#SMCHikingLibrary Reflection by Fabian Karst
From an e-mail to participation
It was just a day before the hike when I was referred to Dr Ong by a mutual contact and even though he barely knew me, he asked me if I would be interested in joining them. This act of kindness and openness towards a stranger deeply impressed me. As a foreigner to Singapore who just had started to settle I was thrilled to get to know new people and I therefore kindly accepted this unique opportunity and a unique experience it was.
Walk the walk, talk the talk
Even before I met the other students and mentors at 09:30 for going on the walk I was very impressed by the location chosen for the event to take place. With myself, living and working in Chinatown, I never made the effort to go to the less densely inhabited side of Singapore and it was a pleasant surprise to see the wide lake with the trees around it lying in the light of the morning sun. With an exhausting week on my back, only this first moment already was a blessing and I started to look forward to the hours to come and was ready to soak in more new experiences.
After a few minutes, the other students arrived, a short introduction was given and we started our walk around the reservoir. On that way, I had three very different but still extremely rewarding conversations from which I will share my three key takeaways with you.
First of all, talking to people engaging in a completely different domain is extremely rewarding, as it allows you to break down the boundaries in your mind which start building up when diving deeper into your topic of expertise. Therefore, I am very grateful for the discussions I had about the Singaporean school system, asset management in the Asian markets, 3d printing and robotics.
Secondly, it is immensely rewarding to share your own experiences and with these hopefully not only allow your co-hiker to draw from them but give your conversation partner a little bit of guidance or an idea on how to move forward on his/her way. Furthermore, I am convinced that by reflecting on my experiences in this way and spelling them out concretely, I myself again become more aware of what matters most to me, which was a valuable takeaway starting into the new week.
Thirdly, as a foreigner talking and interacting with people which call Singapore their home was a real eye-opener for me. And that not only, when we talked about the differences in society, politics and mindset, but especially when hearing about the details one could deem minor. For example, where they go for having a great day, how they like to work out or what their sentiment towards nature is.
To sum up, the walking, sharing and learning in the face of nature was a very enriching experience for me which I am sure every open-minded person can be immensely grateful for.
Learn from the best
After having had all these inspiring conversations, we stopped close to the lake in the shadow of two large trees. Here the two most senior members of the group stepped forward and shared their perspectives. And with selecting Mr Wong Kan Foo and Prof. Lou Jian Xi, Dr Ong did a tremendous job, not only did they talk in a very relatable manner, but due to their experience, they were also able to share some amazing insights.
Mr Wong Kan Foo, former Director of EDB and Head of Overseas Singapore, shared the traits he deemed most relevant to be a leader. Not only did he emphasize, the value of hard work and discipline, but he also highlighted the importance of a strong network. Furthermore, he explained the care and investment such a network needs which brought me back to think about my own network and the ways I could foster the connections within it I deem most valuable.
(Addendum: And I indeed acted on his advice and during my time back in Europe I put in some effort to arrange meetings with a few people which I would not have met otherwise)
SUTD Prof Lou Jian Xi on the other hand not only shared his story about how he came to Singapore, but he also explained his research in the synthesis between technology and business and how one does research that matters. This was extremely relevant for me in two ways. On the one hand, it reaffirmed my choice in the field of research for my PhD (the application of natural language processing in the financial domain), on the other hand, it inspired me to think bigger and to not tackle the easy problem at hand, but to look for the questions, which solutions could truly have an impact.
In sum, these two speeches were extremely valuable to me and now looking back on them, I can say confidently that the insights from these talks stuck to me and resurfaced in my mind during the next weeks.
My lessons learned
While there is a multitude of lessons to take away from this amazing Saturday morning, I will focus on the two most important for me.
Firstly, I realized again that you should always cut time out of your schedule to connect and exchange with new people. And while you might not be able to see an immediate benefit on first sight, the SMC hike showed me again how rewarding these encounters are and that they provide you with first ideas and insights which will be beneficial in the long term.
Secondly, the importance of truly great leaders was brought to my mind again and how they are able to empower and motivate their surroundings, as well as help people grow. Thus, allowing me to reflect on my own behaviours towards my co-workers and the way I am perceived by others.
In a nutshell, the hike provided me with a great experience, excellent conversations and gave me enough material to think about for the upcoming weeks.