Taylor is a current student in Maxwell’s joint MPA/MAIR program, which is a Master of Arts in International Relations and a Master of Public Administration. She participated in the Singapore Summer Internship Program this past summer.
Even before learning of the university-sponsored internship program, I had always been intrigued with Singapore, for a few reasons. One reason is that I have dedicated my academic life to studying the cultures and economics of East Asia. Another aspect I found interesting was its political system. Though small, Singapore is the world’s most successful modern autocracy (although it is often referred to as an “illiberal democracy”). I found it a refreshing example in the face of the pro-democracy perspective touted in American academia. Moreover, if I wanted to live and work in Singapore, I could do so without learning another language (Americans. Amirite?).
While in Singapore I worked for the Stewardship Asia Centre, a small non-profit endowed by Temasek Holdings. The small office afforded me a hands-on role with many of the projects the office had undertaken to promote corporate stewardship in East Asia and the Pacific. My writing and web development skills improved dramatically due to the nature of the content creation work I was assigned. I was regularly assigned research, which I would then have to present to one big-shot or another. However, these experiences were surprisingly secondary to the perspectives I was exposed to during my 10-week stay.
I must firstly admit that I initially held the unconscious assumption that since business was conducted in English my work environment in Singapore was going to be similar to that of the U.S. My normative assumptions went unchallenged for a couple weeks before I began to understand Singaporean office culture. The company hierarchy was built on the foundation that age and experience were necessary for effective leadership, with emphasis on the former. Due to the company’s relationship with the government, much consideration went into how influential people would be affected by our office’s actions (Did I mention that Temasek was led by the Prime Minister’s wife?). Furthermore, the way in which work was decided or problems were solved usually began with informal meetings among top management. In Western societies, we tend to frown upon CEOs having “backroom” dealings but my coworkers here have referred to these practices as the “Asian way” (their words not mine). I found out they were specifically referring to methods that were subtle and collaborative, rather than demanding and immodest.
Yet, even among these macro-level dynamics, my office easily demonstrated how the work performed by other interns and myself helps achieve the long-term goals of corporate stewardship promotion. I will forever appreciate the efforts of my supervisors in allowing me to see numerous projects from start to finish, providing me with more practical lessons in a few weeks than I have been afforded in some whole semesters.