On a cool November day, a student of Brickfields Asia College (BAC) landed at the Incheon International Airport in South Korea, to begin a journey of leadership, learning, and growth.
Esther Ezhil, who is doing the Foundation in Law programme, was among 25 talented individuals who were selected to be part of the Malaysian Future Leaders School's (MFLS) international initiative, Go Global 2022 South Korea. Esther is also a member of the BAC Skills Club.
The programme held from 10th to 16th November also saw 5 members of the MFLS Go Global Secretariat joining the 25 participants. Their role was to supervise and mentor participants along the way.
The Malaysian Future Leaders School (MFLS) was established in 2019 by the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the Institute of Leadership Excellence and Development (i-LEAD), to build Malaysian youth to become leaders for the future. There are five core values that MFLS explores with each of their programmes - nationhood, leadership, character and identity formation, entrepreneurship, and volunteerism.
MFLS is split into 3 Tiers:
Tier 1 is an invitation for schools to send selected students to join their programme. Tier 2 is a 10-day programme where selected students get to participate in activities that aim to teach them the core values of MFLS. At this stage, facilitators also observe the students and make their selections for Tier 3 of the programme: MFLS Go Global.
From a batch of 30,000 alumni who participated in Tier 2,400 candidates were selected for an interview to move on to Tier 3 of MFLS. Out of which, only 150 made the cut. Finally, 25 participants were selected out of the final candidates for MFLS Go Global, including Esther!
Esther first discovered the programme through social media, from friends who had posted about their positive experiences after attending the Tier 2 camp. When her school received an invitation, she eagerly volunteered.
On her decision to join MFLS, Esther says, "I knew that this camp was going to be very insightful. Throughout my journey, I learned the essence of leadership, and what it means to be a leader. My understanding of leadership changed over the course of the programme, and I gained a lot of new experiences. Most importantly, I knew that I would become someone better. I also had the privilege to meet like-minded young people and expand my network not just within my state, but at a national and international level."
During the programme, delegates participated in a Youth Intellectual Forum with students from Dongyang Mirae University. The forum discussed topics pertaining to ASEAN. Students shared ideas and proposed solutions for issues, especially in regards to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Delegates were split into groups for discussions on various topics, with Esther's group leading a discussion on 'How can ASEAN Lead the World with its Unique Culture and Values,' in relation to the Partnership Goals of SDG 17.
In preparation, Esther and her teammates had Zoom meetings with university professors to learn more about the differences between Western and ASEAN cultures, as well as conducting their own research with the guidance of their mentor, Abang Idzham, a representative from the United Nations.
"We had great teamwork, and everyone contributed the best they could, especially when sharing ideas and opinions. During the session, I was asked to explain what SDG 17 was in my own words. So I gave my explanation theoretically, with simple analogies to help the audience to understand better," said Esther.
Aside from student-led forums, Esther and her fellow participants got to visit and explore some of South Korea's most important cultural and administrative heritage sites, including Myeondong, Bukchon Hanok Village, Changdeokgung Palace, Insadong, Namdaemun, the Blue House, and the Korean National Museum.
Esther also met some esteemed political figures including Mr. Cho Won Hwui, the Vice Chairman of the Daejeon Metropolitan City Council. The programme also included various corporate and diplomatic outreach to important institutions such as, the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea and The Embassy of Malaysia in South Korea.
"I really enjoyed meeting distinguished individuals like the Vice Chairman of Daejeon City Council, The Ambassador of Malaysia to Korea. Another highlight was our visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It was an emotional, yet insightful visit that taught me a lot about South and North Korea's political relationship, and the history behind the events of the Korean War. I also loved the City Exploration task, where we had to travel to 5 different checkpoints as a team, using public transport with no tour guide. We had to figure our way around, learning to be independent and to trust one another in the process," Esther explained when discussing the highlights of the programme.
When asked about some of the challenges she faced during her time in the programme, Esther stated, "Firstly, there was a communication barrier because most Koreans we met couldn’t speak English, but with the help of translating apps we managed to survive. Next was time management. At most events, we were pressed for time, especially when we had to do our cultural performance. We had to get ready, perform, and change back into our formal attire within 20 minutes! It was quite hectic, but it taught me to be flexible and adapt to any situation quickly."
Esther also got to learn more about Korean culture as a whole, and South Korea's heavy emphasis on integrating principles of Confucianism with modern societal values, which is similar to the 'group oriented' values of ASEAN communities.
"I really admire how Koreans are respectful, efficient, kind, and prioritise cleanliness. During our stay at Korea, I didn’t see any rubbish bins on the streets, yet they were spotless! Moreover, I really love the way they treated us, despite us being foreigners. For example, during our City Exploration task, my friend and I got stuck while scanning our cards. We didn’t know what to do and there were no officers around. Then an old aunty came and scanned her card and gave us room to pass through."
Summing up her emotions regarding her experiences with MFLS Go Global 2022 South Korea, Esther says,
"I am delighted and excited. Becoming one of the 25 candidates selected amongst 30,000 alumnus was not an easy journey. All Glory to Jesus alone for His grace and mercy in my life."
"This programme has taught me so much. For a country to reach a developed state, it is vital to invest in natural resources, but more importantly, to invest in people. This was an amazing opportunity for me to learn, and share ideas and opinions with like-minded student leaders to create a better world. For me personally, I learned that to lead is to be a constant learner."
It certainly seems that Esther is on her way to becoming a fantastic leader, putting her words into practice and learning constantly throughout the programme.
We can't wait to see what she will achieve next!