and Electronic Engineering student is driven by bringing Australia closer to a sustainable energy future and closer to its Indo-Pacific neighbours, “not only in an economic sense, but through a deeper understanding and friendship. The NCP Scholarship put me on the right path towards these goals,” says Sarel.
Sarel was one of Curtin University's first students to complete an exchange semester at the Beijing Institute of Technology, where he studied under several established professors. He helped at the institute's Culture Day to showcase some of Australia's culture to the local students and to promote the exchange partnership. While in China, Sarel also completed six months of Mandarin study in Shanghai and Kunming.
Sarel's unique experiences in China extended beyond the classroom. He joined a Chinese rock band in Kunming during his language study there, performing shows at the college and nearby venues.
“Appearing on a local billboard advertisement was a highlight!” Sarel says. “My bandmates became my first close Chinese friends, and it was through my time with them that my language improved the most, and I learned a great deal about Chinese people.”
“During my exchange and language programs, I took every opportunity to travel and expose myself to as much of the country as possible. China continued to surprise me and I loved the contrast of living in huge megacities like Shanghai and Beijing, and then visiting small villages in the rice-terraced hillsides or trekking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge and seeing the incredible natural landscapes.”
Following an eye-opening year in China, Sarel took his NCP journey to Tonga and an internship with the Pacific's Centre of Excellence on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. He arrived in the same week that tropical cyclone Tino crossed this area of the Pacific. With Tonga's Department of Energy sending teams to inspect Tino's damage to off-grid solar systems on the outer islands, Sarel offered his help.
“I was permitted to go on their one-week trip to the outer islands. Following a 20-hour journey on a navy vessel on the rough high seas, stopping at different island clusters to drop off different teams, we arrived at the stop for my team: Vava'u.”
Sarel visited a number of small island communities to inspect the damage, which was luckily not severe.
“The opportunity to visit these remote island communities, to see first-hand the small scale off-grid systems in action, and to witness the way of life for their people, was truly unique. Tongan people may be the friendliest people I have ever met!”
Two months living in Tonga gave Sarel a new perspective on life, “especially on the smaller island communities, where people are content with farming, fishing, praying and spending time with their families and communities.”
During his time on NCP, Sarel placed importance on building friendships and connections.
“Throughout my NCP experience I found the most important connections we can make are those personal friendships, such as with my bandmates in Kunming, developing an understanding of each other's cultures on a personal level and forming a level of trust.”
On his time abroad with the NCP, Sarel reflects that, “NCP has not only provided me with the opportunity to achieve personal and professional goals, but surprised me with countless experiences which I could never have expected. These have had a significant positive impact.”