Travelling Asia: Deakin Study Tour for Public Relations, Malaysia and Singapore

Malaysia and Singapore

Two very different cities but so much beauty and culture.

Applying for this Deakin University study tour back in May of 2014, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew it would be an opportunity I would never regret, but I never knew how it could change me as a person.

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After I was accepted we had a meeting to discuss all the details of our trip in September of 2014, before leaving on November 8. I caught the train to Melbourne for the meeting and was a bit terrified after leaving, but I was still going to go. The university was great, I applied for an OS-help loan, which paid for the entire trip including my spending money.

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So November 8 came around quicker than I expected and my family drove me down to the airport. I checked in and waited for everyone else to arrive to say hello to the people we barely met at the last meeting. On our 3pm flight, I was sitting next to who would soon be my room mate for the trip. We chatted on the plane and got on instantly.

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Our flight arrived in Kuala Lumpur around 9pm on the Saturday night and we headed for our bus to take us to our hotel, The Swiss Garden. We looked at our itinerary on the drive to discover all the things we would be doing whilst in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Singapore.

Our rooms were very spacious, clean and modern and once we got in we were straight to bed for a big day in the morning. On Sunday we discovered the breakfast area, which continued to the pool, gym and bar. It was very luxurious and was about 10 stories high. The view while eating breakfast was very vast, but also showed the poverty on the grounds of KL. After breakfast we met with Jan, the Deakin correspondent, to give us a run down on what the next two weeks would involve and how to get around KL without risk.

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We also met her colleague Tina, who was Malaysian. For a bonding session we were split into groups to race around KL in a challenge to find certain places around the city and to get a good understanding on the public transport system. The heat was incredible and after an hour my group decided to head for the cold shopping centres and have a look around before heading back – not an ideal city for a scavenger hunt.

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Back to the hotel and it was time for  welcome drink by the poolside bar – always a win. Dinner was had as a group at the Chinese street restaurant along Jalan Alor – amazing street food along that road. It was beautiful food and I even tried stingray, which was delicious – definitely give it a go. After that we all found a bar at Bukit Bintang, the nightclub district. A couple of us went off and found Mango Bar, which was amazing and the music was current hits and RnB! On the way home, we found the Best Friends Massage to a get a foot massage at 12:30am – yes they were still open and the staff were so friendly, perfect way to end a night out.

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The first Monday to Friday was spent at Taylor’s University working with the students on a Public Relations campaign. This was to help promote a new kids education television show produced by Big Fish Media called ChiChi and ChaCha, almost like High 5 in Australia.

The week started with an ice breaking session and ended with us Deakin students learning a Malaysian dance. During the five days at Taylor’s we made a 15-second Instagram video to promote the talent show they were holding to create awareness for the show, Chichi and Chacha.

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As Deakin students we were broken into groups to combine with the Taylor’s students according to the area of promotion they were undertaking. I was in the Social Media group. We made a YouTube video to encourage visitors to come and watch the performances of the star search, which was part of the show.

We also got a chance to go to Big Fish Media and the Star, a government owned newspaper. Our last day at Taylor’s was a cultural experience and as each group we wore a traditional outfit for a different cultural group, social media wore the sarong, and this was followed by traditional Malaysian games.

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Another video then needed to be produced on the key things we learnt during our five days at Taylor’s, our group did a still motion video using drawings.

Friday was a sad day as we had to farewell the friends we had made during the first five days of our tour. The hospitality of those students was unforgettable, making us traditional snacks to try each day and being very welcoming to us Deakin students. It was a great week learning the vast amount of cultures living in Malaysia.

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During our first week in Kuala Lumpur, we also had a Deakin Alumni networking night where we spoke to people in the PR industry, they had fascinating jobs and gave us some really great advice on how to combat our lives and go for what we want in our careers and in life. The person I enjoyed speaking to the most was Mervin Lee from TedX, he was very inspiring with his outlook on life.

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We also had a talk from Steven Gan, co-founder of Malaysiakini – an online news outlet, who spoke about the Malaysian government and regulations to the press media, sedation act etc., as well as what Malaysiakini do to challenge government via online media. It was incredible to hear about a news outlet who reported the truth were trying to be destroyed by the government simply because they felt challenged.

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Most of the nights were free to do what we liked so in that time a group of us got lots of massages from our favourite place, The Best Friends Massage, we ate some beautiful satay food, Malaysia’s traditional dish – which isn’t the same as it is in Australia, the satay is sweet and just has really beautiful flavour.

