Stories From Abroad

Pho, lanterns, paper flowers and overhanging cliffs, there is much to love about Vietnam. A much-anticipated trip, with support from the National Youth Council (NYC) Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP), 20 full-time undergraduate students went to Da Nang, Vietnam to look at conservation and development in cities. This trip to Central Vietnam explored the liveable city implementations and aspirations of particularly Da Nang and Hue. The trip provided students with fundamental knowledge about the cities and their environment, how urban development impacts environmental processes and how cities can be sites of biodiversity and heritage conservation. 

Da Nang 1Students with Green Viet

The students interacted with young entrepreneurs who wanted to share their efforts and generate ideas about conservation and visited locals involved in traditional practices like weaving, pottery and fish sauce making that require modernising. This was juxtaposed against the background of industrial and economic development in Vietnam, which is one of the fastest developing nations in the ASEAN region.

The trip focused on providing students with a first-hand knowledge of city development, efforts taken to conserve heritage and the biodiversity of the environment. Singapore’s own efforts were used as a perspective for comparison to view the issues and problems that they saw in Da Nang, Cham Island, Hoi An and Hue.

Da Nang 2Thanh Tien Paper Flower Village

The fishing village left a huge impression on me. It made me feel appreciative of how small businesses spend so much effort using traditional means and innovation for production. Without this trip to the fishing village, I would not have been aware of this small group of traditional fish sauce producers who are struggling to compete with mass produced fish sauces. After listening to the owner share about their processes and how fish sauce is produced, I’ve become more conscious when making decisions as a consumer. For example, I will go for products with more sustainable origins. 
Kelly Rebecca Wong, Bachelor of Science in Marketing

Cham Islands: is a cultural treasure trove. Stepping onto these islands is like travelling back in time. Steeped in the profound legacy of Sa Huynh, Champa, and Dai Viet civilizations, plus many ancient architectural marvels of the Cham and Vietnamese people dating back several centuries; Cham Islands today practises a kind of slow and steady sustainable development.

The students learnt about community-based tourism and conservation from Miss Huyen, who was born in the village. She returned from her graduate studies in Melbourne to contribute back to the village, working at the Cu Lao Cham Marine Protected Area, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.

Da Nang 3Students at the Cham Islands, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve

The conservation in Cham Islands has become communal and organic. The students were amazed to find there is no plastic on the Islands at all. It is a system that depended successfully on the integrity of the islanders and visitors. The Islands also has a system where the crabs that were caught need to be stamped with a sticker before they could be sold. The system ensured that the crabs reach a stipulated size before they are removed from the ecosystem. What was interesting was that the crabs with the stickers fetched a higher price in the market! There are also clearly marked areas for the protected coral regions. A group of students and staff had the privilege of snorkelling to witness the sea life at the coral regions. A group of students and staff had the privilege of snorkelling to witness the sea life at the coral regions.

Da Nang 4Students trying out pottery at Thanh Ha Pottery Village

One moment I'd love to revisit is the Thanh Ha Pottery Village. While my experience there had been especially enriching because of interactions with both VNUK students and local villagers, I would want to immerse more in the village's heritage. I'd realised too late that the village itself has a character of its own in the architecture and surrounding nature. It does make me think deeper about whether people define spaces or vice versa, and how this dynamic relates to conservation and development everywhere.
~ Yeo Wei Jiang, Bachelor of Science in Marketing


The trip covered multiple aspects and perspectives of conservation and development. The students explored first-hand the (sometimes hidden) issues surrounding city development. They observed the effects of tourism on the economy in cities and were provoked to think about the factors that need to be considered in development. The comparison studies also made them consider the differences and similarities between Vietnam and Singapore, arriving at an appreciation of the fine balance between conservation and development.

