Exploring new horizons: Shaqaeq’s journey with Next Step Connections in Singapore

Next Step Connections is an experiential learning organization dedicated to fostering professional and personal growth through immersive international experiences for students worldwide. The company’s customized programs aim to empower students to navigate and thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. Shaqaeq Rezai, a business marketing student at Western Sydney University (WSU), recently shared her experience participating in an immersive Next Step Connections program in Singapore.

Singapore has been in the spotlight recently as one of the world’s most competitive economies. In 2024, the city-state took the top spot (up from fourth place) on the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Ranking. With its strong infrastructure, strategic location, and business-friendly environment, it’s become a hub for international investments and talent. This has led to significant innovation and growth, making Singapore a global leader in many sectors. So, Next Step Connections is excited to be at the forefront of connecting students and future leaders with opportunities to explore this region.

Shaqaeq’s journey began in her “Service Enterprise” class when her tutor introduced the idea of studying abroad through Next Step Connections. She was immediately intrigued.

“I first heard about it through my tutor … and reached out to the program coordinator, Krishan Prasad, who helped me through the application process,” she recalls. With Krishan’s guidance, she navigated the application process and soon found herself preparing for an adventure abroad.

Drawn by what she’d heard of Singapore, Shaqaeq was eager to explore its unique landscape. The city-state’s entrepreneurial scene was also a major motivator for her. “Singapore’s history and innovative culture have always been fascinating to me, so when the opportunity to experience Singapore’s innovation, entrepreneurship space and cultural diversity presented itself, I took it,” she explains.

Before her trip, Shaqaeq took some time to prepare. She spent time researching more about the city-state she’d be visiting. “I read more about Singapore and also researched through Australia’s “Smart Traveller” website, which set my expectations high.”

Once she arrived, Shaqaeq’s days in Singapore were a blend of professional learning and cultural immersion. “[A] typical day would include a visit to companies, speaking with CEOs, directors, and executives followed by a cultural or other learning experience such as workshops about entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence (AI), or a cooking experience,” she shares. “Every day was fun with different activities and new experiences.”

One standout experience Shaqaeq fondly recalls is a visit to Porsche. 

“It was really an amazingly immersive learning experience because I got the chance to see the behind-the-scenes of what goes into delivering a luxury product to Singaporean customers,” she recalls.

Shaqaeq also said she enjoyed getting to know all the different cultural aspects of the city-state.

“During my trip to Singapore, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in its rich culture and explore its vibrant cityscape. One of the most interesting aspects of Singaporean culture is its incredible diversity, where multiple ethnicities, cultures, and religions coexist harmoniously. This diversity is beautifully reflected in the city’s architecture, cuisine, and Singapore’s population.”

Studies show that students who participate in culturally immersive experiences abroad report an increase in cultural awareness and adaptability, which greatly enhances their interpersonal skills. Additionally, employers often seek candidates with international experience because of the global perspective and problem-solving abilities they gain through programs like those offered by Next Step Connections.

“Exploring neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little India, Arab Street, and Kampong Glam allowed me to explore the distinct cultural heritage of each community,” Shaqaeq says. “From the Buddhist and Hindu temples of Chinatown to Haji Lane and the Sultan mosque in Arab Street or the aromatic spices and colorful textiles of Little India, each area was a unique glimpse into Singapore’s multicultural diversity. I learned that despite our differences, we can really live harmoniously as long as we respect each other’s values.”

Vincent, Next Step Connection’s regional tour facilitator, was also there to help the students make the most of the experience. 

“Vincent … had a significant role in making this study tour experience truly exceptional,” Shaqaeq explains. “His excellent organizational skills, expertise, and genuine passion for showing us Singapore and its culture were really imperative to bring the program to life. Vincent has great knowledge of Singapore’s history, economy, and culture. His dedication to arranging a great program for us is really applaudable, and it was because of him that I believe my experience in Singapore was just absolutely positive. Whether explaining the city-state’s rapid development, showcasing its architectural history, or guiding us through cultural landmarks and great hawker centers, Vincent’s presence really added so much value to the study tour experience.”

Nextstep Connections study abroad Singapore

This opportunity to study abroad challenged Shaqaeq to get outside of her comfort zone and ultimately boosted her confidence. “The experience really widened my worldview significantly,” she says. “Interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and learning more about Singapore’s culture and its history made me more open-minded and gave me a greater sense of global awareness. The trip also challenged me to adapt to a new environment and navigate unfamiliar situations independently. From navigating the public transportation system to trying new foods and exploring landmarks, each experience pushed me out of my comfort zone and enhanced my confidence in handling new challenges. I also made new friends who I am still in contact with; fun enough, one of them came to visit me in Sydney just two weeks ago!”

Learning about Singapore’s economy and hearing insights from industry leaders also impacted Shaqaeq’s professional perspective and goals, inspiring her to explore new career paths that span different sectors. 

“The exposure to Singapore’s economy and learning from industry leaders in finance, technology, AI, and investment broadened my understanding of global markets and trends. Witnessing firsthand how Singapore integrates advanced technology into everyday problem-solving inspired me to explore career paths that merge business, innovation, and technology together.”

Looking ahead, Shaqaeq is considering other opportunities in Singapore in the near future. But, the experience has undoubtedly impacted her long-term vision. “In the short term, I am open to exploring internship or graduate role opportunities in Singapore,” she shares. “However, in the long term, I want to use the knowledge and experiences I gained to contribute meaningfully to the development of Afghanistan, my homeland that has been torn for decades.”

Reflecting on the program, Shaqaeq confidently describes it as transformative. “With full confidence, I can really say it was life-changing for me,” she says. “I have a new perspective of the word ‘possible.’ The study tour really helped me learn new ways of thinking.”

She encourages other students to take a chance to get outside of their comfort zones. “I advise them to take the plunge and go for it,” Shaqaeq says about students considering a Next Step Connection program. “For me it was an incredibly invaluable experience and provided me with the opportunity to network with remarkable people and most importantly discover new things about myself.”

Underscoring the importance of these immersive experiences, Jérôme Le Carrou, the founder of Next Step Connections, explains, “Our programs are designed to provide students with not only professional skills but also a deep cultural understanding. We believe that true growth comes from stepping out of one’s comfort zone and embracing the diversity the world has to offer.”

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