Completed a Bachelor of Aviation (Management)/Bachelor of Commerce and received a New Colombo Plan Scholarship during his studies

Daniel Eastwood-Whitaker grew up in Victoria’s Red Hill surrounded by trees and rolling hills. After studying aviation and finance at Swinburne, he certainly didn’t expect to find himself, aged 22, living in Hong Kong surrounded by skyscrapers and working as an information technology executive for an international insurance company. A year later, Daniel is the first to admit his life has taken some surprising turns.

Daniel Eastwood-Whitaker

Finding the right balance

Daniel had enrolled in engineering, but it ‘didn’t feel like it was the right fit’, so he transferred to aviation management, which had a connection to his family history. Daniel’s father and brother share an interest in aeroplanes and his great grandfather, now 97, was a former Royal Air Force flight engineer in England who flew in World War II.

"I was interested in a business career because I felt it offered more diverse job opportunities."

Still not quite finding the right balance, he broadened his studies to include finance. ‘I was interested in a business career because I felt it offered more diverse job opportunities than being a pilot,’ he says. ‘You can take on a number of roles in a corporate career.’ Flying remains an interest: ‘It’s more an expensive hobby now.’

Daniel has no regrets about changing direction during his time at Swinburne. ‘Aviation has always been a passion of mine. I could still work at an airline at some point in the future. When people ask about my education, aviation is always a good conversation starter. It’s different, and most people are interested in flying, or have an experience to share,’ he says.

Moving to China

In 2015 Daniel won a New Colombo Plan Scholarship, awarded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Education and Training. Daniel was one of only 69 students selected across Australia. 

"You learn much about foreign cultures and your own."

Under the scholarship, he spent six months at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, studying Mandarin, Chinese culture and business etiquette, strategic management and international finance. ‘It was a personally transformative experience, I studied and worked with people from China, as well as people from around the world. You learn much about foreign cultures and your own,’ Daniel says.

After one semester in Beijing, he had finished his degree and moved to Hong Kong supported by the scholarship. Here he spent six months as a finance intern in QBE Insurance’s Hong Kong office working on a range of finance-related projects and gaining first-hand international business experience. ‘QBE is a big supporter of the New Colombo Plan and has taken on a number of interns who benefit from exposure to the real world of business,’ Daniel says.

During his time at Swinburne Daniel became a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, a non-profit organisation that recognises academic achievement among university and college students in the top 15 per cent of their course. Daniel was with Golden Key for two years, serving as the Swinburne president in the second year. ‘I received some fantastic advice from Graham Goldsmith, who was Chancellor during my time as Golden Key President, over coffee.’

Helping his peers

While at Swinburne he also began an initiative to help vocational education students who were making the transition to degree studies. He organised Swinburne student volunteers to provide peer-to-peer support across a range of disciplines, including engineering, design, IT and business management. 

"The staff at Swinburne went far beyond … there were so many who provided advice and guidance."

‘Swinburne staff were very willing to help students, especially when they could see you were making a real effort,’ he says. This included helping him with his New Colombo Plan Scholarship application. ‘I felt that the staff at Swinburne went far beyond. I couldn’t single out one particular person, there were so many who provided advice and guidance.’

The challenges of studying abroad

Daniel admits that the time he spent living in a foreign country had its challenges. ‘My first couple of months in Beijing were less than easy. Culture shock set in as you’re quickly immersed in an unfamiliar environment without friends or family. Leaving your home country to live abroad is tough to begin with, but it gets easier,’ he says. 

"Leaving your home country to live abroad is tough to begin with, but it gets easier."

The experience helped him to appreciate the challenges faced by international students in Australia. ‘As a foreigner, it’s easier to mix with people who understand your own culture, share similar values and interests, and who speak your native language,’ he says. ‘A big focus of the New Colombo Plan is cross-cultural communication and interaction, and that was something I actively searched for.’ The Beijing Foreign Studies University offered a number of opportunities to integrate with local students and Daniel’s host family offered him opportunities to meet many other students and families.

He says the large English-speaking population in Hong Kong made life a little easier for him than in Beijing, but he was still able to enjoy the many cultural differences. ‘Most obviously, the city is more crowded than Melbourne, the buildings are taller, everyone seems to be in a rush, and work–life balance is tilted more towards work,’ he says.

Life after Swinburne

After his finance internship, Daniel joined QBE’s regional IT team as a business analyst, with a particular focus on IT financials. Staying in Hong Kong was not an outcome he expected when he won his scholarship, he says. ‘My plan was to study, intern and return home to work. I didn’t expect to be offered a full-time job and start an international career so soon,’ he says.

Daniel has since been promoted to the business operations manager for Global Infrastructure Services (an IT finance role) for 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific. Travel is a big part of his new life, too. ‘I was in Sydney for work last week and tomorrow I am going to Japan for a holiday,’ he says. ‘My brother lives in Malaysia, and my sister is in London; I’ve visited both multiple times this year. Home is Melbourne, where I get to stay for a few weeks a year.’

"You have to take things as they come and take the opportunities that are presented to you."

In 2016, the young high-flyer won Swinburne’s top graduate prize for his degree. ‘When I was at university, I thought a lot about the future and what I was going to do,’ Daniel says. ‘Now I know that you have to take things as they come and take the opportunities that are presented to you.’

‘While at Swinburne, I studied hard, worked full-time and took on as many volunteering opportunities as I could,’ he says. ‘There’s no such thing as entry-level jobs anymore; you need experience before entering the workforce. Take advantage of the opportunities that Swinburne offers you to build this experience and it will make all the difference,’ he says. ‘I believe a big part of where I am today is as a result of the support I received from Swinburne. I didn’t plan it, but now I have an international career in Hong Kong.’

What does he miss? ‘Family, friends and food. I do love Asian food, but there’s nothing like having a barbecue in the backyard, or a roast for dinner,’ he says.

‘I encourage everyone to go on an overseas study exchange and complete an internship. It gives you a wider perspective on the world and a better understanding of your place in it. You’ll experience things you can’t in Australia. You will grow personally and professionally. It will change your life.’

Words by Katherine Kizilos.

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