Southeast Asia study tour
From 12 January to 8 February 2018, 24 university students from across New Zealand participated in the "Understanding Southeast Asia" Study Tour. Led by Associate Professor Malcolm McKinnon (Victoria University of Wellington) and Ms Jane Gunn-Lewis (Arcadia University), the students visited Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to understand business environments and opportunities in Southeast Asia.
In 2019, Understanding Southeast Asia was replaced by the Tertiary Market Immersion Programme (TMIP). Read about the TMIP here.
The main thing I hoped to achieve during the Study Tour was to learn how people from Southeast Asia define 'normal' and to immerse myself in their daily lives. This was absolutely achieved and I gained real insight into how people from the region view the world and feel about important issues.
We were able to work with local students throughout the Study Tour and every interaction provided the best opportunity for being immersed in the culture. In particular, we spent an evening with students in Hanoi, Vietnam. They took us to their favourite food places and local hangouts and we really felt part of their friendship group.
The Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, Thailand, was a great place for learning, and I felt like we heard from the best authorities on the topics that were presented. It was also great going to the Fisher and Paykel factory to see it in action, especially with the Kiwi links.
The focus of Myanmar was more about their recent history and current struggles as opposed to the business environment, and was one of my favourite countries on the trip. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Since the Study Tour, I am more confident to talk about Southeast Asia and am able to educate others on what I learned. The Study Tour made me realise just how vital it is to have international knowledge of the Southeast Asia region – our economy underpins a lot of policy decisions made and impacts everyone in New Zealand. I'm now looking into taking some economics papers at university, to better my understanding of how it all works and build upon my experience in the region.
My first experience in Southeast Asia was as a teen, travelling through Thailand and Singapore. Although I wasn't initially engaged beyond being a tourist, I've always known that I am stimulated by new cultures, countries and people, and was eager to return to the region.
In my application essay for the Study Tour, I wrote about wanting to further my engagement with the region, and gain an understanding that went deeper than just a 'face value' experience with a country. The Study Tour certainly met my expectations and provided the opportunity for me to fully engage with the concepts that were being talked about, and the cultures we were immersed in. I recently took a paper on Public Law, which improved my ability to analyse issues in different ways, and this had a major impact on my experience throughout the Study Tour.
In Thailand, I was able to better understand the political situation. We attended sessions by some truly incredible speakers, who helped me make sense of my own observations of the country. Likewise, the day of talks at the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore were great in explaining why Singapore is so modern and developed. And the speakers in Ho Chi Minh City offered interesting insights. I enjoyed the fact that the speakers talked a lot about Vietnam as a consumer market, and the various business opportunities that exist there for New Zealanders, especially in education.
I also wrote in my application about wanting greater business competency of the Southeast Asia region, and I subsequently left each country knowing far more about its trade, economic, social, cultural and political dimensions than I could have imagined. And while I definitely now know more about doing business in the region, it has also shown me how much I don't know! But this is a good thing – I realise this and have some fantastic opportunities to further broaden my understanding, including proactively working towards a career where I can make a meaningful difference and build on this incredible Study Tour experience.
Now, I see Southeast Asia as a certain part of my future, and I'm equipped to engage as more than just a tourist.
I applied for the Study Tour with a desire to ultimately find my cultural identity and pathway in life as a Korean-Kiwi. I'd previously taken university papers about Southeast Asia, but they were generally focused on the past and did not reflect the modern, booming Asia that I witnessed on the Study Tour.
I experienced first-hand the economic, trade and foreign affair ties that New Zealand has with Southeast Asia. Seeing New Zealand's foreign aid programmes implemented in Indonesia showed just how much behind the scenes work takes place with one of our largest, strongest economic partners. I was blown away by the economic potential of Vietnam as the fastest growing economy in the world - I could literally feel the energy of the businesses and start ups. I was also fascinated about the political situation in Myanmar and the commentary from the various speakers; reporters who were sent to prison for freedom of speech. All these encounters provided me with a true appreciation of the beauty of the rich, diverse cultures of the countries we visited.
I returned to New Zealand with a new-found passion for Asia, and a sense of pride that I identify as a Kiwi-Asian. This is because it gave me awareness and confidence of the successes, the work ethic, and the culture of Asia, especially after seeing the development of places like Singapore and Jakarta.
Most importantly, the Study Tour helped me consolidate and embrace my cultural identity and has given me the drive to pursue politics in New Zealand as a Korean-Kiwi. It’s opened my pathways in terms of reaching out to Asia for future career options, and has given me a sense of duty to advocate New Zealand's relations with the Asia-Pacific.
