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The domino effect

Alumnus Jonah Foong studied BSc International Relations at one of the University’s Recognised Teaching Centres in Singapore – Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

We caught up with Jonah to talk about his study experience and how being awarded the James Stewart Cook Convocation Trust Prize as a student was the catalyst to embarking on postgraduate study. 

Written by Daniel Hutchinson |

Jonah Foong with Bill Abraham
Jonah Foong with Bill Abraham, Director of Development.

What was it that attracted you to the University of London and studying at Singapore Institute of Management? I knew that the University of London and its constituent colleges had a solid reputation in the social sciences. University of London also offered a degree in International Relations, a subject I was and still am very much interested in. At the same time, I knew that SIM had a small but growing body of students who were interested in global politics. I wanted the full university experience; not just to hit the books but also to meet like-minded folks who I could bounce ideas off. The SIM plus University of London experience certainly provided that.

Can you share some of your highlights of your time as a University of London student? Some of my best memories were forged as a student leader at the International Affairs Society. As part of the club’s Model United Nations team I had the opportunity to travel to Harvard and Hong Kong University to debate about foreign policy and current affairs. I also started a student publication to serve a student body that had, to my mind, a growing appetite for politics and current affairs. This was run newsroom-style with student journalists covering public seminars and press events. Some of my best moments as editor was covering the 33rd ASEAN Roundtable and being invited to the British High Commissioner’s residence for a press event.

I couldn’t have known at the time how much of an impact this prize would go on to have, but it’s only when I look back that I see the domino effect it’s had.

In 2017, you were presented with the James Stewart Cook Convocation Trust Prize. What did winning this award mean to you at the time? The award was special to me as it came on the back of a very exhausting first year. I had worked very hard in my first year, juggling both extra curriculars and studies, and now I had something to show for it. It also confirmed for me the age old adage that hard work reaps dividends. This gave me renewed fervour to excel in my subsequent years in undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

The prize is given to the undergraduate student who achieves the highest mark for the Introduction to Political Science module. To what do you attribute your success? An acute interest in the subject, a very able lecturer, and reading widely. I cannot stress the last one enough. Like all social science subjects, political science is a living subject. Every other day there is an election going on in the news, which presents fresh material to apply theory to practice. But you have to read the news regularly to know when these things are happening. The more one knows about history or current affairs, the better.

What impact has the prize had on your education and career since then? Winning the prize gave me confidence to apply for SIM’s academic scholarship at the start of my second year. It didn’t hurt that the prize also made my application stand out compared to my fellow applicants. I eventually won that scholarship, which helped eased my finances and opened ever more professional and academic opportunities, eventually culminating in my master’s scholarship. I couldn’t have known at the time how much of an impact this prize would go on to have, but it’s only when I look back that I see the domino effect it’s had. And I’d like to think that there are yet more dominoes waiting to fall, all set in motion by this one tiny piece all those years ago.

In 2020, you received a University of London Masters Scholarship, which is given to an outstanding UoL-SIM graduate, enabling you to go on to do a master’s degree at LSE. How has your study experience been so far?  It’s been a very positive experience so far. I’ve learned loads from very insightful professors and met some very intelligent peers along the way. Of course, this being a pandemic year the learning has been very different – less human interaction and more online learning. But honestly, I think it’s even better this way. There’s a lot less exam stress which frees my mind to learn other things beyond the curriculum. And not having to ride the London buses an hour each way saves me a lot of time to focus on the things that matter. I think in the end it’s all a matter of perspective.

After you graduate from LSE, what are your plans for the future? I see myself moving into the field of research. I hope to land a position as a research assistant at a think tank or a university, where I would preferably spend up to two years. The two years will provide me ample time to assess my suitability for doctoral studies and narrow my research interests. After that, depending on how it goes I might do a PhD in something quantitative, either in economics, public policy, or political science.

If research doesn’t work out I’m planning at least to work in the field of international development, hopefully in a developing country. Before coming to LSE I spent a few months in Myanmar as an intern and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Poverty alleviation is extremely important work, but I think it’s important for policymakers and practitioners alike to understand what conditions are like for those they profess to help. All the more so for someone like myself, born and raised in the relative comforts of Singapore.