The trip was, without a doubt, the most exciting and fun part of the term! There were lots of things I noticed in Malaysia, Shanghai and Hong Kong. I was pleasantly surprised by some places, and slightly disappointed in others.
Malaysia was amazing. Although I knew that not the entire country was rural and that Kuala Lumpur would be an urbanized city, I did not expect it to be so modern. I felt like I was in the middle of a truly developed region – not really much different than the downtown core of Toronto or New York City. The infrastructure there was so modern and unique! I found it really interesting to see the combination of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western influences around the city.
I also really appreciated that I could communicate in English while still being in a completely different country with a vastly different culture. Although I can fluently speak Cantonese and conversational Mandarin, I really felt the differences between the three destinations of our trip in terms of communication. Shanghai, I would say, was the most difficult place for non-native speakers to get their thoughts across. I was really surprised because I always thought of Shanghai as a business hub and therefore thought that English would be more prominently spoken in the area. Even employees working at a tourist destination (The Yu Garden) could barely understand English, so I had to break out some Mandarin skills. It was not a huge problem for me, but I could see it being hard on others in our class. For the most part, I was the one calling taxis and ordering food when we went out to explore. I found that even though my Mandarin was a little shaky, people generally became more warm and welcoming when they realized that I was of Chinese descent and was trying to communicate with their language. On the other hand, even though I am a lot more fluent in Cantonese, I did not experience the same feeling of warmth when I spoke the language in Hong Kong. I actually thought that they seemed more cold and dismissive. I think that this could potentially be due to the fact that Hong Kong is a fast paced society. I have noticed that they need to do things quickly and efficiently, as they have no time to waste. I know the rest of the class absolutely loved the city, so I wonder how my experience compared to theirs. I have a suspicion that maybe in Hong Kong, being an obvious tourist could call for friendlier service and the fact that I seemed like a native but was indecisive in stores/spending time thinking before purchasing made them less patient with me.
The meetings that stand out to me most are: Petronas, Sunlife Malaysia, the CAE, Unilever, the “cocktail party” and Cathay Pacific.
I think it was great to have Petronas as our first company visit in Malaysia. I had no idea who they were prior to the meeting, but after hearing about everything they are involved in it was really exciting to find Petronas’ logos scattered across Kuala Lumpur. They are clearly a really important part of the Malaysian economy and it was great to be able to go up there, listen to such a passionate and animated speaker, and be treated as “VVIPs”. I will never be able to forget the view from the Petronas Twin Towers! Sunlife Malaysia’s speakers spoke a lot about their personal experiences as an expatriate. I thought it was a very relevant talk that allowed us to have a little insight on what life would be like moving away from home. I found that Malaysian employees were exceptionally hospitable, and were very excited to have us there to see their organization. Sunlife’s Tamil-style banana leaf lunch especially took me by surprise and was such a fascinating cultural experience! (On a side note, I noticed that in these companies, most of the Chinese employees spoke in Cantonese rather than Mandarin. That was really surprising to me because I thought that most Malaysians would converse in Mandarin if they were of Chinese descent! I must have just thought that way because the Cantonese dialect is not as widely-used outside the regions of Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China.)
The cocktail party in Hong Kong allowed us to see the personal side of expatriates, which was really interesting. It made me wonder how a person could plan to go abroad for 2 years and stay for 20! The fact that the large majority of expatriates that we met during our entire trip were Caucasian males (besides the woman from Unilever) was brought up and it was very eye-opening to have that realization. Overall, we saw how many people are involved in a single person’s decision to work overseas once somebody is older and a family is in the equation. I think it is something we all knew in the back of our minds, but it was different actually seeing his daughter and son running around the house because it hit home a little more.
Ultimately, the business meetings allowed me to learn more – whether it was about the industry, the organization, or the lives of their employees – and gave me more motivation to pursue an international career. I’m very excited for what the future holds and hope that I can experience worldly things with my classmates from IB 2016! A big thank you to all 5 professors for making my last term at Laurier so fun and interesting!