Da Nang 5VNUK and SUSS students in attendance at the Programme

Credits and Thanks:

  • VNUK: The University of Danang
  • Le Hoang Sinh (Head of Research and International Office)
  • Tran Thi Phuong Man
  • Green Viet: Mr Chuong Hoang
  • Cham Island:  Huyen
  • Our guide: Mr Vinh (Diesel)

With support from the National Youth Council (NYC) Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP), students from SUSS attended an enriching 7-day global learning programme with Chiang Mai University (CMU) to explore the city's rich heritage and sustainable development initiatives.

Chiang Mai 1Viet Wiang Kum Kam archaeological site visit

The students took a deep dive into the diverse communities of Tai Lue, Wat Tet and Mae Kampong, each with their own distinct cultures and origins to observe how the communities are independently preserving cultural heritage and of responsible development. Student buddies from Chiang Mai University kindly facilitated and accompanied our students to overcome the language and cultural barriers throughout the programme.

Tai Lue Community: Through eco-tourism, the Tai Lue Community of Ban Luang Nua are self-sustaining. They grow their own food, make their own products and use the tours to promote their culture and heritage. The students participated in some of the community's activities, sang traditional songs with the community, designed their own bags and cooked up a feast with the ingredients self-harvested from the Tai Lue community duck farm.

Chiang Mai 2Preparing food at the duck farm with the Tai Lue community

This programme has been a transformative experience for me. It has it opened my eyes to a different culture and way of life and made me realise how different governments handle cultures and how life can be so much different from what we are used to. I have realised the importance of lifelong learning and I am more motivated to make sure that I always have an open mind to learn more about the world around me while fostering intercultural relationships and finding ways to be more sustainable as I travel the world.  I would like to end off with a quote that I heard when I was young, “To expand the horizons of your utmost destiny you must venture beyond the confines of fear, doubt and negativity. ~ Anthon St. Maarten."
~ Neubronner Benson Joseph Year 3 FTFNCE undergraduate

Wat Ket Community: The students interviewed local homeowners from Wat Ket community about the challenges of maintaining the Lanna houses and the importance of preserving them for future generations Students conducted fieldwork with stakeholders to understand the community’s perception of redevelopment, environmental and impact of local business.

After the interviews, the students presented their findings to the community. They shared what they had learned about the history, construction, and maintenance of the Lanna wooden houses. They also discussed the importance of preserving these houses for future generations. The students caught a glimpse of the clash between urbanisation tradition and heritage and appreciated that it is a complex issue with no easy answers.

Chiang Mai 3Fieldwork presentation at Wat Ket community

This GL program to Chiang Mai has been a journey of cultural immersion and it truly has been an enriching experience. From exploring ancient temples to engaging with the local communities, the city’s vibrant heritage comes to life and captivates me in many ways as I learned the importance of cross-cultural understanding. The warm hospitality, unique traditions and mesmerizing landscapes of Chiang Mai forged lasting memories for me and deepened my global competencies. To end off, the saying where learning never stops will be deeply etched in my mind as I aim to make more intercultural connections and promote sustainability as I progress through the different stages in life. As Henry Miler once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
~Ng Jun Han, Shaun, Year 3 FTFNCE undergraduate

Mae Kampong Community: Finally, the students visited the Mae Kampong community, a Karen hill tribe community that has been working to preserve its traditional culture and way of life. During this eco-tour, they learned about the community's efforts to protect its natural resources and how it is adapting to the challenges of globalisation. Students gained insights into the tea and coffee supply chain and engaged with families through traditional practices to enhance their understanding of local wisdom and culture such as tea pillow making.

Chiang Mai 4Mae Kampong Eco-Tourism Visit

My immersion in Chiang Mai has been a life-changing experience that has challenged my beliefs about cultural preservation and sustainable development. I was motivated to learn more about community-driven sustainable initiatives after seeing the Mae Kampong village self-sustenance. The cultural contrasts between Singapore and Thailand have propelled me to reconsider societal norms and prioritise peace and collectivism. I’ll be adopting a responsible approach to travel and supporting local businesses and artisans, in the countries I visit in the future to help them preserve their culture.
~Loh Yu Hong, Year 1 FTMKTG undergraduate

Chiang Mai 5Making and designing bags with Tai Lue Community


Students gained insights into cultural preservation and sustainable tourism during their visits to the different communities. They deepened their understanding of history and preserving heritage. The personal encounters with the practice of traditional crafts and a more sustainable way of life allowed the students to think much about life back in Singapore and how cultures and cultural traditions weigh differently in Chiangmai.