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We went out along on Bukit Bintang most nights, especially to Reggae Bar, which was our favourite nightclub. Had some Arabic food at The Castle Restaurant with the best view of the Petronas Twin Towers especially from the back of the venue. We also ate at Healy Mac’s, an Irish pub that is rated number one of Trip Advisor and had beautiful food and amazing cocktails – a must visit.

Most importantly we shopped like crazy, went to the Central and Chinatown – Petaling markets. The Central Market sold a lot of really lovely Malaysian crafts and is great for souvenirs and gifts and Petaling Street is where you can do all your rip off brand name shopping.

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Saturday morning – our last day in KL – we were up early to head to Melaka for the weekend. We arrived around 2pm and the heat was much worse than KL, everyone was exhausted from the heat.

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Our tour guide in Melaka, Kenny, took us to his house for a beautiful traditional lunch. The food was cooked by his wife and we had a huge selection to choose from.

We had the afternoon off so some of us went in the Melaka tuk tuks, mine was decked out in Hello Kitty, and headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for a cocktail. Around 7pm we headed out for dinner to a Portuguese seafood restaurant along the waters edge. The food was beautiful, we ate some much and the best had to be the butter pawns! By the water they had market stalls so we bought some fire crackers and let them off. We also wrote on those lanterns that fly into the air.

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After dinner we all went to the Jonker Street Night Market, which went on for ever and ever. They sold spiders in containers and mini snakes, it was pretty sad to see them in not only the confined spaces in such heat with hardly any air holes. But you could buy some really good gifts from the market – if you could deal with the heat and crowds.

Tina’s Nephew, was in Melaka and offered to take some of us out to the roof top bar at the Hatten Hotel called Alto Sky Lounge. Having drinks overlooking the whole city, it was such an amazing view. I highly recommend it!

In the morning we were up to go on the Melaka walking tour, ran by Kenny. We had a tour of all the historical buildings in Melaka including St. Paul’s Hill and Dutch Square.

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For breakfast/lunch we found a Dutch cafe on the river. The service was amazing and the girls that had been compared the area to places in Europe, which made sense because Melaka was at one stage taken over by the Dutch. Around 1pm we left for a long bus ride to Singapore, arriving at the Value Hotel Thomson later in the day.

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The rooms were fairly small, but it was only for a few days. We found a hawker hall near our hotel and had some beautiful butter chicken from the Indian stall, they are the best for ‘street food’.

In the next three days we went to Hill and Knowlton, a PR agency, where we were taught about Singapore PR and working for an agency rather than in-house.

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Another networking function was held for us to attend on our second night and we got to talk to PR practitioners in Singapore about what they do and where they have come, we also met some students from The University of Newcastle who were very welcoming and took us on a tour around to get some beautiful photos of Singapore at night. We also went to the Merlion statue, which I couldn’t find on my first trip to Singapore.

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The second last day in Singapore was spent at SIM (Singapore Institute of Management), talking to a Deakin Alumni about internships and networking within the industry, she gave us an insight into her experiences in the PR industry and how she got to where she is today.

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Roland Tan spoke to us about the boundaries in the media and how there is a fine line you must not cross with the government, when in the media, and he spoke about press licensing in Singapore.

Neil Humphreys was the last to speak, he spoke about censorship in Singapore and how content such as movies, books etc. are censored by the government if they don’t reached the standard they uphold. However, he did say in the last 10 years, and with social media, it is getting better and you can cross that line if you do it strategically.

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After SIM, we headed to BSG communications, another PR agency, Gregory Tan who spoke didn’t talk about the company but spoke about PR in Asia.

He explained that some Western PR models don’t often work in Asia nor do some that work in Singapore don’t always work in Malaysia and visa versa. He also spoke about how PR in Singapore isn’t very well educated into some top bosses and the confusion between PR, marketing and advertising is present, which was something I read before coming on the tour.

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Our last day was sent at NUS (National University of Singapore), but due to a late bus we only got little time to talk about what makes a good practitioner and writing pitch letters. The nights gave us some free time to explore only a small part of Singapore.

One of the nights was with the students we met at the networking night and we got some pictures of Marina Bay, Raffles, the Merlion and the city landscape. Also having done the Marina Bay observation deck, I experience the Flyer this time, which gave a different view on the city and was beautiful.

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We went to the Singapore Zoo and do the Night Safari. That was truly amazing, the animals had such a different nature at night. We had a cart take us around the restricted areas and then we could have a look around the fenced off animals. In the restricted area the animals are separated from different areas by cow grates and just roam around freely.

