NUS BBA 10 August 2016

Life on the other side: What two NUS BBA students learned from Silicon Valley

Two NUS BBA students, Lee Tze Yuan and Cheung Ho Yeung, were chosen among the 600 hopefuls who applied for a full-year internship programme with NUS Overseas College in Silicon Valley in USA.

How was life on the other side? How did this experience change them? What are their key learnings? Here’s what they shared:

Go for the Right Reasons

Consider applying for an overseas programme for the right reasons and motivations. Also, with so many options for traveling overseas, the choice on which exchange or which programme is the right one is a hard one to make.

“I have family members who are well-traveled and I see the difference in their perspectives and views due to a global exposure. I prefer such an extensive internship programme over the normal exchange programmes, which are often restricted to study and some travel due to limited time. I wanted to be fully immersed and integrated in a new culture,” shares Tze Yuan, Year 1 undergrad who travelled to the USA for the first time.

For Ho Yeung, Year 5 undergrad, it was about “learning from the best” during an exchange programme in Beijing. “I wanted to do investment banking and tried several externships and overseas internships. My experience in Alibaba in Beijing as a student consultant was a ‘game-changer’ in terms of professional goals – I was inspired by the impact of technology in the world and wanted to then learn more about venture capital and the startup ecosystem. I figured the best way to learn was to go to the best. After China, Silicon Valley would help me gain the best exposure to fastest growing technology companies, and how they scale their products and services.”

Ho Yeung and his friends celebrate Singapore National Day 2015 in the Bay area

Ho Yeung (2nd from right) and his friends celebrate Singapore National Day 2015 in the Bay area

Make a Mark and Grow

Once you embark on this journey, both undergrads emphasised making most of the experience and acquiring valuable skills to grow – expect the unexpected, be open and embrace changes.

“My survival skills were really put to test when I first landed in the USA. From renting a car to driving on the new roads, finding my own accommodation, figuring out my commute to work and meeting new people, I’ve surprised myself. I lived in Berkeley and travelled to Oakland daily by bike. I worked during the day and took classes in the evening at Stanford. This whole experience has given me the confidence, independence and conviction that I can now survive anywhere,” says Tze Yuan.

Tze Yuan on field for his Sales & Marketing internship with Nona Lim, a F&B company

Tze Yuan on field for his Sales & Marketing internship with Nona Lim, a F&B company

It was not just personal growth, he also grew professionally. After securing a sales & marketing internship with Cook San Francisco LLC, a Food & Beverage company, he worked closely with the owner on all aspects of the business and experienced entrepreneurship first-hand – from strategy to marketing and operations of the food company. He was offered a full-time job by the company, but he has to finish school so has returned.

In addition, Tze Yuan is a national athlete – Gold medalist in 28th SEA Men’s Taiji Quan – and he continued his training sessions with other teams in the bay area.

Tze Yuan (2nd from right) continued his Wushu training with other team mates in the bay area

Tze Yuan (2nd from right) continued his Wushu training with other team mates in the bay area

Ho Yeung did an internship with Mattermark, a sales acceleration Software-as-a-service startup in San Francisco. On top of managing a hectic work schedule during the day and classes during the evening, he also won several national hackathons Most notably, his team secured top placing at the largest global fintech hackathon – Money2020 held in Las Vegas. Not only did they compete in the most competitive category, they managed to be placed in the top 5 teams out of more than 155 participating teams.

Ho Yeung's team at Money2020 Hackathon, where they were placed as the overall top 5 teams

Ho Yeung’s team at Money2020 Hackathon, where they were placed as the overall top 5 teams

“These competitions have helped me get recognition for my work but also experience collaborating with different teams – coders, engineers, business people etc. It was a great learning experience. I also realised that having strong operations background is required for leadership roles. On a personal front, my relationship with my house mates in the bay area turned out to be quite a special one; we spent a lot of time together, could bounce off ideas with each other and had a strong sense of reliance and community,” he recalls.

Use your Business Degree to your Advantage

There are many advantages of coming from a business school, agree both the undergrads. To complement the many opportunities provided by the global networks of NUS and NUS Business School, the flexibility of classes and curriculum allowed them to make the most of their exchange experiences

Says Tze Yuan: “The School has a huge role to play. It was Associate Profesor Ang Swee Hoon who guided me on my application after I decided to pursue this programme. She also provided me with a reference letter. The classes I took and my overall business school training, especially for the soft skills, have been my key value proposition when working in teams abroad. Whether it’s data analytics for the 21 SKUs I was asked to do during my internship, or making good presentations or negotiating and selling – I attribute all these skills to my education here at NUS Business School.”

Ho Yeung, who is in the final year of his undergrad programme, has benefitted from the many exchange and internship opportunities available at the School.  “The first three years provided me with a solid foundation of business skills, soft skills and getting a real sense of the business world. The overseas exchange programme and externships allowed me to gain global exposure, work with the best teams, participate in the best competitions and develop some of the best friendships and a relationship – I met my girlfriend during an exchange programme in Beijing,” he adds.

If you’re exploring NOC or any other overseas experiences, our two undergrads have some advice: “Get rid of the perception that you’re not good enough for apply for such programmes. Have a mind-set of never giving up, be prepared to learn to cope with pressures, embrace changes and stand up for yourself when you have to.”

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