Natalie Sutton

Major: Business Administration

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Study Abroad Program: National University of Singapore

When searching for study abroad opportunities, I first considered pursuing the classic programs in Europe where I could develop my foreign language skills. However, I had lived in Europe before and realized that one of my main motivations to study abroad was the opportunity to grow from discomfort and culture shock as I adapted to an entirely unknown environment. I knew that a challenge would produce personal growth. The Phillips Ambassadors scholarship and the changing tides of history drew me to Asia, and Asia did not let me down! 

I remember my very first day in Singapore. The city was unbelievably safe, clean, and seemingly “Westernized,” welcoming me with skyscrapers, shopping malls, English, landscaped highways, and familiar restaurants. However, reality hit when I settled into my small apartment in the student hostel rented by the National University of Singapore from the government. I lived amongst the locals in a very diverse community. The Catholic church I walked to for mass every Sunday stood next to a beautiful Hindu temple.  It was a four minute walk to the American fast-food chain \"Long John Silvers,\" which sat next to a traditional Singapore hawker center offering every type of Asian delicacy priced at five dollars or less. This tiny red dot on the map was a vision of social harmony if I ever saw one. Recently voted the number one place in the world to do business, Singapore is a mecca for commerce, culture, and food.  Yet the feat of housing multicultural residents and progressing from third world to first in merely 35 years also presents the greatest struggle as the nation strives to develop a distinct identity. Fully immersed in the adolescent community as a business student in the intensely competitive academic climate of the NUS, I felt right at home (despite being blonde and blue-eyed!) with the generation who can truly call themselves \"Singaporean.\"  I had the incredible opportunity to work with a team in developing a formal business plan for a social travel site and present it to investors from all over the world (including the co-founder of Skype!), create a marketing plan for introducing a company to Vietnam (and visit the potential site we had selected for the store in Hanoi), and travel throughout much of Southeast Asia on weekends and school breaks. From the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur to the Grand Palace in Bangkok and the Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia, my travels expanded my knowledge more than my challenging business courses.

Probably the most fulfilling and memorable endeavor of my time abroad was establishing an initiative called “NUS Show Your Love Week.\" My passion for public service and drive to meet the challenge of bridging the gap to Asia led me to start this tradition in hopes of honoring Eve Marie Carson’s legacy and igniting her spirit of kindness in Singapore. It turned out that Bingyeng Seng, one of the student leaders I worked with, had an older brother who spent a semester at UNC and actually befriended Eve Carson. This discovery impacted me deeply as I realized how small and interconnected the world truly is. With the cooperation of one of my teachers, four of my Singaporean classmates, and a student organization, we asked students to perform a different task each day (for example, tell the bus drivers and canteen workers thank you or give a friend a hug) for one week. I quickly learned that public hugs are very rare - even among couples - and that students rarely approach teachers or elders. I learned from their conservative, respectful culture and quiet determination. In turn, I left them with hugs and hoped they acquired a little Southern hospitality and warmth. 

I will never forget my semester abroad and I know that I returned to the United States a very different person. Not only can I eat with chopsticks and understand Singlish, but I have a much greater appreciation for other cultures as well as for my lifestyle in America. I am extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity and I am still in awe of all that Asia has to offer!