According to Mr Benny Lee (’76), a National University of Singapore Business School (NUSBS) alumnus, travelling at the age of 20 is a totally different experience from travelling at 40. More importantly, travelling as a university student on an exchange programme makes an invaluable difference to one’s education.
And because he believes so deeply in the value of a cross-cultural experience, the former President of the NUS Business School Alumni Association (NUSBSAA) not only started the NUSBSAA Student Experience Fund, he also made a generous gift to the Fund to ensure that more students can expand their horizons.
“It is important for our Singaporean students to see our little red dot in the global context – being a small country with all the challenges this engenders. It is crucial for them to realise, even at a young age, how the world is truly our oyster with which we must do business to survive! Getting that precious chance to see the world, when studying at the University, can open eyes that no traditional classroom teachings can,” he expresses.
The NUSBSAA Student Experience Fund was set up in 2011 to allow undergraduate students facing financial difficulty to go on exchange programmes with prestigious partner universities and help them defray overseas expenses such as costs of accommodation and daily necessities.
Having gone on two international programmes during his undergraduate days at the NUS Business School, Mr Lee is convinced time spent abroad can broaden young minds. He had the rare privilege to be exposed to the unique Japanese culture when he was one of two students from the NUS Business School to be awarded a Japan Airlines Scholarship to spend a semester at Sophia University in Tokyo.
“We were stumped by how advanced Japan was at that time compared to Singapore. And seeing how polite and civil they were with one another, whether at home or in the subway, was also eye-opening for many of us from Southeast Asia. It really made us sit up and take notice and, of course being the good students we all were, debate on how we could change Singapore to achieve such a high level of social cohesion,” he reflects.
Doing a market research project at Caterpillar Far East in Hong Kong while on the Aiesec International programme led Mr Lee to his present career in international marketing, something he is still engaged in after 37 years.
“The two experiences made a deep impact on me and I felt that students who qualify for exchange programmes should not be deprived of doing so despite being financially challenged,” he says.
The businessman attributes his successful career in international marketing (he has since set up his own business in advising and managing the distribution networks of major American manufacturers in the Asia Pacific region) to “the seeds of interest planted during his NUS undergraduate days” and hopes that more alumni will give back to their alma mater.
“I am truly blessed by the opportunities I had at NUS and I hope students will treasure the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities presented to them,” he adds.
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