During his second year of undergraduate studies in 2009, Lim Weiyang interned with the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta. Weiyang’s internship coincided with the Indonesian Presidential elections. He thus had the opportunity to observe the elections first-hand and help contribute to the political reports that the MFA officers were preparing on the elections. These reports on Indonesia’s domestic trends and developments were critical in helping MFA headquarters and Singapore’s leaders keep abreast of the situation in Indonesia.
What Weiyang did not anticipate was that Jakarta would be hit by unexpected acts of terrorism during his attachment. For Weiyang, the terrorist bomb attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Hotels would stay etched in his memory. He shares that he was able to witness the extensive efforts made to trace and contact Singaporeans in Jakarta during the crisis.
Weiyang adds, “That morning, the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta immediately went about retrieving all the information it could get about the victims of the bomb blasts and worked fast to find out if any Singaporeans were injured. Through this incident, I came to appreciate how critical the consular aspect of MFA’s work is and the important role that MFA plays in looking out for the safety of Singaporeans in such emergencies.”
Singapore Government Scholar (Foreign Service)
Designation: Foreign Service Officer
Studied: Master of East Asian Studies,
Stanford University, US
Bachelor of Laws, Peking University, China
As a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), one of Weiyang’s main tasks is to know as much as possible about the countries under his watch to provide policy recommendations and directions on how Singapore should engage these countries. Weiyang elaborated that building and strengthening foreign relations can be influenced by both charting out long-term strategies at a macro level and paying attention to the little details. He shares humorously, “You may find yourself thinking about how best to brief your Minister on a myriad of ongoing bilateral issues one minute, and then turning to the seating arrangements for an official dinner the very next. Sometimes, something seemingly simple such as deciding on a long or round table, and deciding who sits next to who, may influence the atmosphere of the entire meeting!”
Naturally, each country presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. Weiyang explains, “MFA thrives on information. The more we know about a country, the better we will be at identifying areas where Singapore can benefit from closer bilateral cooperation. With that in mind, the challenge would be in processing and assessing the reliability of these sources of information. Even as a young officer, you have to learn to exercise independent thinking as well as be organised and observant.”
Weiyang enjoys the challenges of a career in the Foreign Service, which he finds can be both demanding and rewarding at the same time. He shares that he had always believed in the value of a good Public Service and was determined to contribute in any way possible. Weiyang highlights, “Due to the broad spectrum of factors influencing our bilateral relationships, an FSO is able to learn many cross-cutting issues beyond his or her portfolio. One can expect to be constantly pushed beyond one’s comfort zone.”
Journey to the East
The Singapore Government Scholarship (Foreign Service) gave Weiyang the opportunity to pursue the Bachelor of Laws at Peking University in China. He shares how his experiences have given him new perspectives and contributed to his development, adding, “I was initially quite intimidated about studying in Beijing as I was not confident about my proficiency in Mandarin. However, my level of proficiency was elevated when I had to use the language every day.”
“I also learnt a lot about China and the Chinese, and have taken with me many good memories and experiences. These experiences include my volunteering stint at a remote Miao minority village in Guizhou, getting lost in a livestock bazaar in Kashgar and exploring hutongs and artists’ enclaves in Beijing. After talking to people with varied life experiences, I deepened my understanding of a country that plays an increasingly important role in the global landscape.”
Looking to the Future
MFA has operations in 49 overseas missions across the world and overseas postings are an integral element of an FSO’s career. Weiyang looks forward to being deployed overseas in the near future and to continue flying the Singapore flag high.
As a scholarship with MFA is ultimately a pathway to enter the Foreign Service, Weiyang advises aspiring scholars to only apply if they have a strong interest in MFA’s work. He muses, “It is important to be honest with yourself. A scholarship is not a prize for you to win after your ‘A’ Levels, but a valuable opportunity to be part of an organisation at a young age.”