I just returned from a short but much-needed vacation to Thailand and Indonesia, with a brief stopover in Singapore.  (My wife and I are scuba divers, so we were diving in the Raja Ampat area of Indonesia, which was spectacular; and since we were going to be on the other side of the world, we decided to also check out Chiang Mai, since we’d never been to Thailand, and Singapore, since everyone has said it’s a great place to visit.)

Since I periodically receive nice emails from students in our BerkeleyX MOOC on Software-as-a-Service, in a fit of inspiration while traveling,  I wondered if any of those students might live in Jakarta or Singapore, two unfamiliar cities where we had stopovers.  With EdX’s help, I sent an email to the MOOC students, and I was pleased to receive numerous replies!

In Singapore, I met Tony Luong (left) and Hung Mai (right), Vietnamese nationals currently living and working for IBM in Singapore.  We had a nice sushi dinner with them (at Sushi Tei in the City Square shopping center near Little India, if you know Singapore), during which we talked about the differences between living and working in IT in the USA vs. Asia, professional plans for the future (Hung is coming to the US to work soon!), software engineering, and life.

In Jakarta, I was greeted at the airport by Reza Anwar and his wife Tanti Ruwani.  Both are Indonesian nationals who had had part of their higher education in the West, so they spoke perfect English and were lovely hosts, giving us a brief driving tour of downtown Jakarta and a wonderful traditional Indonesian dinner at a very nice restaurant housed in a former Dutch-colonial mansion.  Trading stories about life, business, and career aspirations with students from other countries was inspiring.

I’m keenly aware of my role as an ambassador not only of Berkeley, and not only of the USA, but of higher education in general when doing visits like this.  I was very fortunate to get in touch with students who had enjoyed taking my course (and had very kind things to say about it) and I’m now thinking I’ll try to find students to connect with whenever I travel abroad!  It’s one more way to realize that despite whatever other differences people may have, at some level, we are all indeed in this together.

Thanks to Tony, Hung, Reza, and Tanti for turning what could have been unremarkable stopovers into a rewarding social and professional experience!