Millie is studying a double degree in Law and Arts, majoring in Geography. During her time at UC she has developed a huge connection with China. It all began with her trip to Peking University on Explore Beijing, a five week UC programme supported by the Prime Ministers Scholarship for Asia.
What made you apply for this programme?
I was a long distance runner and I had just retired after a year and a half of constant injuries. It sounds dramatic but I really did lose my identity, to the point where I considered dropping out of uni. My flatmate had previously done the Peking trip and she said, “Just apply. Go there and experience complete culture shock. It’ll be good for you.” I figured I had nothing to lose so I applied and I was really lucky to get a spot.
I went over with the typical Western view of what China was going to be like. I was apprehensive and I didn't think I would like it that much. But I got there and I fell in love from day one. I did not want to come home!
What was it that captured you?
I've done lots of travel before but nothing ever captured me like China. I call it the ‘China bug’! I loved the hustle and bustle, the people, the city. I threw myself into it. There's a shock every time you turn a corner. You just go, “wow, that's so China”!
The culture was incredible. Chinese people are so kind and they have so much pride in their country. They do anything they can to make sure you’re having a great experience. China was not what I expected at all. It was beautiful and clean, and the history was so much greater than anything I had anticipated. I felt so at peace over there. I’d watch older people in the park doing Tai Chi together, connecting and doing something they truly enjoy. Even at -10° they were loving it.
Tell me about the course you were on.
During the day you study at Peking University. We were doing a research project for the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, as well as taking language, history and culture classes. The classes were great because we were taught by a Chinese lecturer, which was a language challenge for us. It gave me a new appreciation for the experience tourists and immigrants have in New Zealand, and how difficult it can be for them over here.
One of my biggest takeaways was how well we were treated. Chinese people are incredibly patient, they don't judge you for struggling with the language. They want to help you. I think as New Zealanders we can really learn from that. It made me passionate about recognising micro-aggressions of racism in New Zealand. There’s a certain defensiveness in the Kiwi narrative. We are welcoming and kind – but there’s a limit to it. I try really hard to call people out on that now.
For me the Peking trip was about connection, meeting new people, and getting a better understanding of myself and what I wanted out of life. I grew so much professionally and personally. It gave me the confidence to try and be a better person.
What effect or influence did the trip have on you when you got back to UC?
I returned wanting to find a way to get back to China!
Through the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship I got the opportunity to go to Fudan University in Shanghai, for a summer course on Chinese e-commerce and consumer behaviour, and why Western countries fail so greatly in China.
I also did two weeks travelling in Hong Kong first, where I met up with friends I had made at Peking.
While I was at Fudan I made the decision to run for the UCSA leadership team. I saw it as a chance to walk the talk and make our international students feel more welcomed. I landed a role as Finance and Engagement Officer. Right now I'm working on getting a multifaith space built on campus. That's my big project for the year. I'm really passionate about advocacy and welfare.
When I was at Fudan I met my business partner. We came up with the concept for a company which helps small to medium enterprises in New Zealand get into the Chinese market. We applied to the Centre for Entrepreneurship Summer Startup Scholarship and were given $10,000 to start validating our idea. We formed our business model working from the bottom up. Our company is called New Zealand & Beyond Ltd. We worked super hard and won the Dream Believe Succeed young entrepreneur award. The prize was $100,000 to truly start our business. Gaining that kind of recognition makes a huge difference in attracting new customers and getting business partners across the line.
How did UC’s support and mentorship play a role in your success?
The mentorship and support we get at the Centre for Entrepreneurship has been key to our success. They give you feedback and are honest about whether your ideas have real world merit. As two young woman in business it's really important for us to have strong role models around us. There are a lot of female-led upstart companies which make a great addition to the world of business.
What is your vision for the business?
I want our business to be a cultural interchange, where New Zealand people learn about Chinese culture and Chinese people get to enjoy our beautiful, pure products. My vision is to make it a commercially viable venture as well as a bridge between cultures.
We’re currently working towards our official launch. We formed a partnership with Alibaba which was a huge win for us. We are now in our incubation phase with 15 pilot customers, preparing to launch on niche ecommerce platforms by October. It's really exciting but there's a lot of work to do!
What are your other goals?
I want to finish my term at UCSA and achieve the multifaith space. At UC, I want to help build even more appreciation for all different religions and cultures. The wonderful thing about education is that you come in to UC with one idea, and you leave with a completely different mindset. We have to be willing to learn from other cultures and faiths. New Zealand is much more than just a Kiwi culture.
Overall reflections on your time at UC?
My biggest learnings at UC have been through Peking, Fudan, our business and the UCSA. That's where I’ve learned the most about life. In the lectures you get all the knowledge. Then through all the other experiences you have, you figure out how to make that knowledge relevant to your life.
Any advice for students interested making international connections?
I wish I'd learned about the range of international experiences available sooner. Knowing how to appreciate and value people from other cultures something you can't put a price on. UC is amazing in how it encourages you to push past your own community and become part of the wider world. The international experience here connects and changes so many people's lives. I can hand on heart say that I'm not the same person I was when I arrived at UC, and that's thanks to the international experiences I’ve had. I'm doing so much more now than just racing around a track in circles!