Grooming global citizens

Dr Balakrishnan (right) answering questions from the audience on the role of youth and ASEAN in a session moderated by Year 1 NUS Global Studies student Michael Zhou (left) (Photo: NUSSU Video and Photography Committee)

Some 100 students from Singapore and beyond left the second NUS Global Citizen Conference with newfound friendships, a greater awareness of global cultures and challenges, and a zest to make a positive difference in their own communities while striving towards a more egalitarian society. 

The conference, themed “Global Progression”, is a flagship event of the NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU) Global Relations Unit. Held at University Town from 15 to 21 July, students engaged in discussions and workshops with prominent speakers and representatives from non-governmental organisations on socioeconomic issues across five thematic areas — Public Health, Environment, Cyber Sphere, Economy and Mental Wellness. 

All of you, because you are young and just starting out, have a wonderful opportunity to have a ringside seat, if not to actually participate and even shape this revolution that’s occurring in your life. It is an exciting time to be alive.

With the emergence of unfamiliar geopolitical challenges and shifting social structures, traditional modes of thinking are no longer sufficient. The aim of the programme therefore was to encourage participants to consider new ways of looking at issues in order to inculcate a global and empathetic mindset. It also served to connect students with organisations that could empower them to be active agents of change.

“This year it is very encouraging to see that the conference has gone global. We not only have delegates from Southeast Asia, but also from the rest of Asia, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia…I have full confidence that the conference will be able to continue to achieve its goal of bridging perspectives and developing global citizens in the years to come,” said NUSSU President Jeffrey Lee, who recently graduated with a double degree in economics and applied mathematics.  

Guest of Honour Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, who recounted his time as NUSSU President some 37 years earlier, graced the opening ceremony. He touched on three key trends — the shifting geopolitical balance of power eastwards; the reactionary forces to a changing world, including nationalism, xenophobia and the rejection of free trade; and the impact of the digital revolution which is disrupting traditional industries. He urged the students to build bridges instead of walls in response to these trends.

“The world as we know it is undergoing rapid, dizzying change. All of you, because you are young and just starting out, have a wonderful opportunity to have a ringside seat, if not to actually participate and even shape this revolution that’s occurring in your life. It is an exciting time to be alive. Do not be afraid of the disruption, the anxieties, the anger, the loudness of the debate out there. Keep your heads and wits about you, take a longer-term view and understand that ultimately we have to work together, and we have to join the dots between the economy, society and the environment,” said Dr Balakrishnan.


Participants united in deep discussion on how to address pertinent global challenges (Photo: NUSSU Video and Photography Committee)

Besides talks and group discussions, the 7-day conference also included experiential learning activities, such as “Untold Narratives” where students listened to personal stories of individuals in intimate sharing sessions, and thematic tours around the island aligned with the topic at hand. It concluded with a final day of presentations on the students’ findings and proposed solutions to tackle global issues in their assigned thematic area. 

Year 2 NUS History student Abigail Tan found the conference empowering and cherished the friendships forged with like-minded individuals. “We were able to build genuine and heartfelt connections over the week that I will certainly carry with me as I move forward. It is these connections that will inspire me to continue striving towards global progression for all, knowing that there are people like me from different corners of the world working towards the same goal,” she said. 

Shannon Wong, a Year 2 economics student from Monash University in Malaysia said that the conference made her optimistic about the future. “This experience has been like none other and I'm excited for what's to come and for the future that I hope will materialise in each of our lives as we face the digital revolution and become greater proponents of a greener and more inclusive world.”