Prior to the Understanding Southeast Asia Study Tour, I had been to Vietnam as a tourist but had no prior knowledge of the political system, media freedom or economy. This Study Tour was a truly unique learning experience that expanded my knowledge well beyond Vietnam and piqued my interest in a number of areas that have continued to impact me.
One of the most engaging aspects of the Study Tour was our interaction with local students. They spent time with us outside of the lectures and presentations and immersed us in their cultures. I was inspired by their guidance and eagerness to share their local knowledge, and since returning to New Zealand I have registered as an International Buddy at my university. I’m partnered with students from Egypt and Singapore, eager to display the same inclusion and hospitality that the Southeast Asian students showed our group.
On an academic level, I've started a university paper on Southeast Asian Politics to gain an even deeper understanding of the topics we discussed during the Study Tour. I’ve also applied for internship opportunities in Southeast Asia. As an international relations student, I gained an appreciation of Southeast Asia and the incredible opportunities that exist for us Kiwis, and am also interested in taking my Master’s Programme overseas – something I hadn’t previously considered. I now understand the value and relevance to my career, and know that my future will be set in Southeast Asia.
I applied for the Understanding Southeast Asia Study Tour eager to gain a new perspective of the region, since I had only previously travelled as a tourist.
This Study Tour provided both cultural and business knowledge of each of the six countries, and I was especially surprised by the joint-venture and start up opportunities in the Vietnam market.
I also learned about different ways to look at things and people. Our Study Tour Leaders, Prof Malcolm McKinnon and Jane Gunn-Lewis, helped us to analyse our ever-changing environments and consider cultural differences and similarities in every possible instance.
As an future engineer, I want to give back to New Zealand by providing more sustainable, profitable, and life-improving products. After hearing first-hand from experts in business and academics, engaging with local students, and completing the written assignments during the Study Tour, I returned home equipped with a new-found interest in the region.
I plan to stay connected to Southeast Asia and the connections I’ve made, as I now see it as a potential place to start a business after graduating, due to the opportunities that I learned about through the Study Tour.
Using my knowledge of the Southeast Asian region, I want to help other New Zealanders succeed in their business ventures in any way possible, as this Study Tour was truly a life-changing experience for me and I want others to gain that same inspiration and motivation.
I first visited Vietnam on a school History trip when I was in Year 13. It was an education-focused trip, but the Understanding Southeast Asia Study Tour this year involved a more intensive business and academic focus, which I was thankful for.
I gained a much deeper understanding of Vietnam during the Study Tour because of the variety and quality of the lectures we attended. I had never appreciated the extent and the impact of the Vietnam war, and still have so much to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities we had to engage with other university students and ask them about their lives and their opinions of Vietnam.
Other memorable moments on the Study Tour included a presentation about ethnic minority groups in Khon Kaen, the Beau Bakery Skype talk in Jakarta, and also hearing different perspectives of Myanmar from speakers such as Ko Ko Gyi. I also enjoyed hearing the New Zealand Ambassador's perspective.
I will bring the knowledge I gained of Southeast Asia business and culture to my future workplaces so that we can work better together in instances such as problem solving, team work and communication. Because of the depth and focus of the Study Tour, I am now better equipped to engage with the region and take an empathetic approach to understand why other cultures might approach a situation very differently from a New Zealander.
Because of the Study Tour, I plan to return to Southeast Asia in the near future, and hope to secure an internship to further my understanding of the region.
The SEA CAPE Study Tour showed me first-hand how the six countries operate and how their societies function.
One of my favourite aspects of the Study Tour was meeting local student and seeing the many similarities and differences between our upbringings, but realising that we can all relate to one another despite different languages and cultures.
Our Study Tour Leaders, Prof Malcolm McKinnon and Jane Gunn-Lewis, had us question everything around us, which has changed my way of thinking forever. They created a sense of curiosity within us whilst we traveled and ensured that we were constantly learning. The study tour also opened my eyes to the many opportunities in the Southeast Asia region. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the United Nations, our Embassies and many individual kiwi businesses doing amazing things are opportunities that I was previously unaware of but am now aspiring to pursue.
Since returning home to New Zealand, I have shared stories of my trip with friends and family. I love making others aware of unique opportunities and seeing how we, as the youth of New Zealand, can use our skills to make a mark on the world. I cannot wait to return to Southeast Asia, and also look forward to seeing many of the international students from the region in New Zealand one day. I feel that we can strengthen our relationships to find opportunities that better both ourselves and our countries.