Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Adventures in Paris: Student Reflections on the International Placement Program

Week 3
My supervisor presented some of the work that I have been involved in with all member countries present. Therefore, I got to come along and listen to the discussion and questions all the member countries had with my supervisor regarding the 2015 budget allocation. This time I was very prepared and I kept track of the entire discussion without feeling lost (which I did at my first budget committee meeting on my first day). It was such a great feeling to be able to keep track of the discussion and know what everyone was talking about, in detail. After the committee, my supervisors and I went for lunch at a restaurant nearby. We had a pleasant conversation which involved my future career prospects. I could really see myself working for the OECD, and my supervisor suggested that I should apply for the Young Professionals Programme after my graduation. It is certainly something I will consider.

 View of the Budget Committee Room - I was seated behind the Executive Director, Anthony Rottier.

Friday morning we went for a field trip to visit the European Commission and the European Parliament. We took the train early in the morning in order to be in Brussels at 9 am. The train ride did not take more than 90 minutes(ish)!


Representatives from the European External Action Service (EEAS) came to greet us and held presentations about the EU and what they do, before they opened up for an informal discussion regarding the internal work at the EU. First, we met the Head of Sector Correspondence, Corporate Board Secretariat, before Mr Tamas Macazac came and spoke about Australian Trade Relations. It was very interesting to get an understanding of how the EU works from a senior employee’s perspective, and how Australia interacts with European Affairs.


The second part of our field trip was engaging in a role play at the Parlamentarium. It was a location with a set and equipment where we had to go through the same procedures as the official elected parliament representatives when they discuss official matters, negotiate with other parties and come to a consensus. It was harder than I anticipated but great fun!

At the end of the day the group went for dinner locally in Brussels before the travelling to Paris, Amsterdam, London, Rome or Berlin - we had a long weekend which we wanted to take advantage of! First, it was time to taste Belgium waffles, beer and frites!



After returning safely to Paris we celebrated Bastille Day on the 14th which is equivalent to Australia Day. We enjoyed a beautiful picnic during the day and when the fireworks were to begin, we had a stunning view to the Eiffel Tower while we enjoyed Champagne, macaroons and other French nibbles.  The fireworks were fantastic and it represented four significant highlights in the last century: the First and Second World War, the fallen soldiers and peace.



Anette Hansen
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the International Placement Program in Paris, France 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Parliament, Presentations and Partings

Parliament House was the first stop today. We joined students undertaking a summer program at the National University of Singapore to learn about the Parliament that runs this amazing city-state. Surprisingly, Singapore’s Parliament shares quite a few similarities with the Australian system, as they are both manifestations of the British system. Unfortunately today was not a Parliamentary sitting day, but nevertheless we could sense the solemnity of the House.

Finally the day has come to showcase what we have learned over these past two weeks, as we delivered our final group presentations at the CPA office. We were all shocked at the quality of all the presentations and the ability of all the groups to critically analyse Singapore’s housing issues. Reflecting on the work of my own group, I cannot believe how far we have come, from knowing nothing about Singapore to becoming experts in sustainable housing. It was different, and sometimes not easy, working as an interdisciplinary group, but this experience has definitely added a new dimension to my teamwork abilities. Learning to work with people from different backgrounds and how to utilise each other’s unique skills will surely be beneficial to my academic and professional ventures. As the presentations came to an end, it finally hit me that this was the last day of the field school. To perfectly finish off the trip, we headed out for a group dinner and enjoyed the Singaporean heat for one last time.


This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Betty Huang
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Out in the community

As presentation day looms all the groups are heavily focused on their chosen topics, gathering final pieces of research and solidifying the huge amount of information we have received over the past two weeks. For Team East Side, this has meant a significant amount of time spent in the community of Bedok, observing how the elderly are catered for in Singaporean housing plans and community layouts. This has meant a day of walking through housing estates and communities, checking for features such as wheelchair accessibility, exercise and social areas, community activities for the elderly and ease of access to key medical services such as dementia care.


These are all crucial features of the Singaporean government approach to dealing with the problem of a rapidly ageing population through promoting ‘ageing in place’. This comprehensive policy aims at keeping the elderly living independently within the community for as long as possible in order to promote a cohesive society and avoid strain on a limited institutional care system. From our research and observations so far, this approach has been largely successful in maintaining quality of life for the elderly and keeping nursing home intakes low. These findings have made me think that perhaps Australia could learn from this approach considering the strain placed on our own nursing homes due to an ageing population.

Today highlighted to me the benefits of living in Singapore as we study its housing system and surrounding policies. For example, talking in person with a manager for the Singapore Program for Integrated Care of the Elderly (SPICE) allowed for a more complete understanding of how home and day care for dementia sufferers is practically carried out. Overall, being in this country has allowed for a more flexible and in depth understanding of our chosen area of research in Singapore.

This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Jack Collins
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

‘Hari Raya’ or ‘Celebration Day of Fasting’

Tonight we attended ‘Hari Raya Puasa’, a Ramadan Bazaar in Geylang Serai. Approximately 15% of Singaporeans are Muslim and are currently celebrating Ramadan, which involves fasting from dawn until dusk. The bazaar had food markets that allow the community to collectively break their fast, as well as stalls selling new cloths, decorations and home wares; thus supporting the custom of buying new items for the home. An array of exotic Malay-inspired dishes and snacks were displayed at each stall including spicy fish balls, biryani (a dish of rice, meat and spices), chick-pea biscuits, fried sweet potato, kebabs and pide. These were complemented with colourful and tasty drinks including lychee, mango, sour sok and rose flavoured water. A group of us excitedly selected a few different dishes and drinks and sat in the park nearby to delight in the fascinating new flavours.


