Cross-Cultural Connections at Elevate Program
Elevate is a weeklong leadership institute for talented high school juniors and seniors. Held at Gordon each summer, the institute draws students from all over the United States and the world to develop their leadership abilities and gain tools to transform real social problems. Participants identify problems in their hometowns, create a solution with their team, and present their plan before a panel of judges. Winning projects receive seed money to get their ventures started. As Gordon gears up for Elevate 2016 (July 24–30), The Bell will feature stories of Elevate alumni who are using their entrepreneurship skills to make a positive impact within their communities.
When Singaporean Matthew Ch’ng’s older classmates attended the first Elevate week at Gordon in the summer of 2014, he was “jealous that they got to go all the way to the States.” The following year, his turn came when a teacher nominated him to participate.
Matthew’s group worked on a project initiated by fellow Elevate participant Luke Miller of Beverly, Massachusetts. “Drop It, Don’t Pop It” aimed to address prescription drug abuse in the local area by raising awareness and establishing bins for safe disposal of unused medications. At the end of the week, the project earned first place in the program and was awarded $1,500 to get started.
Going into Elevate, Matthew knew little about the problem that his group would be addressing. “Prescription drug abuse isn’t an issue in Singapore,” he says, so at first it was “extremely challenging” to intensely engage with an unfamiliar topic in limited time.
However, these challenges produced compelling results. Matthew says, “Everyone had different opinions and experiences and styles of communication and learning. We learned how imperative it was as a team to work with one another.”
As an international student, Matthew had to adjust to cultural differences. “I had no experience with the U.S. style of education. In school in Singapore we didn’t have as much discussion.” At Elevate, “discussion was welcome,” and “having that difference in opinions and cultures was a good experience. The differences each of us had helped us grow closer as a group and as friends.”
Although they had different backgrounds, the team “was really accepting of one another’s opinions,” Matthew says. “The chemistry we had as a group was really great. The discussion room was full of laughter, fun and joy.”
When Matthew returned to Singapore, he began an internship at a large accounting firm. Knowing how to prioritize like he had at Elevate was essential: “Having that experience working on a tight deadline was really good for working in the corporate world.”
Another skill that Matthew honed at Elevate was being flexible and open-minded. Knowing how to listen to others and incorporate their feedback was invaluable when he started Reflectd, a social enterprise focused on photography.
Matthew explains that in Singapore, photography careers are not usually open to young adults. When companies or individuals need photos, they must rely on expensive professional photography services. Matthew “wanted to fill the gap in the market.”
“I realized I had been given a lot of opportunities to further my passion for photography,” he says. “It was sad to see that many young photographers stopped because they don’t have the opportunities.”
In response, Matthew’s enterprise aims to “equip the young photographers with certain essential skills,” including financial basics, photography techniques and effective communication with clients. Then companies “can hire a student photographer for a fraction of what they would hire a professional photographer for, and get high quality products.”
The enterprise is expanding, but Matthew will have to leave it in other hands when he begins studying accounting and finance at The London School of Economics and Political Science. However, he remains committed to promoting careers in art. “This is a cause I don’t think I’m letting go of anytime soon,” he says.
In Matthew’s own career, his “end goal is to be an impact investor—investing in socially responsible companies.” Although his enterprise and career goals have a difference focus than his Elevate experience, he says that Elevate “let me be really exposed to a diverse range of opinions, ideas and cultures. The whole experience was invaluable.”
By Morgan Clayton ’19, history