21 February 2018

Exploring Singapore with Oliver Pang

Why did you want to participate in the International Immersion in Singapore program?

My career goal has always been about making a meaningful difference to the world and leaving it in a better place than when I entered. So when I heard that the theme of this program would be ageing population – a topic which has always fascinated me since I first came across it and one of greatest social and economic challenges facing the world in the 21st century – I was instantly drawn to the program.

Given that in Australia, the policy response and media attention has primarily focused on the challenges of the ageing population (such as increased government expenditure on pensions and healthcare), I was interested in analysing the perceptions and representations of ageing in Singapore, to see whether this was the same or different in a similarly developed country. I was also particularly interested in learning how businesses were responding to this demographic trend.

Also, I knew that this program would give me the opportunity to develop and enhance my communication, teamwork, critical thinking and research skills in a way not possible through a normal unit of study at university. Doing so while learning about a real-life topic with real-world implications was probably the biggest drawcard for me.

What did you do during your time in Singapore? 

There was no “average day” in Singapore since every day was unique and exciting in its own way! We started off with activities that introduced us to the cultural and social context in which we would be doing our research. We learnt about Singaporean society and its founding father Lee Kuan Yew through a cultural tour. We also learned about the ASEAN region in general at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute and the Malay language at the National University of Singapore [NUS].

Learning about Singapore's history and founding father

We were then introduced to the topic of ageing through fieldwork visits to a variety of locations. For example, we visited the Ministry of Health, Health Promotion Board, an ageing related exhibit in the Science Centre, a Housing Development Board flat, National University Hospital, National University of Singapore, various hawker centres and wet markets, where we mingled with Singaporean locals of all ages, academics, policymakers and doctors. We also had the opportunity to conduct our own interviews at other fieldwork sites relevant to our individual research topics.

Health Promotion Board 

Seniors working at the Chinatown wet markets 

Ageing exhibit in the Science Centre 

Throughout our visit, we also visited 3 Senior Activity Centres – community centres that are designed especially for Singaporean seniors. I, along with four of my colleagues helped organise activities for seniors such as origami. We mingled with the seniors and overall it was a moving, eye-opening but fulfilling experience.

We also had the opportunity to visit various Singaporean start-ups, witnessing their innovation first-hand.

Our visit to the social enterprise, Citizen Farm Penjara was particularly interesting. As an aspiring social entrepreneur myself, I was really inspired by how Citizen Farm was responding to the lack of agricultural land in Singapore through its space-efficient sustainable urban farming model and use of innovative technologies while simultaneously delivering social impact by hiring from socially disadvantaged communities.

Citizen Farm's agricultural garden 

Citizen Farm's innovative use of ultraviolet light technology 

Equally interesting were our visits to start-ups FOMO and ONEPIP!

Keen beans learning about innovation in the fintech industry at ONEPIP! 

In our free time, we also had the opportunity to visit some of Singapore’s awesome attractions such as Singapore Zoo’s Night Safari, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands and Orchard Road!

Entrance to the Singapore Zoo 

Interactive exhibit at Singapore Zoo 

Gardens by the Bay 

View from the top of Marina Bay Sands 

Singaporean food was also the best! It was cheap, delicious and quite frankly it’s making me hungry even thinking about it!

What was the best part of the program?

It’s so hard to pick, since there were so many great aspects of the program! If I had to pick though, I would have to say it was the opportunity to interact with local Singaporeans of all ages and different backgrounds. It was really inspiring talking to many young Singaporean entrepreneurs and hearing about their innovative ideas.

In addition, the chance to interact with the Singaporean seniors was one of the most memorable experiences of the program and really gave our research a personal human touch. Even though it was at times a very moving experience, especially given that I was close to my own grandparents, it was equally an eye-opening, enlightening and valuable experience that will stay with me for a long time. Even though we spent only a few hours with most of the seniors, I learnt so much and it put many things into perspective. It was also really inspiring hearing some seniors’ positive perceptions of ageing and hearing about their aspirations for their senior years, such as travel!
Also the chance to talk to top researchers, academics and government officials in Singapore was such a unique experience! It not only was very useful and insightful but really allowed me to understand the complex and multi-faceted nature of many ageing-related issues.

What is your biggest takeaway from the experience?

My biggest takeaway is probably all the unique skills I have learned through this program. Researching in an international context, specifically how to effectively collect primary and secondary data and conduct detailed observation in a foreign country, was a big learning experience for me and was only possible through the “hands-on” experience provided by this program. Being able to present research findings to Kantwar Millward-Brown was also a very special learning experience. Presenting to the CEO forced us to step up our communication skills to the next level and the feedback we received was very valuable and insightful. The program also developed my critical thinking skills to the next level. It broadened my perspective on a whole range of things and taught me to think in ways I didn’t know how to before!

How do you think this enhanced your degree?

It would not be an overstatement to say that I have learned more during these two weeks in Singapore than in the previous two years of my degree. It was honestly a money-cannot-buy type of experience which developed my communication, teamwork, critical thinking and research skills to a new level, something not possible through a normal unit of study at university. The knowledge I learned in seminars there was applied daily in a real-life context with real-life implications.

As a student with a strong interest in social entrepreneurship, I gained so much from observing my surroundings and talking with the social entrepreneurs at Citizen Farm Penjara about their journeys and the role of technology in their urban sustainable farming model. Also, learning about ageing and how government, businesses and society itself can play a role in reframing ageing as an “opportunity” and making ageing “successful” was inspiring and no doubt will shape my thinking as I complete my degree and in the many years to come.

I’d like to thank the Business School, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ New Colombo Plan, the program’s Singaporean sponsors and in particularly Dr Jeaney Yip. It’s honestly hard to put into words how much I learned during these 2 weeks. The program wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work, commitment, perseverance, organisation and passion that Dr Yip put into this program, so I’d like to especially thank her. Thanks again Jeaney!

Do you have any advice for someone considering undertaking this program or something similar?

Definitely go for it, you won’t regret it. 2 weeks may seem short, and yes it is fast paced and intense, but you learn so much in those 2 weeks! It’s probably the best program on offer at the Business School! If you’re after an overseas Business program that offers more than just interning at a corporate company, where you’re researching a pertinent topic with far-reaching implications and have the opportunity to make a difference, this is the program for you!

When you’re in-country, make the most of every moment you’re there! You will learn a lot from seminars and talks from academics, but you learn the most when you’re actually interacting with the locals. Talk to every Singaporean you meet, even the Uber/taxi drivers! You’ll not only probably hear a very fascinating story about their life to that point but you’ll also probably learn a lot and gain a lot of insight about your research topic too!

Also, even though you’re in Singapore, a developed country, be careful with what you eat if you want to avoid catching gastro like how I did!

If you could travel anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

Learning about ASEAN and the South East Asia region in general at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Centre was really interesting and sparked my interest in this region. South East Asia has such a fascinating history and I’d love to learn more by travelling across this region in the future! I’m attracted especially by how different these countries are to the “Westernised” societies in Europe, the United States and to an extent our own! As someone who is passionate about economic empowerment in the developing world, I’d relish being able to explore the unique challenges and opportunities faced by each different country in the region!

Written by Oliver Pang
Current Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies) (Marketing and Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management) student at the University of Sydney Business School.
Program: International Immersion Program in Singapore, New Colombo Plan Program

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