In a few short days, an eager group of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students and new graduates will embark on the trip of a lifetime. I am fortunate to be among them. The Asia Leadership Trek (ALT) is a whirlwind adventure packed with an incredible agenda of socioeconomic and political experiential learning and public service in six Asian countries.
After our first stop in Tokyo, we are scheduled to visit Seoul, Beijing, Yangon, Bangkok and Jakarta. This agenda promises to be incredibly compelling as it represents a variety of economic and cultural settings throughout the region.
Treks, which are a mainstay at HKS, are student-led trips that range from a week learning about urban renewal in Detroit to a spring break tour of Colombia. Students typically organize treks to show HKS colleagues their hometown or home country and expose challenges the regions face. ALT is unique, as this trek multi-country and incorporates not only a strong learning component but also service one. June 2014 marks the third ALT and organizers hope to keep the tradition going for years to come.
As revealed in the upcoming book, Experiencing Asia: Essays from the Asia Leadership Trek, organizers were inspired to establish this trek to fill what they perceived as a void at HKS. “Though several of the centers at HKS conduct research on Asia and collaborate with Asian institutions, there was a relative lack of courses solely on Asia,” they write.
The response has been enormous. Over 180 people applied for the coveted 40 spots and the school is listening. Now sponsored by the Ash Center of Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Asia Center at Harvard University, organizers hope ALT becomes a more permanent feature of the schools’ offerings with increased institutional and financial support from HKS.
The two pillars of ALT are experiential learning and public service. Student participants will directly investigate political, economic and societal issues by meeting with relevant leaders and organizations. A robust schedule will allow participants to engage with leaders in government, media and business and delve into the impending issues facing each country.
“Through the Asia Leadership Trek, I hope to better understand the region that has restored its significance in American and indeed global economic, political, and security decision processes,” said Parisa Roshan, graduating HKS student and ALT participant. “In the United States, we have seen a renewed commitment to Asia. Secretary Hillary Clinton led the initial Pivot to Asia, and news media continue to describe the Pacific Century ahead.”
The trip also serves as a unique opportunity for participants to engage in public service by sharing the skills gained at HKS with students around the world. ALT trekkers will be hosting leadership conferences for undergraduates and young professionals throughout Asia. Each pariticpant will lead a workshop on topics such as adaptive leadership, negotiations and public speaking. These workshops have proven popular as ALT is expecting nearly 900 participants at the conference in Seoul alone.
“I hope that, over time, the trek program will inspire people in Asia and beyond to pursue paths of leadership in a changing world,” said Samuel Hungsoo Kim, Chairman of the Asia Leadership Trek Committee.
In between the meetings and conferences, trekkers are also looking forward to learning from one another. Twenty-two unique nationalities are represented among the 45 participants. While the majority of participants are affiliated with HKS, there are also students from other schools at Harvard as well as The Fletcher School at Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management.
For more information about ALT, please visit our website: asialeadershiptrek.org or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/asialeadershiptrek and Twitter @Asia_Trek.