Safely back in the comforts of home and the familiarity of America, we wanted to take time to reflect before Spring Semester picks back up at Elon. We’ve all learned a lot this January, and while it will be great to be home at Elon, there are many memories we will never forget.
For many of us, it was our first time in Asia, first time out of the country, and first time studying abroad. Even for those who had traveled or studied abroad before, it was certainly a challenging and exciting experience. We all feel so fortunate for the opportunity we’ve had to learn about Singapore, Bangkok, Macau, and Hong Kong.
Before the sixteen hour flight, many of us may have viewed Asia as an unfamiliar continent, and were unable to differentiate between the unknown of the three cities. Now, we have l learned so much about the unique cultures of each. Additionally, we have been able to learn about business development and the economic challenges each cope with.
One of the most striking things about Hong Kong was how modern the city felt. Coming from the US, the buildings felt almost futuristic. Parts of major cities like New York and Chicago feel as modern, but overall Hong Kong was well kept and modern throughout. Skyscrapers defined the city, which was showcased in the city’s light show many of us saw on the first night.
Since Beijing’s pollution problems have been in the news so much recently, many of us expected Hong Kong to be like Mainland China. But while the air pollution was prominent, it exceeded our expectations. Additionally, the water surrounding the city was a brilliant blue and the hillsides of the suburbs were very green for a large city. The group really enjoyed exploring the waterfront, Lan Kwai Fong, and SOHO (South of Hollywood Road).
Hong Kong was also economically thriving; our tour guide Katie emphasized how important striving for affluence was for many young people. Between our business visits to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Fung Group, we gained a perspective on how important employment and maintaining economic success is for the city. This economic success flows into Macau (along with the rest of China), which has gambling revenue estimated as six times of Las Vegas. The group enjoyed our overnight trip to experience the mix of Chinese and Portuguese (Macanese) culture the city had to offer.
Thailand was distinctly different from both Singapore and Hong Kong in that it is a developing economy. Our visit to Begemann Mercury Technology showed that entrepreneurial opportunities are abundant as the country changes and grows. Despite the successes, Thailand is experiencing growing pains. We learned at the World Bank that there are still many in the public and private sector still reliant on below market interest rate loans to develop. However, relative to the rest of the developing Southeast Asian region, Thailand and the city of Bangkok are thriving.
Tourism is a significant part of the Thai way of life and culture was more distinct. The people in Bangkok and the region were so genuinely friendly. Much of the city caters to tourists even though it was much more sprawling and disorganized. Poverty was also much more prevalent in Bangkok than in Hong Kong, and was virtually invisible in Singapore. There was also a reverence among the people for the Thai Royal Family. There were pictures, monuments and shrines throughout the city, which added to the strong sense of culture. We all really enjoyed the culture in Patpong market, Khao San Road, and Royal City Avenue districts.
Singapore also catered to tourism in many ways. Unlike the temples and monuments of Thailand, Singapore’s waterfront park and quays had many fresh and contemporary amenities. Our group enjoyed exploring the Clarke Quay area, the Marina Bay, and Singapore Night Safari.
The cleanliness was almost utopian, and like Hong Kong, the city was defined in many ways as a port and one of the financial capitals of Asia. Visiting with Credit Suisse helped explain how Singapore has become a hub for many banks, thanks to its skilled labor and political security. While at ThermoFischer, we had the opportunity to learn from two government consultants, who shared their perspective as natives. Singapore, like all of the economies of Southeast Asia, are undergoing a shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy. Singpaore is well ahead of the curve and is thriving relative to many of its peers.
After twenty-two unforgettable days, (cliché, we know), we have had the opportunity to see, taste, learn, and experience things that are once in a lifetime. We have absorbed so much in such a short period of time and have been changed for the better. We are all looking forward to our final group meeting in February to celebrate all of the great experiences we’ve had!
By Lizzy Larson and Paige Foley