I was one of the participant for this inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Youth Camp held at UTM, University Technology Malaysia, organized by UCSI University. It was a 2 day camp from 27-29th March, which means I had to take a little break from school to attend it.
This camp brought together students from various colleges around the region, making up about 132 students from 22 nationalities. If I could still remember, we have students from NTU, NUS, UCSI University, UTM, JSLC, Taylor’s University and University of Nottingham. NTU is represented by me and my 2 other friends.
From the name of the camp, “Diversity and Inclusion”, you can somehow guess what’s the purpose of this camp. You might guess it as ‘promoting racial harmony’, or learning how to accept differences of others, and include them to our culture and society.
Prior to this camp, my idea of it is something like a course module I took in Uni last year: Cultural Intelligence – How To Be A World Traveller.
If you make all the guesses above, you and I are partly right. But since I’m in this camp to learn, I emptied my glass and put aside all my previous knowledge so that I can take in new information again.
So what did we do there?
There’s a whole range of activities during these 2 days, and so I think I will just use as much images to describe them as much as I can.
1. Welcome Dinner
On the evening we arrive at UTM, the event started off with a welcome dinner for all the participants. As most of the students know each other for the first time, we had to ice-break to know each other better. And what this event has done well, is that they had pre-informed all participants to prepare a picture collage to showcase their interests and hobbies.
So in picture above, around a new table of friends, we use our collage to describe more about ourselves and get to know one another. The ice between the students just melt easily simply with the help of the collage.
2. Royal Keynote Address by DYMM Raja Zarith Sofiah
3. Workshop, Brainstorming, Interactive Games…
All participants are involved in games and activities that require us to work together as a team, which comprises of different school, races, nationalities, backgrounds…etc. Yes. Diversity! Of course, throughout these activities, there are bound to be differences in opinions, but we still managed to work towards a common goal and get things done.
We drew mind maps for almost every activity to reinforce what we have learnt. Some participants are really creative in drawing mind maps. Yes. Diversity!
Then we also have guest speakers who are leaders in various communities in Malaysia to share with us their opinions and experience about diversity and inclusion at their workplace and society. If you study about Malaysia, you would have known about the social division among races, discrimination among certain races. Hence, we are privileged to hear from the 3 speakers about their views on these sensitive issues.
At the end of the 1st day program, every group had to come up with a performance which represent ‘Diversity’. Yes. Not surprising, as this is what this camp is all about. My group has a mix of nationalities – Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Puerto Rico, Indonesia… so we did a performance which incorporate all the different cultures.
How it turns out, doesn’t matter much. What matters is we all had fun learning dance of each culture.
4. Making new friends, all over the world
They are the ones I stay with for 2 nights at UTM Scholars’ Inn. On my left & right are NTU mates. The other 3 are from University of Nottingham. Amazing how we can click so well and stay harmoniously for 2 nights. Maybe it’s just guys.
And these bunch of young Malaysian friends from USCI Campuses. Lively and active, and some how can bull-shit like me. lol.
Where we stay
Before I forgot, let me brag a little about UTM Scholar’s Inn. Here’s only one picture of the place I stay.
This UTM hostel is named Scholars’ Inn, so obviously, they are for scholars to stay! But we are privileged to stay here because we are the participants of the camp. The picture you see above is my NTU friend at the living room, with LCD screen TV showing ESPN football. Yes. Cable TV with all those Discovery Channel, National Geographic included.
There’s also 2 bedrooms (1 double-bed, 2 single beds), 1 kitchen, 2 study tables, 1 toilet (with all toiletries included). Ya. Air-conditioned throughout too. Prior to this trip, I still heard from friends say that Malaysia Universities hostels are sub-standard only. Maybe they haven’t stay at this Scholars’ Inn yet? So it’s better not to prejudge, ‘cos you never know what you gonna get!
I would probably say this is much like a 4-star hotel room.
Thoughts and Reflections…
Putting aside all the fun and games, it’s probably right to do some reflection of what this program truly wants to teach the participants. I will just list down some of my own thoughts and reflections.
1. Knowing and making friends from countries I never thought of.
From this camp, I know of friends from Somalia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Puerto Rico and Botswana. Okay. I know what you might be thinking of now when you heard Somalia or Iran. That’s what I thought too.
