A young Singaporean student’s journey in China – Calvin Wee (Part 1)

Calvin is an alumnus of NUS Business School, graduating with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (Honours) with a major in Finance. Calvin was chosen for an exchange program to Peking University in his sophomore year. In his junior year, Calvin represented NUS in the prestigious NUS Overseas College Program where he was based in Shanghai throughout 2019, studying at Fudan University.


In this 3 part series, Calvin will be sharing about his main takeaways from spending 1.5 years in China studying in the top universities there.


Finding relevance and my purpose in life

My time in China has made me realise that my peers in elite educational institutions are equally bilingual and bicultural as Singaporeans. Yes, even though they constitute a very small percentage of their cohort, but in absolute number terms, it is a large force to be reckoned with. These peers will eventually head to the USA or UK for their masters and they are truly global citizens.

Therefore, as I spend time with them, it got me thinking about what is my (and by extension young Singaporeans) relevance to the world? It is pretty clear to me the window of opportunity for us will close if we only focus on being bilingual and bicultural!


After a few months of contemplation, it dawned upon me that the answer is so near yet so far – Southeast Asia!


Opportunities


During my interactions with my Chinese friends, it is pretty clear they have very high regards for Singapore, but the common thread is that they were also keen to find out about our neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia etc. Most of them are interested in the tourism aspect of these countries, which gives us an opportunity because they lack the experience, level of awareness and subject matter expertise to work in Southeast Asia. (for now)


Southeast Asia is becoming a buzzword for companies who have ambitions to expand out of China, the region is just beside China, making it very convenient for companies. The main reason is that the Southeast region is home to a very young and vibrant population and a rapidly growing middle-income class. However, the Chinese do not understand (yet) how to properly enter these markets as every country is unique and no one size fit all strategy will work in Southeast Asia.


Just a couple of months ago, it was announced that ASEAN is now China’s largest trading partner, overtaking USA (partly because of trade war). In this entire macrotrend, there is a role for youths to play. Youths are the future of the nation unless they are prepared to ride this incoming wave, they might lose a lot of careers and personal development opportunities because they do not have the soft skills to excel.


Therefore, there is an urgent need to nurture a group of ASEAN youths who understands both ASEAN and China. They will be able to fit into the talent pipeline for Chinese companies expanding into the region as well as ASEAN companies expanding into China.


Challenges


Nonetheless, let us be very cognizant that challenges are numerous. Firstly, we need to ensure ASEAN youths have a certain level of understanding of the other countries, apart from their own. This will give them more opportunities to provide value. Secondly, there is also an urgent need to increase the sense of ASEAN identity and belonging among ASEAN youths. We must remove the narrow and myopic mindset of focusing only from where we are from. I truly believe that there is strength in unity, ASEAN is a diverse country, we must do more to inculcate a deeper sense of belonging to this ASEAN identity. Lastly, we must also train ASEAN youths to look at things objectively and critically, and to be clouded by historical baggage and coloured viewpoints found in social media. There is no doubt that even within ASEAN, some member states have ongoing arguments and bad feelings due to history or recent events. Also, the perception of China has worsened recently due to the skewed and emotional charged reporting by the news outlets.


There are many problems that we need to solve. If we want to find solutions, we must start by understanding and engaging in conversations. There are a lot of problems nowadays that are not only just caused by misunderstandings but by a basic lack of understanding

We don’t always have to agree with each other, but we must definitely avoid the unnecessary worst-case scenario as a result of the lack of understanding and to form balanced perspectives and well-informed decision making in the right context.


Conclusion

In conclusion, my eureka moment in China has helped to envision the road ahead for me to travel and I have gained a deeper sense of appreciation for being a part of ASEAN and I hope to continue building upon my USP which is to be a bridge between Southeast Asia and China. I hope to inspire a wave of youth generation who will build their own bridges towards a conducive partnership within Southeast Asia, and between Southeast Asia and China, for this will determine our future prosperity, security and development of the region.



In the next article, I will share from a youth perspective, about some of the technology I have either witnessed or used while I was in China. With this, I hope to dispel some of the myths that we might have regarding China being a backward and 3rd world nation! Thank you for reading!

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