The Way Forward

Jami Burgess’ first visit here inspired her to think of ways her country, the United States, could work with Singapore to effect change for the greater good.

BY LEDIATI TAN
ILLUSTRATION KEN LEE

 

W

hen Jami Burgess visited Singapore in April this year for a six-day United States Congressional Staff Delegation trip, she did not know what to expect.

It was her first trip to the country and it left a deep impression on her. “I left six days later with a profound respect for the country and the people,” she says.

Three things stood out for her: its multiculturalism, its blend of old and new, and its green surroundings.

“What really surprised me was the multiculturalism. The diversity seemed so harmonious and people were very proud to talk about it,” she says.

Burgess works for American Congressman Dennis Heck, who is the new co-chair of the Congressional Singapore Caucus.

The caucus brings together both Democrat and Republican lawmakers with an interest in Singapore or who have a significant Singaporean presence in their districts.

Started in 2002, it is being relaunched this year in the US House of Representatives with new co-chairs – Heck, the Democratic Representative for Washington state; and Republican Bradley Byrne of Alabama.

Burgess says: “As Mr Heck’s Deputy Chief of Staff, it is important for me to learn about the government and culture of Singapore so we can share common interests and ideas within the caucus.”

She prepared for the trip by reading up on Singapore’s history, poring over government papers on the country as well as former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book, From Third World to First.

Her trip took place several weeks after Mr Lee’s death. So visiting the memorial exhibition on him at the National Museum of Singapore was a particularly moving experience. She recalls: “Before I left for Singapore, I had seen photos of people lining up for hours to pay their last respects at his lying in state. But being there in person and seeing the outpouring of support and grief over the loss of Singapore’s founding father really touched me.”


FOR A BETTER WORLD

During her visit in Singapore, Burgess also met with government officials, toured a Housing and Development Board flat (public housing in Singapore), learnt about Singapore’s security issues, mingled with business leaders from US companies in Singapore, and found out what the Singapore International Foundation does to connect the country with the international community. “I came back to the US thinking, ‘How would they do this in Singapore?’ or ‘How could we partner with this?’,” she recalls.

Both countries, she realises, share a desire to make the world a better place. She says: “Everyone has a slightly different way they want to accomplish this but, with collaboration, we can further this goal. We really hope to use the Congressional Singapore Caucus to form a dialogue between the US Congress and Singaporeans. We partner together on so many things – from trade to security to our belief in equality of opportunity. Our plan is to have educational and cultural events highlighting these connections. There are many things we can learn from each other.”

Her only regret was not being able to see more of Singapore. She says: “Our trip was a very good mix of business and culture but, the more I was there, the more I realised there was a vast amount to see.”

She found Singaporeans to be incredibly friendly and open, and noticed how they were as excited to talk about their country as they were interested to hear her thoughts. She adds: “Singaporeans are also very interested in the world and, specifically, their place in the world.

“Almost everyone I talked to thought about the bigger picture of global politics. There was an enthusiasm for the future. In my mind, Singapore represents diversity, friendly people, and a modern path forward.”

 


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