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On Wednesday the 19th after NUS, we headed back to KL for the last few nights. We had bets on the way home as to what time we would get back. It was a very long drive and we finally arrived at 7.10pm, checked back into the Swiss Garden Hotel and some of us headed to Hard Rock Cafe for potato skins and cocktails.

Then we headed to the Heli Lounge Bar that had 360 degree views of KL, it was just amazing, my pictures couldn’t even capture how breathtaking the view was and the silence of being so high up in the sky. A must do in KL.

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On these days we went to UiTM, a public university that in comparison to Taylor’s (a private one) was quite old. Most of the classroom had prison like doors. While at UiTM we heard a lot about the university but Mark, our Lecturer, gave his talk on crisis communication, he spoke about the uses of social media and a dark site when an organisation faces crisis, he used MH370 as an example of this.

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Then we headed to the Department of Information, in Putrajaya, they presented us with food and gifts, then a PowerPoint presentation on how they run programs in Malaysia in order to enhance the support towards the government and instil patriotism among the people, they also spoke about social media and how they are still working on methods to use it correctly. The government is very different in comparison to Australia and this was evident when we visited the Department of Information.

On the last full day  in KL we went to Go Communications, a consultancy, where we were shown some of their projects they have done and heard about the success of the company. They showed us different ways to give target public’s a key message. Go Communications have worked on some very famous campaigns including Singapore Airways.

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In our free time during the last few days we did last minute shopping.. We went to the Batu Caves, which were beautiful and a great cultural experience, but the monkey’s were terrifying. The caves were so eerie but just gave some incredible pictures. There was even a temple at the end.

Our last night was spent partying in Bukit Bintang, it was lady’s night so we got lots of free drinks. On our way home we got out last foot massage and we had some amazing street food, some of that including a frog!

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In the morning some of us went to a mosque to experience a different type of religion, it was very interesting but the clothing we had to put on to cover up made us very hot. Going to a different country and taking in all the different cultures is a huge part of the time so doing things like going to temples and mosque’s in KL was a great experience.

Time to leave KL and time to head to the airport. Duty free was a must so I headed off to spend some more money before having a cocktail and the best sandwich ever from O’Brien’s Irish Sandwich Bar!

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Okay, so what? Why was this significant? We were asked to write an essay on PR practices preformed in Malaysia and Singapore and how they are different. We were to research this before we left. This was expanded on as we went in and experienced all of this first hand. We learnt about Malaysia and how the government owns a lot of the media and have regulations and control over these media outlets. We learnt that Singapore was worse in terms of government control. We learnt about the laws put in place and we could compare this to our own media and PR practices in Australia.

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However, we also learnt there are ways to overcome these regulations to an extent, Malaysiakini do it, they go online where the government has no control. We learnt that social media is huge! But we also learnt something that no textbook could tell us, we learnt what people thought about it, how they use their skills and ability to get their messages across.

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This tour gave us first hand experiences. We got first hand experience on how PR is taught in universities both public and private, we got first hand experience into the Malaysian ministry and how they still use forms of propaganda, we got first hand experience on how both Malaysian and Singaporean PR agenises work, what projects they do and how they come up with their campaigns and lastly we got first hand experiences on how PR works in Asia. We met the practitioners face-to-face, we asked them questions, we got answers and that cannot be taught in any textbook.

Our essays gave as a foundation to understanding PR in Asia and most of what I read was correct but we expanded on these with our first hand experiences.

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Now what? What will I take away from this experience? I will take away more than just knowledge on PR in Asia, I will take away an experience that challenged my personality, but in a good way.

I never expected to meet the people I did, I never knew I could go so far out of my comfort zone like I did. I feel as though this study tour has helped me as a person as well as taught me new skills that can improve my professional life as well as my personal one.

I have made some great friends, ate some food I never thought existed and had some amazing cultural experiences. One of the best choices I have made to date, it showed me what it would be like to work in PR in Asia and showed me how to do something I never thought I could do and enjoy so much.

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So if I could give anyone going in the future any advice it would be, go in with an open mind. Have lots of questions ready to ask and just contribute as much as you can. You will only get out what you put in, so make the most of it. You’re in a different country learning new things and gaining new cultural experiences.

Embrace the people, embrace the food and just embrace the whole culture and you will have one of the best experiences of your life as well as gain knowledge that will help with your future.

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Read more on travelling Asia:

Travelling Asia: Thailand & Singapore

Travelling Asia: Bali

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