Australian trade commissioner Matt Brent (’97) reflects on his best (and bruising) memories at ISB.
Matt Brent made an unforgettable impression during his first week at ISB as a middle school student in 1994. Newly arrived from Australia, he was eager to fit in and make friends with other students at the Lido campus. However, he didn’t exactly get off on the right foot.
“I remember on one of my first days of school I fell down the stairs. I had sprained ankles and wrists, and just sort of limped around school for the first week. It was pretty embarrassing,” he recalled.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Matt to recover and get into the swing of life at ISB. Lunchtimes were spent playing on two dustbowl fields, one of which was paved over his second year at the school. In addition to the main school building, there were a dozen or so demountable classrooms that Matt remembers as “kind of cool” even though they appeared more suited to a construction site than a school campus.
Matt attended ISB from 1994 to 1997 with his sister Laura, an actress whose breakout role was alongside Liam Neeson in 2010 fantasy-epic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
After graduating from high school back in Australia, Matt studied a double degree in international business and international relations. He next studied Chinese language and literature at Nanjing University, before earning his Masters in Professional Accounting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
From a third-culture kid to a third-culture professional, Matt has lived and worked around the world in Moscow, Shanghai, and Wuxi. He returned to Beijing in 2014 to work with Australian Trade Commission, bringing his connection with the Chinese capital full circle.
Reflecting on his time at ISB, Matt said his experience had taught him the value of communication and collaboration in an increasingly connected world. He has stayed in touch with many of his old classmates including Ashwin Dias, the Mumbai-based general manager of Uber, and Sarah Fenwick-Ross, a Grade 2 teacher at ISB.
Matt pinpointed one the “amazing” China Studies trips as one of the biggest highlights. His travels to scenic and historic parts of the country left him with plenty of memories and, like his first week, a few scrapes.
“I remember on one trip we went to Zhengzhou (Henan Province), where we went out on a river on a hover- craft. About three or four of us fell overboard. I still re- member trying to make my way to the shore and being laughed at by about 70 people. It was pretty rough,” he said. “On another trip I hit my head on the Great Wall at the Jingshanling section. I ended up getting half a dozen stitches. I was a bit of a klutz.”
As trade commissioner at the Australian Embassy, Matt connects buyers and sellers in China and Australia through events and promotions. He also helps Chinese investors understand opportunities in Australia, China’s seventh biggest trading partner.
Once primarily based on natural resources such as iron ore and gas, Matt noted Australia’s trade relationship with China has diversified in recent years creating more opportunities for both sides.
“Tourism and education are two really big sectors taking off. For the first time, we had more than one million Chinese tourists visit Australia (last year). We’re also seeing trade expand to other areas including financial services, architecture, and aged care,” he said.
“I certainly gained a lot from my classmates, who came from diverse backgrounds. As you come into contact with people from different walks of life, you really come to embrace diversity and the importance of global-mindedness.”