Cambodian Adventure: SMU Business Student’s Journey in Private Equity and Cultural Discovery

[Featured Image: Yann Yiing (right) traded classrooms for meeting rooms, as he took on the ASEAN Internship Programme (AIP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.]


By the Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre 

When 2022 drew to a close, third-year SMU Business student Liow Yann Yiing found himself on the brink of a transformative journey; he was about to swap the well-trodden paths of his university for the bustling streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Embarking on an internship with a local fund management firm, Belt Road Capital Management, Yann Yiing was guided by three primary aims as his North Star:


1. To discover how companies in emerging markets identify opportunities, evaluate prospects, and finalise deals.

2. To understand the reasoning behind how valuations are made.

3. To embark on a journey of self-discovery, defining his unique working style within the context of private equity.


In the six months that followed, Yann Yiing immersed himself in the Cambodian private equity sector. Here, he shares how he gained not only insights on business strategies and work styles, but also the unique charm of Cambodia and its culture on his journey.


Lesson 1: the art of thinking – logical, critical and unconventional

Yann Yiing’s internship allowed him to pull back the curtain on the private equity sector on a regional scale.


Thrust into the real world of Cambodian business, Yann Yiing was challenged to apply the theories he’d picked up in the classroom to reality. With limited secondary data on Cambodian firms, he had to think outside the box, take on business trips, and conduct primary research to get his work done.

“There were no neat sets of questions and answers provided, as in a classroom,” Yann Yiing reflects. “Often, I had to draw a comprehensive report from a brief of just a couple of lines.”

He had to push the boundaries of his thought process by stepping into the shoes of stakeholders to consider what information they would need to make decisions. “This real-world scenario demanded more of me,” he admits. “I had to think critically and logically, and not accept questions and information at face value.”


Lesson 2: mastering the language of success

Not every step of the journey was smooth, Yann Yiing candidly admits. “At the start, I often misunderstood assignments and produced incorrect work. It was a hard pill to swallow.”

These early challenges underscored the importance of effective communication. “I had to juggle multiple colleagues, research assignments, and on-site surveys,” he recalls. “Communicating clearly was not a choice, but a necessity.”

Looking back, Yann Yiing acknowledges, “The internship forced me to communicate more effectively by asking clarification questions and managing my time better, which in turn reduced stress and improved efficiency.”


Lesson 3: the discovery of true wealth

Ironically, it was in a bustling private equity firm that Yann Yiing had his most profound revelation. “Back in Singapore, I believed that happiness was directly proportional to one’s bank balance,” he confesses. “But Cambodia offered a different perspective.”

Amidst the simplicity of rural life and the richness of cultural traditions, Yann Yiing experienced a profound shift. “Seeing how the locals cherish simple pleasures, like a meal with family or a festive celebration, opened my eyes.”

He recalls one Khmer New Year celebration with a deep sense of nostalgia, “The air was filled with laughter, and the spirit of playfulness evident in the water fights. Amidst the warm embraces shared, I witnessed a type of wealth that money can’t buy – contentment.”


Beyond work experience, the internship left Yann Yiing (left) with a greater appreciation for the simpler pleasures of life.


This revelation transformed Yann Yiing. “I returned with newfound appreciation for the simpler things in life,” he says. “I’ll forever remember the thrill of tuk-tuk rides, the camaraderie with locals, and the deep sense of community experienced there.”

These experiences have profoundly changed Yann Yiing. His tale of learning, growth, and discovery paints a vivid picture of what you too could experience through the ASEAN Internship Programme.

So, are you ready to write your own Cambodian adventure?


The ASEAN Internship Programme (AIP) are part of the offerings provided by Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre (DKHMCC) to encourage students to build up an international network and be Global Citizens. Apply for a Summer AIP via OnTRAC II now.