After a recent trip to Southeast Asia, I left completely blown away by what I saw, felt, and experienced. In addition to meeting up with old friends, making new ones, and having new experiences, many of the biggest takeaways for me were what was happening technologically, economically, socially, and culturally. It is not easy to describe what I saw and felt, but the growth, energy, youthfulness, kindness, and ingenuity of this people left a lasting impression on me. My time in Southeast Asia provoked a shift in my perspective in how we, the West, and also the western business community, refer to this part of the world.
We commonly use distinct language to describe the change that is going on in this region in comparison to what is happening in other parts of the world. For example, we label economies as developing or developed to make economic and social comparisons. My visit to Southeast Asia challenged the usefulness of this method of categorization.
It is apparent that there needs to be a change in the limiting vernacular we use in referencing the region of Southeast Asia in regards to economic and social advancements.
Each country and city I visited was impressive and has challenged the assumptive language we use for the concepts of emerging economies or developing countries. From what I saw and experienced, the cities and areas I visited have jumped the curve socially, culturally, and technologically. The economic growth is jaw dropping. The integration and openness, socially, culturally and technologically to diversity and change is something for the West to embrace. Technology and modernism is seen as the bridge that binds history and culture, without forgetting the past. Labeling these areas as developing or emerging blinds our perspective on what the West can learn from them. The concept of developed vs developing vs emerging suggests assumptions that may not hold and separates the common challenges we do share. Furthermore, it is naive to designate some areas as “developed.” Last time I checked, we (the West) can improve on many aspects of our society, economy, and culture. Language is a powerful tool and shapes our understanding of how we see the world. Having spent my entire life in the “developed” world, I find it ironic that I have grown, advanced, and learned more than I can express from visiting Southeast Asia. I feel the developed countries can, too, if they take a closer look.