BCom student Xavier Ekkel has caught the travel bug, and is making the most of his University days to expand his future career plans while seeing the world.
Studying globally with the New Colombo Plan Scholarship
I’ve spent nearly a year away, but it certainly feels far shorter than that! For those who don’t know me, my name’s Xavier. I’m a fourth-year Commerce and IT student completing a double exchange in the United States and Korea, plus a one-year study-and-work program in Korea thanks to the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Scholarship.
Ever since I spent three months in Seoul two years ago, I’ve wanted to travel even more. I believe that because much of our future life will be spent in the workplace, there is no rush to graduate and leave university life behind. This belief, my urge to travel, and the scholarship led me to plan a one-and-a-half-year journey to study at two of the world’s leading universities, improve my language abilities, gain international work experience, travel to new places, and make friends from around the world.
My American journey
This was my first visit to the US, and I spent five months studying at the famed Wharton Business School, the University of Pennsylvania. There, I had the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial knowledge and skills in areas such as venture capitalism and negotiations, to realise my ambition of starting my own tech venture or to join an existing startup. I also enrolled in a computer graphics class for my concurrent Diploma in Informatics that culminated in creating a mini version of the popular Minecraft game. This was particularly satisfying for me as one of my childhood dreams was to become a game developer.
I found the university environment – especially the vision and experience of my peers – and Silicon Valley incredibly inspiring. These experiences have confirmed that tech entrepreneurship is a path I want to pursue.
It wasn’t all work, of course! A few highlights included visiting New York during the biggest blizzard in the city’s history, a full-day bike tour of Los Angeles, checking out Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, and a spring break road trip around the east coast to soak up some nature.
Hardworking fun in Korea
I am now on the next chapter of my journey, which takes place in Korea. So far, I’ve been here for six months, and unlike two years ago, when I barely knew the language and struggled to find accommodation, it has been a much smoother process this time.
My first three months were spent at Sogang University for a 9am to 1pm, Monday-to-Friday intensive Korean language course. Straight after Sogang, I relocated to the mountainous district of Gwanak, to study at Seoul National University. Unlike UPenn or Sogang where I could simply walk to class each day, the only way to get to (and around) the SNU campus was by bus. However, when you’re not running late to class, the campus concealed within the mountains offers beautiful views.
The students here are incredibly hardworking, and the workload is high. (I don’t think I’ve ever lost as much sleep as I have this semester). Thankfully, Korean life can also be a lot of fun, no less in part due to the fantastic SNU Buddy Program for all exchange students, but also because there is always something fun to do (karaoke, internet cafés, k-pop concerts, for example), and thanks to the subway, it’s incredibly easy to meet up with friends.
This semester, I also started classes in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and robotics. We’ve had to develop A.I. for a robot for an obstacle course race (our team’s currently doing well, so fingers crossed!). We've also been placed in multidisciplinary, multicultural teams to develop our own robot toy. Our robot reads your emotions and shows you funny videos based on A.I. to cheer you up! I’ve also enrolled in a pre-modern history course and am continuing my Korean language studies to further my understanding of the local culture.
Keeping pace in 2017 and beyond
In 2017, I will undertake a software internship at a Korean artificial intelligence and robotics start-up – a company introduced to me by a robotics classmate – for my final six months. This is an opportunity I would not have sought out if not for the New Colombo Plan’s support for internships in our selected country.
Also thanks to the New Colombo Plan, I’ve become good friends with other scholars from across Australia; we have had the opportunity to attend various high-profile networking events together. The program has reinforced my understanding that establishing strong economic ties between Australia and the Indo-Asia-Pacific region starts on an individual level, and I am grateful for the learning and networking opportunities it has provided me.
Although most of my friends have graduated, I have no regrets about extending my university days to learn about new cultures and ideas, develop my skills, and meet people from around the world.
My advice based on what I’ve learned on this journey: Learn as much as you can, expand your network, take advantage of all opportunities, work hard, and enjoy the journey, and new opportunities will surely come your way. Or as John Lennon would put it: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Xavier Ekkel is currently completing his Bachelor of Commerce. In December 2015, he was one of five University of Melbourne recipients of a New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholarship, an initiative by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Under the NCP Scholarship Program, students live, study and undertake work placements in the Indo-Pacific region.