From Trump to Transformation

As part of our latest Life at the Embassy series, we talk to Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) second-year student Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman find out more about his internship at the Public Affairs Section at US Embassy Singapore.

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He not only got to witness Air Force One landing right in front of him, Mr Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman was also part of the entourage who welcomed US president Donald Trump for the Trump-Kim Summit.

The star-struck public affairs (PAS) intern, who was assigned a press escort role during the historic meeting where president Trump and North Korea chairman Kim Jong Un met for the first time, said: “This was one of the best experiences of my life.

Presidential aircraft – Air Force One | Photos by: Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman

“I never thought that an intern would be granted access to Paya Lebar Airbase, greet President Trump, or even see a presidential aircraft landing right before my eyes.

“It was definitely a grandiose moment.”

But the 24-year-old admits that behind all the glamour, lots of hard work and coordination await.

Each section was tasked to liaise with their Singaporean counterpart, right down to the smallest detail.

For instance, the air attaché had to work closely with the local Air Force to ensure a safe arrival and departure for their president’s visit; the economic and political section oversaw protocol pleasantries; and PAS liaised with the Ministry of Communications and Information to handle media queries and coverage on top of their daily duties.

Mr Khairul was also roped in to assist with the heavy workload and was given about a month to create a media playbook for the event.

Explaining that the playbook was like an overall general “bible” for PAS, he not only needed to narrow down the important events which require media attention and coverage, he also had to include the type of coverage; the respective media outlets; and the control officers involved.

Trump-Kim Summit | Photos by: Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman

While the work was rather time consuming, Mr Khairul felt that “every task, no matter how small, has to be well thought out and plays a crucial role towards the success of the visit”.

When the bubbly intern is not contributing to world peace, he uses the time and opportunity to hone his design skills in order to advance the diplomatic relations between Singapore and the US.

One of his first assignments when he entered the section was to come up with an infographic for the Federal Voting Assistance Programme, a programme which allows Americans abroad to send in their ballot for elections.

“I’m a greenhorn when it comes to designing and I definitely didn’t expect to be delegated this since it was not exactly stated in the job scope.

“It was an uphill struggle initially as I had trouble in the the most basic of issues like getting the borders of my graphic to be transparent.”

That said, he was grateful for the condensed crash course his colleagues gave on Adobe Photoshop which helped to proper kickstart his design journey.

One of most memorable assignments was the Third Country Training Programme infographic.

A joint partnership between the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US in support of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations community-building efforts, Mr Khairul told The IAS Gazette that he had to consolidate a five-page report into one infographic.

“While it was definitely challenging, I enjoyed it as it allowed me to turn a boring and lengthy document into something more appealing and digestible to the general public,” he enthused.

TCTP infographic | Photo taken from: U.S. Embassy Singapore

Ironically, this very task also helped to mold the character of the Economics and Management student.

Sharing that before he started this stint, he was reluctant to do anything that he had no prior knowledge nor experience in.

“But after this, I have a more sanguine approach in overcoming hurdles, academic or not.

“I believe that it is having tension under pressure that will eventually lead to my personal growth.”

Iftar at the German Ambassador’s home | Photos by: Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman

Besides media relations, the section is also responsible for information, cultural and education exchanges programmes which Mr Khairul occasionally gets roped in to help.

Some of the tasks include assisting the embassy’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative coordinator in pushing out media distribution regarding the Marine Debris Expedition and attending educational fairs to promote studying in the US.

“It’s intriguing to see that the public affairs initiative is multi-faceted spanning across traditional media push to environmental-educational initiative such as the expedition.”

His views on American politics?

In his opinion, Mr Khairul felt that president Trump’s election victory was because citizens recognised the importance of mercantilist policies in ensuring national industries as well as the domestic population to flourish.

Elaborating further, he said if we were to look back at history, the very reason why domestic companies like Ford Motors were able to prosper was because of protectionist policies.

“For example, if you look at the rest of the world, their public roads are always dominated by Toyota cars.

“But when you look at North America, you can see a substantial amount of Ford vehicles as compared to Toyota. This is because of the tariffs imposed on imported cars like Toyota.”

On top of his personal views, his stint at the Embassy also helped to further Mr Khairul understanding of American politics and dynamics. During his day-to-day observation, he noticed the government goes beyond the president and his administration.

Initially he thought that everyone who works at the Embassy were from the president’s political camp.

“But after interacting with my colleagues, I realised that the staff’s political affiliation, whether Republicans or Democrats, do not define nor affect the entire organisation.

Awaiting President Trump’s arrival at Paya Lebar Airbase with both Embassy and Washington D.C. colleagues | Photos by: Khairul Amirin Ab Rahman

It is also one of the main reasons why he enjoyed the internship so much.

“There is so much camaraderie and patriotism whereby everyone has a common goal and are willing to put aside their differences to achieve it.

“If only this was a local government organisation, the satisfaction of working would be hundredfold,” gushed Mr Khairul, who is gunning for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ foreign service officer functional and corporate track.

When pressed about how practical is it for students from private universities to land a job in the civil service, he said the stigma in itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy but no one should be discouraged by it.

Acknowledging that while his curriculum lacks the holistic profile compared to his local university peers, the onus is on him to bridge the gap by undertaking internships, independent research etc to sharpen his edges.

“A couple of distinguished alumni who got into reputable auditing firms started out as an accounting assistant doing grunt work like filing and another managed to clinch an analyst position in a financial institution after joining a prestigious stock pitch challenge.

“So, identify your end goal and source out activities that will lead you to it.

“Go in with an open mindset and do not be afraid to accept any tasks that might seem improbable because at the end of the day, a bad experience is something you’ve never tried.”

Students who are inspired by Mr Khairul’s story can get involved via SIM’s internship portal, UNICORN, a one-stop integrated hub for students and employers to apply and receive applications respectively.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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