Embracing community and culture.

Helping other students has enhanced Eric's studies.
Helping other students has enhanced Eric's studies.

As a young boy, Eric Yang used to watch his grandfather struggling to get around. “He had trouble with his knees, and he couldn’t walk very far,” he says. “He had to walk very slowly, and he’d get so tired. I had this dream that I could design something, maybe like a mechanical skeleton or something to help him to walk. I was young when I had that dream, but later I thought, ‘Why not? Why not do something like engineering?’ That’s really why I went into Biomedical Engineering.”

From Shijiazhuang to Sydney via Singapore
Eric grew up in Shijiazhuang, China – a small city not far from Beijing – and moved to Singapore at the age of 15 to complete his senior years of high school. At the end of his studies in Singapore, he considered his next move with care. He says, “I looked around at Australia, at Canada. I also thought about staying in Singapore. I felt that Singapore is one of those places where everyone seems stressed. I wanted to go somewhere I could enjoy university and have time for co-curricular activities. Australia seemed closer to home and I think it has a better climate than Canada. I don’t like ice and snow.”

Choosing the pathway to UTS
He applied to and received offers from several Australian university pathway providers but chose UTS College. “At UTS College my diploma counted as the first year, which meant I could get my degree sooner. Also, when I researched online, I saw UTS climbing really high, really fast in the QS rankings. It was the top young university in Australia,” he says. “So, lots of potential without having to do an extra year. That’s how I made my choice.”

Now in the final stages of his UTS degree, Eric credits UTS College with setting him up for success at university. He says, “As soon I started, I saw so many opportunities, like becoming a Student Peer Helper for example. In one of my first classes – I think it was Foundational Maths – I saw someone standing at the back of the classroom. I asked the teacher, ‘Why do they have to stand up? Didn’t they do their homework?’ The teacher said they were a Student Peer Helper and asked if I was interested in doing it. She said if I got an HD for the subject, she would help me apply. So, I worked hard, and I got to do it.”

A passion for co-curricular activities
That experience ignited Eric’s passion for co-curricular activities. “UTS College also had a Student Mentor Program at the time, and I joined that. I was helping other international students to settle in and helped with any difficulties in their studies or personal lives. And from that, I had an opportunity to become a Student Ambassador,” he says. “I started to post about my life. It was all so interesting. I never expected there would be so many things to do. Back in China, and in Singapore, we just studied. But now I can see these other activities are important. The College is a community. It’s not just a school. And I was still getting good grades.”

Activities no barrier to academic success
Eric brought his enthusiasm with him to UTS, where he was elected to the student board at ActivateUTS (the company that manages all the clubs at UTS). He is also treasurer of the UTS College Alumni Club. Although his many co-curricular activities often demand careful time-management, Eric has continued to succeed in his studies and is contemplating a PhD in the future. He says, “I’m currently involved in a few research subjects, and I want to get into a research department of a company or institution. I think, in biomedical engineering, a PhD is a really good pathway. Since I’m doing honours, I can go straight to a PhD if I get good enough grades.”

An early lesson in kindness
Looking back on his education journey, Eric has a special fondness for a primary school teacher, Miss You. “When I was small,” he says, “I was the naughty boy in the class. But Miss You wasn’t like the traditional Asian teachers who are very strict. One day, I had a fight and I think I broke someone’s tooth. I remember even then she was kind and she spoke to me nicely. She asked me, if I had a child, would I want them going home with missing teeth, and I thought no, I definitely wouldn’t want that to happen. It was better than making me write a punishment letter or making me stand outside. I’m thankful to her. She didn’t only teach the schoolwork. She taught me how to become a better person.”

Striking a balance
Eric has some tips for other international students, especially those from China. “The first thing I would say is forget about how education works in China,” he says. “Don’t just focus on study. It’s important, but you can balance it with co-curricular activities. Try to get involved. You came to a different country, so get involved in the community and the culture. I’m not saying you have to become an Australian but step out of your comfort zone. I know students who don’t even check their emails. They’re missing opportunities.”