Global Perspectives

East Meets West: Exploring the Economies of Singapore
and Malaysia on the Global Experience Program

East Meets West: Exploring the Economies of Singapore and Malaysia on the Global Experience Program

EMTM students Faisal Khan (EMTM’11), Patrick Kim (EMTM’12) and Ajay Joshi (EMTM’11) had long been fascinated by Singapore as an economic epicenter. Last March, they and a group of fellow students finally had the chance to see it for themselves with the EMTM Global Experience Program (EGEP), a unique opportunity to take their studies on the road.

“I knew I wouldn’t get to Singapore on vacation any time soon. The chance to take a trip with EMTM was a great way to experience it,” says Joshi, PM Systems Development Manager at Johnson Matthey in Malvern, PA.

Held every year, the weeklong overseas trip is a full-credit course designed to focus on the cultural, political and economic environment of a thriving business and technology hub. This year’s destinations, voted on by students, were Singapore and Malaysia. (Past destinations have included India, Ireland, Brazil and China.)

“We’ve found that the global part of the program is increasingly important to the student body. Almost all of our students currently work on international teams or they will at some point in their career, so it has an important application for their work,” says Dr. Dwight Jaggard, director of EMTM.

The group of more than 22 students, along with Jaggard and EGEP’s academic director Jeffrey Babin, traveled to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from March 1 through March 7, 2010. “The main goal we have in designing the program is to give the students the chance to explore multiple industries and multiple companies with variations in size and focus — some that are multinational organizations and others that are founded in the places we’re visiting — giving them a breadth of point of views,” says Babin.

Students were divided into groups based on their interest: pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, energy, manufacturing and finance, and each group was responsible for planning visits to related companies and briefing the students as a whole. Visits covered such wide-ranging institutions as the Singapore Exchange, 3M, GlaxoSmithKline, Singapore’s Economic Development Board, Western Digital and Texas Instruments.

The onsite meetings brought the concepts of the classroom — from the manufacturing process of a Texas Instruments plant to the way investments are structured at a bank — into startling relief. “The faculty and students do a really nice job of tying the trip into the program — it’s a great supplement to the curricula,” says Cortney Moak, EMTM’11, manager of cell culture operations at Johnson & Johnson in Malvern, PA. “Last term I was taking operations management. The GSK facility we saw in Singapore focused on the lean manufacturing processes that we had studied in that class.”

Moak also found that the trip was useful in terms of benchmarking her own company against the companies she visited — an opportunity that she felt would have been much harder to come by on a formal business trip. “The companies were very open to questions about challenges they’ve experienced. I don’t think I would get that level of information as a representative of my company. And on this trip you have a room full of people from different backgrounds asking questions, so you’re learning that much more. The takeaways are huge.”

The trip also explored in depth the business culture of both countries, especially Singapore, where the hands-on approach of the government has resulted in immense progress in a short span of time. For some students, seeing the level of government involvement in action was enlightening.

“I worked in Northern California for a while in the late ’90s and there’s that same kind of energy in Singapore as Silicon Valley, a lot of R&D and innovation,” says Joshi. “There’s also a smart approach to growth that keeps it sustainable — companies are required to have a ten-year plan which makes it a very engineered, measured and monitored work environment that is very different from what we see in the States.”

For Khan, the major takeaway was the diversity in both countries. “You see Indian, Chinese, Arab and Western cultures and religions come together in Singapore and they work together flawlessly. There’s also this sense of pride about what they have been able to accomplish in a short time, without natural resources. They have invested in people, and it’s something that everyone can learn from.”

Students found that researching a place, its policies and its industries was no substitute for the hands-on nature of the EGEP trip, and its face-to-face meetings with business leaders. “Before we left, we did a lot of reading about these countries and the companies we would be visiting. But there are so many subtle things that you’re not going to know unless you go there and talk to people,” says Patrick Kim, a senior internet engineer at MetLife in Somerset, NJ.

Kim says that one of his most memorable moments was a visit to a Kuala Lumpur Western Digital facility where he observed 1000 people manually producing hard drives. “It turns out it’s actually cheaper to hire people than to invest in machinery and fully automate the process. This was something I would have never known and it really gave me a broader perspective on the management of technology and innovation.”

Another pleasant surprise was a presentation on Islamic banking at Bank Nagara Malaysia, where students were exposed to the unique style of banking dictated by Sharia law, where no interest is charged or paid. “Certainly this was something that was entirely new to me and I gained a new appreciation for it on this trip,” says Babin.

In between company visits, students found some time for sampling the local cuisines at open-air food stalls, touring the Merlion in Singapore, and the tree canopies and Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur. In addition to sharing the intellectual challenges of the trip, students enjoyed the bonding experience of traveling together and taking in the local flavor.

“Even after three or four company visits we would still want to go out and hang out together and explore the culture,” Khan says, adding that he plans to go on the next Global Experience Program trip, no matter where the destination.

Though most of the program students don’t currently do business in either country, they agreed that Singapore and Malaysia were fascinating places to witness firsthand, and Joshi, Moak and Khan now have some interest in working in Singapore in the future. “Johnson & Johnson has business in that part of the world so there’s an opportunity for me to go over there at some point, and I would certainly consider it,” Moak says.

“The trip provides students with the unique chance to work toward their own career objectives, whether that’s to expand their current employer’s business or create new business overseas or even find their next opportunity,” Babin says.

Participants came away from their whirlwind expedition exhausted — and exhilarated. “The trip was very intense — not a vacation by any definition,” says Kim. “Literally, the moment you touch down you’re visiting companies and hopping on the bus to get to the next appointment. But you get to know your classmates and build relationships in a new way and it’s an unusual chance to really see how business is done in other places.”


Held every year, the weeklong overseas trip is a full-credit course designed to focus on the cultural, political and economic environment of a thriving business and technology hub. This year’s destinations, voted on by students, were Singapore and Malaysia.

Cortney Moak, EMTM'11

“Last term I was taking operations management. The GSK facility we saw in Singapore focused on the lean manufacturing processes that we had studied in that class.”

Cortney Moak, EMTM’11


Ajay Joshi, EMTM'10

“There’s a smart approach to growth that keeps it sustainable — companies are required to have a ten-year plan which makes it a very engineered, measured and monitored work environment that is very different from what we see in the States.”

Ajay Joshi, EMTM’10


Faisal Khan, EMTM'11

“You see Indian, Chinese, Arab and Western cultures and religions come together in Singapore and they work together flawlessly. They have invested in people, and it’s something that everyone can learn from.”

Faisal Khan, EMTM’11


Patrick Kim, EMTM'12

“The trip was very intense — not a vacation by any definition,” says Kim. “Literally, the moment you touch down you’re visiting companies and hopping on the bus to get to the next appointment. But you get to know your classmates and build relationships in a new way and it’s an unusual chance to really see how business is done in other places.”

Patrick Kim, EMTM’12