By Muhammad Razeef, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business
First conceived in 2007, the ASEAN-India Students Exchange Programme (AISEP) is organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India (MEA) and ASEAN Secretariat. The programme seeks to promote stronger cooperation and relationships with the ASEAN countries and people by educating them about modern India.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to join fellow student delegates from 10 ASEAN countries in this 10-day exchange programme. For most of the trip, we were divided into two groups, each heading to different cities for different activities—which consisted of visits to reputable India companies, well-known universities, and cultural visits in the various cities of India. However, during the last few days of the trip, the delegates came together in New Delhi for a combined programme and a gala dinner, to conclude the entire learning journey.
With over 1.2 billion people, India has the second largest population in the world, as well as the biggest youth population in the world. In recent years, it has been rapidly gaining its footing on the global stage. Rising incomes and greater international exposure are expected to unleash a substantial shift in consumer spending and consumption patterns over the next two decades. Besides this, India’s diplomacy has been heavily focused on improving economic and political ties with the Southeast Asian region. India has also been committed to pursuing economic growth through development initiatives such as “Make in India”, “Digital India”, “Skill India” and “Smart Cities” to provide growth opportunities in emerging sections such as energy and digital innovation.
This exchange programme brought meaningful and insightful field trips, tours, lectures and site visits, enabling me to explore and learn from emerging industries and reputable institutions in India. Truly, I feel privileged to be part of the exciting and enriching programme, which has provided not only valuable experiences, but also new and meaningful friendships.
Admittedly, I had some initial misconceptions about India, which were propagated by stereotypes from newspaper articles and social media. Due to the advent of globalisation, it is often said that culture is always evolving. However, in India, one thing that amazes and intrigues me is the strong sense of culture that is still unwavering amidst globalisation. My 10-day stint in India changed my perception of how I imagined India and Indian nationals to be. Although there is room for improvement in areas such as the environment and socioeconomic status of the citizens, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth and friendliness of the locals as well as the efficiency of the traffic system. Throughout the visit, I found myself immersed in the Indian culture with so much to do, learn and experience.
I was privileged to be able to participate in such a large-scale programme at an international level for the first time in my life. I was able to not only learn about business processes in India, but also about other ASEAN countries. I also learnt a lot from interacting with the other delegates, as we listened to the different personal stories and backgrounds of youths in the same age range, and forged great friendships during the trip. In addition, I was inspired by their talents and determination in fighting this common goal—to help alleviate poverty in their respective countries’ provinces, and to stand up and be the voice for the marginalised.
While there were many opportunities for knowledge sharing, it would be also have been useful to have an opportunity to interact with the Indian delegates, as well to understand from their perspectives and learn about India from their anecdotes. Nonetheless, the programme was still incredibly worthwhile and beneficial, as I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and network with people, and was amazed at how much I gained from this learning journey.
Professor Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter franchise said, “While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.” This quote echoes one of the most memorable lessons I had gleaned from my experience in the AISEP.
This programme was a great platform for exchanging knowledge and building strong ties with international delegates. Furthermore, it is a great way to involve youths in helping to strengthen political bilateral relations, business ties, vocational education, and cooperation between Singapore, India and ASEAN. Through an enjoyable and positive atmosphere, the wide networking opportunity has also allowed me to gain valuable cultural awareness and inculcate a sense of global perspective from delegates who had shared their experiences from different countries. The programme was truly an eye-opening experience and an unforgettable adventure.
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