Are Overseas Experiences Still Possible in the Pandemic? Virtual Stints May Be the Answer

By Eunice Sng

We are stuck in a perpetual ping-pong match against the pandemic – a clear winner has yet to emerge between humans and the virus, and the ball gets tossed back and forth to infinity. As spectators whose lives have been upended by this drawn-out match, students are forced to find alternative ways to pursue our interests whilst the fight against COVID-19 continues.

Working and studying overseas may be a goal for some. But as we all know, that is a distant dream for now. There is a way around it, though — why not consider remote overseas projects? You can gain the opportunity to appreciate different cultural nuances, learn about market trends and chat with peers from other countries, sans the travelling. Virtual stints and programmes are the new normal anyway. Furthermore, it is a great stepping stone and excellent primer for those eventually looking to pursue opportunities beyond our borders. What’s not to love?

COVID-19 has proven that it is possible for us to work remotely with others. Photo credit: Unsplash | @mikeyharris

But of course, virtual overseas programmes like internships come with their own set of challenges. What are the things you need to be mindful of while exploring new social contexts? How can you work effectively with colleagues who are hundreds of kilometres away? In this special piece, NTUSU explores ways to bridge the gaps.

Kickstarting your Regional Experience

No sweat – one way to start preparing yourself for the future economy is through the Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP). Launched by the National Youth Council (NYC), the AEP aims to empower young Singaporeans to be Asia-ready by providing opportunities for cultural and economic exposure to ASEAN member states, China and India (ACI).

And their projects are highly flexible too, which means you can join them during your spare time. There is something for everyone regardless of your commitment level — pick a four-day project or sign up for a three-month long attachment with a regional organisation. You can also choose to attend webinars or browse through articles that discuss important issues in the ACI region, all of which have been co-curated with partners from a wide array of industries.

The AEP projects can currently be done virtually so you do not have to worry about border restrictions, troublesome visas, or costly accommodation. Talk to fellow youths on Zoom and get your tasks done on online platforms. Expand your social circle, understand cultural nuances and economic opportunities in regional markets — all while staying in the comforts of your home.

To find out more about what the AEP has to offer to NTU students, NTUSU spoke to two participants who recently completed an AEP project conducted in June by The Smart Local’s (TSL) regional team – Stefanie Dana Oh and Ong Tze Kym. They had the opportunity to work with media professionals from the Southeast Asian region and picked up editorial skills needed in the newsroom. As we settled down with each of them for a tête-à-tête, both spilled the tea on what they did during their four-day stint.

Becoming Better Writers

During the programme, the students chose a specific country to focus on. They subsequently worked on an article based on topics of interest concerning that country. For Stefanie, a recent NTU Communication Studies graduate, she wrote a lifestyle piece about the Kabutongan Waterfalls in Cebu. She had two mentors to guide her through the entire process — an editor as well as a writer from the Philippines. Both gave her feedback on her pitches and drafts before publishing the final version on TSL Philippines.

Even after graduation, Stefanie was eager to pick up new skills. Photo credit: Stefanie Dana Oh

“I felt secure because I had two people who are experienced in writing from that country by my side. If I needed any help, for instance, if I was unsure that it was appropriate to talk about certain things, I could approach them directly. It was really heartening to be this supported along the way,” said Stefanie. She added that she had one-to-one consultations with her mentors about her work and could text them on Telegram to ask any questions.

However, working in Singapore while writing about the Philippines — which Stefanie had not visited before — was difficult for her. Being physically away meant that she had fewer contacts with local guides to obtain information from, and she could not visit the waterfall herself to get a genuine sense of how the place looked. What’s more, she had a hard time verifying different sources.

Despite this, it challenged her to find new ways of obtaining information. Her mentors advised her to try checking out Google reviews or Facebook advertisements by tour guides. Sometimes, they mentioned areas that Stefanie did not know about. This prompted her to search them up and add them to her article. “With practice and experience, I believe I’ll get better at navigating different resources,” she surmised.

Year Two Communication Studies undergraduate Tze Kym faced similar problems. She wrote a piece about bubble tea shops in Taman Mount Austin, Johor Bahru, but found it hard to pinpoint what shops were open along the route. “Growing up in Singapore, I’m used to Googling about food places and in just seconds, consolidated information about the eateries will pop up. But for a country as big as Malaysia, I had to do more in-depth research like borrowing information from e-books or tracing the shops’ Facebook listings. There isn’t a central source where all of the shops are listed,” she shared.

Tze Kym was excited to write about Malaysia – she has fond memories of the place and loves the country’s food. Photo credit: Ong Tze Kym

Learning how to conduct credible secondary research was hence a big takeaway for both Stefanie and Tze Kym. Through this experience, they acquired transferrable skills that could support their ambitions in the media industry.

Navigating Diversity

With hard work and the help of editors, both participants managed to see their work published after hours of meticulous writing. And that was not all they did! The aspiring writers also listened to talks by different regional writers, which made them more aware of cultural differences and sensitivities. Tze Kym enjoyed learning about the other countries’ slang. As for Stefanie, she shared that some of the ASEAN countries, like Malaysia and Indonesia, have a majority Muslim population, so they have to be more respectful of their religious practices when it came to various foods.

She also learnt to be sharper in writing for the right audience — based on the varying demands across social groups in different ASEAN countries. “Another interesting lesson I picked up was about the rich-poor divide. The experience of one person may not be the same as another, so you cannot make general assumptions and have to be very sure about your target audience in order to write effectively,” she added. “For example, if you’re writing about day adventures, you cannot assume that everyone will go to Universal Studios once in their lives.”

Don’t let travel bans hinder your hunger for learning. Photo credit: Unsplash | @windows

The ability to navigate different cultures is an especially important skill to Stefanie. She runs her own campaign during her free time called Soccer Girl Goals, spotlighting the obstacles that women in football face. These athletes hail from the countries discussed in the TSL x AEP workshop such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia. Hence, through insights gleaned from writers and editors, she believes that they will come in handy while running her own project and talking to people of different nationalities.

Join the AEP

The TSL workshop was just one of the many opportunities that the AEP has to offer. Both Tze Kym and Stefanie completed it after their hectic semester ended. So, if you have some time on your hands, why not check out some of the upcoming AEP projects? There are a variety of projects available, so you can apply for one that is aligned with your interests. Other than beefing up your resume, you can also better understand friends in the ACI region to become an expert in weaving across cultures. The crisis may have disrupted our plans – but it has also nudged us to reassess alternative ways to improve our skills, form new connections and trudge ahead with renewed clarity. 

Click here to find out more about the AEP and how you can sign up now!