Understanding ourselves through studying politics abroad

Hi GLPers, my name is Tony and I am in my final semester of Master of Accounting (CPA Extension). I would like to share with you my experiences of studying in a different country.

Through the GLP, I have done a 3-week program, International relations and the Middle East: a comparative European Perspective, in July 2016 in Milan, Italy and a 4-week program, GoAndes – Leadership, in Santiago, Chile earlier this year (watch this short video to find out more about GoAndes).

In a globalised world understanding different cultures is part of our everyday. Indisputably, the best way to understand a culture is to be in the culture yourself, rather than watching TV or reading travel books. Who would say no to spending some time with a local family and participating in their social activities? After all, culture is not about books, but people.

Overlooking Santiago on top of San Cristóbal Hill

On San Cristobal Hill, overlooking Santiago, Chile, Go Andes Program, 2017.

To understand a culture from a ‘people’ point of view, two approaches are critical: we need to understand the way people think and we need to spend time with people. An overseas short-term program with a focus on politics perfectly meets this criteria.

Political discussions expose you to a diversity of perspectives. Studying politics encourages you to analyse a range of areas including history, behavioural patterns, economics and international relations. On the GoAndes Program in Chile, we heard from local professors and made friends with local students. Talking about politics with locals helps us understand how they think, in addition to what they think and why they think that way. In Chile, we also went on cultural excursions to politically or culturally important places, plus of course there were opportunities to go to parties organised by the local students!

Studying politics overseas also helps us identify and appreciate differences among cultures. Why do we want to study abroad? The obvious answer is that we are trying to actively experience difference. I guess it is also fair to say that we are all on the journey of trying to understand ourselves and the world better. Only through experiencing diversity can we have a proper understanding of ourselves. It is the idea of absoluteness and relativity. Cultural diversity only makes sense when considered from a relative point of view. Undoubtedly, studying abroad can facilitate our self-reflection and help us develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world.

Through my experiences, I gained valuable insights into cultural diversity, in addition to meeting awesome people. In Italy, I was able to understand how the current social climate of the Middle East came about, and appreciate the role of the Middle East in international politics. In Chile, I learnt that the greatest free-market reform of our time occurred in Chile under the Pinochet Administration, and had a chance to sample Carménère, a prominent wine producing grape in Chile and Pisco, a special Chilean spirit.

Deep in the Andes

Deep in the Andes Mountains, Chile, Go Andes Program, 2017.

I would like to end with some comments on how we should appreciate and value differences. On the one hand, it is important to appreciate the fact that each and every culture is unique. We should respect and value all those differences because those differences define our cultures, and to a large extent, make us who we are. On the other hand, it is equally important to be able to find common ground among people with a different background to your own. Understanding that we are not that different and we can be brothers and sisters with each other, would help make the world a better place, for every one of us.


Written by Tony Zhu. Tony is an international postgraduate student in the final Session of his Masters. After he graduates he plans to write a book on his experiences as an international student in Sydney. He says that studying in Milan and Santiago got him thinking more about cultural diversity and how people could develop themselves to live better lives with cultures that differ from their own. He would like to share this thinking in mentoring younger international students. 

Tony has almost completed his GLP, counting his short term program in Italy as his Cross Cultural Practicum. Along with participating in Think Tanks, Tony has also attended seminars on US Politics, China-Australia relations and the GLP Foreign Affairs Series and Innovative Leaders Series. 

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