Credits and Thanks:

  • Tai Lue Community of Ban Luang Nua in Doisaket district
  • Wat Ket Community
  • Wualai Road and Silver Handicraft Community
  • Mae Kampong Community

Students from various different programmes went to the tin-mining state of Perak to explore the culture and the look at how Perakians have utilised community resources to make life better for the community.

The students went to rare and interesting sites like a charcoal factory, a mosquito coil factory, and remote museums of history. They also went into a cave temple and spent time in fishing villages, allowing them a glimpse into the life of the community to reflect on the multifaceted world of sustainability, conservation and heritage in Perak.

Perak 1Meeting Mr Phang, founder of the Gopeng Museum

Gopeng Museum: What seemed like a dull afternoon at Gopeng Museum came alive when the students met Mr Phang See Kong, founder and curator of the Gopeng Museum. The private museum is small but rich in content. It records the local development history with well-preserved photos and newspaper clippings as a reference. Stepping back in time allowed the students to reflect on the importance of history and culture to a society.

What I learned from this programme goes beyond facts. I realized how important cultural identity is to a place and its people. Speaking with the locals taught me how critical it is to document history accurately, so it doesn't get lost over time. I also saw how preserving cultural and heritage sites can contribute to a community’s sense of pride and serve as a way to connect with people across the world.” 
~Goh Pei Xuan, Year 3 FTHRM undergraduate

Charcoal Factory:The students visited and spoke to Mr Chuah, the third generation who have been running the charcoal factory in Kuala Sepetang without the use of any machinery! He speaks several languages – English, Mandarin, Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien etc and has an MBA, all to manage the family business. With a background in science, he innovated to use the waste of charcoal fumes to make a bacteria-killing vinegar. Mr Chuah keeps the traditional ways of making charcoal alive while smashing the misconception that charcoal is unsustainable and ecologically unfriendly.

Perak 2                    Students listening to Mr Chuah the owner, at the traditional charcoal factory

This experience forced me to reevaluate my preconceptions about sustainability. I learned that sustainable tourism solutions should be context-specific, considering each community's unique needs and dependencies. This realization has significantly reshaped my perspective on sustainability, making me acutely aware of its intricate nuances and the need for holistic approaches.

In the face of such complexities, one cannot help but admire the intricate web of relationships in sustainable tourism. It is not just about preserving natural beauty but protecting the livelihoods of the communities that depend on it. This holistic understanding has transformed how I approach sustainability in any context, realizing that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. ” 
~ Taneshwari, Year 3 FTSCM undergraduate

Kuala Sepetang: The students went on a hunt for the Port Weld old railway signage and the Port Weld Scenic Bridge, the latter which connects the mainland and Kampung Seberang and overlooks the fishing village below on both sides. At sunset, surrounded by water, the students had dinner with fresh food from the sea and the village.

The differences in lifestyle extended beyond culinary experiences. Crossing the bridge in Kuala Sepetang, I was privy to a sight that resonated with the rhythm of local life – teenagers who appeared to be below the legal driving age, confidently manoeuvring motorcycles as their primary mode of transportation. This unique sight shed light on into a distinctive facet of local life and ingenious ways in which the locals adapted to their surroundings.

Perak 3Village scene from the bridge in Sepetang

Insights shared by Mr. Kong, a professor at UTAR, further enriched my understanding of the local community. The concept of "kampong spirit" resonated deeply, highlighting the strong community bonds that transcended socio-economic differences. I learned that during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the more affluent and privileged members of the community rallied to extend financial support to small local businesses, displaying a heartwarming sense of unity and support.

