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Students visit Kuala Lumpur and Stockholm to tackle major global challenge

This April, 80 students from Queen Mary University of London travelled to either Kuala Lumpur or Stockholm for a four-day programme that explored the global challenge: ‘How do smart cities ensure they are inclusive?

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QChallenge students from the Kuala Lumpur programme
QChallenge students from the Kuala Lumpur programme

The programme, QChallenge Abroad, ran from 1-5 April in Kuala Lumpur and 16-19 April in Stockholm. The costs of the programme, including travel and accommodation, were covered by Queen Mary in order to minimise barriers to participation. QChallenge Abroad aimed to give students the opportunity to develop their leadership skills in a different cultural setting and to play a part in tackling the biggest issues facing businesses, governments and societies worldwide.

Organised in partnership with Common Purpose and working with students from the partner universities in Kuala Lumpur and Stockholm, the groups met local partners, leaders from global businesses, governments and international not-for-profit organisations to understand the challenge from a local perspective. Organisations included the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and Siemens Healthcare.

The Kuala Lumpur experience 

In Kuala Lumpur, 30 Queen Mary students joined 17 students from the University of Malaya, forming a group that spanned 10 nationalities and 27 fields of study. The University of Malaya led a tour of Kuala Lumpur’s key sites, before the students undertook activities that encouraged them to consider their values, beliefs and behaviours. 

Justine Pili Tizzard, who is undertaking her final year of the BSc Chemistry, said: “Getting to know Kuala Lumpur and its people developed my cultural awareness of some of the challenges the city faces. For example, I learned that many people cannot afford to live in the city, but that travelling to work from the equivalent of zones 2 or 3 in London would take them around two hours. I enjoyed thinking about and discussing solutions to this problem.

“I’ve learned that being a good leader doesn't necessarily mean telling everyone what to do but to be observant and listen to others in order to identify their best qualities and use them to the group’s benefit.

“I also learned about a new concept called ‘Cultural Intelligence’, which is the ability to relate and work effectively across cultures. Without the students of the University of Malaya, I wouldn't have developed this. Any successful future leader will need cultural intelligence to be capable of working with other cultures.”

Suraya Khatun, a second year student at Queen Mary’s School of English and Drama, added: “Before this experience, I was only aware of the definition of ‘Cultural Intelligence’ - I had never truly grasped what it meant to apply it.

“One of the most important lessons I have learnt from the experience is that a successful leader is aware of their own capabilities and ethical principles, which will eventually be put to the test in a high-pressured environment.''

The Stockholm experience

In Stockholm, 50 Queen Mary students joined 22 students from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, forming a group that spanned 12 nationalities and 40 fields of study. The students visited organisations including PwC and Nokia to get insights into what the global challenge meant for them, and also listened to a speech by Bengt Baron, Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist and renowned business leader. 

Chloe Paxman, a first-year student at Queen Mary’s School of Geography, said: “I would describe QChallenge as the steepest and most exciting learning curve of my life, and the experience provided an unbeatable way of improving my cultural intelligence. Meeting people from around the world and listening to their stories has expanded my understanding of the world.

“The challenge developed my understanding of how I work in a group, view challenges and apply myself to problems. In a foreign city, the task forced us to understand problems revealed by multiple players, applying our knowledge of the differences in societies in the UK and Sweden to find solutions in groups.”

Forging international connections

Professor Rebecca Lingwood, Vice-Principal (Student Experience, Teaching and Learning), added: “We were delighted to have worked with partners in Kuala Lumpur and Stockholm to give our students the opportunity to immerse themselves in another city, look at global issues from local perspectives and forge international connections. This was an invaluable opportunity for our students to develop their intercultural awareness and to open up the possibilities of study abroad in future.” 

More information:

• Find out more about overseas opportunities at Queen Mary
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