And I believe this ‘stereotypical’ image of every country forms in every of our minds. That’s because of what we see in the news and TV everyday about these countries, so we thought the people there are like what the media portrays too.
But this is far from what the media portrays them. And so we have this camp who put all of us together, to re-evaluate our discriminative or prejudiced opinions of others, to learn to suspend our judgement and not jump straight into conclusions.
So picture on the left is my Somalia friend who is in the same group as me. I have to apologize that my only knowledge of Somalia is their pirates. But hey! I’m seriously wrong! My new friend here can speak excellent English, and is a student leader in UTM Student Union. He told me he’s interested to organize an exchange trip between NTU and UTM in the future!
2. Learning from a sensitive Malay movie
I’m not sure if you have watched it, but it is a movie called Gadoh. From what I know, Gadoh is a malay word for ‘Fight’. This movie shows the divide between races, noticeably between the Malays and Chinese students in a school, and a teacher propose to resolve this conflict via a theater club.
The movie is mainly in Malay language, but luckily there’s English subtitles. It’s my first time watching a malay movie, but I quite like it. Even though I don’t understand malay much, I can interpret the words from the body language of the people in the movie.
The movie is quite nice to watch, and it also underlines the social divide we see in some of the societies. I don’t think you need me to name the countries where you see divide among people, because of race, skin colour, religions…etc. To be honest, you’ll also see it in Singapore, no matter how nice you see us living harmoniously from the outside.
Sad to say, I heard this movie is heavily controlled for distribution throughout Malaysia because of its content. But now we have YouTube…
3. Understanding Malaysian Youths
Though this camp gathers students from 22 nationalities, most of them are Malaysians, and I have serious fun knowing and making friends with them. One is that I like their Malaysian accent, and second is their openness in sharing.
We talk about many things, and among them, is politics in their country, especially the famous 1Malaysia. I’ve learn and research quite a lot about Malaysia politics, especially during my days at EconomyWatch.com, where I had to do a writeup of Malaysia economy.
I ask them about their country’s educational policies, student intake in public and private universities, their ‘national service’, privileges for certain race…etc. I’m quite surprised that they really know so much of their country, and guess what, most are only 17-18 years old, not even voting age! Hey, 17-18 years old, I just remember myself mugging hard for A levels.
Of course, they are also quite curious about our own national service, as to why we have to serve 2 years, while theirs is 3 months or none. Their’s is on selection basis (lucky draw), and if you got selected, you’ll just serve for 3 months.
4. Coming back to my own Singapore…
If I were to take all my learning back to Singapore, I would say that though we had our own societal division, it’s more of a divide between Singaporeans and Foreigners, than the different races among Singaporeans.
There used to be a time when Singaporeans of different races call each other those kind of sensitive names that will spark unrest or riots. But now, it’s more of Singaporeans calling Foreigners names, and vice versa.
Much of the news in Singapore today is always about foreigners… foreigners think they own Singapore, foreigners don’t like our curry, foreigners have no respect for Singaporeans…
Our gahmen has been heavily accused of this division because of their foreign immigrantion policies. So after last year’s election results, they have somehow controlled the immigration numbers. That’s probably the first well-taken step by our gahmen. But what’s next?
Foreigners have somehow created a bad name here in Singapore, and Singaporeans somehow have a prejudice against them. For example, like the foreigners from China, we see as them people who speaks loudly, impolite, greedy, arrogant… Some are really like that, but we can’t say all are like that!
I have made really good Chinese friends in NTU who are really nice people. So it isn’t quite fair to prejudge them and stereotype them to be all the same, just like how we stereotype all Somalia people are pirates. Wouldn’t it be better if we can take down our ‘tinted’ glasses and see each person as a new individual, than to judge him from his nationality or race?
And same for foreigners coming over to Singapore, wouldn’t it better if you learn about Singapore’s culture, embrace one another’s differences, than trying to force your way through your own culture and habits? Of course you might not be used to some of our habits, but if we Singaporeans put in the effort to learn about you, shouldn’t you just do the same? 🙂
I believe this Diversity and Inclusion Workshop has taught us a lot about understanding people who are different from us. But there’s definitely more that need to be done to heal any social divide in any country. Nevertheless, this camp has provided us a good head start to make significant change in our own society.