This overseas experience has served as a powerful catalyst for transformation. It has shattered the confines of my perspective and made me realise the vastness of the world. In this short span of time, I learned to appreciate and embrace the richness of human experiences and cultures. As I look back on this journey, I feel a strong urge to enhance my global skills. This experience has inspired me to continue fostering connections and learning from different cultures, both near and far. ” 

~ Chevy Chan, Year 2 FTACC undergraduate

Perak 4
Even though it was just across the border, the Perak trip was an eye opener that gave the students a deeper insight into the meaning of culture. They learned about the importance of heritage and history, not only as a source of income from tourism but also for the society. Whether it is life in a sleepy Perak town or in a bustling city like Singapore, challenges can only be overcome when people come together and UTAR as a university impressed with its close connections to the community.

Credits and Thanks:

  • Mr Kong HY for his indefatigable enthusiasm in making the trip fun for the students.
  • Dr Tan AB for coming out of her sabbatical to teach the students about the temple caves.
  • Dr Anthony Tee and Mr Johnn Choy for being so present with the students.
  • Mr Phang See Kong for his passion and love shared with the youths about history and heritage.
  • Mr Chuah, for smashing judgements, first impressions and conventions.
  • All the friendly and warm Perakians, especially the ones who opened the doors of the temples, when we did not even ask for it.


"Apart from developing the actual idea itself, we had to do a lot of networking during the programme. I interacted with quite a number of International students and my team consisted of students from Australia, America and China. We had a vast cultural difference. The Australian students were very spontaneous and participative during the activities and I learned how to be more outgoing and outspoken by interacting with them. I learned how to preserve my cultural knowledge from an Asian background when contributing new ideas to the team. For instance, we had to share about the music scene in each of our hometowns during the market share research and it was important to provide information that is true to the place that I come from. Next, I also learned how to be patient while communicating with members with language barriers. For instance, my team member from China was not very proficient in the English language. However, she was a key contributor to the team as the designer of the project. I learned how to be patient and to be more understanding and sensitive towards other people. Lastly, I also learned about a variety of lifestyle differences with a lot of students from different nationalities. For instance, the students from Finland had a completely different take on education where learning is more hands on for them. I gained large insight into the way of lives from people across the world.

Overall, the EIA programme was an extremely good exposure for myself. I learned a lot about the Italian culture, language, food and lifestyle. Before the EIA programme, I was afraid of travelling alone and meeting new people as I am an introvert. However, after travelling to Turin, I have realised that communication and social skills are vital in surviving in the business industry. Moreover, it was also a personal learning journey where I was able to re-discover my personal strengths and weaknesses. Initially, I was experiencing a large amount of irrational fear due to the constant reminders of safety and frequent mentions of the high theft rate in Turin by the people in the summer school. However, by the end of the programme, I have learned to manage these situations by myself. I also learned the need for real human interactions in this digital age after travelling to Italy. For instance, there are rarely any fast food places in Italy and most of them enjoy dining with their families in restaurants. I had a drastic lifestyle change in Italy where everything was slow moving as compared to the fast-paced lifestyle in Singapore. This made me appreciate the people and the things around me a lot better.

EIA programme had provided me with amazing opportunities to pick up networking and marketing skills for my professional development. Moreover, it allowed me to go through tremendous self-development on being independent and confident in such a short period of time."

  • A reflection by Mahalakshmi Alaghimanvalan, SUSS student, participant in the global entrepreneurship programme European Innovation Academy 2017 in Turin, Italy

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"Travelling to Turkey for my 2-month summer school experience is definitely the path less travelled by Singaporeans as most would head out to Korea with their friends. It was an experience that stretched me beyond my comfort zone and I have gained an entirely new perspective towards the middle-east. What broadened my horizon was the module on History of Modern Middle East. 

I had an amazing experience and my stereotypical views of the middle-eastern people and its conflicts are falling away as I learn and study more about them. There is a famous book written by Samuel Huntington, a close advisor of the US President. He predicted that future conflicts in the world would be a clash of civilisations and culture. Recognising that he is an orientalist, the more we study, the more we recognise the flaws in such views. The cause of conflict seems to not stem from differences in culture, but due to ignorance."