While enjoying our meal we reflected on Singapore and the appreciable diversity of this city-state. Singapore is represented by three main ethnic groups with 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian. This leads to an array of unique opportunities for cultural experiences: one night we can be eating dumplings and noodles in a Hawker centre, the next day immersing ourselves in the wonders of the Malay culture near Arab Street and the next nigh delighting in a spicy meal in Little India. There are also four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, which means there are often four translations on signs with the Straits Times, the Singaporean newspaper, publishing in multiple languages.

Diversity in ethnicities also means diversity in religion. On Sunday we listened to the Catholic church near our hotel ring bells, while tonight we were able to appreciate the sound of a local mosque’s call to prayer. Although Sydney is also a multicultural and similarly a cosmopolitan city, the way the cultures instil themselves into the landscape differs. Appreciating and embracing the new cultural experiences Singapore offers has provided an enjoyable trip and enabled opportunities for understanding this economically important city at a grassroots level. It is also interesting observing and comprehending how these cultures harmoniously interact and co-exist: a lesson of increasing importance in today’s globalised and interdenominational world.


This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Alexandra Meek
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy

Monday, 7 July 2014

R&R: Research and Relaxation

The final stretch of the field school for the New Colombo scholars has begun. We’ve had a jam-packed week full of meetings, tours, policy discussions, a bit of sight seeing and far too much chicken and rice. Our time so far has been largely structured, looking to give us a complete view of the housing policy from as many perspectives as possible. Today has been our first real opportunity to break off into our respective interdisciplinary groups and tackle our research questions independently.

This has meant a day largely spent indoors researching our chosen question and planning how we want to allocate the precious amount of time we have left before the end of the program. This has challenged my own group to identify what each of our strengths and weaknesses are as well as what our unique disciplinary backgrounds can offer to the group. For example, in dealing with my groups question on how the Singaporean housing policy accommodates for an ageing population, Robbie's familiarity with housing plans accommodating the disabled and frail has been invaluable (Robbie is our resident architect in the making). We have been able to take this knowledge and integrate it into our findings on policies, financial feasibility of housing upgrades and the social impacts of any new government initiatives. This process can be time consuming and challenging, but ultimately rewarding in creating a holistic view of our chosen topic that would otherwise be lacking.

While today has been invaluable in planning for our presentations and conducting our own independent research, we are all extremely keen to get back out to our respective regions to collect primary evidence tomorrow. Comparing the information we have gathered today and over the past week with first hand observations of the housing estates should provide some interesting results.


This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Jack Collins
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy

Social Issues in Singapore

On Day 5 of our fieldschool, we visited the National University of Singapore where we participated in a presentation on social issues surrounding Singaporean housing. The presentation was given by a doctor from the Asia Research Institute and revealed sharp insights into the realities of the heavily government mandated housing market of Singapore. The discussion surrounded lack of support for divorcees and non-nuclear families and formed a more pragmatic version to the strongly promoted view of the HDB scheme from government agencies we had visited earlier. Issues covered included difficulties of relocation, social stigmas surrounding divorces and a lack of acknowledgment of progressive trends like LGBT rights and alternate families.

As we engaged in an eye-opening discussion of these trends, it became clear that at the crux of the issues was a trade-off between economic efficiency and social flexibility and freedom that differed greatly to what we have in Australia. While Singapore has catapulted to economic superiority in the space of just 50 years, its hardline policies have disadvantaged marginalized groups and the country currently faces deep problems of income inequality and living affordability for most citizens. As we increasingly garnered the impression of the HDB scheme being used as a tool by the state to exert its desired goals, I started to understand the reality in every story having two sides to it.

In the afternoon, we summarized our findings and notes throughout the week and finalized our research questions in our interdisciplinary groups. My knowledge of this small country has quadrupled in the past week and I have developed important teamwork, research and presentation skills. I believe this is beneficial to my future as it will help me engage with our regional neighbours in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world.

Discussing social issues in Singapore and finalising our research questions
This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Tim Le
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Seafood Supper in Singapore

After a bustling first two days of extensive research and field investigation in Singapore, our third day was devoted to summarizing our findings and reflecting on the interactions we had shared with various government agencies, academics and locals. As we started to work more specifically in our interdisciplinary groups for the first time, it was interesting to see how our different academic backgrounds and skills came into confluence to enable difficult issues to be solved through multiple angles and frames of thinking. Far from creating technical barriers, working with group members of different knowledge bases helped me greatly in beginning to understand the intricate social and economic factors that dictate Singapore’s strong public housing policies.

As we moved into the afternoon, we were given an eye-opening discussion of housing issues within an Asian and Australian context from Dr. Peter Armstrong, an architect, academic and expert on urban planning. Interesting points were raised surrounding the transformation and adaptability of housing policies amidst migrant preferences and multigenerational trends, and parallels were drawn between Singapore and other major Asia-Pacific cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney. Peter’s presentation was followed by group presentations on our preliminary findings into housing in Singapore’s different regions and by the end of the afternoon, I found myself struck at how important housing and urban design policies really were to the successful growth of a city.

After an intense day of thinking and learning, we visited a seafood restaurant for dinner where we were joined by Singaporean students who shared with us amazing insights into their life and thoughts on Singapore and Australia. As we talked, laughed and bantered late into the night over crab claws and expensive alcohol, it was amazing to realize how different some aspects of their life were (such as their mandatory 2-year service in the military), yet how similar some of their values and beliefs were to us as young adults. As I write this post after a wonderful night with complete strangers, I feel amazed at how globally connected our world has become and feel excited to continue learning about Singapore knowing that it will benefit both my professional and personal development.


This blog was originially published on Sydney Life: Student experiences at the University of Sydney.

Tim Le
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School and participant in the New Combo Plan, a short-term interdisciplinary field school in Singapore where students work together to understand and analyse the Singapore government’s housing policy