Alumni gather to share life-changing experiences

|     Hakim Hayat     |

BRUNEIAN alumni of the United States’ international exchange programmes yesterday convened at the Radisson Hotel in the capital on how to further engage with the local community on different causes, while also sharing stories with other alumni of various programmes offered by the US Government.

The Alumni Conference and Networking Reception, held as part of the US Embassy’s ‘Let’s Go America!’ event, featured a panel discussion from some of the most recent participants of the US Department of State’s sponsored exchange programmes, covering a variety of education, cultural and professional fields.

Now in its fourth year, ‘Let’s Go America!’ is an annual public diplomacy initiative organised by the US Embassy in Brunei Darussalam, to showcase education opportunities, travel information, cultural exhibitions, and information on doing business in the US.

The US Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam, Craig Allen, said in his welcoming remarks that the alumni of US exchange programmes represent an important and direct connection between the US and Brunei, which will strengthen relations for many years to come.

“A strong alumni network is the best foundation for positive relations between countries though sustained personal contact,” he said.

US Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam, Craig Allen delivering his welcoming remarks
Left to right: Goh Jia Shin, Chia Hia Shin, Norhayatun Najibah binti Kifli, Dr Lim Tion Hoo, Jacqueline Liew and US Embassy BSB Public Affairs Officer Catherine Muller during the panel discussion. – PHOTOS: HAKIM HAYAT

The ambassador also spoke of the multitude of opportunities for networking in either their personal and professional capacities, both during and after the exchange programmes. “Every year, alumni from Brunei build on what they learned on their programmes, and upon their return to Brunei, they work with the community, strengthen people-to-people relations, and empower the next generation of leaders,” he said.

During the panel discussion attended by around 85 alumni, guests had the opportunity to hear stories from former participants of premier exchange programmes offered by the US Department of State through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs such as the Fulbright US Student Programme, the International Visitors’ Leadership Programme (IVLP), the South East Asia Youth Leadership Programme (SEAYLP) and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

Jacqueline Liew, an alumnus of the Fulbright US Student Programme in 2013, shared some of the experiences in overcoming challenges and introducing change in the creative industry in Brunei; while Dr Lim Tiong Hoo, a Fulbright US-Asean Visiting Scholar Programme alumnus from 2015, shared some of his major takeaways from the programme and how it inspired his research work in Brunei as a lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB).

Chia Jia Shin, an IVLP alumnus who recently attended a professional exchange programme on Social Entrepreneurship, also shared the positive impact of her three-week experience through the opportunities she gained through working with people from other countries with common goals.

Goh Chai Li, an alumnus for YSEALI Professional Fellow 2017 of the INITIATE start-up workshop and a lecturer at Politeknik Brunei, also spoke of the skill sets that she gained in the US which were successfully implemented in post-programme projects and continuous engagement.

YSEALI Professional Fellow 2017 Norhayatun Najibah binti Kifli, who founded Youth against Slavery Brunei (YASBrunei), was also on the panel, sharing her advocacy work, which is the country’s first-ever civil society organisation focused on countering Trafficking in Persons.

Over the years, the US Embassy has nominated and sent many outstanding Bruneians to the United States and around the world, to participate in selected programmes that reflect the participants’ individual or professional interests. The programmes are also designed to increase mutual understanding by means of educational and cultural exchanges that assist in the development of peaceful relations, along with the foreign policy goals of the US Government.