“Why did you decide to study in Tsinghua?” – A question I get with almost every new individual I met, regardless of whether it is in a networking event, a job interview or even a dental consultation (yes, my dentist asked me that!). This interestingly, has become a good conversation starter for me, and gave me an opportunity to share with new contacts my views on China's economy, markets and outlook.
Through the past years, many from my junior college in Singapore consulted me for advice when they were deciding between studying in local universities, or having an experience abroad in top universities in US, UK, Europe, Australia or China for their undergraduate studies. (youths today are spoilt for choice indeed!). I would also expect the same dilemma for working professionals who are considering the choice of location for their MBA/post-graduate programmes.
When I made my decision back in 2010 to pursue my undergraduate degree at China's well-regarded Tsinghua University, there were four key motivations:
To experience first-hand China's rapid developments.
To gain understanding of a different market other than my home country.
To challenge myself to adapt to a new environment.
To prepare myself for the rise of China's economy and capital markets.
1.China's rapid development was an eye opener for me.
It was an exciting four years, witnessing first-hand lightning pace developments on multiple fronts, but what left the deepest impression in me was advancements in the e-commerce and fintech space. In particular, I was amazed how a simple messaging smartphone application could eventually evolve into a multi-function application that integrates electronic payments, social networking, online shopping, taxi booking and even fixed income investments into one platform! The developments in technology was not only fast-paced but also boundless, and made me believe that the spirit of "nothing is impossible" indeed holds true in China.
2. Gaining an understanding of China's capital markets
The past years were also a period where China further internationalized its capital markets. In 2014, the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect went live, allowing mutual market access for offshore and onshore investors to invest in a selected universe of stocks listed on the SSE and HKEx. The media coverage caught my attention and I grew to realize this was a major milestone for China's development of its financial markets. It was also then that I developed an interest for and started to observe closely on China's subsequent steps to further internationalize its markets.
3. Pushing my limits in a challenging environment
Though studying in Tsinghua brought many learning opportunities, it was not without its challenges. One challenge was to attend calculus, linear algebra, physics and programming modules taught in Mandarin! (Being away from textbooks for two full years when I was serving my military service before my undergraduate studies made the learning curve steeper as well.) Nonetheless, this forced me to adapt to new learning styles to cope with the academic rigor. I also learnt from my schoolmates who are the cream of the crop of their respective provinces, and it all turned out to be a humbling and enriching experience.
4. China's economy and market is growing in importance
Today, I am getting less doubts and more affirmations about my decision as compared to 2010. The facts and figures helped ease the burden of proof to explain the importance of an understanding of China. Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges are the top ten exchanges in the world by market capitalization. Passive and active investors around the world are watching closely on MSCI's decision on China inclusion. The past six years have seen greater awareness, engagement and involvement in China's financial market by foreign investors. It is an unquestionable period to be involved in China's capital markets.
My decision is much better understood today
And when asked the exact same question again today – “Why did you decide to study in Tsinghua?” I no longer had to offer lengthy analysis or explanations, and could sometimes even get-away with a simple two-word response: “Why not!”