Days after my graduation, I took off with a bunch of my classmates and friends for the HKS Asia Leadership Trek, which is a “unique, overseas learning experience that exposes young professionals to the Asia region through active engagement and knowledge sharing of best practices in public leadership, education, and social entrepreneurship. The Trek provides an experiential journey of Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Yangon.” In a nutshell, we had an extraordinary line-up of meetings (sometimes waay too many) with politicians (e.g. President of Indonesia and his cabinet), American ambassadors, billionaires and budding entrepreneurs (e.g. Proximity Designs in Yangon), beauty queens (many Miss Indonesias!), NGOs (e.g. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights), Corporations (e.g. Mitsubishi, Toyota, Samsung), etc etc etc. I’ll write more about my experiences in each place, but I thought I’d provide a quick overview of my whirlwind of a trip to Asia. [For the fun stuff, check out our photos on our facebook page here]
With the exception of China, I was fascinated by the countries’ own arduous journeys to democratize their societies and governments. Speaking with politicians, editors of major media outlets, NGOs, students and friends we made in the countries cemented by belief that all people truly are hungry to be free. Freedom can materialize in various forms of expression and outlets, but people everywhere — in Myanmar’s Rakine State or poor parts of Seoul — want to be heard, want to be free. Something else I observed was a fiery urgency in all six countries to create, innovate, and push the frontiers of entrepreneurship while balancing the tension with more Confucianism and Buddhist values of hierarchy, respect, and keeping the status quo. As Asia quickly becomes an increasingly powerful region for international politics, business, and culture, these countries, along with their neighboring countries, must be able to figure out how they will be able to sustainably balance their desire for social and political change while staying true to traditional values. On the contrary, I strongly believe that Western nations, especially my country the United States, could tremendously benefit from incorporating the more traditionally “Asian” values into our commercial, political, and social worlds.
There are many differences, tensions, and historical difficulties among these countries and between the US and Asian nations, but as we move forward in a globalizing era, understanding other nations (or at least minimizing misunderstandings and false perceptions) is essential to minimize military conflict and maximize the possibility for regional peace. So while our politicians, presidents, and diplomats have at it, we can all do our part by traveling, reading up on people and places that we just don’t understand or even harbor hatred towards. It’s trite, and almost elementary, but trying to understand parties that we just don’t understand or can’t connect with is our duty! Although this trip allowed me to only scrape the surface of each country, I tried my best to catch glimpses of life in each place that went unspoken of. I will, of course, plan return to each of these extraordinary countries. I hope you do too.