Receiving the scholarship from Brunei Darussalam, Teuku Zulman, experience more than language learning with other ASEAN citizens in Vietnam. Despite the pandemic situation, it does not prevent him from sharing and discuss social, political, and other issues through Enhancing Professional Communication Skills for the ASEAN program.
At the end of 2017, His Majesty and the Sultan Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam announced at the 31st ASEAN Summit held in Manila, Philippines that his government will provide scholarships every year until 2022 for ASEAN countries citizens to learn English at the UBD-FPT Global Centre, in Danang, Vietnam. However, like many other programs, the coronavirus pandemic had forced this program to be carried out online.
Last year, I accepted this scholarship and spent seven weeks joining the course from home. Overall, it was a really positive experience and I learned a lot from it. Nevertheless, I thought that the program—the Brunei Darussalam Scholarship on Enhancing Professional Communication Skills for ASEAN—would be stopped before 2022 due to the coronavirus outbreak. That is why I just finished writing this essay, even though I had already made its draft soon after the course ended.
Turns out, the application for 2021 has already opened. Two programs are offered under this scholarship. First, Professional Communications in English (PCE) focuses on specific areas of communication such as writing an e-mail and how to speak in a meeting. Second, the Intensive English of Proficiency Course (IEPC), which I joined, is designed to train participants in the four core skills of listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
This year applicants now have two choices: study from home or in-person in Vietnam. Anyway, I am not going to talk about the details and the ways to apply. All the information related to those can be found on the official website of Brunei Darussalam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What I would like to address is why ASEAN citizens need to consider applying for this scholarship.
This has an excellent syllabus especially for those who are interested in international issues. The syllabus includes topics such as “An interconnected world: React to news about global issues and discuss the pros and cons of globalization”, “What lies ahead: Discuss the feasibility of future technologies and how to protect our future environment”, and “Troubles while traveling: Express gratitude for a favor while traveling and describe some causes of travel hassles.”
Next, it would be the outstanding teacher. This may be subjective, but as I know from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) website, teachers were selected through a stringent selection process and subsequently signed up for the Teaching Abroad Program. They received training and attended workshops in teaching and learning the English language. That’s related to the aim of the UBD-FPT Global Centre, which is to be the leading English language training center in the ASEAN region.
In addition, meeting friends from ASEAN countries. There are ten students in my class who come from Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Besides, our teacher is a Brunei Darussalam citizen. So, it is absolutely an international setting. This situation forces us to speak in English. Those are the differences from another English course which I had attended before. Hence, this is my main point in this article. Did you know why?
ASEAN and English
Back at beginning of October 2013, my friends and I organized an international conference called Aceh-Malaysia Youth Leader Conference in Banda Aceh—the capital of Aceh Province, Indonesia. This event aimed to introduce Aceh and Malaysia youth leaders to the ASEAN Community 2015. Its theme was “Preparing the Competitiveness of Aceh Malaysia Young Leaders Toward ASEAN Community 2015”.
A year after that conference, we held the second conference with the same issue in Terengganu, Malaysia. Not only did we hold the conference, but we also established an organization named Aceh-Malaysia Youth Leader Forum (AMYLF). The organizational structure was fulfilled by students from Aceh and Malaysia. We had some big ambitions with this organization. One of them was to promote the ASEAN Community concept to the ASEAN citizens, particularly to the people of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Unfortunately, the organization didn’t work out. One of the reasons was because of the lack of human resources who could master English, particularly in spoken English. The lack of English skills had stopped our dreams even though we had a lot of critical sources to build an organization like the good connection with the Ministry of Education Malaysia, students and alumni from both countries, communities of Aceh in Malaysia, and many similarities in religion, culture, and history. Imagine when you have a great idea for your organization, but you cannot articulate that even to your friend in your own organization. How can you discuss the major issue in the economy, politics, or security when you have difficulty asking a simple question like “Have you eaten yet?”
Back to the course, I still remember I was too nervous before the course started. I even thought of rejecting the scholarship because of that fear. A friend of mine advised me to look for someone with good English who was able to assist me during the course. Honestly, I considered that advice.
Those considerations made this program means so much for me who comes from a region where its people’s English proficiency is still poor. It is such a milestone achievement for me. After joining this program, I feel more confident to speak in English. Moreover, I still keep in touch with the participants. I want to know about their countries more than ever before by reading the English newspapers, Viet Nam News, for instance.
Hopefully, more Indonesian applying for this program to enhance their English and that the scholarship can be continuously be provided not only until 2022. I do believe that there is a lot of Indonesian who need this kind of chance and it is crucial to connect ASEAN, mainly to strengthen people-to-people relations, not only government to government or corporation to a corporation based on. In accordance with one of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, “… deepening the integration process to realize a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN Community….”
*Photo sources: author