Located in the Northern Territory's unhurried capital, Charles Darwin University (CDU) rolls with the times. This is a university that innovates, embraces change, and challenges conventions — providing the perfect student experience for those on the lookout for a 21st-century education. Built on social justice, sustainability, creativity and collective effort, the university is vibrant and internationally recognised for teaching and research.
It may be young, but it’s racked up the accolades to prove its credibility. CDU is a top 100 university in the Asia Pacific. It is also the number one Australian university for full-time employment for postgraduate students, as ranked by the Good Universities Guide 2022.
It was the perfect place to advance her knowledge. At CDU’s Casuarina Campus, she pursued a passion she inherited from her mother, a practising teacher in China with over three decades of experience. To follow in her mother’s footsteps, Sunny chose the Master of Teaching — a flexible programme that qualifies graduates to teach at early childhood, primary or secondary levels.
Here’s what a typical week looked like for her:
Zitan “Sunny” Liu has travelled the world. She grew up in China, spent a year in the US and lived in bustling Melbourne for five years. Still, nothing compares to Darwin.
“It was a nice change from the hustle and bustle of a bigger city,” she shares. “I was drawn by Darwin’s unique sceneries and the welcoming, multicultural community.”
A weekend isn’t a weekend if Sunny isn’t giving back to her community. To her, volunteering is just as fun as a night in town. While she reserves Saturdays for some downtime to take care of herself, she keeps her Sundays clear to take care of others.
Sunny is extremely active with the CDU-supported Kindness Shake initiative, giving out free meals to international students experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.
“We've expanded from having just free meals to organising different events for international students,” she says. “We now offer employability workshops, networking events, cultural performances, and singing competitions.”
After a rewarding day of sparking positive change, Sunny takes the rest of her day off to relax and recharge for her week ahead. She spends her evenings taking Molly for a walk and playing fetch with her at the park. Once they get home, they recharge to repeat another fun-filled week.
CDU students are never short of excitement on the weekends. On Saturdays, Sunny heads out with her friends. Together, they enjoy an array of free events such as Parap Markets; art exhibitions at the Outstation Gallery, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and Mayfair Gallery; stand up comedy; and performances that span opera and musicals.
Most recently, Sunny attended the Darwin Festival — 18 exciting days and nights packed with outdoor concerts, workshops, theatre, dance music, comedy and cabaret, film and visual arts. Sunny enjoyed every second of being a part of the crowd.
On other days, Sunny goes on adrenaline-pumping trips. “From camping, sightseeing, hiking and natural off-roading to skydiving, jet skiing and diving, Darwin has it all,” she enthuses.
Sunny has almost done it all, but she’s not quite finished. The next item to tick off her bucket list? “Maybe swimming with crocodiles in a cage,” she says. With Crocosauraus Cove in the heart of Darwin city, swimmers get the opportunity to get up close and personal with saltwater crocodiles safely. So, why not?
Sunny uses her Fridays to master the art of balancing academic assignments with personal wellbeing. After a class, she might head to the library, park herself at a nearby cafe, or book a manicure appointment. No matter her plans, she will always head home just in time to prepare dinner and catch a glimpse of the famous Darwin sunset with Molly by her side.
Once cozied up in bed, she FaceTimes her parents and grandma back home to tell them all about her week and to hear about theirs. Of course, before falling asleep, she catches up on her favourite guilty pleasures on Netflix. Since Saturdays are reserved for her friends, she needs to be caught up.
Sunny’s midweek is often filled with placement teaching classes on top of core classes. On these days, she gets an earlier start. Post-morning routine, she heads to the school for teacher meetings before conducting classes in English, the humanities and science.
After a fulfilling day at educating, she heads home to catch up on university assignments and placement reports. Then, she unwinds by either cooking or ordering in, depending on the day she’s had. Regardless, she often makes it a point to catch up with her housemate before calling it a night.
Sunny’s week always starts strong. She fuels up with coffee and breakfast before heading to class. If there’s time, she’ll take Molly, her dog, for a quick walk in the cool morning breeze. Thanks to CDU’s close proximity to home, Sunny has the option to take in more fresh air by walking or cycling to class.
A typical class starts with mingling, catching up with classmates, or getting her queries answered by lecturers. After her first class, she grabs lunch with her friends at the CDU Lunch Room or Casuarina Square Shopping Centre.
Then, it’s back to class to explore core topics — such as “Education in Context: Preparation for Practice and Assessment,” “Developmental Learning and Pedagogy.”
“Teaching Indigenous Learners,” “Society and Education” — and specialist elective units.
Earlier this year, CDU even became the first university in Australia to successfully charter a flight and bring international students back into Australia. Throughout the process, students were informed and uplifted. From transportation to quarantine accommodation — every aspect was covered.
These are just some of the reasons why CDU is home to a happy, diverse community of students and graduates. Here, they comfortably evolve into experts in their respective fields while enjoying a study abroad experience like none other.
CDU supports international students in various other ways too. During the multiple lockdowns of the past year, students were provided with a state-of-the-art virtual learning system that granted them online access to over 100 university courses — any time, any place, on any device.
"Being part of this great initiative makes me truly feel like a member of the community,” says Sunny. “I have made long-lasting friendships while studying at CDU."
International students love CDU because they know their university cares for them. When the pandemic hit Australia, the university supported the community-led Kindness Shake initiative that helps international students, migrants, refugees and temporary visa holders who are experiencing financial difficulties.