I was looking at the stunning skyline of Ho Chi Minh City aboard a cruise ship on the Saigon river!

What an overwhelming experience to mingle and bond with people who have aspired big as I have. It was the premier of the Hinrich Foundation Alumni Association Global Connect held 27-29 September in Vietnam. As speeches were given, my gaze was drawn to the brilliant lights of the business district backgrounding each speaker. Amazed, I took out my phone and started shooting a clip.

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The view of Ho Chi Minh City from the Saigon Princess roof deck was spectacular and breathtaking.

Suddenly, the words of Alex Boome, HF Program Director, captured my sentiments when he said: “…the water from the Saigon River flows into the sea and mixes with the water of Mekong. Like your journey, the Mekong water crosses borders and is ever-changing.”

These were my initial thoughts as the first grand gathering of HF scholar alumni was taking place.

The words really stirred the sentimental persona in me that I began exchanging thoughts with some of the 75 fellows and guests on board the Saigon Princess. I wanted to hear and listen to their stories and how their aspirations came into being.

Growing up from a financially challenged family, I never really developed the confidence to socialize in any crowd. But the seed of trust that Mr. Merle Hinrich planted in me catalyzed a self-assurance that I, too, can be a contributor to greater and global economic development.

Masterclasses key takeaways

The Design Thinking presentation from RMIT University lecturer Dr. Phil Smith taught me a creative and logical way to strategize solutions to problems. Most importantly, he taught me that to recognize the human aspect of a development problem is to help spot actionable solutions. Also, learning how to empathize or step into someone else’s shoes brings out solutions that create lasting impact on people.

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Our creativity and teamwork proved useful for the Design Thinking group exercise, which required us to design a high-tech retirement home for a 78-year old man. Pictured here are James Gong, Rotha Chhoem, Sarah Bourenane, Froland Tajale (author), Emerela Puspita, Gabish Joshi, Agnes Batallones, Do Ha Thu and Angelika Manikan.

The Trade Today presentation of Hinrich Foundation Research Fellow Stephen Olson was also a vision and something for me to think about. Working as an economist for the past eight years, I began to see how the Hinrich Foundation alumni and scholars can contribute to more mutually beneficial trade.

The last talk – 24/7 Influence: Winning Over People by Karen Leong, an international influence thought leader – gave me the most realizations professionally and personally. Karen taught me how to turn my negative thoughts on something to make a positive impression. Asking the right questions to get the desired answer was essential, but even more vital is to have the courage to ask. I realized that first impressions based on one’s appearance gives insight into a person’s real values, which defines his or her likeability.

Fellowship & fun

Before seeing the delegates for this year’s HFAA, I questioned whether I could fit it this circle or not.

That anxiety dissolved when I began engaging myself socially with others. The SoHy Sky Lounge experience was breathtaking as we mingled atop a roof deck overlooking Saigon’s skyline at sunset and beyond.

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With my Amazing Race Blue Team striking a wacky pose in front of the Independence Palace. Pictured were Law Yanwen, Froland Tajale, Tina Wang, Sapphire Nguyen, Trang Nguyen, Thuy Ho, Sarah Bourenane, Muhammad Nurun Nobi and Leanghort Sok.

That momentum of fun and familial fellowship scaled up to a whole new level the following day with an Amazing Race around Ho Chi Minh City. We gathered at the hotel lobby with our excitement to finally get to see Saigon’s rich history and culture. All followed by making spring rolls and a delicious Vietnamese lunch.

Realizations

As my buddies and I part ways, I came to realize that being one of the 150 scholars across Asia who have been given the chance to change their lives through the HF scholarships reminded me of our journeys like the ever-changing waters of the Mekong river.

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Happy smiles from the HFAA Global Connect 2019 scholar and alumni participants on the roof deck of the Saigon Princess.

How many dreamers have had longed to be awarded a scholarship opportunity and have obtained one? A few in millions! But here I am—there we are—entrusted with a torch from Mr. Hinrich to advance on with life with a greater purpose anchored on trade development.

I am much looking forward to seeing my HFAA family at the next HFAA Global Connect!

About the author – Froland Tajale (Philippines, Grenoble-HKBU EGM ’20)

Froland Tajale

Froland Tajale is a scholar from the Philippines under the Hinrich Foundation Global Trade Leadership Development Program. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in entrepreneurship and global marketing at Grenoble Ecole de Management and Hong Kong Baptist University. He is an advocate for open foreign policy and aspires to do intensive trade research and develop effective and efficient outward policies that will help unite economies.