By Natasha Baker
Over winter break last December, I joined a group of 18 business students and two professors on a study abroad trip to Singapore. I am getting my MBA at Kellstadt with a focus on international business. So, I knew that I could benefit so much from this experience to learn more about international business, more so than by sitting in a classroom.
I didn’t know that much about Singapore before the trip. I knew that it was a small city (it is actually a city, nation and a state) and that it was somewhere in Asia. I chose Singapore because it is a place that I have never been, and going felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was also interested in learning more about it because I’m hoping to live abroad after graduating, and I’ve heard that Singapore is a great place for expats to live. When you enroll in a study abroad business seminar, you have to attend a few meetings with your travel group before the trip to help prepare you for the experience and also to get to know everyone, which is helpful. The more I learned about Singapore in these pre-trip meetings, the more fascinated I became.
Arriving in Singapore
After a long 12 hours of travel, we arrived in Singapore to lovely 80 degrees and overcast skies. Everywhere we looked, we saw tropical plants and flowers blooming, even on the sides of buildings. Since 2005, Singapore has made it a goal to integrate environmental stability into its urban infrastructure, motivated by a desire to fashion a clean, efficient city that reduces the reliance on natural resource imports for construction. This is just one of the impressive, progressive things they do.
We admired the city and its infrastruce. It is one of the cleanest, more pristine cities I have ever been to. Also, extremely safe. The public transportation system is something us Chicago people dream about. What you can really notice is that the governement puts in a lot of effort and time to give residents a high quality of life no matter what your economic status is. This includes subsidized housing and healthcare.
A Diversity of Cultures
Our days were spent with a tour guide from Hello Singapore Tours. His name was Gee Soo and he was truly amazing and we became very close after spending many days together. Each day was filled with miles of walking, tons of food and hours of history lessons. The highlights for me were going to the areas of town that were forged by the many different demographics of people that ended up in Singapore. We explored areas like Chinatown, Little India, Katong and Kampong Glam. Although Singapore is only about 280 sq. miles long, you can walk from one neighborhood to another and feel like you’re in a completely different country. Each community of people (mainly from China, Malay, India and Eurasia) brought their culture from their home country to Singapore so that they didn’t feel so far from home. These culturally diverse neighborhoods were highlighted by beautiful temples and authentic cuisines.
A Spirit of Kindness
Something that surprised me the most about Singapore was how welcoming and kind all of the people were. Everyone is so relaxed, happy and wants to engage. An experience that stuck out to me that I can’t stop thinking about is when we visited the Hindu temple, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Anyone is allowed to enter the temple as long as your respect their requests of covering skin and removing shoes. At the time we walked in, they were doing blessings and prayers. If you gave a donation they would bless you with ash and give you a bag of flowers and fruit to give to the dieties as offerings. We walked around to see all of the different dieties and discussed what they were. We walked by some volunteers in the temple preparing food for a long line of patrons. They insisted that we try some of their vegetarian snacks and drinks. They were so kind and welcoming and after leaving I felt like I had experienced something so special. There were so many moments like this throughout the trip.
A Chance to Learn & Explore
Visiting Singapore was an educational experience, but it was also fun! We had a schedule of sites to visit every day, but during our free time we would explore the night life, museums, Gardens by the Bay, many hawker centers and even a night safari! The list goes on and on.
The trip was led by two stars of DePaul’s School of Hospitality Leadership, Lisa Young (director of the school) and Professor Juan Mendez. As it was a hospitality-focused study abroad trip, we spent a lot of time exploring the hospitality industry in Singapore. We visited many unique businesses that have found great hospitality niches in Singapore. What I appreciated about Lisa and Juan is that they let us decide what we wanted to get out of the trip based on our studies and interests, since not all of us were studying hospitality. Personally, I wanted to explore the possibility of moving to Singapore and what it would be like to work internationally. I was able to speak to people about what that experience would be like and it gave me a better understanding of what my options are.
Traveling abroad is an invaluable experience. You can’t really put into words how important it is for becoming a well-rounded human being. When you pair that with the focus and discipline of studying for your MBA, it opens up your mind to so many opportunities. I always regretted not studying abroad in my undergrad, but this trip made up for the lost opportunity.
Natasha Baker is a student at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business pursuing an MBA with a focus on international business. She is from North Carolina and received her undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University. After two years as an executive assistant at TransUnion, Natasha recently transitioned into an account manager role. At DePaul, Natasha sits on the board of the Kellstadt Women in Business student organization as the VP of strategy. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, exploring the city of Chicago, trying new restaurants, and spending time with family and friends.
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