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Wed, Jan 27, 2010
The Business Times
The importance of 'heartware'

I THINK learning occurs everywhere. But I believe even more strongly that true learning occurs when we are out of our comfort zone.

It may seem odd but having lived in the clean, green, safe and secure environment which I call home for the past 20 years, a sense of guilt increasingly bothered me. I was not convinced that my sheltered life in Singapore was preparing me for the harsh working world as much as I would like it to.

Thankfully, I learned about the SIM Global Education (SIM GE) Summer Abroad programme and jumped at the opportunity to gain a valuable learning abroad experience.

In addition, the financial support I gained in the form of the SIM GE EduAbroad Scholarship served as further encouragement for me to pursue the overseas experience. I was relieved that I could embark on the trip without causing additional strain on my parents.

It did not take me long to make the decision to enrol in the LSE-PKU (London School of Economics-Peking University) Summer School programme.

Apart from the variety of modules available, I was also thoroughly impressed by their relevance to the current state of global affairs. It was my desire to gain a deeper understanding of global dynamics that prompted me to take an International Relations module - The New World Order: Asia, Europe, America.

My biggest takeaway from the 10-day LSE-PKU Summer School was an appreciation of active class participation. I had grown so used to the local education system that being surrounded by question-firing students from all over the world unsettled me greatly. To see my classmates challenge each other's opinion and that of our LSE professors was a refreshing experience.

I soon realised that learning can be made fun by the interaction of ideas. It may have taken me four days to voice my first opinion in the course but once I started, I never stopped.

I learnt that the motivation behind a discussion was not to find the 'right' answer; rather, it was to explore new possibilities with the contribution of every individual.

While it is always tough to take the first step, I was glad I did. I now feel more comfortable voicing my opinions in unfamiliar settings. I believe that this life skill gained is an important one that will be frequently applied to my working life in future.

To supplement classroom learning, SIM GE arranged company visits to National Computer Systems (NCS), CapitaRetail China Trust, Microsoft and DDB Guoan. This aspect of the programme held tremendous value for me, as it facilitated networking and knowledge-sharing with industry figures.

I felt hugely privileged as it was a rare opportunity to be able to meet up with executives such as Gan Quee Bee, chief information officer of NCS, and Wee Hui Kan, chief executive officer of CapitaRetail China Trust. They are both Singaporeans based in China since the mid-1990s, and they gave me great insight into how business is conducted in China.

Align interests

For one, I learnt that it was important to strive for an alignment of interests in the course of business dealings.

I had thought that the notion of guan xi (relationships) takes precedence over any factor when it comes to doing business in China. But Mr Wee was quick to bust that myth.

While relationships and networks are important to a business operating anywhere in the world, he thinks that interests alignment promises a more sustainable way of conducting business. This is especially true for new firms trying to compete against more established and experienced firms in the market.

More significantly, I was alarmed by the fact that Singaporeans have so much more to prove if they wish to be sought after in the current job climate.

When asked, on separate occasions, what they thought Singaporeans lacked in comparison to their foreign counterparts, the answer given by Ms Gan and Mr Wee was identical: a 'heart'. To hear them say that was a harsh wake-up call.

It dawned on me that beyond skill sets and competencies, it takes genuine passion for one to excel at what he or she is doing.

This applies to any individual, anywhere in the world. The passion to learn about the environment and embrace diversity is extremely crucial for the global citizen. As Mr Wee mentioned, the strongest will not necessarily survive in our tumultuous world; it is the most adaptive who will. And who would be the most adaptive? The person with a 'heart'.

I feel that the 18 days spent in Beijing gave me a clearer direction in life. I realise that I have to develop my 'heartware', beyond the hardware.

Singaporeans may think that our bilingual education system provides us with an advantage, but where do we stand against competitors who are proficient with multiple languages? We may be proud of Singapore as a global city but are we, at the core of things, truly attuned to global perspectives?

From this learning experience, I feel that it is important for Singaporeans to demonstrate their hunger for learning. We need to rid ourselves of the perception that we are more capable than anyone else.

The truth is that we have the whole world to learn from. With my 'heart', I hope that I can eventually work towards making the whole world my comfort zone.

The writer is a third-year student at SIM Global Education doing a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) awarded by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)

This article was first published in The Business Times.

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