  • A reflection from Chang Yue Sin, SUSS Accountancy Major

#Converge3 testimonial

#Converge3, a cross-cultural experience and forging authentic connections with the Orang Asli Community in Malaysia

#Converge3 gave me the opportunity to “travel” to different countries in the midst of the pandemic. Students from all over ASEAN worked in multi-national groups, using human-centred design approaches to come up with business solutions to help local communities in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

I met my mentor, Daniel Teoh and his team from Native, an organisation that works with the Orang Asli in Malaysia. They connected us to Orang Asli community members and we learnt about their culture, livelihoods and the issues that they face.

People from the Orang Asli community are very friendly. Unfortunately, as an indigenous community, face discrimination in mainstream society. As a result, lack access to education and also face challenges with possession of their ancestral land due to urban development projects.

Empathy and Development into a Global Citizen

#Converge3 made me come out of my “shell” living in Singapore. Behind all the beautiful holiday destinations that ASEAN countries offer, there are many unseen underlying issues and oppression.

I developed empathy for their circumstances and grow to look beyond myself with the desire to find more opportunities to work with people from different societies and to improve the lives of others in the region. I am thankful to be given the opportunity to participate in #Converge and am now able to communicate more effectively with peers from the ASEAN countries. There is more to learn about cultures around the world. Platforms like #Converge allows me to connect with more people and bridge the gap between borders.

  • A reflection by Jeremy Chu (FTPSS, 2020 cohort), on his #Converge3 virtual experience.

CEL_OGP ECE virtual programme

My experience attending the Early Childhood Education - Virtual Learning Series has been an extremely fruitful one. Despite not majoring in Early Childhood but in Social Work, I believe there are many common learning points I garnered from this programme that could be applied in the context of my major and future profession. For example, how does one go about better communicating and relating with a child’s mindset and how does one then boost that interpersonal connection. This is not something that only applies to Early Childhood Educators but also Social Workers who ambition to work with children in the future. Hence, hearing the advice and expertise of the various local and overseas ECE students, practitioners, parents, and organisations has deepened my understanding towards this skillset on ways to better work with children. Beyond just the practical knowledge gained, the friendship made with peers from Vietnam and Indonesia was a heart-warming one as we got to know each other better across the 2 weeks, forming wholesome bonds. Overall, I am glad to have decided to take up the ‘challenge’ to join this programme despite having initial doubts due to the differing majors. The memories will surely stay with me even after I graduate!

  • A reflection by Nur Syahirah Binte Kassim (FTSWK, 2020 cohort), on her Early Childhood Education - Virtual Learning Series experience.


I was eager to gain more perspectives about the ECE landscape in other countries. It was exciting to learn about beliefs and practices that are similar to and different from the Singaporean context.

Despite its virtual nature, the programme tapped on a variety of online platforms and hands-on experiences to deliver engaging and creative sessions aligned to its learning outcomes.  I had the opportunity to participate in many valuable experiences that encouraged collaboration with the locals and the participants from other countries.

One unforgettable experience I had was definitely the partnership with the Filipino community from Silver Heights. My group was tasked to create a virtual learning experience for the children from Silver Heights based on a given domain - music and movement. This would not have been possible if not for the teachers' generous sharing about their children prior knowledge and experiences. They not only provided important insights that helped us make our implementation developmentally and culturally appropriate, but also valuable evaluation and feedback after the execution. This experience was definitely eye-opening; not only did I have the opportunity to apply the knowledge and experience from my course work, I also had the chance to learn from the close-knitted ECE community in Philippines through the partnership.

Through various heart-warming interactions with different individuals (i.e. speakers, locals, students from different disciplines), I discovered the value of the community in the success of any ECE programme. My greatest takeaway is definitely the conviction to tap on the assets of the local community when I commence my teaching career!

I'm very grateful for the opportunity to participate in both runs!

  • A reflection by Lim Yong Ping (FTECE, 2020 cohort), on her Early Childhood Education - Virtual Learning Series experience.
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