Singapore Students Association Members Attend the UN General Assembly


Courtesy of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Students in the SSAs of both NYU and Columbia with Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan.

By Caroline Haskins, Deputy News Editor

Eight members of the NYU Singapore Students Association attended the General Assembly of the United Nations on Sept. 23 and met Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan.

Darren Tang, who is a senior in CAS and a vice president of SSA, said SSA was given a tour of the U.N.’s General Assembly building before being seated in the balcony level. From there, the students watched 17 world leaders address the assembly between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

According to a transcript of his address to the General Assembly, Balakrishnan emphasized the turbulence of the present historical moment and urged President Donald Trump to cooperate in his diplomatic vision for a constructive interdependence between Singapore and the United States.

“We are meeting at a time of great uncertainty,” Balakrishnan said to the General Assembly. “Now more than ever, we need the U.N. to help us find solutions to difficult, complex, global and local issues.”

In order to select the attendees of the General Assembly, NYU SSA conducted a social media campaign.

On Sept. 10, the group made vague posts with a blurred image to its Facebook and Instagram accounts. The caption referred only to “an event hosted by a specific Intergovernmental Organization,” but the red coloring of the letters “UN” in the word “opportunity” provided a hint.

Caroline Haskins
The opportunity to sit in on the U.N. General Assembly was doled out over social media.

On Sept. 11, the SSA announced on Instagram that students would have the opportunity to attend the U.N. General Assembly to see the speech of Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan.

“First few Singaporeans to slide into our DMs with their full name, major, year of study and contact number will stand a chance to attend,” the text on the Sept. 11 photo read.

The SSA narrowed down the students who contacted them to about 10 NYU Singaporeans with passports, from a diverse set of class years and majors. From there, SSA selected eight students randomly.

Tang said that a Singaporean passport and a diverse set of students was one of the conditions of the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

LS sophomore Sarah Tay attended the General Assembly and said Balakrishnan also talked about issues related to economic development.

“This got me pretty excited,” Tay said. “I am interested and passionate about the issues of growing wealth and income inequalities within countries that are rapidly growing economically.”

Tay said that although each diplomat had about 15 minutes to give their statements was just a guideline.

Zara Toh
Eight NYU students and seven students from Columbia were offered an opportunity to visit the U.N.

“They would not be cut off if they exceeded,” she said. “Apparently, the longest statement they had was four hours long.”

Tay said after the speech, students from both the NYU and Columbia chapters of the SSA were escorted from the balcony into a separate room.

“[We] were ushered to a large room with plush carpets and sofas, facing the East River — it was a lovely room,” she said. “Colonel Lim, who had been a mother hen to us students, kept apologizing for making us wait. I did not know that the Minister [Balakrishnan] was coming to talk to us. He came along with his entourage of people to shake hands with us all and have a light, short chat.”

Tang said that he spoke to the Minister personally after his address, but they did not talk about politics.

“It wasn’t anything U.N. General Assembly-related,” Tang said.

The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered a total of 15 Singaporean college students in New York City access to the General Assembly. The Overseas Singaporean Unit — a department in the Singaporean government designed to support citizens’ relationships with Singapore while overseas — then offered eight spots to NYU SSA and seven spots to Columbia SSA.

“The Overseas Singaporean Unit does a lot to offer us the opportunity that I don’t think many clubs can offer,” Tang said. “I think the students really appreciated having the opportunity to really see the inner workings of the General Assembly.”

Email Caroline Haskins at [email protected]