Stories From Abroad

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"As the train arrived in Dubai’s metro station, people barged their way through the crowd, determined to get on the train, no matter how crowded it was. The line in the train cabin stating “Women and Children Only” separated the men from the ladies and children who were entitled the privilege of the spacious room that I was quite jealous of.

Admittedly, we had some initial misconceptions about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) propagated by the stereotypes about Muslim countries. Upon our arrival, the automated railway network, spectacular skyscrapers and grand malls instantly debunked many of our earlier beliefs of UAE’s economy. The unification of the seven independent emirates leading to a single federation of the UAE represents a convergence between the tradition and modernity of the Muslim world. Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, once said, “Whoever has no past has neither present nor future”. UAE, with its lavish infrastructure and significant economic progress, still places great emphasis on religion and its rich historical past, and these continues to guide their way of life and the development of the society. These elements continue to have an influence on different aspects of society such as business practices, clothing, education, food, social interaction, values and beliefs. Diversifying away from oil towards sectors such as tourism, trade and financial sectors, UAE’s exponential economic growth over the last 10 years has been inspired by the UAE Vision 2020 guided by one of the founding fathers, His Highness Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE.

With widespread globalisation, UAE is one example that shows retaliation against the onslaught of foreign ideas by becoming more intensely protective of their own culture, religion and Emirati citizens. Amidst that, still managing to achieve a harmonious balance of different cultural and religious groups and their participation in the economy and society. With about 80% of its population being expatriates, the UAE government has found a need to provide support for the remaining 20% of its citizens for social, economic and political reasons through Emiratisation. From our visits, we realised that Emiratis have better treatment and hold high positions in many of the companies. In addition, Emirati women have made notable progress to match men in terms of political, cultural and economic clout in UAE. UAE has been lauded as a regional leader in championing gender equality, not only through empowering women but empowering its society through women. This was especially vivid during our visit to the Abu Dhabi university where we witnessed an exemplary presentation by a female student ambassador of the school, which made mention of women empowerment in UAE highlighting a few key female figures such as Dubai Abulhoul and Her Excellency Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui. Equality between the gender has seen improvements across different cultures and beliefs, hoping that one day it will achieve the ideal union between the sexes, having both men and women recognised, not only at the battlefronts but also as councils of nations."

  • A Reflection by Wilson Toh, Participant on the Overseas Study Mission (renamed ‘Overseas Experiential Learning’) to UAE in 2016

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"My stint here widened my perspectives and motivated me to know more about world issues and economy beyond Singapore. After attending the Baosteel’s Overseas Talent Programme and working with their high potential international talents, I felt driven to keep up with the ever-changing economic environment, to gain competitiveness by equipping myself with relevant knowledge, skills and abilities. In addition, I gained great insights into the world’s economy and especially on China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project a project which will have a massive influence on the world’s economy. As China gradually opens up its economy, one may look forward to more opportunities to work with talents from all over the world in the future. Besides, this experience has left a deep impression on me, after seeing how China has developed itself to become a commendable country today with its advancement in technology and how she thrived through the ever-changing global economy.

I learned that opportunities are hard to come by; we should be hungry for these opportunities to experience and learn., After my stint, I am more aware that I would want to establish a global career to not only widen my perspectives but to contribute effectively within my means."

  • A Reflection by Wai Xin Yi (FTHRM 2015 cohort), on her work attachment experience with Baosteel Group in Shanghai, China

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"Bamboo Builders aims to reduce educational inequality by training and empowering rural high school students from Chu Van An High School to become local leaders who can initiate social changes in their own community in Binh Phuoc Province, Vietnam. To achieve this, we conduct hands-on soft skills, design thinking and mindset change lessons through the project-based approach with the students. The volunteers came from Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar to prepare for the lessons and other programmes. It was interesting to see how we could work so well together even though we were from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.

I was amazed at how closely knitted the school community is. The most memorable moment was the ‘meal preparation’ gathering during our second last day in the province. Each team was given a sum of money, tasked to get the ingredients from a market and prepare the meal at one of the student’s house. Everyone prepared the food together and the moment we gathered around the tables for the meal, I felt a strange sense of closeness and belonging to this group of people, just like how being part of a family feels like.

After this trip, I started to wonder, has our constant yearn for improvement in quality of life such as material comfort, convenience and civic amenities cause us to lose our community value of sharing and helping one another? Even though we went to Vietnam to impart knowledge of design thinking to the students, I felt that I have learnt so much more from them. They have showed me what truly being part of a community feels like."

  • A reflection by Gan Ze Yi (FTECE 2018 cohort), a participant in the project with Bamboo Builders as part of a Global Service-learning Programme in 2018

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"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
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