It's hard to believe that 14 years have already passed since I joined my peers from all across the globe for those unforgettable "three days in May". I was a young student who had just commenced his postgraduate career in the language arts, and having come from a family of academics, I was on my way to pursue a career in academia.
We were not "just students"
Being a Chinese student in Japan, who had just completed his undergraduate studies in the United States, and who was preparing to pursue further studies in the UK, a diverse and international setting was not exactly novel; in fact, it was what drew me to universities and academia in the first place. Yet, my experience in St. Gallen was transformative. It was not only open and respectful to the opinions and energy of youths from diverse backgrounds, it also connected them to leaders from various fields, and reminded us all of the shared burdens and opportunities we collectively faced. "Limits to Growth" was 2004's topic, and for the first time, being engaged in the discourse that would affect humanity's developmental trajectory, I felt that we weren't "just students", we were also citizens of the world whose voices were disparate, but whose ideas were earnest and whose opinions mattered. Nowadays, with waves of populism questioning the inclusiveness of the supposed "globalist elites", The St. Gallen Symposium still represents to me the best of international dialogue and respectful discourse that embraced all. After all, I was but a 23 year old, who was having casual conversations with Prof. Amartya Sen, rubbing shoulders with Christine Lagarde, enjoying lunch with China's Vice Minister of Education, and having discussions with top leaders from Swiss firms such as UBS.
Two years later, my life course changed dramatically, thanks largely to my experiences in St. Gallen. I decided to focus more on global development and moved to Hong Kong to join UBS, focusing on Asian industrials as a corporate finance professional. Afterwards, I pursued a degree in international affairs with a focus on political and economic development, and participated in projects across the developing world. Since then, I've moved back to Asia. After five more years in finance, I've decided to use my experiences to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors, focusing on providing the same international perspective to students from all backgrounds in China.
Throughout this time, I have benefited tremendously from the friendships formed at and in relation to the symposium. Being a foreign student in Japan at the time, I was the first representative from my university in Japan (Nanzan) to join the symposium, and that encouraged fellow classmates to pursue this worthwhile opportunity. More important, despite the fairly sizeable contingent from China, I was one of the first Chinese nationals to ever win a Wings of Excellence Award. It was satisfying to feel confident in my own voice, and it is heartening to know that my experiences have motivated others in the region to feel confidence in their voices too. If I had a chance to go back to St. Gallen, it would be a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with young people today and learn their dreams and aspirations, as well as worries and concerns. Now that I'm a father, having these conversations feels more urgent than ever, if we are to bestow a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world to our children.