Before I enrolled in the Masters in International Development (MID) course at Tsinghua University, I worked in Singapore at Credit Suisse and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ for a couple of years. The opportunity cost of coming back to school was therefore pretty high for me and the decision a big one. In the end, I chose to follow my passion and pursue formal training in a field that has provided me with personal inspiration in recent years.
Since 2008, I have been involved in several community service projects both in Singapore and in Laos, where I am from. Recently, I published two books (‘Stateless: Dairy of a Spirited Boy at Napho Camp’ and ‘Transition: A Journey in Laos’) documenting my own life growing up first as a young child in a refugee camp on the Thai border and my later years back in post-conflict Laos. These two books provided the funds to construct both a much-needed primary school in rural Laos as well as a vocational training facility for disadvantaged women in Vientiane. Given my own background growing up amidst uncertainty and poverty and later having the opportunity to live and study in Singapore, I felt obliged to give to others the kind of opportunities that I had received to improve my own condition.
It was through this journey of giving back and being taught by the vulnerable that my passion to continue to work in the field of development fully matured. However, it made me realize, despite my deep involvement with people on the ground, how lacking my own knowledge of development was as a wider subject. I therefore decided to look, not for a panacea, but rather something that could give me both the formal training as well as the tools needed to approach challenges, both predictable and unpredictable, that every professional working in the field must face.
In my search for a relevant and robust course that would meet my expectations, Tsinghua stood out. Not only did the program’s outline encompass most of the subject areas that I was looking for, but the university’s reputation as a world-class institution and its role in the most interesting development story of the past century, that of China itself, were major bonuses. I therefore signed up for the course with high expectations, somewhat tempered by the knowledge that this type of program is still in its relative youth in China.
I am pleased to say that I have yet to be disappointed. The MID presents a holistic development approach with heavy emphasis on examples from China’s own experience. Indeed, professors, graduates both of respected Chinese and overseas universities, willingly share their wealth of wisdom on the most pressing domestic and international issues. The examples from China, many representing projects on which the professors themselves have been involved, are the most interesting as this country both continues to represent the greatest development success of this century and increasingly seeks to mitigate some of the challenges that have resulted from this rapid process. We have also had a number of distinguished guest speakers invited to present their thoughts on development work, giving the class opportunities to hear from voices beyond the walls of the university itself. Overall, I consider the learning atmosphere to be one full of information sharing and thought-provoking discussion.
As an international student studying far away from home, I have been particularly impressed by the warmth with which I have been received by the staff of the MID program office. Already, they have planned events for us throughout the whole academic year to create a sense of community between both MID and local students. When I am in doubt, the MID staff never fail to point me in the right direction. Given the cultural acclimatization needed when coming to study in China for the first time, I am immensely grateful for all of their efforts.
I feel that I can honestly say that the MID is indeed an excellent program for anyone looking at getting into the field. Both professors and students, in my class representing sixteen different countries, provide a wealth of perspective that feels like a miniature globe in itself. On top of that, it is such an advantage to study in Tsinghua and particularly to be in Beijing where much of the agenda for the global development community is increasingly being defined and articulated.
In sum, I feel that my expectations have been met and I look forward to more adventures ahead!
By Sanva Saephan, Laos, MID 2014 Class