Four outstanding student leaders from the NUS Jazz Band, NUS Symphony Orchestra and NUS Dance Synergy represented Singapore and NUS at the 14th ASEAN and 4th ASEAN+3 Youth Cultural Forum (AYCF+3) from 4–8 October 2016. Hosted by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang, Malaysia, the students interacted with and created new works with fellow young artists from other universities in Asia.

The forum commenced with a welcome address by Prof. Dato' Dr. Omar Osman, Vice-Chancellor of USM and a speech by AUN Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti. Besides a keynote on topics like the challenges of sustaining traditional arts within Generation Y, the highlight for most delegates was the cultural workshop or boria. Led by the Penang Boria Pioneers, the delegates were divided into groups to create an original performance for the Closing Ceremony three days later.

The experience was an eye-opener for Kevin Hadinata from the NUS Jazz Band. “Although we were from different cultures, speaking different languages, specialising in different arts forms, we managed to create a great 30-minute show. We were able to communicate through the arts and I was captivated by the realization that the arts is, in fact, a universal language.”

The NUS representatives shared a multicultural Singapore with their new friends, having spent a month creating an original item, Kaleidoscope. For Glenda Kee from NUS Dance Synergy, watching the deeply traditional and unique performances put up by fellow delegates from other countries made her ponder about the Singaporean identity, “How could we differentiate ourselves on the world stage? Would it be better to focus on a nation’s modern-day culture, or on traditional ethnic cultures reminiscent of a society’s history?”

Similar thoughts struck her fellow representative, Ng Way from NUS Symphony Orchestra. “We watched Sada Borneo, an amazing fusion band which performs pop music using traditional Malaysian instruments. I look forward to the day that a successful fusion between traditional arts and popular culture can be marketed as a uniquely Singaporean product,” she said.

Nicole Chai, also from NUS Dance Synergy, was inspired by how the forum celebrated differences while showing how the arts can bring people together. “It reminded me of the importance of cross-disciplinary training. While we should focus on our art form, exposure to other genres can help us see things in a different perspective.”

With a positive atmosphere marked by a strong spirit of sharing and willingness to learn, the five-day forum ended on a high note, with delegates making new friends and discovering new ways to appreciate the arts.